Monday, March 31, 2014

Secret Entrance to Elephant Mountain

Elephant Mountain, also known as XiangShan or 象山, is one of the "Four Beasts" mountains that overlook Taipei, and depending on the route, is arguably the easiest and fastest hike available in Taiwan, considering the view. Just Southeast of Taipei 101, Elephant Mountain offers one of the most picturesque views of the city.

This post will cover a hitherto unknown entrance to the Four Beasts trail that starts at what appears to be an extremely old collection of shrines and vertical stairs that are reminiscent of the Pueblo Indian cave dwellings in the United States.

This place is a beast to find, and one wrong turn will send you inextricably in the wrong direction. I recommend checking out the custom google map and following using street view, as well as consulting my pictures for the actual hike directions. In all honesty, once you get up on the mountain, you'll probably get turned around. Not necessarily a bad thing, the Four Beast mountains are relatively tame, and all paths are beautiful (and eventually lead to an MRT).

By the way, I don't go into too much detail what you will see on this hike, because I don't want to spoil the surprise. Don't rush things. This is an extremely short hike, so feel no guilt at pauses to examine some particularly interesting shrines or enjoy the view.

Flickr Album

Cost and Time
Total: 0 TWD, ~1-3 Hours
- Walk from Yongchun Station to Trailhead - 20 mins
- Trailhead to Main Four Beasts Trail - 45 mins
- Shrine at Trail Intersection to Elephant Mountain Viewpoint - 30 minutes
- Miscellaneous hiking - 1 or more hours

What to Bring
- Winds can get mildly high up on the mountain - temperatures may be slightly cooler than the ground
- Shoes with good grip. Expect overgrown, mossy stone and wet mud / stone.
- Water Bottle

What to Expect
- Stairs hiking
- Extreme vertical stairways, similar to Pueblo Indian sites
- Wilderness hiking, including dirt and stone scrambling
- Ancient shrines and temple sites
- Fantastic views of Taipei

Trailhead Location
-25°01'52.5"N 121°34'48.0"E

Directions To Trailhead (Detailed)
1. Go to MRT Yongchun Station Exit 4. (Coordinates)
2. Walk straight to "Hulin" or "H lin" street, take a right. (Coordinates)
3. Stay on Hlin street, past Songde Rd, to Xinyi Rd Section 6 / Fu De Street. Take a left. (Coordinates)
4. Take a right on Linkou street (林口). Walk alongside the ubikes. (Coordinates)
5. Take a left onto Songshan Rd. (Coordinates)
6. At the split, stay right. (Coordinates)

7. At alley 15, take a left (downhill). (Coordinates)

8. Take the left immediately following the wooden bridge, toward the hiking map sign. (Coordinates)
Don't go this way!

9. Walk until you see some stairs on your right side. Climb up them. This is the trailhead.  (Coordinates)

This is the trailhead.

Hike Details
10. At the next intersection, take the stairs on the left, following the sign for "muzhi shan hiking trail."

11. At the shrine, take the supervertical stairs featured in pics below.

12. At the dirt trail intersection, take the rightmost trail. Follow white/red trailmarker ribbons.

13. You will arrive at a giant power tower.

13. From here on, all paths should lead to a road. Cross the road towards the red/black railing path/stairs leading up.

13. Take the first dirt intersection to the left to the Really Big Shrine

14. Go back to the stairs and continue going up, take a right at the intersection, and end up at Elephant Mountain Viewpoint. (a bit of a hike)
15. Keep going straight past to end up back down the stairs and at Xiangshan Station.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fulong Bike

Fulong is a beautiful corner of Taiwan. Situated east of Taipei on a small peninsula jutting into the ocean, it sports the best Taiwan has to offer: thick forests, rolling mountains with the occasional sharp face, clean beaches, blue/green ocean, and a couple intricately decorated temples.

This post will cover an activity that's easy enough for a family to do in ~5 hours but interesting enough to entertain anybody. It is a bike ride around the eastern peninsula of Fulong that features good ocean views, a ride through the historic 2km long tunnel, stops at several interesting locations (including slate faults, a lighthouse, and more), and ends at a clean and gorgeous beach.

Flickr Album

Cost and Time
Total: ~300TWD, ~5-8 Hours
- Train from Taipei to Fulong - 99TWD - 1.5hrs
- Bike Rental and Ride - 100-200TWD - 2-4 hrs
- Train from Fulong to Taipei - 60TWD - 1.5hrs

What to Bring
- A picture ID to be given to the bike rental people. Not your passport.
- The weather of Fulong is similar to that of Taipei, with an added blustery ocean breeze. In the colder months (October - March) bring at the very least a light jacket and tights. In the summer months, a long sleeve shirt is recommended to have in a pack for the really windy places.
- Water bottles (can be purchased at the 7/11 at Fulong)
- Whatever you're comfortable biking in for an extended period of time. I like shorts and a t-shirt with sneakers.
- If you're hitting the beach, sun screen, towel, swimsuit, and other beach things. There are lockers outside of Fulong train station (near the bathrooms) if you'd like to leave your beach things there and bike light.

What to Expect
Historical sites (tunnel, lighthouse, overlooks)
- Fantastic ocean views
- Interesting geography
- Light hike opportunities
- Coastal views
- Swimmable Beach

Instructions Short
1. Get a TRA train ticket from Taipei Main Station to Fulong Train Station (~1.5 hours)
2. Walk directly out of the station and rent your bike of choice from any of the vendors.
3. Take the road that's to your right as you leave the station to the 2km Tunnel
4. Take a sharp uphill left from the tunnel to reach the main road / bike path
5. Follow signs for the bike path and bike ~2-4 hours, stopping when interested
6. Stop at Sandiaojiao Lighthouse, climb path to see the lighthouse. Continue biking.
7. Return bike before 5pm, get picture ID back
8. Get a train from Fulong Train Station to Taipei Main Station

Instructions Long
1. Starting in Taipei (recommend no later than 10am), go to Taipei Main Station and follow signs for "TRA." There are automatic machines that you can try to figure out if you'd like (tickets today -> eastern taiwan -> fulong) but your best bet is to go to the ticket window and say "Fulong." If they try to tell you times in Chinese, never fear, they will write the times down for you when they realize you don't understand. Just point and choose, and pay. Take your ticket to the corrals to the left and show the employee standing there, they will communicate via English or by writing down for you which platform you should go to. Don't lose that ticket, you'll need it when you leave Fulong station.

A train may be at the platform that isn't your train. The only way to know is to ask as many people as possible until you find one that speaks English. Sometimes the train arrives 1 minute before departure time, so it's always good to double-check before getting on a train. You can worry whether you're on the right car once you're actually on the thing. Trains depart every hour, so don't miss it.

The train ride lasts about 1.5 hours. It begins slow, with many stops, but picks up speed as it gets further from the city. I prefer the view out of the left side, particularly as you get closer to Fulong, as there are many ruined towns to see. About 20 minutes from Fulong there is an abandoned, bricked off tunnel buried in the forest visible from the left side of the train. See if you can spot it!

2. There's only one exit out of the station. Give the attendant your ticket, exit to the right. Immediately to your left will be bathrooms and lockers. Immediately to your right is the road you will be taking later. Straight ahead and downhill are the various bike shops you can choose your bike from. To rent a bike, just go up and point to the one you want, and indicate the number of bikes you'll be renting. I recommend getting the yellow Giant brand hybrid bikes from the first guy on the left for 150TWD each, but down the hill and across the road is a more comfortable hybrid/mountain Giant brand vendor for 100TWD each if you prefer a slower, more comfortable ride. They'll ask for your ID, which they'll keep until you return your bike. They will also generally show you a "contract" with rules on it in Chinese. Just agree, I promise you aren't signing your unborn children away. Bring your bike back by 5.

3. When you left the station, there was a road leading off to your right. Follow it and after about 10-15 min you will arrive at the 2km tunnel, as well as some bathrooms. It's about a 5-10 minute ride through the thing so settle in.

4. When you get out of the tunnel, and after taking in the wonderful views (you can see turtle island off in the distance), the road you want is up the hill to your left from the tunnel entrance. It'll be marked with various bike signs and runs alongside the main road (it's basically just a shoulder to the road.)

5. Start biking! There's a lot to see, and don't worry about stopping and leaving your bike unlocked. Theft is incredibly rare in Taiwan. Along the route there are some interesting shale faults sticking out of the ground that are great fun to walk around. There's tide pools there that are fun to check out. Also along the way are several viewpoints, including one a 3 minute walk up a hill called the Sandiaojiao Lighthouse. The entrance is right here.  Just go straight up the stairs.

The ride can get a bit confusing after this. Worse case scenario, just stick to the road's shoulder, however, you can follow all bike signs with confidence, as they will at one point (after the rainbow elementary school) diverge to the right towards a temple and then through a small fishing town.

6. Once you start getting near beaches, you are near Fulong train station. Here is the convergence towards the beach, make sure not to miss it! Follow the path along the beach, hang out at the beach, whatever, then cross this bridge, then left, and left again onto Fulong Street. From there, it's straight uphill to the station. Turn in your bike, and don't forget to get your ID back!

7.  Inside the station, ask the ticket window people for "Taipei." It's likely that their English will be terrible, so worse case scenario, copy this and blow it up on your phone's notes app: 請寫出列車時刻台北。Everyone is generally very helpful, so just keep asking "Taipei?" to get to the right platform. Again, make sure you're on the right train! The platform changes all the time, so unfortunately I can't specify here. It would be good to ask when you get on a train if people on it are going to Taipei. Good luck!

Add in the comments your experience, or any suggestions you have for this route!