Cityscape

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.


Bishan Temple (碧山巖開漳聖王廟)

For most people in the west, when we think about temples here in Asia, what often comes to mind is what we’ve seen in movies - The Shaolin Temple or secluded monasteries high in the mountains in Tibet.

Here in Taiwan the majority of the temples you’ll come across won’t have monks practicing martial arts or Lamas reciting humming mantras - They are actually a lot different than what you probably expected but are still wonderfully mysterious and extremely interesting. 

Temples in Taiwan come in all shapes and sizes - They can be large and extravagant or modest shrines on the side of the road. They can either be quiet, contemplative places for meditation and reflection or loud, extremely busy and exciting places of worship.

The great thing about temples here is that no matter what you believe - You are always welcome! You’re going to be pressured into anything, you won’t have to pay an admission fee and no one is going to ask you to donate your hard earned money.

Sometimes though, you will come across those types of temples that you’ve seen in the movies - Those places of worship in the mountains where you’re able to enjoy a bit of “Zen” - and of course the scenery. 

Bishan Temple in Taipei’s Neihu District is pretty much what you’ve imagined.

The large temple, which has become a tourist attraction in recent years, is nestled on the side of a mountain and was constructed in a way that allows it to blend in beautifully with the natural environment that surrounds it.

The temple also offers one of the best views of the city that you’re going to find.

Disclaimer: If you’re here only looking for information about the cityscape views and how to get to the temple you may want to skip the next few sections!  

Bishan Temple (碧山巖開漳聖王廟) 

Located on Bishan Mountain (碧山巖) in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖區), Bishan Temple has a long history and is the largest temple in Taiwan dedicated to the folk-religion deity known as Kaizhang Sheng Wang (開漳聖王).

Dating back to 1751, the temple was originally just a simple stone shrine located near the peak of Bishan Mountain. Thanks to a bit of legend and some ‘good luck’ the temple has had the ability to attract its fair share of followers, and of course that means wads and wads of cash.

The legend is a bit convoluted but it more or less goes like this: A long time ago some guy belonging to the Huang family came to Taiwan and had the odd habit of placing amulets in auspicious locations. One day he was walking on Bishan Mountain and placed one of his amulets in a small hole in the side of a mountain (possibly a cave).

Years later, a group of bandits who were planning to rob the farmers who had settled on the mountain were suddenly cast away by a massive rock slide when they tried to make their way up the mountain.

The rock slide was said to have originated from the location of the amulet.

One of the rocks that cast away the bandit later split into three pieces which was interpreted as a supernatural message from the folk deity Kaizhang and his two generals.

(I’m assuming this is because the amulet was from a Kaizhang temple in China and not completely random.)  

Praying outside of the main shrine

To express their gratitude, the people living on the mountain constructed a small shrine in honour of Kaizhang and from there the legend grew and worshippers started making pilgrimages to the area to seek the protection of the folk deity.

Soon enough the number of people visiting the small stone shrine was more than could be accommodated, so in 1861 the first iteration of Bishan Temple was constructed.

Since then the temple has been renovated, repaired and expanded upon on several occasions - most notably in 1913, 1971 and 2016 with the final product becoming the beautiful temple that we see today.

The front of the temple

With the completion of the most recent expansion in 2017, the temple has become a massive multi-floor complex. Not every level of the temple is open to the public though - So far only the top floor (where the temple is located) and the floor below it are accessible. 

The floor below the temple is currently home to a coffee shop and an art space run by the organization that controls the temple. The coffee shop is open from Tuesday to Sunday until 5:00pm and is a great spot to enjoy a drink and the views of the city.

Despite its size (and its obvious wealth), Bishan Temple is actually very simple in its design.

It doesn’t come across as flamboyant or ornate as many of other Taiwan’s places of worship which I think allows it to blend in more serenely with the natural mountain environment that surrounds it. 

However, due to the necessity for expansion and the temple being located on the side of a mountain, it is obvious that the designers had to take a bit of liberty with its design - Especially with regard to the structural stability of the complex and traditional architectural styles.

An Instagram hot spot - The beautiful stairs that lead up to the original shrine.

The main part of the temple is designed in the traditional ‘two-hall and two-passage-way’ style (兩殿兩廊式) - This means that the front of the temple has a Temple Gate (廟門) with passages on either side,  a court yard in the middle and the Main Hall (主殿) to the rear.

There are however two sets of stairs on either side of the Main Hall that transport visitors up the hill to the original stone shrine constructed in 1801.

This is the internet though, I’m fully aware that people like to argue, so if you wanted to say that the design is actually the ‘three-hall and two passage-way’ (狹長形三殿) style you’d also be correct.

Rarely though is the rear hall elevated on a hill above the main hall, nor is the actual entrance to the temple separate from the Temple Gate. This stuff can definitely become a bit confusing at times.

The main temple gate - oddly on the side of the temple.

What is considerably easier to understand is that the beauty of Bishan Temple lies not in the display of extravagance and wealth that you see at other temples but its simplicity and careful consideration of the natural environment that surrounds it.

One thing you’ll notice when visiting the temple is the distinct lack of bright colours on the interior - There is an obvious focus on red lanterns which blend well with the dark-grey tones of the stone carvings found on the walls throughout the complex.

The stone-craftsmanship at this temple is absolutely beautiful and its obvious that no expense was spared in hiring skilled artisans to create the beautiful murals and dragon pillars throughout the complex. As the temple was crafted on the side of a mountain, I’m sure you can imagine that the focus on the stonework was meant to give visitors the feeling that the temple was carved out of the mountain itself.

If you visit, you’ll want to make sure you take a walk up one of the two passage-ways to the rear which are extremely picturesque and are full of beautiful stone murals and beautifully hand-painted wooden pillars.

Main Hall (主殿)

The interior of the main hall

The main hall in the temple consists of five separate shrines: 

The shrine to the far left is dedicated to the Jade Emperor (玉皇上帝) and the Tai Sui Generals (太歲星君) - The Jade Emperor is pretty much the ‘godfather’ of Taoism and the Tai Sui generally represent the Chinese Zodiac. Both are represented by spirit plaques on either side of a statue of the Goddess Doumo (斗母元君).

The shrine to the far right is a simple one dedicated to the God of Literature (文昌帝君), an important deity for anything to do with scholarly study. Students often visit one of the many shrines dedicated to the God of Literature throughout Taiwan to pray for a bit of spiritual help with their studies.

The Main Shrine of the temple consists of three separate shrines:

  1. The shrine on the left is dedicated to the Earth God (福德正神) one of Taiwan’s most popular deities.

  2. The shrine in the middle is dedicated to Kaizhang Sheng Wang (開漳聖王) and his court, which includes his two generals General Lee (李將軍) and General Ma (馬將軍).

  3. The shrine on the right is dedicated to the ‘Martial’ representation of Kaizhang Sheng Wang (武身聖王).

Something that confused me while doing research for this blog was that there was little information readily available for a god named “武身聖王”. I did lots of searching through Chinese-language sites for an answer but came up with very little.

So, I took another trip to the temple to solve the mystery and after a short discussion with the lovely people at the information desk I learned something new:

The god in the main shrine is considered a “文” (Wen) representation meaning that he is ‘scholarly’ and ‘compassionate’ and is useful for attracting good fortune and blessings.

The shrine to the right is the “武“ (Wu) representation that depicts Kaizhang’s “martial” nature as a former military leader. This is a common thing that happens with representations of historical figures in Chinese folk religion. The martial representation has the power to help ward off evil spirits and bad influences. 

Likewise, every temple in Taiwan will have Door Gods” or “Menshen (門神) on the front doors which act as guardians for the building with one always appearing as a ‘martial’ (武) deity and the other a ‘scholar’ (文) 

Kaizhang King (開漳聖王)

Kaizhang Sheng Wang (開漳聖王)

As mentioned above, Bishan Temple is the largest of its kind in Taiwan dedicated to the folk-religion deity known as Kaizhang Sheng Wang (開漳聖王).

In most cases when you encounter a folk-religion deity in Taiwan, their worship is likely to have been brought here along with the Hokkien people (閩南人) of Fujian (福建) hundreds of years ago.

The Hokkien’s ended up bringing with them not only their language but their culture, cuisine and beliefs and helped to shape Taiwan into the land that it is today. 

Kaizhang” was a historical figure named Chen Yuan-Guang (陳元光) who lived during the Tang Dynasty (唐朝). He was a famous general who was credited with the development and prosperity of the Zhangzhou (漳州) region of Fujian Province.

After his death both Chen and his top two aides were deified becoming known as the patron saints of the people due to the fact that in life they were known for unifying people through ‘respect’ rather than the heavy-handed approach which was usually taken by the governors of that time. 

Coincidentally Chen’s defied name “Kaizhang” (開漳) is directly related to his efforts to develop or “open” (開) the Zhangzhou (漳州) area. So you get the name “開” (open) and “漳” (Zhangzhou). 

Today ‘Kaizhang Sheng Wang’ is a popular folk-deity worshipped by the Hokkien people of Taiwan, China’s Fujian Province, Singapore and Malaysia.

Link: Tan Goan-Kong 

City Views

Enjoy the haze.

I gather that most of you aren’t actually here to learn about the temple, its design or its history.

You’re probably here looking for information about the great views!

It’s okay, I understand. Not everyone shares the same enthusiasm for Taiwan’s temples as I do.

This temple is not only a popular place of worship for locals but it has also become a tourist attraction, especially with photographers thanks to the spectacular views it offers of the city.

While most temples in Taiwan close their doors around 9:00pm, this one stays open a bit later to accommodate those who come to see the beautiful night views of the city.

The front of the temple offers two large viewing platforms to guests who get to enjoy a panoramic view of the Taipei Basin, Taipei City as well as the mountains that surround the temple.

The upper platform on the main floor of the temple has a large protection barrier that may partially block some of your views. It does however allow you a much wider perspective than the platform on the lower coffee shop level. 

A rainy sunset in Taipei

I’m going to have to add a bit of a disclaimer here in order to save myself from angry emails:

The views at the temple are not always great.

You’re going to want to make sure that you visit on a day when the weather forecast is looking good and the skies are clear - This of course can be a bit difficult if you are a tourist and are on a tight schedule and don’t have a lot of time in the country.

As you can see from some of the photos I’m sharing here, I was both lucky on one occasion and extremely unlucky on another. Not only is the weather an important factor, but so is air quality -  If you visit on a day when the weather is fine, you may still not have great views due to the haze caused by pollution.

Link: Air Pollution in Taiwan: Real-time Air Quality Index Visual Map

The temple and the viewing platform are free of charge for visitors and is open until 10:00pm.

If you can’t show up until later, you may want to consider a night climb of nearby Jinmian Mountain.

Getting There

 

The best way to get to the temple is to use Taipei’s excellent public transportation network.

If you have your own means of transportation, you could always drive up the mountain, but then you’d have to find a parking spot for your car and on weekend that could be relatively difficult.

The bus that goes up the hill is inexpensive ($15NT), fast and comes at regular intervals, so you won’t have to wait very long for service.

To get to the bus first take the MRT Brown Line (文湖線) to Neihu Station (內湖站) and from Exit 1 walk to the rear of the building (where the MRT station is located).

There are two options for the bus stop - The closest is a simple right turn from the back of the MRT building. It is possible though that you won’t get a seat on the bus if you board from there. The expert thing to do would be to turn left from the back of the building and then walk down the road until you reach #452 Neihu Road Section 2. The bus stop is easily spotted as it is located a little bit past a small Earth God Shrine (梘頭福德祠) that blocks part of the sidewalk.

From there you’ll just have to wait for the “小2” bus which will bring you up the hill.

Link: 小2 Bus Schedule 

When you arrive at the entrance to the temple all you’ll have to do is get off the bus and walk up the long set of stairs to the entrance. You’ll easily know when you’re at the temple stop as pretty much everyone will get off the bus at the same time. 

The temple roof from the mountain above.

Whether you’re visiting Bishan Mountain for the historic temple or just for checking out the cityscape - There is a variety of other activities and things that you can see and do while up on the mountain. There are various hiking trails, strawberry fields, temples, a beautiful suspension bridge, parks as well as restaurants and tea shops to keep you busy for an entire day. The area is also extremely popular between February and March every year when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

If you’re looking to take a day-trip but don’t really feel like leaving Taipei, you might want to consider taking in some of the recreational activities available on the mountain.

Its definitely a great way to escape the city and who doesn’t want to sit on a mountain drinking tea?