After recent night hikes in other spots around Taipei we decided to head to the paths around Jiantan Shan. The network of trails on the slopes immediately behind the Grand Hotel are all lit up, making them a good place to explore after nighfall if you don’t have your own light source – although if you want to continue on to the Laodifang look out then you’ll be walking on dark trails. In the daylight hours there are always lots of walkers out enjoying the paths, but at night the landscape changes and you’ll see very few fellow adventurers braving the dark.

Distance: about four kilometres.

Time: 2.5-3 hours

Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 2/10 – at night, less in daylight hours, there are some steps and some areas that aren’t illuminated, but the walking is easy.

Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 4/10 – at night, the area immediately behind the grand hotel is steep but well lit – beyond that it’s the opposite, gentle walking but dark.

Total ascent: a little over 200m.

Water: I drank about 0.7L on a hot summer night.

Shade: in the day time these trails provide dappled shade, at night that means you mostly don’t get the added light from the moon or reflecting off the clouds.

Mobile network: clear throughout.

Enjoyment: there are a couple of places with good night views of the city, and if you want to pretend you’re starring in your own scary movie, then some of the scenery along the way will help with that. There’s also the chance of spotting snakes and other nocturnal animals.

Other: if you plan to walk all the way up to Laodifang then you will need your own light source, but if you don’t have a torch you can still wander around the network of trails close to the Grand Hotel.

Permit: none needed.

Jiantan Shan Trail Map

GPX file available here.

We parked the scooter up on Zhongshan North Road close to Jiantan Fuzheng Temple and headed through the archway at the bottom of the stairs.

Straight away there was a flash of movement at the side of the trail and this little brown tree frog revealed itself. I think its pudgy-looking belly is ridiculously cute.

The steps lead up to a junction where we headed left and continued going uphill. Here, as with later on, we followed the route of the Taipei Grand Hike.

There were a huge number of these large cicadas on the trail. A few were just chilling out like this one, but the majority were careening all over the place, crashing noisily into the leaves close to lampposts. (For some reason all my photos on Twitter were being marked as sensitive content at that time. It’s not, it’s just a bug.)

The trail heads up to an area occupied by a couple of temples and a shelter.

A pair of excitable young men were practising some kind of fighting sport and an older guy was getting ready to settle down for a nap. We continued up the steps to the right of this image, ending up in another clearing.

Two flights of steps lead uphill from the clearing (two or three more head down from it), we took the lower of the two to avoid disturbing a sleeping dog on the left path.

There are a couple of side trails, we just kept following the Taipei Grand Hike stickers and the ‘plane watching trail’. I was having a few issues with my camera, so not all of the images are great.

Teresa, however, was having fun with her camera – she rarely brings it out, and every time she does, she has forgotten how to use it, so I have to teach her again.

Lots of the smaller side trails lead up to badminton courts – the whole southern slope of the hill here is riddled with them. Some are fully furnished with shelters and kitchens, whilst others are little more than a level surface and two poles to hang your net from.

After following a flat trail for a few minutes we arrived at the last defined junction before getting onto the wider trail which runs along the spine of the hill. Here we turned left and headed uphill once more, this time following the red and white sign directing us towards Laodifang (老地方).

Not far up from here we spotted the glowing eyes of a giant flying squirrel high up in the branches above one of the badminton courts.

The steps lead up to a ‘rubbing station’ (there are many of these in the hills around Taipei, you can get a leaflet from the Geotechnical Engineering Department and if you bring a wax crayon on your hikes you can collect stamps from all of them). On the right there is a semi-abandoned building, creepy enough in the day time, more so at night. And on the left is the first of many old guard boxes that line the hilltop trail. The yellow structure atop the whole scene is a temporary monorail for lugging building materials over steep terrain – at least I assume it is temporary.

The guard huts really add a slight horror-film-esque feeling to the place at night. They’re remnants of the area’s former role as a military restricted zone – from up here (or at least a little further along), the soldiers would have had clear views down to Chiang Kai-shek’s official residence in Shilin.

From the first guard hut onwards there are no lamps to light the way and we had to turn on our head torches. Turning them on illuminated all manner of insect life (mostly huge spiders), including this caterpillar dangling right in the middle of the trail.

The guard boxes were really, really creepy – especially the ones that had been graffitied with sinister red clown faces (I’m sure I wouldn’t have interpreted them as being sinister in the daylight). I found myself having to look inside each one – just to be sure there was nothing lurking in there. Between huts one and two there was a sign suggesting that it was a further 50 minute walk to Laodifang, but in fact it took us just forty minutes at a pretty casual pace.

The trail along the ridge is wide and undulating – not flat, but the climbs and dips never go on for too long.

Despite both of us having headlights, the darkness still seemed to close in around us – somehow the wideness of the path made it seem darker.

At one of the high points along the way there is a viewing platform on the right of the trail, a little further on there is a place where the trees clear on the left and you can see out towards Shilin and beyond. A sign claims that you can see Guanyin Shan, but in the dark we couldn’t see much beyond the nearby lights.

Just as we were approaching the viewing platform at Laodifang we spotted two pairs of what we guessed to be dogs’ eyes reflecting the light from our torches – Teresa did her thing of talking to the dogs, only for one pair to raise up much higher than any dog could possibly be (unless it were levitating). It turned out that the levitating dog was actually a human, but there was indeed one canine – a skinny black Taiwan mountain dog which was vocally suspicious of us. Its human was as silently suspicious as the dog was vociferous, and the pair slunk off the same way we had arrived. I found the man’s silence slightly unsettling, but perhaps we had just disturbed his quiet contemplation of the night.

It was quite late already by the time we arrived here, so we didn’t stick around for too long. For a while we considered continuing on and taking the right turn that would take us down to the Tongbei Street trail head, but despite that being a shorter walk, it would mean having to cycle or take a WeMo back to where we had parked our scooter. So in the end we returned back the same way we had come – I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that the unspeaking guy and his dog were lying in wait in one of the guard huts, but that was clearly just all in my imagination.

Not five minutes down from the viewing platform we spotted the instantly recognisable black and cream stripes of a many-banded krait. They’re called ‘umbrella segment snakes’ (雨傘節) in Chinese on account of the fact that the stripes are reminiscent of the old style of umbrellas, and they’re the most venomous snake in the whole of Taiwan. (In fact they’re the most venomous snake anywhere in the world – except for Australia of course.) Thankfully though, they’re also incredibly placid, and are not easily provoked, preferring instead to escape from danger.

It wasn’t just snakes though – on the way back we saw lots of spiders like the huntsman spider above. And if I’m being honest, I much prefer the highly venomous snake to these pretty harmless arachnids. They’re just too big!

There was also this impolite toad who startled me into turning off my video – although thinking about it, the toad would probably say that I am the rude one for putting it in the spotlight.

On the way back I dicked around with Teresa’s flash gels – she thought I was being childish, but I was having a good time making the creepy places look even creepier.

We retraced our steps all the way back, passing the badminton courts and temples that we’d seen on the way up.

Even the little tree frog who had greeted us at the start of the walk was still there when we got back.

How to get to Jiantan Shan

google maps address: we started our walk at the steps right beside Jiantan Fuzheng Temple, there’s space to park scooters and bikes here, but there’s not much point trying to access this trail by car, it’s so close to public transport.

GPS location:

  • Trail head – N25 04.840 E121 31 470
  • Laodifang look out point – N25 05.425 E121 32.205

public transport: Jiantan Station (on the red line) is the closest MRT station, and there’s also a bus stop right at the start of the trail with buses arriving from several places around Taipei.

further reading: I’ve walked a similar route in the daylight, and have a longer version which takes you as far as Wende Station. Then it also appears on part of the Taipei Grand Hike Route. I’ve also found an article about walking this trail at night from the host of Kayla Meets Culture – I don’t know how she was brave enough to do this alone after having just arrived in Taiwan, clearly she’s made of tougher stuff than me.

Come and say hi on social media:

This is the bit where I come to you cap in hand. If you’ve got all the way down this page, then I can only assume that you’re actually interested in the stuff I write about. If this is the case and you feel inclined to chip in a few dollars for transport and time then I would appreciate it immensely. You can find me on either Ko-fi or Buy Me a Coffee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s