Top 3 day hikes in Taipei

So you’ve been to Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, been up the fastest elevator in the world at Taipei 101 (fact, look it up) and you’ve been to Shilin night market and eaten some stinky tofu. Well, I suppose you’ve seen everything Taipei has to offer, so you can go home eh?

Shut up. No. Don’t play yourself. Haven’t you seen the thousands of mountains that surround the city? Do you like nice views? Of course you do. Forget Elephant Mountain; did you know that at any one time it contains at least 10% of the population of Taipei? That’s at least 4 million people at any given time.

Being the thoroughly wise and generous human being I am, I’m going to tell you my three top day hikes in three different locations around Taipei, of varying difficulty. The main consistencies are that they are all accessible via public transport and are bloody scenic. Enjoy now, thank later.

Huang Di Dian (皇帝殿)

AKA “The Emperor’s Throne”. With a name like that, you know this shit is gonna be tighter than a duck’s butthole. It has an official Lenpep difficulty rating of 31/38, so if you aren’t used to hiking much it’s probably better to skip this one. Expect a 5 hour hike (if you want to do both West and East peaks), maybe more maybe less depending on your walking skill. I normally alternate with my left and right feet, but do whatever works best for you. Anyhow, take a sandwich and a couple of litres of water per person.

It starts off with 45-60 minutes of stair climbing, which is soul destroying. But when you get to the top, the trail is far more natural, and you have a ton of ropes, chains and ladders to mess around on. The girl that introduced it to me said it was like a mountain obstacle course – I happily agree with that statement. First you can hit the West peak which is pretty simple, then you can turn back if you feel a bit knackered. If you are a pro, continue on to the East peak which has spectacular views. There is even an abandoned temple that you can get to on a connected trail, but I haven’t been there yet…

To access it by public transport, you can get the number 666 bus (the driver Lucifer is a cheerful fellow) from Jingmei MRT to Shiding (石碇) which is on the 106 road. When you get to Shiding, walk uphill to the left of ‘Hi-life’ and look for ‘Nanku Road’ on your left. You’ll see a traditional Chinese style arch, and it begins shortly after.

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Taken on the East peak of Huangdidian. Just as we reached the top we saw a lightning storm rolling in, so took a few snaps then got the hell out of there.

Fujoushan (福州山)

A fond favourite of mine. It’s easy to get to (ten minutes walk from Linguang MRT), has beautiful views of 101 and the city at the top, and is inexplicably quiet considering the above statements. The only drawback is, it’s pretty dang easy – you’ll be at the top within 15 minutes. Leave your crampons and hiking poles at home.

I’ve been here several times as it’s a great place to take pictures at any time of day. Once I met a group of photographers trying to get a good shot of Taipei for a movie company, so that should give you a good idea of the view. I’m sure I’ll regret passing this information on as it’s a spot i’m reluctant to tell people about for fear of it becoming the “Fifth Beast”, e.g Elephant Mountain Mk2.

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Possibly my favourite easily accessible spot in Taipei. So beautilue.

Qilianshan & Junjianyan (唭哩岸山 + 軍艦岩)

Easy hike, nice views, easy access, near to Shilin. What more could ya ask for? Oh. No, it’s not challenging, sorry… However, as with Fujoushan, it has great views that can be enjoyed any time of day, by hikers of all abilities – even my beloved Aunties. Witnessing sunset here is a great alternative to Elephant Mountain. You can’t quite see the sun going over the horizon but Taipei City looks great from here in the fading light. Also you can do a wee bit of plane spotting, as Songshan Airport is just in front.

Get the MRT to Qilan, leave exit 2 and walk along Donghua Street. After about a minute, go right up Gongguan Road then take the first right, and follow the signposts. It’s about a 20 minute walk to get to the trail. Follow your nose and ye shall find.

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Leaving already yeah? One of Songshan Airport’s many visitors.
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Do Taroko Gorge right

Taroko Gorge (太魯閣 aka Tàilǔgé) is by far the most beautiful place I have seen in Taiwan, and if you don’t stop by during a Tai-Visit, you are missing out on untold amounts of gorgeous scenery and awe inspiring exploration. Like this…

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When I hear that travellers have visited the gorge, I excitedly ask what their opinion was – favourite moments, hike details etc – then have on some occasions been crushed by negative or indifferent responses, such as ”I thought it was pretty over-rated” or “There were too many tourists”. Then, the tale unfolds a little further and I discover that they went on a tour bus.

My response to that is, how dare you. How DARE you disrespect this stunning paradise of incredible natural beauty by going on a tour bus! What did you expect? You’re on a bus full of people! Of course there will be crowds! Bus drivers will stop where they have been told to, not where you want them to stop. So surprise surprise, every other tour bus will stop at the same place.

When organising a trip, there is always a balance to strike. I can be lazy at times, but I always try to think ahead about transport, accomodation, the route i’ll take, and costs. You can pay more money, and a tour bus will sort all of that out for you; get you a nice little guesthouse, give you some food, and wipe your cute iddle-widdle mouth with a bib afterwards. What luxury. However, you sacrifice freedom to go where you want, and without a doubt, serenity.

With a little planning and courage, you can arrange yourself a legendary trip to Taroko Gorge, with few crowds, peace, no tour schedule, and unbeatable views from your free accomodation. Yup, you heard me. Pay attention, as I’m going to pass on some tips to ensure that you do Taroko right.

1. CAMP – Backpackers. Thrifty holidaymakers. Outdoorsy types. Do this, because there are at least two campsites that I know of to pitch up a tent, and one of them is free! Both are located in Lushui (綠水) and are merely a few minutes drive from each other. One costs a couple of bucks but you can use some basic facilities like a shower, the other is free but only has a water source. Your call. The view from either camp is spectacular.

2. USE YOUR OWN TRANSPORT – I’m talkin’ ’bout hiring a scooter, rental car, or taxi for a day. If you’re superhuman, by all means you can cycle it, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend it. For the love of Steve, DON’T get public transport or a tour bus. Using your own transport means you can stop anywhere you damn like, take pictures, hang out at a sweet looking pavillion or pagoda… in other words, do what you feel, when you want to, just the way it should be. Plus, cruising through/next to ‘the tunnel of nine turns’ on a scooter is a memory that will stay with me forever. If you have road experience, scootin’ is by far the best option. The traffic is pretty light (compared the the cities) but the winding roads can sometimes require focus.

You can easily hire a scooter in Xincheng (next to the train station), or near to Hualien train station is a better option if you are staying for a several days, as it is about twice as cheap per day ($400 to around $150ntd).
Look closely... yeah, that's a road. And you'll drive along it. Excited?

Look closely… yeah, that’s a road. And you’ll be driving along it. Excited yet?

3. PLAN YOUR HIKES – Don’t just rock up with your boots on and expect to be able to walk up any mountain that takes your fancy, this is Taiwan not Thailand. Most, if not all of the best routes require a permit (which has to be submitted at least 3 days in advance of the first day of your hike), and most importantly the leader of your group has to be Taiwanese, in case of any emergencies. I am lucky enough to have Taiwanese friends accompany me with any hikes that required a permit in the past. However, if you don’t know any, maybe you can contact local hostels to check if they have any local tour guides as contacts, or you can use the trusty old internet.

I am by no means an expert on the permit side of things, so I would suggest you visit http://www.taroko.gov.tw/english for more information.

4. POST HIKE RELAXATION – Hot springs? You betcha. The single greatest thing after a long day’s hiking is to soak like a teabag in a muscle soothing, sulphur-infused brew. The most renowned is the Wenshan (文山) hot spring, but sadly most of it was destroyed in a typhoon, so it has remained closed for a while. Now, all that remains is a small cave with a hot spring pool inside. To access it, you would have to climb over/around an iron gate, and be careful of broken stairs on the way down.

Also, as with most rocky areas with steep gradients, loose stones and rocks have been known to fall down. It can be tricky to find in the dark, so if it’s your first time you should visit in the daylight. But, it is officially closed, so I officially would not recommend that you go there. Wink.

5. GETTING THERE – Let it be known that the drive along the number 9 road from Taipei all the way to Taroko is unforgettable. Along the way you see hills, rice paddies, fisheries, tea plantations, mountains, rivers, beaches and obviously, the sea. So if you heed my previous advice about riding a scooter, you will be handsomely rewarded. The train or bus is more convenient, granted, but there’s no feeling like booting down the 9 on your mechanical horse while the scenery constantly changes. There is one exception; my rule for all long distance travel in Taiwan is “If there’s rain, get the train”.

Hopefully that will get you off to a good start. I’ll leave the rest up to you. There are numerous hiking options, from easy to advanced, so what you choose depends on your desire and skill level. If you just want to experience the beauty of the gorge and not hike, you can head to Chishingtan Beach (七星潭風) for a cocktail of imposing mountains and sea views. A little further down the road is Hualien.

Enjoy Taiwan’s treasure!

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