Happy Camping

While they haven’t always been popular vacation options, camping and the more luxurious alternative glamping are seeing a boost in Taiwan.

As the sun rises on a brand-new day over the mountains of Hsinchu County’s Jianshi Township, two groups are waking up under widely differing circumstances at the Leisha Dabasi Campground. One group is on a more traditional camping trip. They arrived the previous night and promptly set up their tent at their campsite before getting dinner ready. The other group is on a luxury camping retreat, staying in futuristic domes with air conditioning and comfortable beds just down the terraced hill. 

Luxury camping, or glamping, can be described as camping without the hassle. Glampers can enjoy amenities like beds, electricity, air conditioning, indoor plumbing – and sometimes other resort-style features and comforts. Rather than bringing and setting up your own tents and equipment or sleeping in your vehicle, lodging is already prepared when you arrive – be it a tent, a yurt, a dome, or even a cabin.  

Originally, Leisha Dabasi Campground had only traditional campsites, but last year saw the addition of glampsites. “With glamping, it’s about comfort,” says owner Leisha Dabasi. “It’s about getting out in nature, but it’s also about the speed and convenience of not having to set things up. You just have to go.”  

Around the world, luxury and traditional camping are enjoying their time in the spotlight, with an unmistakable infusion of new lifeblood compared to pre- and mid-pandemic eras. According to Kampgrounds of America’s 2023 North American Camping & Outdoor Hospitality Report, camping activity in the U.S. has grown significantly over the past decade and now accounts for nearly one-third of the North American leisure travel market. Campers in the United States spent US$52 billion in 2022, with 6.4 million households going camping for the first time. 

Similarly, in the European Union, camping was the only type of travel accommodation to experience growth in 2022, with nights spent in campsites surpassing figures from 2019 by 6%. According to Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese domestic camper population is estimated to have reached 8.6 million in 2019 – though that figure dropped to 6.1 million as campsites suspended operations due to the pandemic before rising again to 7.5 million in 2021. First-time campers accounted for 16.8% of the total in 2018, a number that increased to 25.9% in 2020 and 24.4% in 2021. In South Korea, a survey showed that 43.5% of campers interviewed said they camped for the first time after the pandemic. 

Camping has taken a long time to reach mainstream popularity in Taiwan. One association that has worked to help usher in this new age of popularity is the Camping Association of the Republic of China (CAROC). The non-profit organization was founded in 1975 by citizens who enjoyed sharing their love for camping with others by promoting the activity in Taiwan. In the organization’s early days, efforts included a series of summer camp experiences for Taiwanese youth.  

“Many parents who didn’t have the time to go camping with their families would happily send their children to camp by themselves,” says Lin Chin-chang, honorary president of CAROC. “There were so many young people participating in our summer camps, but whenever we would hold events directed at families, there wasn’t so great of a turnout.” 

Glamping offers the luxury and comfort of upscale accommodations while providing a close connection to nature.

Lin remarks that while most children loved attending CAROC’s summer camps, many would have less time and inclination to venture out into the wilderness with their friends and family as they grew up.  

“Two main groups make up adult campers in Taiwan,” Lin says. “The first group is people who, as children, experienced the joy of being out in nature with friends through scouting and fell in love with camping. The other main group is people who love getting in touch with nature and preserving the environment.”  

CAROC has sought to promote camping as a pastime for more types of people. To make camping more accessible, it established the Huazhong Campground located in the riverside park near Huazhong Bridge, which connects Taipei’s Wanhua District to New Taipei’s Zhonghe District. 

Progress in attracting more campers, especially families, to campsites was sometimes slow. However, Lin and his association were pleasantly surprised in 2014 by an explosion in attendance at the 17th Asia-Pacific Rally, held in Taiwan. The Asia-Pacific Rally is an annual camping event organized by the Asia-Pacific Commission of international camping promotion organization Fédération Internationale de Camping, Caravanning et Autocaravaning (FICC).  

“At that time, we’d been trying to promote ‘family camping’ for over 50 years, and it had not always been easy,” says Lin. “Then, in 2014 at the 17th Asia-Pacific Rally, suddenly we had 300 camping outfits totaling over 1,200 people – and most of them were ‘family camping’ outfits.” The association’s efforts seemed to have finally succeeded in helping promote family camping in Taiwan. 

Lin’s anecdote is supported by search engine trends in searches for “camping” in Taiwan. There has been a four-fold increase in searches on Google for camping-related information since 2014. Chuang Jien-ho, chairperson of CAROC and one of Taiwan’s top distributors of motor homes, predicts that – with an increasing number of travel agencies offering glamping options – glamping will continue to grow in popularity rapidly. Mirroring international trends, camping in Taiwan has also seen post-pandemic growth at a remarkable rate. According to industry research firm Mirai Business Research Institute, camping experienced an increase of 27.2% year-on-year in 2022, up from 4.7% between 2019 and 2021.  

The Huazhong Campground, on the banks of the Xindian River, offers urbanites a taste of camping right on their doorstep.

Stoking the campfire 

So why the sudden uptick in the popularity of camping in Taiwan? The main factor appears to be people’s desire to escape the concrete jungle in favor of fresh air, green hills, and a sense of freedom.  

Campgrounds owner Dabasi appreciates that urge. His campground is situated on land that once belonged to Dabasi’s grandparents, members of the Yunwu Tribe of the indigenous Atayal group. As a child, Dabasi would hike for hours to get to his grandparents’ house. He recalls the connection with and respect for the land he felt on those visits and credits his love for nature to these childhood outings.  

“Years later, I returned with my mother and we discovered there is now a road,” he says. “We took our tents and stayed on the property. After that, I’d take any chance I could to get up there, and that’s when I started planning how to design the campgrounds while keeping in mind the natural layout of the area.”  

Another recurring theme is the effects of the pandemic on the types of places that make for appealing vacation spots. 

“When the pandemic started, people began to look for new domestic vacation options,” says Dabasi. “Being outside and farther away from other guests made camping an attractive option to many. Since our campgrounds are terraced, there’s a feeling of having more space to yourselves.” He adds that since Leisha Dabasi Campground opened around seven years ago, public interest has grown steadily.  

Social media has also played its part, with a multitude of internet personalities and influencers sharing their own experiences. With backdrops of beautiful scenery and the visible feeling of camaraderie and being with friends in unique locales associated with camping, it’s no surprise that this type of content appeals to users from all walks of life. 

Brothers Rays and Keelong Hsu – creators, performers, and members of the YouTube ensemble This Group of People (這群人) – have recently dabbled in the hobby by trying out glamping as well as “free camping” or “wild camping,” where groups or individuals venture into the wilderness and seek out suitable sites for camping themselves. Rays Hsu recalls childhood trips to the mountains and the seaside with their family.  

“Our family would go into the wilderness and bring our own equipment and supplies, find a place we liked, and sleep in the family car,” he says. He fondly remembers these trips and feels they led to his love for the outdoors and escaping into nature. 

Keelong Hsu says his interest in camping started abroad 14 years ago on a camping trip in Thailand. At that time, he didn’t think many viable options for camping existed in Taiwan, so he planned the trip to give camping a try. “Living in the city, it’s nice to be able to go on camping trips and experience a simpler way of life without all of the information and distractions barraging you from every direction,” he says. 

As glamping grew in popularity in Taiwan, Keelong Hsu was drawn in by the prevalence of social media posts on his feed. When friends invited him to join their glamping trips, he was excited to try camping in a different way than he’d experienced before.  

“Glamping isn’t the same as traditional camping,” he says. “It’s a bit safer and less imposing because you don’t have to worry about forgetting gear or supplies or setting things up yourself. ‘Wild camping’ or ‘free camping’ is unique because you get to create your own environment, and there’s a sense of accomplishment from putting together a camp that makes you feel comfortable.”  

Brothers Rays and Keelong Hsu were intrigued by the prevalence of glamping on their social media feeds, prompting them to give it a try. Photographer: Kelly Hsieh

Rays Hsu adds that, “Seeing everyone work together toward a common goal and how people work together in a group is also really fun for me. You learn a lot about people by observing them in that kind of situation.” 

While the brothers acknowledge social media influencers’ role in popularizing camping and glamping in Taiwan, Rays Hsu believes there is more at work behind the scenes. “I feel like influencers can’t take all the credit for how popular glamping has become in Taiwan over the last few years.”  

“I think influencers became interested in glamping because it was already becoming popular around Taiwan, and influencers started trying it themselves. At that point, they began sharing posts, stories, and videos, and that got the ball rolling faster.” 

To some degree, social media’s unique ability to rapidly popularize people, hobbies, and trends played a part in accelerating the upsurge in the popularity of both luxury and traditional camping here in Taiwan. Regardless of which influence has caused the new camping revolution, this hobby seems appealing to a growing number of people hoping to get out of the house.