Distance: 2km (just the trail section)
Time: 1¼ hours (likewise, just the trail)
Difficulty: 2.5/10 – it’s a pretty easy stroll, there are some steps (total elavation is a about 115m), and although there aren’t any maps, it should be easy enough to navigate as long as you’ve got access to a map service.
Water: 0.6L – I finished it all but there were shops at both ends of the trail so you don’t need to carry too much.
Shade: on and off – I needed my umbrella in the afternoon sun.
Mobile network: excellent, it’s still in the city really so I got full coverage.
Enjoyment: I went with zero expectations and not really having read much about the walk and as a result I was pleasantly surprised. If you go expecting beautiful, untamed wilderness you’ll be disappointed, but for an easily accessibleand quick city hike this is rather good.
Xianji Yan Trail Map
An unexpected combination of cancellations meant that I had an extra day of not working this week and rather than sit around feeling irritated at the fact that I wouldn’t be getting paid, I decided to make the most of my freedom and go exploring a bit. I’ve been meaning to check out a vegetarian supermarket (iVegan – the Apple service you never knew existed) near Wanlong MRT station for a while so I decided to get a bit more excitement out of the day by walking to Wanlong over the hill from Wangfang Hospital station.
Leaving the station I turned left, crossed over the road and turned left again walking southish on Xinglong Road (興隆路).
The road passes the rather grand gate of Taiwan’s Police College and as the road curves, it passes another big building, something to do with Coast Guard Administration. There’s a 7-eleven near here where I stocked up on snacks just in case I got hungry.
I was just a little bit too early, but if you start your hike after 12pm you can grab some steamed buns from this red shop before turning right here up Lane 304. Just out of frame to the right you’ll find a sign pointing you towards the start of the trail.
I can’t say it is the most promising-looking start, the trail heads up some green concrete steps and hemmed in by walls, behind which were maybe-or-maybe-not inhabited buildings and farmland.
After a short way, the path starts to climb out of the buildings and the floor changes, in parts wooden steps, in others just earth. I looked back and caught my first glimpse of Taipei 101 doing what it does best: being taller than everything else.
I encountered my first living giant stag beetle – he (I am assuming it was a he because it was a little small for a giant stag beetle and the ladies tend to be larger), was kind enough to sit still so that I could take a picture.
Most of the junctions here are unmarked so I stuck to the most defined path.
The unpaved section comes to an end at a set of stairs going up and down. I went up past a rest pavillion where a woman was doing meditation and a guy was busy drinking bubble tea.
Just beyond the pavillion there’s a rubbing station – there are a few places where I’ve seen these in Taiwan, I would have found them quite exciting as a child.
Next up on the list of giant mini-beasts was this impressive earthworm – last year the UK went crazy over Dave, a large earthworm from Widnes, but I reckon there are plenty of worms over here who could give Dave a run for his money.
As the path crossed over Huaien tunnel, there is a turn of on the right back down towards Wangfang hospital. I ignored it and went straight, passing a good view of Taipei 101 and another rest pavillion.
From here on the path was just paved or wooden steps. There was a little exercise area with some pieces of equipment but no sign of them having been used much recently.
The next junction was the best signposted on the whole trail and I veered left following the sign towards Xianji Yan Temple and the Immortal’s footprints.
The route passed through another shelter as it goes west. There are lots of smaller paths branching off here and there, mostly they just loop down to small workout areas and back, a few seem to be alternative routes to somewhere else.
If you like views of cities, this section will be your favourite. There are lots of openings looking towards the north. Da’an district is just behind the green mound which hides Xinhai tunnel – apparently one of the most haunted places in Taiwan, (with all those graves who knows how many spirits are roaming around over there – and that’s before you factor in any construction workers who perished building the tunnel). Beyond the city it’s possible to make out guanyin shan over in Bali
At the junction I followed the sign pointing towards xianji yan and up the steps.
Continuing on, the view towards the northwest opens up a little and I could see the flat line of the Xindian river and the park alongside it. Beyond the river in the distance, it was possible to make out the hills of Guishan district, somewhere over there was the place where we went swimming with dinosaurs last weekend.
At the next junction I went up on the grounds that all the good things are up – the paths run side by side for a little way before the lower one drops away.
The path shortly arrives at xizikou shan (溪子口山), the highest point on the trail, information at the peak suggests it’s 144m high but my altitude readings suggest I never got higher than 120m. The path is all raised, wooden walkway and at the top, the view opens on both sides, most of Taipei city to the north and to the south, Xindian district adding foreground detail to the mountains behind.
Leaving the peak, the path starts to climb down and just after passing this junction I came to a rest shelter which had been constructed in the perfect place for people to get a good look at the Immortal’s footprints. According to local legend, Lu Dongbing (or Lu Tung-Pin, or 呂洞賓), left impressions of his feet in the rock here. Lu Dongbing was a Tang Dynasty poet and scholar who has since been elevated to the position of a deity. He had a cool double-edged sword which could make him invisible as well as dispatch evil sprints. He was revered amongst magicians, barbers, jugglers and practitioners of Taoist internal alchemy – neidan. He was also a hit with the ladies and in his spare time he did things like saving village folk from horrible monsters – at least that’s one of the versions of the story explaining why his footprints came to be up here. As the story goes, locals would disappear whilst travelling over the mountain on their way to Wenshan. Being a wise kind of guy, Lu Dongbing deduced that the probable cause of these disappearances was a mountain monster, and so he set off to find the monster and sort out the problem. When the monster was found, Lu dispatched it by hanging it (evidently his double-edged sword only works for evil spirits, not villager-eating monsters), and in order to carry out the hanging, he steadied himself by planting his feet firmly on the rock and that is how his prints came to be left in it. After that, no more locals disappeared in mysterious circumstances on the hill. There are different versions of the story which give different explanations of how the print came to be there – but after finding out about some other causes for his prints to appear, I’d say that a monster hanging is a sensible reason. It seems like Lu was a very busy person since he’s credited with leaving his footprints in other locations: Wang’an, a tiny island near Peng-hu where evidently he made his mark whilst stopping to pee; he’s one of the three Immortals which gave name to Sanxiantai – a tourist spot in in Taitung county where he left his prints along with Li Tieguai and He Xiangu; over in mainland China, not only did his improbably long stride leave a left impression on one mountain and the right foot impression on another, but he also left indentations after sleeping in a cave – and that’s not an exhaustive list. Either this guy was considerably denser than your average poet-scholar, or he had a habit of finding particularly soft rocks.
Just below the footprint rock is Xianji Yan temple, this was built in the 1940s to honour Lu Dongbing – (if I’d taken the path on the right just before xianji rock I would have arrived at the temple instead). There are information boards here, but they’re all in Chinese so I wasn’t able to read them.
Walking down from the footprint rock, the path passes another interesting feature which I’m pretty sure I would have missed if it weren’t for the information board (also in Chinese – literally the only english information on the trail was a tediously detailed sign about a weather station). On a rock next to some steps which seemed like they would have formed an earlier version of the trail, a face had been carved.
It looked like some modern attempts to preserve/repair the face had been made, but it was still an intriguing thing. According to a translation of the sign, the nodule was a quirk of nature, a slightly different type of rock which had ended up embedded in the larger slab by a freak set of circumstances long ago. At some unknown time some unknown person decided to embellish the natural form with a face.
A little further down, I ran across a work party who were repainting the yellow strips on the edges of all the steps – if such work was done in the UK, I’m pretty sure there would be temporary diversions or at the very least lots of signs. Here I was just instructed to walk sideways down the steps so as not to step on the wet paint.
As the path dips to meet the buildings, the sound of traffic and daily life became louder on both sides. I took the right path here since the left path would have taken me out on the southern side of the hill and I wanted to go more west.
There’s one more fork in the road, right next to an abandoned shelter – again I went right, (although both places come out pretty close together), and walked passed another temple to get to the road. There is a sink here if you feel the need to wash your face, but you’re pretty close to civilisation by this point.
Getting to Jingmei MRT station is apretty straight forward 5-10 minute walk. Turn right at the end of the trail.
Then turn left onto Lane 282 Jingxing road.
At the theatre turn left down the small lane and you’ll find the MRT entrance (the sign is just visible in the photo).
How to get to Xianji Yan Trail
Google maps address: the Wangfang end trail entrance is opposite a small bus stop at 116, Taipei City, Wenshan District and the Jingmei side entrance is next to a CPC garage near No. 297, Jingxing Road, Wenshan District, Taipei City, 116
GPS location: Wangfang end is N24 59.637 E121 33.506 Jingmei side is N24 59.350 E121 32.535
Public transport: this route is perfectly suited to public transport. You can start either at Wangfang hospital as I did, or do it in reverse, at both ends the walk from the trail to the station is only about 10 minutes.