As far as I’m aware, there is no actual peak in this area that goes by the name of Tea Mountain or Cha Shan, more likely this is just a rebranding attempt by Jiuzhuang Community (舊莊里) in the hopes that it will draw in tea-loving visitors. Names aside, Tea Mountain is a rural, tea growing area in the hills on the border of Taipei’s Nangang District and New Taipei’s Xizhi District – trails loop in and around small hamlets, through farms and forests, and alongside streams. Served regularly by public transport, it makes for a very pleasant half day excursion out of Taipei.
Distance: A short 3.7km, less if you don’t do the little side trip at the end. There is potential to extend this a little further up to a nearby peak if you’re prepared for more natural trail surfaces.
Time: I spent a little over two hours on my wander, and I really do mean wander, two hours should be a very easy pace.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 1/10 – Some steps, some poorly maintained trail, otherwise all is easy enough.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 2/10 – You might find the steps tiring if you’re not used to them, but otherwise it’s an easy walk regardless of experience level. Several shorter trails are taken together to form the whole loop with the option to walk back on the road between each individual trail, so it’s a great walk if you’re unsure of how much you want to do.
Total ascent: About 170m.
Water: I drank most of my 0.5L bottle on a warm late summer afternoon. You might want to take more and some emergency snacks if you’re planning to get around using public transport.
Shade: Patchy, my UV brollie got some good use.
Mobile network: Generally ok, but the stream-side stretch between Baoshu bridge and Taizi Temple had no service.
Enjoyment: This is a great choice of walk for an afternoon or morning when you feel like getting out but aren’t feeling in the mood for anything too challenging or adventurous. Parts of the walk are really pretty, and there are a couple of sites of historic/cultural interest along the way too.
Seasonal: Visit in September/October to enjoy the fragrant osmanthus blossom, and in April/May you can see fireflies near the Osmanthus Suspension Bridge.
Other: If you’re interested in paying a visit to the tea demonstration centre then make sure to visit in office hours any day except for Monday (lots of places close on Mondays here).
Permit: None needed.
Nangang Tea Mountain Trail Map
GPX file available here.
At the time of visiting, we were under level two pandemic restrictions, I decided to take my scooter for a little spin instead of taking public transport – either way, the bus stop and car parks are at almost the same spot, so to get to the trail head, find your way to the the stairway which runs between the two car parks and look out for a sign and map indicating the start of the round-mountain trail (環山步道). I’m not sure why it’s named that really, I don’t think it goes ‘around the mountain’ really, but it does take you up being the tea growing demonstration centre.
The trail was unexpectedly pretty – one of those raised wooden walkways that have overtaken ugly concrete steps as the preferred trail construction method. (See Xiao Xi Tou Trail and Zhishanyan as examples of other places where this has worked well.)
Shelters and platforms with benches have been built into the trail at several points – although it seems like the trees have grown since the trail was installed because this one is meant to offer a view of Taipei 101, but instead I could just see lots of healthy looking greenery.
A little further along I was able to catch a glimpse of the former tallest building in the world through a gap in the trees.
Given that I visited on a late September Monday, I had the off-road portions of this trail all to myself. Although still hot, the weather seemed to have passed the tipping point from the unbearable outdoor sauna of full summer, to something more tolerable, pleasant even – and the dappled shade of the treelined corridor makes for quality forest bathing.
After walking (slowly) for ten minutes or so, the trail passes by a tiny temple. So tiny in fact that it’s little more than a roof built to shelter a stone tablet from the elements. The temple’s incense burner stands at least double the height of the enshrined tablet. Narrow steps lead down to the temple’s level, and if you kneel you can make out the text that has been carved into the stone. It says that the temple is dedicated to Wenfu Wangye (溫府王爺).
Now elevated to the status of a deity, Wenfu Wangye lived during Tang dynasty as an official serving the Emperor Taizong (a position he secured after allegedly saving the emperor from an attacking troupe of bandits). Back then he went by the name of Wen Hong (溫鴻), and through diligent service he garnered increasing levels of trust from the emperor until finally being granted the title of Ambassador of the Tang Empire – a role which saw him being sent abroad to raise the profile of the Tang Empire in foreign lands. This prestigious position was – however – also Wen Hong’s downfall, since the esteemed official perished in a shipwreck (alongside 35 other high ranking officials) in the course of his duties. All those who died were elevated to the status of Wangye (something like Dukes or Lords during the Tang dynasty, although now it is recognised as a category of deity). Whether or not this incident actually occurred is lost to time, but worship of Wangye remains strong in Taiwan, particularly in southern Taiwan where it is possible to view Wangye boat burning ceremonies (the most well know of which is probably the one organised by Donglong Temple in Pingtung County’s Donggang. As to why this Tang dynasty official would come to be worshipped in a tiny temple on a hillside in northern Taiwan, who knows.
The highest point of the whole walk is here at this shelter. From here the main trail takes a sharp turn to the right and starts going down again. To the left of the shelter I noticed a less maintained path with hiking tags and a sign indicating that it headed to Shen An Tou Shan/Fenjihu Shan (深按頭山/糞汲湖山 – the peak has at least two names). I had a quick look up the first ten metres or so, but in the end decided to come back better prepared for this particular trail.
The steps down are steeper than the ones I’d climbed to the peak, and also in a worse state of repair – one section was especially bad with several planks either having rotted through, or being in the process of rotting through.
The steps rejoin the road on the far side of the tea growing demonstration centre from where I’d started (walking from the starting point to here along the road would take just a couple of minutes, but I spent over half an hour following the raised walkway).
Turn left onto the road and head down for a while until you spot Guihua Pavilion/Viewing Platform on your left (桂花涼平台 – 桂花 or Guihua means osmanthus). This is the start of the second trail: Osmanthus Trail. As well as tea plants, this area is known for growing osmanthus shrubs (which are also used to make tea), and if you visit around Mid Autumn Festival you will be able to enjoy the delicate scent of white blossom as you walk.
Before getting to smell any osmanthus, I first had to convince myself to walk through the front yard/junk yard of this semi-abandoned looking property. Experience tells me that this is exactly the kind of place where you need to be on the look out for feral dogs (there had been two hot and sleepy ones sheltering from the sun in the pavilion). Sure enough, as soon as I walked through, a skinny little black dog appeared, but it seems the dogs here are too used to people to be aggressive or territorial.
Immediately beyond the first building the trail splits off to the right – I think the trail on the left heads to a house.
The grasses to either side of the trail appeared to have been recently cut, affording me a clear view through the shallow valley towards the immediately identifiable profile of Guanyin Shan.
Soon I found myself at a junction, heading right would take you down to the road, but a left turn leads you on a slightly longer trail towards a temple. Follow “有應公廟” (You Ying Gong Temple) on the fingerpost.
The trail splits in two again. The left path climbs up to the temple and loops back down to join the one on the right after about ten or twenty metres. (There’s also a side trail somewhere up behind the temple which reconnects with the the one which leaves the Round Mountain Trail at a pavilion to track up to Shen An Tou Shan/Fenjihu Shan.)
There is a decidedly desolate air to this temple. The location itself is a little lonely, high on a hill and away from the nearby buildings, forest hemming in the back edge of its clearing and messy grassland to the front. But also the building itself seems to have titled after an earthquake, or perhaps as a result of subsidence, brightly coloured decorative tiles are scattered on the concrete where they have fallen from the roof. It just feels unloved.
Added to that is the fact that its a You Ying Gong Temple. These are a subset of temples which are dedicated to the ‘wandering ghosts’ of the land, spirits of the deceased which – either due to the passage of time or some other unfortunate circumstance – have ended up not being tended to by their descendants. They might be constructed after farming or construction work unearths bones, or if there are gravesites/burial urns nearby that are no longer tended to. By providing the spirits this type of shelter it is hoped that they won’t harm or harass the living.
The final sign that this temple is not as cared for as most was the condition of the internal floor. It was littered with some type of droppings – rats probably, or possibly bats. It obviously hasn’t been tended to for quite some time.
Leaving the temple behind, I returned to the main trail and kept heading down into the valley. The profile of the several peaks of Mount Datun are visible beyond the city on the right.
The trail heads into the woods again, the downhill side of the trail is mostly planted with bamboo, maybe once upon a time it was farmed, but these days it seems to be left to grow wild.
The trail eventually leaves the woods and arrives at the back of a row of old farm houses – you can take either set of steps leading between the buildings on the right, they all arrive at the same place. There are still inhabitants in the houses at the far ends of the row, but the ones in the middle have suffered from the elements and passing of time. Even though one of them is still protected by a metal roof, it seems likely they will continue to disintegrate.
Once on the road you can head up a short way to see the most intact of the old houses – built over 200 years ago, it has been home to members of the Yu family, long ago immigrants from Anxi Province. The current residents are their descendants, and like many of their ancestors, they still make money from tea growing.
There are signs indicating that the residents welcome visitors hoping to buy or taste tea, but it seems that this is a weekend thing, so I just headed back past the row of buildings and down the road.
When I rejoined the main road, I turned left and kept heading down hill. There are some sharp bends, so keep an eye on the traffic.
Thankfully the road walking section is brief, no more than a couple of hundred metres at most, after which I took the first turning on the right over a bridge.
At some point in its existence Baoshu bridge had lanterns strung over the length of each parapet wall, but now the lanterns are all bunched up on the far side of the bridge.
As soon as you’ve crossed the bridge keep a look out for a flight of steps leading down to the right. The steps take you down towards Dakeng Stream. When I visited, there hadn’t been much rain for quite a long time and there was barely a trickle. What I saw instead was a huge, ungainly night heron fledgling which jumped off the trail and then spent a minute noisily battling its way through the nearby undergrowth.
The trailside greenery appears to have been left to grow unchecked throughout summer because it was crowding in on the path, although not enough to make walking difficult. At the junction keep heading straight (this trail on the right returns back to the road somewhere between Guihua Pavilion and the turning for the Yu family farmhouse.
The trail crossed the stream for a second time, although here there is a cutely decorated and springy bridge (桂花吊橋/Osmanthus suspension bridge). The stream-bed below the bridge was all but dry, there were just a few dark pools and almost no running water.
The trail spits you out at the end of a road in front of Nangang Taizi Temple (南港太子宮). There wasn’t anyone in the temple, so I wandered in to have a little look.
Immediately outside to the right of the dragon door there was a very smart little temple for the Generals of the Five Camps. Often their station seems something like a dog house, small and removed from the main building, but this on had its own well lit and painted alcove, and the generals even had horse steeds flanking them. The figures were also some of the most fully realised that I’ve seen (the older heads on the right are more representative of what you tend to see).
Inside there are altars on both floors, the central one on the ground floor is dedicated to Nezha (哪吒), he is also known in his official capacity as the Marshall of the Five Camps (中壇元帥), which perhaps explains why the generals’ altar here is more grand than usual.
Nezha is a unique figure in the Taoist pantheon worshipped here in Taiwan. Intent on dragging religious performances into the present day and making it more relevant to their interests, his younger devotees helped popularise a new form of religious expression: Electric-Techno Neon Gods (電音三太子 or tiān-im Sam-thài-chú for those of you who prefer the Taiwanese term). If you’re struggling to imagine it, the above video should give you some idea of what this looks like in practise.
The gods of the upper floor are somewhat less raucous – the central altar is given over to the Jade Emperor with smaller altars dedicated to Mazu and Zhao Gongming to the sides. This floor has a narrow balcony where the censer is placed, and if you step outside you can see the city stretching away in the distance.
Leaving the temple behind, I took the road leading towards the rest of the houses that made up this small hamlet. Immediately after passing the first house on the right, the trail leaves the road again up steps that are sandwiched between the house and the road.
The steps rejoin the road briefly where it terminates, then just keep on heading up again. At the next junction I took a left turn (going straight here would bring you out onto the road almost in front of the tea demonstration centre).
The 100m section between the junction and where I rejoined the road was unexpectedly visually pleasing, a narrow and wobbly flight of steps cuts up between an avenue of trees and bamboo.
Whilst on this section I also encountered what I think is the tiniest tree lizard that I’ve ever seen.
There’s one final junction before you find yourself back on the road again, the righthand trail was being fixed, but either way, they both let out onto the road within a short distance of each other.
You’ll find another pavilion here at the bend in the road where the trail ends, and from here both the first and second carparks are less than a minute’s walk away. (The trail head where I started this walk is just up ahead between the second and third lampposts.)
I wasn’t quite ready to finish though and decided to make one further stop on the walk before heading home – I wanted to follow the road to go and visit the Luku Incident Memorial Park.
If you just keep heading up along the road you will soon find yourself crossing over the boundary between Taipei City and New Taipei City.
The view looking eastish is rather spectacular. I imagine you might be rewarded with a good sunrise – at least if you visit during the winter months (I think the trees block off true east and northeast, so the view might not be so good in the summer).
As I rounded a bend in the road, I go my first sight of the Luku Memorial’s reflective silver arch. The structure was placed here in 2000 to memorialise victims of the 1952 Luku Incident (鹿窟事情). The name ‘incident’ is applied to many painful and traumatic events that have been inflicted upon the people who have called Taiwan home over the years, from skirmishes between rival factions of Han immigrants from different parts of China, to battles between indigenous groups and Japanese colonial forces, and in this case, military might being used against villagers during the White Terror era. In the case of the Luku Incident, what the more palatable name obscures is the event which generated the highest number of unjust convictions throughout the whole White Terror period.
Government forces claimed that there was a communist rebellion being orchestrated from this rural corner of the land, and used this to justify gathering large number of forces in the area. Starting from December 28th, 1952 thousands of soldiers were dispatched into the mountains, all centred around the little village of Luku, and although their numbers were reduced in January the following year, the siege continued well into March. In total, over 800 individuals were arrested and interrogated, with Luku village’s temple being pressed into service as an interrogation centre and many of those arrested were tortured into giving false confessions. By the time all had been said and done, 35 locals were sentenced to death and a further 98 imprisoned. (If you have ever strolled past the Nishi Honganji Relics near Ximen MRT then you will have seen where many of the prisoners ended up serving their sentences.) There is another memorial in Luku village and part of the original temple still exists, although the village has since been renamed Guangming village- presumably in an effort to shake off the unwanted association with this dark chapter in the nation’s history.
I had a little wander under the arch and then back around the road that curves around the park before heading back to pick up my scooter. But the day still had one further gift in store for me…
I decided to scooter back on a different road to the one I’d arrived on, and ended up stumbling upon these beautiful ruins. What’s more, there’s a hiking trail right close by, so I’m already planning a return trip to the area.
How to get to Nangang Tea Mountain Trail
Google maps address: The whole walk is more or less a big loop around the tea demonstration centre here. There are two free carparks just metres uphill of this spot, I imagine they’re busy on weekends though.
- Round Mountain Trail entrance – N25 01.690 E121 39.845
- Osmanthus Trail entrance – N25 01.480 E121 39.745
- Stream-side Trail entrance – N25 01.530 E121 39.630
Public transport: The S5 and S5 shuttle bus services both stop right outside the tea demonstration centre. They depart from Kunyang MRT Station, with buses leaving just a little more frequently than once an hour. (You can also hop on close to Nangang Station or Nangang Exhibition Centre.)
Further reading: For more details on the Luku Incident (and other injustices of the White Terror era) it is worth checking out this site. I got clued in to the existence of this spot by the person who runs the Foreigners in Taiwan website, and if you visit their post on the subject it will give you a bit more of an insight into other places to visit in the area.
There’s also Tony Huang’s video introducing the area, these are always worth a watch.
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