Food aside — Taiwan’s capital is famous for its beef noodle soup and its dumplings — the best part about Taipei is that it is surrounded by mountains. You can look up into the hills, see a temple far up in the distance, and say to yourself, “I want to go there.” And that’s exactly what I did after a morning of museum visits.
It’s amazing how quickly you can leave the streets and find yourself in a maze of walking trails and hiking paths.
In the lower sections, these trails are downright civilized:
Wooden signs (in both Mandarin and English, thank goodness) help you find your way:
The people I met on the trail were very friendly, though I think they were wondering what a white lady in a sundress and nice sandals was doing climbing up these hills (one man gave me a thumbs up and said, “good job!”).
I went up, up up, past unidentified wildflowers …
… irises …
… and the occasional orb spider:
The trail mostly led up through trees and tropical underbrush, with signs of human habitation here and there along the way.
Eventually the path crossed a street, and then I found myself smack in front of a temple.
I am pretty sure that this was Jiulian Temple …
… and that the view from the balcony looked out over to Yuanming Temple …
… but there was no signage in English on these buildings, so I can’t be positive. I just know that I love exploring temples and looking at the detailed iconography:
After I’d cooled down a little — it can get really humid in Taipei — I decided to keep going up the stairs beyond the temple, just to see what was at the top of the hill. Eventually I found a side path that took me out to this vista:
If I turned to my right, I could forget that the city existed at all:
My return path downhill took me past this unexpected structure …
… which was home to a crude but fascinating altar:
At the next street crossing, I saw this sign:
Again, I am working on my best guesses here, but I think that the man in the imposing black boots is Zheng Cheng-gong, a Chinese Ming loyalist of the 17th century who fought against the invading Qing and eventually fled to Taiwan. Once on the island, Zheng Chen-gong attacked the Dutch colonists and then went about setting up Taiwan as a home for other Han Chinese loyal to the Ming cause.
Today, many people see Zheng Cheng-gong as a hero, the “original ancestor of free Taiwan,” according to Wikipedia (though I have to wonder whether the indigenous people would adopt the same language). Some individuals also revere him as a god — and indeed, they have built a massive spaceship-looking temple — complete with a scrolling LED banner — in his honor:
Zheng Cheng-gong himself looks a bit stiff …
… but I love that he is guarded by an orange guy …
… and he has a fantastic view:
You can even see down to the National Palace Museum complex from this temple:
Given more time and more cooperative weather (it was hot and humid on my first day in town, and raining on my only other free morning), I would have spent much more time up in these hills. There are waterfalls and mountain peaks and even a national park within easy reach of the city. For a hiker, this is a great place.