I went to the Moon! Well a moonscape at least. This barren landscape is known geographically as 'badlands'. The folks responsible for developing the area for tourists went for the more approachable 'moon world'. Apparently this name came from photographers who found they could recreate facsimiles of the moons surface with the right angles and lighting.
Most of the worlds badland landscapes are located in dry regions. The most famous is the Badlands National Park in the US state of South Dakota . The badlands of southern Taiwan are on nowhere near such a scale but are unique in that they occur in a tropical zone with high rainfall. There's a very thorough background on the geology of these landforms here .
The rock here is easily eroded and the soil quality quite poor. Therefore plants have a hard time getting a foothold. What does grow are thin grasses, some bamboo, and some fairly unhealthy looking small trees. In the valleys between the peaks some palms, banana trees and bamboo grows in the usual extravagant quantities they do in the rest of southern Taiwan. The nearby Qishan District is famous for banana agriculture and some of that has spilled over into Tianliao District. Stark mud pinnacles and ridges jut out of the lush vegetation below making for a bizarre sight. With their jagged ridges and deeply scarred flanks they look like like much bigger mountains that have been shrunk.
Tianliao is one of several badland areas in the region. I've yet to visit the others but I'm sure some are wilder and less developed. Synapticism and Taiwan Discovery have made their way to a few of the other parts. With typhoon rainfall and heavy erosion most areas will undergo great changes every few years. The Tianliao park seems more actively managed with some slope protection work visible on my visit.
Tianliao would be a good choice for families and the elderly as there are wide flat paths, facilities, and only one necessary climb of about 100 steps. Some over-development blight is apparent around the entrance area. From what I've seen from most pictures online the lakes near the entrance are rarely anything more than a muddy puddle. I accept that they are probably quite important for flood control and drainage in such a landscape but they are a bit unsightly.
Fortunately the landscape improves as the path winds around the base of some of the mountains. A little way up a path on the left leads to a viewpoint with great views over the craggy hills. It's not an especially strenuous climb but it is exposed and the sun can be merciless in these parts. Retrace your steps and complete the loop trail back to the entrance, passing some wicker sculptures and derpy looking sheep.
Public transport here seems quite infrequent and difficult. I went on an invite with My Taiwan Tour, and Taiwan Scene, who were well organized, knowledgeable, and I can recommend them with a clear conscience. I did agree to write an article on something in return, but on condition I could maintain objectivity and call out stuff if it was crap. I couldn't see myself finding my way up here or Foguangshan anytime soon otherwise. The tour was a great taster of several areas but as with most stuff like this time in some places was limited. I will go back and spend some more time exploring Qishan and Hamasen. After Moon World there was a meal in a restaurant across the street. I tried tofu fried chicken and birds nest fern for the first time. Both were delicious. If you want to make your own way to Tianliao bus Red 70B from Gangshan seems to be the best bet.