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Saichia

Site name: Saichia
Launch altitude amsl: 415m
Landing altitude amsl: 67m
Launch direction: W
Road access: Yes
XC: Yes
GPS Launch: 22.755594° N, 120.645333° E
GPS Landing: 22.751538° N, 120.630489° E
Site frequency: 150.69Mhz

Brief history

Saichia was the first site in Taiwan opened to paragliding and used to be the busiest. It enjoys the largest landing area, the best thermalling conditions and XC potential. Ten years ago, pilots from Japan and Korea used to flock here for winter-time thermals that rival home sites in the summer. Saichia Flight Park was officially closed by court order in 2004 after a fatal accident involving a tandem passenger.

Pingtung County government had ordered the flight park closed, but the launch is on private land and the courts have no power to intervene. Sooner or later the land will come under the control of the Maolin Scenic Area Authority and it’s unclear what will happen then. In the meantime the site has fallen into disrepair and now attracts few visitors.

Downloads

Google Earth placemarks: saichia.kmz
XC flightlog 1: liukuei.igc
XC flightlog 2: liukueirtn.igc
Video 1: p1000192.mpg (1.65mb)
Video 2: p1000197.mpg (5.86mb)
Video 3: lesto.mpg (3.75mb)

Current situation

The current situation is that a local tandem operator manages the launch area on behalf of the owner. Some portable toilets have been installed but are dirty and rarely have water. The defacto site manager is currently charging NT$200 per day for ‘site cleaning’ and a modest personal accident insurance policy. You could buy that same policy direct for under NT$100, or organize your own annual policy, but the operator will still charge you that NT$200 per day. As of right now, mostly commercial tandems are flying this site, and a small handful of pilots from Kaohsiung and Pingtung. Many of the local solo pilots are boycotting the site in protest of the fees or from personal disagreements with the defacto manager. Some are not welcome to bring their own students or tandem passengers, which makes it pointless for other clubs or schools to come here. I’ve been warned not to come fly at Saichia because of the comments on this page.
Overseas visitors are advised to make sure what they are paying before booking a flight over here, since site fees can change without notice. The last information I have has visiting foreign pilots being asked to pay a NT$500 ‘cleaning fee’ on arrival plus NT$200 per day as per locals. This can and does change at any time however, seemingly dependent on how far you’ve come and how the weather is, so be sure to budget for more.
The launch area has gates which are usually locked at night. The site admin prefers pilots not jump the fence to fly or forget to pay fees before you fly. Other tandem pilots are usually unwelcome to fly here.

Due to damage incurred during Typhoon Morakot on 08/08/09, the roads north of Dajin are currently in bad shape. Those planning to fly up to Liukuei should arrange their own retrieve as very little traffic passes through now, making it difficult to catch a ride. You would be better off arranging a 4WD or truck to come get you as a passenger car will have a hard time on that road. Since a large area was affected, it may be a long wait for that road to get fixed.
The landing area has now been enlarged to an area about three times it’s original size, in preparation for conversion into an ultralight airfield.

Flying

Launch is at 415m AMSL on a ridge well inland, but the land between here and the coast is about as flat as Holland, the LZ is at a mere 67m AMSL. The launch faces west over the plain and Kaohsiung is visible on a clear day. The site works in many wind directions as it is sheltered by tall mountains behind. It’s often flyable even though the upper winds are easterly. Obviously, the more westerly component there is the better. The large valley to the north is able to pull a seabreeze in later in the day and this catches many novice pilots out, you’ll see them hanging in the mango trees downwind of the LZ. It also makes flying back from Liukuei a challenge. In south wind conditions launching can be difficult and unless you make a perfect launch you stand a good chance of flying into rotor beneath the edge. Actually I rate this launch as intermediate. The launch is about 15 minutes drive from the LZ up a decent, but narrow ashphalt road.

Soaring

The house thermals are in the bowl just to the left of launch, and the small hilltop a few hundred meters to the right. The whole ridge that climbs away to the left of launch will be working on a decent day.
Cross-country potential is usually limited to a 30km route to Liukuei, in Kaohsiung county. It’s a trip along the ridges, peak-to-peak, with a couple of tricky crossings thrown in for good measure. There are places to outland if it doesn’t pan out. The brave can continue on to Bulao or Baolai, but the landings are few and quite small and difficult at the best of times. Once the south wind has kicked in, they can be very dangerous. It’s of course possible to fly out to Liukuei and back again. Many locals consider this a pilot’s ‘coming-of-age’.
On the days where there isn’t much wind or upslope breeze and the thermal action is away from the ridge, the usual targets are the large bridges and small towns out in front of the launch, about 5 and 10km out. This makes a fun round-trip and the landing options are pretty good if you don’t make it back. Some real heroes once made it from here to Taitung county, over mostly vertical terrain with dense forest cover and no hope of retrieve.

How to fly to Liukuei

Looking west from launch. Those clouds are about 40km away, over the Kaoping river. Pingtung clouds
Herbst Air Force Motley collection of hang gliders.
The front of the launch, Koshr mountain in the background. Front of Saichia launch

Issues

Saichia has suffered greatly from political infighting in the last few years after some unauthorized deforestation, and then the spate of fatalities. There are still a few reminders of these incidents around.
As of now, it appears to be a tandem operation that barely tolerates solo pilots. There don’t seem to be any license requirements in effect and non-pilots should think very carefully about any offers of a ride.

Weather and season

The best season is usually from November until April when humidity is low, and day / night temperature variation is highest. Cloudbase in winter is usually at about 1,600m, site altitude record is somewhere over 2,000m. I have broken 2,000m a few times.
Summer conditions are more humid and tend to low cloudbases (900m +/-), early OD, cloudsuck and sudden thunderstorms.

Suitability for beginners?

Saichia’s LZ is the largest in the country and the least obstructed at that. It is however a perfect thermal cooker so care has to be taken beyond early morning as conditions may become too rough for beginners around 10am or so if the sun is out.
The launch itself is more hazardous as it can be considered a cliff and a tumble down it will be painful. There are lumps of concrete with exposed rebars sticking out down there, covered by vegetation. Be sure the wind is really straight in before launching as the topology can cause a southerly cross wind to curl straight in for a short while. It is possible to launch in that window but missing it can have serious consequences.

How to get there

Saichia is about a 40 minute drive from Pingtung City. You can drive in from the 2nd Southern Freeway (No.3), Jiuru intersection and head in on local highway 27. Directions here. There are also buses from Pingtung into Saichia villiage. Pingtung has an airport but there are flights only from Taipei domestic and international airports. Kaohsiung is a 20 minute train ride away from Pingtung and may be the better place to transfer to.
It’s possible to rent vans in either Pingtung or Kaohsiung if you have an international driving permit and a local guarantor. Typical price for a nine-seat van would be NT$2,000 per day. If you want a van with a driver plan on about NT$4,000~4,500 per day.

Google Map



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Where to stay

There are plenty of hotels in Pingtung city, but the Eaton Hotel is now the best bet, it’s a short walk from the railway station. Rooms from NT$1,300 a night if you point out the fact that you are a pilot and a friend of Les’. Twin-bed rooms are NT$1,700 a night.
Ignore the coupons for breakfast, it’s terrible!
Closer to the site there are two or three small hotels in Sueimen. They are rather old and somewhat rundown, and not much cheaper than the hotels in Pingtung. It might be worth staying here if you want a taste of small-town south Taiwan, but the saving in cash or travel time doesn’t justify it otherwise.

Current Weather at RCSQ