台北

Fuzhou Mountain (福州山)

Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei is an amazing city that is extremely fortunate to be almost completely surrounded by mountains. It seems like no matter where you are, you’re never far away from a hiking trail and some of those trails have an added bonus of providing hikers with spectacular views of the cityscape.

The sad thing is though, most tourists who come to Taiwan are only really aware of the Elephant Mountain trail, which provides one of the most iconic views of the city, but is also the reason why the mountain is jam-packed every day of the week.

Admittedly, Elephant Mountain does offer the best view and is the most ‘iconic’ spot to take photos of Taipei’s constantly changing skyline - There are however several other locations where you can go to get impressive shots of the city without having to wait all day. So, if you’re like me, and don’t like wasting time in long lines, but still want one of these iconic travel photos, you may want to consider an alternatives.

Most people don’t realize that the Elephant Mountain trail is part of a larger network of trails known as the ‘Four Beasts ’ (四獸山) which also includes Tiger Mountain, Leopard Mountain and Lion Mountain. Likewise you’ll also find Thumb Mountain (拇指山), 9-5 Peak (九五峰), Nangang Mountain (南港山) and Fuzhou Mountain (福州山) close by which are all equally attractive spots, but are frequented considerably less by tourists visiting the city.

Fuzhou Mountain in particular is one that can be easily accessed through Taipei’s excellent public transportation network and takes very little effort to climb but offers maximum enjoyment when it comes to the amazing view of the city.

The mountain which sits directly west of Elephant Mountain offers comparable views of the cityscape, but I would argue the view from this mountain gives visitors a much wider perspective of the city and the lack of any tall buildings obscuring the view of Taipei 101 makes the skyscraper look even more gigantic.

If you’re looking for one of those epic photos and don’t want to have to deal with a bunch of tourists getting in your shot, you’ll definitely want to consider this mountain.

Fuzhou Mountain Hike

Considerably one of the easiest hikes in Taipei, the Fuzhou Mountain trail takes less than twenty minutes from the trailhead to the peak and isn’t even remotely as steep as some of its more popular neighbors. This makes the mountain much more suitable for travelers who are traveling with children or seniors. Like most hikes in the city, the trails are well-maintained with well-developed walkways and even lights that guide your path at night.

If Instagram is any indication, the majority of people who hike this one take almost all of their photos from a specific area, which offers one of the best views of the Taipei cityscape -  but may fail to realize that the park has two additional viewing areas where you’ll also get great views of the city.

Depending on how much time you have and whether or not you plan on visiting one of the platforms or all of the platforms, there are a few things you should keep in mind when planning a trip to the mountain as there are a few different trailheads and a few different ways to get there.

To make things simple, I’m going to separate my recommendations for the trails into two different sections, so if you want to simply get to the most popular platform, take some photos and then leave as fast as possible check out the section immediately below. If however you plan to take your time, check out all three spots, you should check out the second description. It will provide you with faster access to the other two viewing platforms before arriving at the most popular one.

Starting from Fuyang Eco-Park

Once you’re in the park (directions below) you’ll come up to a roof-top pavilion with nearby bathroom facilities. You’ll likely find quite a few locals hanging out there drinking tea and chatting. The nature park, which is completely covered by trees offers a cool respite from the summer heat, so it tends to be a popular place to hang out.

Next to the pavilion is a set of stairs where you’ll start your ‘hike’ up the mountain - I wouldn’t actually even consider this one a ‘hike’ as its more or less just a brisk ten minute walk up a hill. The incline isn’t that steep and after a few short minutes you’ll start seeing the cityscape appearing through the brush.

After the short walk up the hill you’ll reach a park with playground-like facilities with another set of stairs leading up to the platform. This platform, the most popular of the three is where you’ll find the best view of the city.

Even though the view is generally unobstructed, I’d recommend that you bring a tripod with you, especially if you are going to be taking night shots. The taller the tripod the better as it is possible that you may end up having a bit of brush growing in front of the platform.

From this platform you have the option of continuing along the trail to the other two platforms or leaving the way you came to go back to the MRT station. If you’ve got the time, I recommend continuing on.

Starting from Wolong Street Trailhead

Mothra?

The Wolong Street Trailhead is probably the most popular starting point for this hike, but for the life of me I have absolutely no idea why. When you start your hike from the Fuyang Eco Park, you’re constantly surrounded by nature and the path, even though it is well maintained, blends in with the natural environment. The Wolong entrance however is a steep cement trail. There are of course trees all around you, but when you’re walking up a cement path wide enough for cars, I wouldn’t really call that a nature hike. Its more like a walk up a steep street. 

One of the other negatives is that the hike from Wolong Street takes much longer (and that doesn’t even include the amount of time it takes to arrive at the trailhead). If you start at the park and walk at my pace (which is relatively fast) you can be at the viewing platform in around five to ten minutes. The Wolong entrance on the other hand is going to take a bit more time and you’ll have to contend with a couple of really steep sets of stairs that are going to tire you out. 

I suppose the popularity of the Wolong Street trailhead as a starting point is mostly just so that people can make a complete circuit of the main part of the trail. If you start at Wolong, you can easily end your hike at the Eco Park, which is conveniently located near the MRT station. 

How you hike is up to you, but if you’re looking for a much faster and easier experience, I’d recommend not bothering with this trail at all. Personally, I’ve hiked this mountain well over a dozen times and the only time I started from this entrance was to get photos for this blog. Its not likely that I’ll ever start from there on a future visit.

Why are there so few people?

Despite offering what are arguably some of the best views of the city, there is a very practical reason why this mountain isn’t as popular as you’d expect it would be. Suffice to say, most locals consider it to be one of the most haunted areas in the city.

Why? Well, there are actually several reasons, all of which involve ghosts.

  1. The area where the hiking trails currently exist were once home to a graveyard that has since been relocated elsewhere.

  2. The southern side of the mountain, where you won’t find hiking trails, is still occupied by a large public graveyard and there are funeral homes near the base.

  3. The eastern side of the mountain is home to the Taipei Necropolis, an infamous site full of unmarked graves of those murdered by the government during Taiwan’s “White Terror” period (白色恐怖).

  4. The infamous Xinhai Tunnel (辛亥隧道) was constructed inside the mountain and connects two city districts geographically separated by the mountain.

I’m not really a person that pays much attention to this superstition stuff, so let me give you a few details so you’re not that freaked out.

The Taipei Necropolis and 228 Graveyard are actually on a distant part of the mountain range than the hiking trails (Closer to Liuzhangli MRT 六張犁捷運站). Unfortunately, the reminders of Taiwan’s history are enough to keep some away.

Link: The Graveyard at the Center of Taiwan’s White Terror Period (English / 中文)

In the early 2000’s when the graveyard was relocated and the city government started to lay the foundation for the hiking trails, the Taiwanese media (which thrives off of sensationalism) posted articles which complained about the poor job the city government did with relocating the graves and also enforced the idea that this place was definitely one where you wouldn’t want to visit. Here’s a translated excerpt from a 2005 TVBS article:

On Wolong Street in Taipei there was once a cemetery. Five or six years ago the cemetery was relocated and the city converted the area into a park. While the trails were being laid you wouldn’t believe that the city government did such a terrible job of cleaning up the remains of the tombs. It’s outrageous that a tombstone is still clearly visible next to the trail. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101, Fuzhou Park will satisfy you. However if you want to climb this mountain you’ll need a bit of courage because you have to walk along a path full of graves.

「台北市在臥龍街附近有一塊公墓,在五六年前墓地遷移之後,市府在原地改建成公園,還舖上木製登山步道,不過市府卻沒有將墳墓的遺跡清理乾淨,離譜的是,有墓碑就被崁進階梯裡,上面刻的姓氏還可以清楚看到。想要眺望世界最高樓台北101週圍的美景,有一個地方可以滿足您,那就是位在臥龍街附近的福州山公園,不過想登高望遠,可能要有點勇氣,因為您得踏著墳墓棧道,一步一步往上走。」

Confounding the urban myths about the mountain being haunted is the fact that the Xinhai Tunnel (辛亥隧道) was constructed within the mountain while the graveyard was still on top. There have have been countless stories about ghosts appearing in the back seats of people’s cars as well as on the road, causing several fatal accidents over the years. In 2013 the tunnel was listed as one of the ‘Top Ten Haunted Sites in Taiwan” by an online poll. (English / 中文版)

Fuzhou Mountain is a vibrant natural area in the middle of the city and is full of life and not those who have already departed this world. I’m sure most foreign visitors won’t have any reservations about visiting. I can attest to the fact that I’ve been in this park more than a handful of times, most of them hiking on my own, and haven’t experienced anything remotely strange - although on one occasion a grandma asked to take a selfie with me.

Getting There

 

There are a several different trailheads on this mountain, so how you get to the mountain really depends on which trailhead you prefer to start on. The entrance that most people use is a short walk from the Linguang Station (臨廣捷運站) on the MRT’s Brown Line (文湖線). The other two trailheads are either a longer walk away from the MRT station or are accessible by bus.

If you prefer to take the bus, you can take bus GR11 from the Taipower Building MRT Station (台電大樓捷運站) or Gongguan MRT Station (公館捷運站) and get off at the ‘Mortuary Service Office Second Funeral Parlor’ (第二殯儀館) bus stop and walk across the street to the trailhead.

From Linguang MRT Station you have two options for trailheads:

Fastest Route: From Exit 2 cross the street onto Lane 416 Heping East Road (和平東路416巷) and walk straight until you reach Fuyang Road (富陽路). Make a left turn there and walk straight until you reach the park.

Copy this address into Google Maps and it will give you the location of the trailhead: 台北市富陽路165號

Second Route: From Exit 1 turn left and walk down Wolong Street (臥龍街) continuing along for about ten minutes. You’ll find the trailhead, a set of stairs with a trailhead marker next to the road.

Copy this address into Google Maps and it will give you the location of the trailhead: 台北市大安區臥龍街195巷

If you don’t have internet access and can’t use Google Maps to find your way, never fear. When you arrive at the MRT station, you’ll also find maps of the area posted on the walls by the exit. They will offer directions to the Fuzhou Mountain Park (福州山公園).

As an alternative to Elephant Mountain and the other peaks on the ‘Four Beasts’ trail, the Fuzhou Mountain hike is a leisurely trail to hike, especially if you’re traveling with seniors or young children. The park is quite interesting and has some cool stuff to see with a trail that extends much further than just the cityscape viewing platform so if you’re looking for an easy hike with considerably less tourists blocking your view, you’ll definitely want to consider this one. Don’t believe any of the urban myths you hear about the place being haunted. This small mountain in the heart of Taipei offers beautiful views of the city and is a great place to visit any time of the year.


Abandoned Railway Dorms (台鐵安東街宿舍案)

Urban Exploration? It’s been a while! Even though I continue to actively explore in my free time, I haven’t posted anything urbex-related in quite a while. There are actually a few reasons for this - The most obvious is that I’ve been way too busy with commercial work and have had a difficult time catching up with all of the personal photos and blogs that I haven’t had a chance to get to.

When it comes to urbex-related stuff, I’ll eventually get to it, but sometimes if the story behind a place that I’m exploring doesn’t really interest me that much, I won’t spend much time writing about it. There are of course also some more annoying reasons why I haven’t been willing to post much urbex-related stuff in recent months, but I’m not really going to get into that here.

All I’ll say about that is the reason you’re seeing this today is because the area I’m writing about is already gone.

With todays post, I had the luck to be able to combine my enjoyment of urban exploration with a bit of research about Taiwanese history dating back to the Japanese Colonial Era, something that interests me quite a bit.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll probably have noticed that I’ve lamented ad nauseam about the fact that when the Japanese Colonial Era ended in Taiwan, most of what was constructed that had anything to do with Japanese culture or religion was torn down or repurposed. Suffice to say, even though a lot of buildings were destroyed by the Chinese Nationalists, they didn’t actually tear down everything that the Japanese constructed.

In fact, a lot of the infrastructure that was constructed by the Japanese (in addition to the efficient way that they did things) was successfully emulated by the incoming regime, proving tremendously helpful when it came to further developing the country.

One of the best examples of this was the way the Japanese provided dormitories for employees of the state - So if you were a civil servant, worked at a school, university, hospital, were a member of the police force or the railway, it was likely that you had a dormitory assigned for yourself and your family.

It goes without saying that the “dorms” provided are not likely the university-style dormitories that you’re thinking - They were often large Japanese-style homes that were provided based on the importance of the work that you were doing with higher ranking state employees receiving larger homes for themselves while others would have received shared accommodations.

The dorms were also almost always constructed very close to your place of work, so if for example you were a police officer, the housing you were provided with was likely very close to the precinct you worked at. Likewise if you were a teacher or a principal, your home was likely constructed on school grounds or next door to the campus.

Link: Zhongli Police Dormitories (中壢警察局日式宿舍群)
Link: Jhudong Dormitories (竹東林務宿舍)

When the Nationalists arrived in Taiwan though they brought with them a couple of million refugees from China which instantly created a housing crisis. To solve this problem they moved many of the higher ranking bureaucrats that came with them into the existing dormitories constructed by the Japanese while at the same time emulating the Japanese and created “Military Villages” (眷村) of their own to be used as “temporary” housing.

As I’ve mentioned a few times in previous posts, the Chinese Nationalists arrived in Taiwan with the mindset that they were only going to be here on a short term basis while the Japanese on the other hand developed the island with the mindset that they were never going to leave; This is why many of those “dorms” constructed by the Japanese are still standing today while the hastily constructed Military Villages built by the Nationalists are falling apart and being torn down.

It is unfortunate that most of the buildings of cultural and religious significance that were constructed by the Japanese have already been torn down, but we can at least take solace in the fact that the history of the colonial era hasn’t been completely erased as the continued existence of the “dorms” acts as a link to an important period of Taiwan’s history.

In recent years, the Taiwanese government has done an admirable job (and spent a considerable amount of money) restoring many of the remaining buildings constructed during the Colonial Era and has converted them into tourist destinations. This renaissance of sorts has helped to highlight the fact that Taiwan is in fact an interesting country with an interesting history, which is something that is often overlooked by the local people here.

A few months back I was invited to take a tour of the recently restored Taipei Railway Workshop (台北機廠) - The workshop, which is now open to the public for tours is an important piece of Taiwan’s history that dates back almost a century and is an excellent place to learn about Taiwan’s amazing railway system and how the railway was instrumental in Taiwan’s development.

While touring the workshop, one of the questions that came to mind was whether or not there were dormitories on-site - It seemed probable that one of the buildings in the administrative section could have been used for shared accommodations, but I was never able to confirm that. So while doing research for the article I was writing about the workshop, I took a bit of time to search out where the railway dorms were located.

One of the ways that I typically do research on this kind of stuff is to first take a look at the satellite view on Google Maps. The problem however in this case is that the Railway Workshop was located directly next door to the Songshan Tobacco Factory (松山菸廠), which would have also had dorms of its own. So without a definitive answer, I started doing some research.

The layout of the Eastern Block of the Taipei Railway Dormitories

In no time I discovered that the Railway Bureau had a few separate communities of dorms available for employees at the workshop and beyond. The largest of which was the nearby “Eastern Block” (臺北機廠東宿舍) community in the Songshan Area which dates back to 1937 (昭和12年). Although that community no longer exists today (the dorms were later moved), the interesting thing is that the land they were constructed on is currently home to the popular Wufenpu Shopping District (五分埔商圈) near the Raohe Night Market (饒河夜市).

Link: 臺北機廠東宿舍 (臺北市信義區文史地圖)

Link: Songshan Railway Residences (Synapticism)

If you were wondering about the other large community of railway dorms, namely the “Western Block” (台北西區鐵道宿舍群) you don’t have to look much further than the area between Taipei Train Station (台北車站) and the North Gate (北門).

The area was once home to the historic Taiwan Railway Hotel (台灣鐵道飯店) as well as a large community of dorms, both of which are currently in the process of being restored and will be open to the public in the near future - Unfortunately though, most of the dorm section has already been torn down and converted into a public park.

While it was actually quite simple to research the history of the Japanese-style railway dorm communities, the situation with the modern “Eastern Block Railway Dorms” was a bit more difficult to understand. The majority of the information online is either from some local news sites or real estate sites that were looking to rent out some of the apartments within.

So here’s what I can tell you - The modern high-rise style Railway dorm community was constructed in Taipei’s Eastern District between Zhongxiao Fuxing (忠孝復興站) and Nanjing Fuxing (南京復興站) MRT Stations. Constructed in the 1970s, the Taiwan Railway Andong Street Dorms (台鐵安東街宿舍案) became the new home for most of those who were living in the original dorm community in Songshan.

The apartment block consisted of several buildings in a walled-community and at full occupancy had enough space for two hundred apartments. After several decades however many of the people who were living in the apartments started to move out due to rising rent prices and employee layoffs, leaving many of the apartments abandoned.

At the turn of the century, the abandoned apartments started to become a problem for the local community as they apparently started to attract homeless people and drug users. Likewise the parking lot for some reason became a local dumping ground for abandoned cars, which attracted garbage, mosquitos and other pests.

The local Village Representative (里長) complained to the Taipei City Government on several occasions about the situation but nothing could be done as the community wasn’t completely abandoned and those families still living inside were unwilling to relocate. The Taiwan Railway Administration likewise was losing an insane amount of money every year in property taxes on a plot of land that would otherwise be considered prime real estate and the central government was none-too-happy about the accumulating losses.

Link: 台鐵安東街宿舍荒廢淪車輛棄置廠 (民視新聞)

In 2015, the community made headlines across the Taipei culinary scene when the Railway Administration issued eviction notices to the occupants of the 3600 square meter area. This meant that all the occupants and businesses in the area would have to relocate as the community would eventually be torn down. The most famous occupant, Lin Dong-Fang Beef Noodles (林東芳牛肉麵), a staple of the local food scene, likewise would have to find a new place to operate their business - sending late night foodies into a frenzy. Where would one get their late night beef noodles fix if they closed?

Link: 台鐵局收回宿舍用地 林東芳牛肉麵年底前要搬家 (ET Today)

The good news is that they found a new place nearby to cook their noodles.

When I blogged about the Taipei Railway Workshop, I wanted to check out the dorms, but I found out that it would ultimately be a race against time as the buildings were about to be completely demolished. So, I found some time to get myself to the area, found a way in and explored a few of the abandoned apartment buildings. To tell the truth though, when I arrived, they had already started tearing down many of the buildings, so I was really limited as to what I could take photos of.

As you’re reading this now, the buildings are already completely demolished and the future of the land is yet to be decided. One would hope that the Taipei City Government in conjunction with the Central Government would follow through on their campaign promises and use the land to construct affordable public housing, but only time will tell.

Still, I’m glad that I was able to get into the apartments to check them out and document an interesting part of Taiwan’s history that is likely to be completely forgotten.