A few weeks ago we did the fairly quick and easy hike up Lion's head Mountain, which straddles Hsinchu and Miaoli counties.
We got there by HSR, taking the bus (1 hour) from the HSR station that leaves, if not frequently, at least not that rarely - about twice an hour on weekends. Why HSR? Because we're lazy and didn't want to get up early, and I'm used to doing it for work. I sort of forget that when I'm traveling for fun that I won't get reimbursed the NT580 that the trip costs.
I wouldn't call it the best hike I've done in Taiwan, but it was certainly good, and certainly had a great temple at the end (some photos above). You can start out from either side: Hsinchu or Miaoli. On the Hsinchu side the hike up is longer but is all road, few if any stairs. The Miaoli side hike is steeper, shorter, and all stairs. I prefer road to stairs and don't mind a longer hike if it means avoiding stairs, so I'm happy we went up from Hsinchu (a bus runs between the two).
On the either end you can pick up snacks, eat something and buy bottled drinks - on the Hsinchu side I recommend the street stall with the turnip cake (蘿蔔糕), the best I've had in Taiwan, very fresh. Locals kept coming by to buy huge chunks of it.
The trail is dotted with temples - none are spectacular in their own right except the last one as you descend, but all make nice rest stops and taken together they're lovely dots to connect on a not-too-difficult hiking day trip. Having been extremely busy lately, and generally in a bad mood (punctuated by good moods: it's not all gloom and doom), the adjective "easy" was important to me when choosing a hike that would get me out of Taipei.
Many of the temples along the way were actually monasteries - we encountered one full of monks and another full of nuns. At both, we were given tea and snacks and we sat down to chat with the monks, nuns and other visitors. I would call it the highlight of the trip.
At the first we got Pu'erh tea, and the second featured osmanthus tea. The scent of osmanthus (a delicious flower, not the one below) wafts across Lion's Head Mountain at this time of year: the area is a major producer of the flower which is used in sauces, teas and desserts. The shops aimed at sightseers all sell Oriental Beauty (東方美人) but if you really want something from this area, try and track down something made with osmanthus (good luck with that, though - what we encountered was fresh and served to us, not preserved and sold).
|not osmanthus, just a nice photo|
Recent rains, however, left the landscape lush, and turned spiderwebs into crystalline sculptures.
This cave temple in Japanese colonial baroque style was my favorite facade (I just love the style - the turn of the century through the 30s and 40s was a fine time for architecture in Taiwan), although inside wasn't that spectacular.
Most of the painted murals on the inside did not photograph well in low light.
Brendan and Joseph on the Miaoli/Hsinchu county border.
Later on the view improved only slightly, but the temple at the end makes the whole hike worth it (as mentioned above, you can start from here, but I was happier to start from the other side and end up here). Watch out - the stone steps beyond this temple get mighty slippery.
Besides the extremely ornate multiple roofs, I liked that the roof decorations - the usual dragons, phoenixes, people, pagodas, tigers etc. - were of varying ages. Some were new, some were clearly very old. The temple seems to be undergoing piecemeal long-term renovation and upkeep, but still retains its older unique character.
If you leave early enough, which we did not, you can even have lunch or dinner and take a walk around Beipu: the bus passes through in both directions whether you're going to Hsinchu or back to Zhubei, as we were.
Great hike if you want out of Taipei but don't want to go full-on up a mountain!