Taiwan has been on my bucket list ever since I read about it on a friend’s travel blog. Seoul is about two hours away from Taipei and it seemed perfect for a trip. October has hot days and cool nights with occasional rainfall. Typhoon season is mostly over and that increases the likelihood of exploring — without having to worry about the weather.
Taipei’s metro is efficient and not too difficult to decipher. We bought our travel cards at the airport and used the airport line to transfer to Taipei Main Station. Our hotel was about 15 minutes from there. We reached around noon, dropped off our baggage at the reception, and went out to explore the city. Most hotels have a check-in time of 3 p.m. and it’s wise to plan your arrival accordingly. It was a gloomy day with a heavy downpour in the morning. We had lunch at a local eatery and took the metro from Taipei Main Station to explore Longshan Temple. We finished early and decided to end the day at Elephant Mountain.
We had to transfer at Taipei Main Station to get to Xiangshan Station. The station was practically deserted in the evening. The exit opens directly into Xiangshan Park.
Elephant Mountain is one of the top tourist spots in Taipei and the tourism board ensures a foreign visitor won’t find it hard to explore its trails. There are description boards and direction signages all along the route. I was surprised to see instructions in English and it would be difficult to get lost here.
Xiangshan Park looked serene and inviting with its green foliage. It was tempting to desert our intended hike and spend a relaxing evening in the park instead. The park overlooks some fancy buildings and is frequented by local residents.
Markers to Follow
The path turned steeper as we approached the base of the trail. We could see Taipei 101 from here.
There’s an interesting temple at the base of the trail. We didn’t have the time to explore it because we were nearing sunset and we kept walking.
I’d completed all the hikes we attempted this year and I was pretty confident that I could easily climb the stairs leading to the observation point above. It seemed like climbing the easiest mountain in Seoul. Clearly, I hadn’t taken into account the tiredness of travel and lack of sleep. I was out of breath pretty soon and wanted to give up after climbing few stairs. I felt terrible because I had worked so hard on my fitness and this should have been easy. Basil was supportive and I’m so glad he never judges me when I’m having a weak moment.
Trail Maps & Markers
I was amazed by the number of description boards and markers all along the way. I have never seen a trail in Asia that’s so well documented in English. Warning signs regarding snakes, bees, and insects are plastered all over. Boards actually give the distance and approximate time — to the next marker — at regular intervals. And you’re encouraged to take rest if you’re out of breath. Although, it seemed a bit much, I was happily taking it all in. I was sure we would never get lost here.
This guy literally ran (I’m not joking) up the stairs and was on his way down whilst I struggled with each stair and breath of air.
View from the First Observation Point
The first observation point appears early on the trail. I was happy with the view (not the best) and thought of going back. And again, Basil coaxed me to keep going.
More stairs ahead…
Honestly, I thought the stairs would never end. The trail kept getting steeper and the steps were getting closer. Moss made it slippery at sections and I was happy to have the railing on either side.
View from the Six Giant Rocks
Six Giant Rocks is the point where many visitors decide to stop. You can climb on the boulders (formed from an ancient geological process) and enjoy the views of Taipei 101 and the city. We decided to continue climbing.
View from the Second Observation Point
The second observation point is pretty close to the Six Giant Rocks and offers a panoramic view of Taipei. Once again, just keep following the markers. The view diverted my mind from how tired and sleepy I was feeling.
The last stretch…
The trail arrow pointed towards a temple above (we never found it) and another observation point (there were two). Few tourists chose to continue and the trail was deserted here. We asked some tourists how much further up and they were too shy to speak in English. The stairs didn’t seem to end and we asked another tourist about the time to get to the last point. He smiled and said that we were almost there.
The last two observation points are at two different sides of the mountain. We chose the one that had a wider view of the city below as well as the dipping sun. We had made it in time for sunset. Some tourists had come prepared with their beer and snacks. I regretted not carrying a snack to eat as it got pretty windy. It took nearly 15 minutes for the sun to appear and then escape the thick cloud cover — behind the mountains. I hadn’t seen a sunset in ages and it was the perfect way to end the first day of our trip.
Taipei at Night
Daylight slowly faded and artificial lights lit up the city. Taipei 101 (the tallest building in the frame) stood out and looked stunning. The view of a glittering Taipei was equally spectacular. I was happy to have chosen to come this far. Another trail continues towards a higher mountain from here, but we knew we had to head back to the hotel. We had started the day at 2 a.m. (in Seoul) and we ended the day with this view in Taipei.