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TourismIamA a waterfall explorer in Taiwan. I've located over 3000 waterfalls on this beautiful island, and published on online guide with maps to more than 100 of them. Yesterday I busted my head open on a river rock. AMA!

May 30th 2016 by aleiss • 27 Questions • 1000 Points

Hi everyone. My (Chinese) name is Xiaofei. I'm an American student and explorer in Taiwan. I write a growing online guide to waterfalls and wild hot springs in Taiwan. I have located over 3000, and made over 100 custom google maps to help people reach them too.

Yesterday I had my first "accident" in 3 years of exploring. Now I have to wait a week before going waterfalling again. It will be a tough wait :) so I've decided to do an AMA. Ask me anything!

My Taiwan Waterfalls and Hotsprings Guide: http://followxiaofei.com/

What 3000 Waterfalls looks like: http://imgur.com/Fg9xkFH

My busted face (warning: bloody): http://imgur.com/xlcRSUN

How it happened: https://goo.gl/photos/LDhkGuLy1xayBwUb8

EDIT: Proof of AMA: http://followxiaofei.com/page/proof-of-ama

Q:

Yet you still came to Japanese class, who takes you anyways?

A:

Oh jeez. Naturally the only other American in class also uses Reddit. I drove myself to school.

Edit: My face is swollen and the helmet is too tight. It hurts a little on the speed bumps.


Q:

I meant to the waterfalls lol

A:

Oh. No one takes me. I go myself. Most of the time when I go out it's based on an assumption that a waterfall is there, as I may not have proof. (inconclusive sat images, photo of one somewhere but not 100% on the location, etc). I drive as close to where I think it is as I can, and hike up the river the rest of the way. Usually I find something. Somethings there is nothing there.


Q:

Organize a trip. I'd bet a number of people would love to tag along on something like this!

A:

After my experience at Sunset waterfall, where I took a group of my friends on what I thought would be a short trip, but ended up as 22km of driving on a broken road followed by 2000 (or so) stairs down to the river, I no longer take people to places that I have never been before. I'll still go out with a few friends, but only to places that I know really exist and are easy to get to.

http://followxiaofei.com/taiwan/pingtung-waterfalls-chunri-sunset-waterfall


Q:

Thank you for your service, and writing about it

A:

You're welcome. I'm glad you like it.


Q:

I'm one of the founders of the World Waterfall Database, and this is very cool to see. We've tried to stay on top of the "major" websites that document waterfalls around the world, but I don't think we'd seen yours before, so this was a pleasant surprise to stumble across today. You've got some really nice pictures in there, very good for documentation. Couple questions for you:

1) What is your criteria for cataloging a waterfall? Do you have a baseline for height or stream volume / consistency, or is it more based off of mapping locations out? Do you include waterfalls that only flow when it's raining? I'm quite curious about this primarily because 3,000 waterfalls seems like an awfully high number for an island the size of Taiwan.

2) Would you at all be interested / willing to share your data with us so that we might fill the rather substantial black hole(s) in our information about the waterfalls of Taiwan? I unfortunately don't have infrastructure in place right now to allow that to be done easily, but I'm hoping to launch some crowdsourcing tools later this year so that industrious individuals such as yourself who would be willing to contribute may do so without us having to go through a very tedious process.

That shiner on your head is pretty gnarly too. May it be the first of many battlescars. I picked another one up on my shin last week in Oregon.

A:

Hi. I like the work you're doing. My site is only a few months old, which is probably why you've never seen it before.

1) Unfortunately, I don't have a good system for this. I even wrote a Quora question about it a few months ago, but got no response. I don't know what makes a waterfall, there doesn't seem to be any official guidelines for naming an measuring by the US surveying bodies or any other organization. It's unclear to me when a waterfall becomes a 2nd tier or a separate waterfall.

For waterfalls that are already named, I just go with the local name and translate or transliterate it into English, depending on what the name is (if it hasn't been done before).

Waterfall tiers that are only a meter or so apart, that are obviously part of the same waterfall. But what if they are 10 meters, or 1000 meters? That's where it becomes unclear. Several named waterfalls here (with park-service managed trails) have higher tiers that are only 10-20 meters back which have different names. Conversely, several waterfalls also have higher tiers which are 20 minute hikes from the lower tiers, yet have the same name, and this might go on for 5-6 waterfalls.

For obscure waterfalls on my website, I tend to group tiers in the same river that can be hiked to in the same day into the same waterfall. If it's significantly far away, has a completely different entrance point, or they are both significantly large in their own right, to the point where you would visit them on different trips, I may separate them. I understand this is rather arbitrary, but I don't have a better method. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter.

The tropic of cancer runs through the middle of Taiwan which makes the weather in the north and south very different. In the north it rains rather consistently, and the waterfalls will almost never dry up. In the south, streams with small basins can dry up in the winter (Like this one: http://followxiaofei.com/taiwan/pingtung-waterfalls-laiyi-eagle-gods-waterfall) but after the first Taiphoon (usually around June), even the smallest stream will fly steadily until January. This year though, it was such an usually rainy winter that no where dried up.

I won't include a waterfall that flows ONLY if it's raining, but if it flows for 8 months then dries up for 4, that counts to me.

I want to point out that there are thousands more waterfalls which are not counted or listed because that's just the nature of Taiwan. If you drive around in the mountains in August, everywhere you look there will be water running down the mountain. It would be very presumptuous to say that I've found 10% of the waterfalls, or maybe even 1%. I'm not sure what the total of the island is, but I'm it's probably over 50,000. I guess that may be why I went with waterfalls. There are just so many of them!

My height requirements vary a little. Generally it's 5 meters or up, but it's got to be interesting. At this Ocean God's pools there are several waterfalls around 3-4 meters, and a 6-7 meter side-stream waterfall and a few 20-30 meter smaller side waterfalls (low flow, aren't the main river), but the main attraction are the pools, so it's categorized as a waterfall on my website, but we don't talk about it as a waterfall. (The name in English and Chinese doesn't include "waterfall"). However, if someone asks me what's up the river passed the pools, I'll say it's a few small waterfalls. https://youtu.be/LB6K1nx9qpc


Q:

I'm one of the founders of the World Waterfall Database, and this is very cool to see. We've tried to stay on top of the "major" websites that document waterfalls around the world, but I don't think we'd seen yours before, so this was a pleasant surprise to stumble across today. You've got some really nice pictures in there, very good for documentation. Couple questions for you:

1) What is your criteria for cataloging a waterfall? Do you have a baseline for height or stream volume / consistency, or is it more based off of mapping locations out? Do you include waterfalls that only flow when it's raining? I'm quite curious about this primarily because 3,000 waterfalls seems like an awfully high number for an island the size of Taiwan.

2) Would you at all be interested / willing to share your data with us so that we might fill the rather substantial black hole(s) in our information about the waterfalls of Taiwan? I unfortunately don't have infrastructure in place right now to allow that to be done easily, but I'm hoping to launch some crowdsourcing tools later this year so that industrious individuals such as yourself who would be willing to contribute may do so without us having to go through a very tedious process.

That shiner on your head is pretty gnarly too. May it be the first of many battlescars. I picked another one up on my shin last week in Oregon.

A:

Here's another good one. What happens when 2 waterfalls empty into the same pool? Like in this one. http://followxiaofei.com/taiwan/pingtung-waterfalls-laiyi-yuanyang-waterfall

What if it's not the same pool, but into the same river, 20 meters apart? The waterfall in the link is named as one waterfall, I called it a "Double Waterfall". By the 500-foot rule, the right side's total height is between 400 and 700 meters (or rather, the elevation change from the top of the upper tiers, to the bottom of the lower tier is 400-700 meters, depend on where exactly you choose to cut it off, based on elevation data from google earth.


Q:

Fellow hiker here, so I do understand the importance of what you're suggesting... But this guy seems to be pretty experienced himself. I agree it's always a good idea to have another capable hiker there, but I'm not too concerned over this guys safety protocol.

A:

Hi. I am an experienced trail person, and I am the local guide. I generally don't go alone to places that won't see any other traffic. I like hiking on mountain trails alone, but river tracing alone isn't as fun. Something as trivial as losing my glasses/contacts or having a sprained ankle becomes a big deal if you're alone in the river. That's why my gf and I usually hike up the rivers together.


Q:

Sup fellow Taiwan resident /secret Taiwan handshake.

How is it possible that you have recorded 3000 waterfalls over 3 years? Doesn't that mean you visited 2-3 waterfalls PER DAY?

A:

Hi /secret Taiwan handshake

I've located over 3000 by reading blogs, driving around and seeing them from the road, and scouring the last 5 years or so of satellite imagery. I recorded the GPS and marked them on a map to visit later.

I've only visited between 150-200. I count visited as getting to the base and getting wet (or if it's really cold, having a clear ability to jump in, but choosing not to). If I can only see it from a trail, I don't count that as visited, even if it's close by (but down a cliff or something so I can't get to it).


Q:

What's something most Americans don't know but should know before visiting Taiwan?

A:

I didn't know how awesome it is. Really.

It's an Island, and there are beaches, but it's a mountain country, not a beach country. (270 peaks over 3000 meters... only a few dozen sandy beaches)

It's a place you can go without a plan. Just show up and you'll find something fun to do.


Q:

That Taiwan is not Thailand. :)

So there's a ton of resources for tourism, and a lot of places are very obvious and well-advertised. But if you plan on travelling the island (and you should somewhat try), people with foreign passports can buy (high-speed) train passes for multiple days. These passes are often the same price as one round trip from Taipei (north) to Kaohsiung (south), but can be used multiple times in a week. They can only be bought through tourism agencies and require a passport. Very worth if you plan on travelling via train (especially HSR). Personally, i enjoyed the eastern side of Taiwan the most, as it's very scenic. If you look at OP's map, all his points are basically in the middle and the east, since the western side is very developed.

Bonus: avoid tourist groups timings when you go look at stuff if you can. Early mornings are the best. These groups are very large, and they are non-stop.

A:

It's good information. Also, bring an international drivers license (you can get one from AAA) so that you can rent a scooter. Taiwan is best seen on scooter (and bicycle and on foot)


Q:

That Taiwan is not Thailand. :)

So there's a ton of resources for tourism, and a lot of places are very obvious and well-advertised. But if you plan on travelling the island (and you should somewhat try), people with foreign passports can buy (high-speed) train passes for multiple days. These passes are often the same price as one round trip from Taipei (north) to Kaohsiung (south), but can be used multiple times in a week. They can only be bought through tourism agencies and require a passport. Very worth if you plan on travelling via train (especially HSR). Personally, i enjoyed the eastern side of Taiwan the most, as it's very scenic. If you look at OP's map, all his points are basically in the middle and the east, since the western side is very developed.

Bonus: avoid tourist groups timings when you go look at stuff if you can. Early mornings are the best. These groups are very large, and they are non-stop.

A:

Thanks fellow Carolinian. I'll be adding more falls around Taipei soon.


Q:

Have you ever been to Yellowstone, and if so do you have a favorite waterfall?? We have so many here!! Looks like I'll have to make my way over to Taiwan sometime soon...

A:

I've never been to Yellowstone but it looks amazing. How does it work in US National Parks, if you see a beautiful waterfall with a nice pool can you just go swim in it, or is swimming not allowed?


Q:

Have you ever been to Yellowstone, and if so do you have a favorite waterfall?? We have so many here!! Looks like I'll have to make my way over to Taiwan sometime soon...

A:

I think that the rivers in Yellowstone are much more stable than in Taiwan. In Taiwan, there are several riverbeds that a more than a mile wide. Most of the year the stream is 10-20 feed wide and only as deep as your ankles. However, every Taiphoon season, that entire mile wide riverbed fills up for a few hours, before shrinking back down again. Anything that was in the river at the time, isn't afterward.


Q:

Grew up in WNC and just moved back; what's your favorite waterfall in this part of NC?

A:

I'm embarrassed to say that the last waterfall I went to in NC was camping with my dad when I was around 8 years old, and I can't remember where it was. Possibly in Hanging Rock State Park.


Q:

I'm learning to be a web developer, and I was wondering what are you using to make your website? Thanks.

A:

Hi. I hired my friend (In Nepal) to do the programming for me. I just make the content, and choose the features.


Q:

How are the bagels there ?

A:

There are bagels, but they are not "real" bagels. I think they come from Costco. I still get tuna+cheese+2 eggs on a bagel in the mornings though. Even in paradise there's room for improvement.


Q:

Your top 3 waterfalls? The ones to visit if ever?

A:

If you want a unique waterfall experience, you can't go with with Double Dragon - Scary Bridge , Longfeng Waterfall - fossils in the riverbed and Yuanyang Waterfall - double waterfall into a canyon

If you just want to take some beautiful photos to show your friends: Then Xiaowulai Waterfall, Shifen Waterfall, and Ali Waterfall

if you to swim and jump and play then, Ocean God's Pools, Green Dragon Waterfall, and Lover's Gorge Waterfall


Q:

Thanks for the reply. i've never been to Taiwan so hopefully the ones you linked aren't too hard to reach!

A:

You're welcome. Some are, some aren't. Just check the maps to find out.


Q:

Would you mind expanding your guide to include places to stay and eat?

A:

I will expand it to include places to stay. But to me that means wild camping. Basically, I will eventually add places on the map where you can pitch a tent (flat ground, water source nearby), but they will not be organized campgrounds or hotels.

For individual waterfall and hot-springs maps I already do this. Look for the green tent icon on the page and map.


Q:

Your heads busted open but how is the river rock? Is he doing ok?

A:

He will be missed http://imgur.com/X7FvCpb


Q:

Do you ever find any cool stuff? I've heard that waterfalls can have things like gold collect at the bottom.

A:

I've never found or looked for gold, but my friend did find a nugget in hot spring in Toroko. Some girls (who were prospectors) found it but were unable to dislodge it. My friend worked on it for a long time and eventually got it out. It sold for around 350$


Q:

Did u dye?

A:

I dyed when I was 21. But have not dyed since. https://goo.gl/photos/3pNb2aSciV9hChJr6


Q:

Any spots near Tainan? Didn't see it listed in the categories.

A:

Yes, there are. I've visted 2 waterfalls in Tainan and plan to visit another (really great one!) this summer. I have not added them to the map yet, but I will soon. The waterfalls that I have listed in Chiayi though are very fun, and not that far from Tainan.


Q:

What kind of rock are they in? Limestone? Granite? Any caves you've found?

A:

Some small caves, but generally not. I don't know much about rocks sorry.


Q:

How do you make money out of this? Or is it just a hobby?

A:

It's just a hobby. There are no ads or plans for ads on my website.


Q:

Any snake encounters? I'm always scared to go swimming in random lakes now after encountering a few.

A:

I've only seen 4 wild snakes in Taiwan ever, only 1 on the trail, and only 1 in the water. I'm sure they're out there though.


Q:

What factors must be met in order to be considered a waterfall?

A:

I answered this question in more detail above, but I don't have a checklist of factors.