Bagua Shan’s 26m tall giant Buddha is one of the most instantly recognisable features of Changhua, the smallest county in the Taiwanese mainland, but it’s just one of many interesting sights to be seen on a stroll around this diminutive hill. First occupied by the Babuza people (巴布薩族 – a planes indigenous tribe), the area that is now modern day Changhua became an important staging point for the early waves of Han settlers who came and fought with the land’s earlier inhabitants. The city’s strategic position – almost equidistant between the northern and southern hubs of Taipei and Tainan – has made it significant to the various waves of settlers and colonial powers that have shaped Taiwan through the centuries, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the raised ground of Bagua Shan has always been an attractive vantage point for the powers of the time.
These days the area is managed as part of the Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area (參山國家風景區), a spread out collection of protected scenic areas which also includes Lion’s Head Mountain in Miaoli and Lishan in Taichung (perhaps more famous for its hot spring town of Guguan). And a walk around the hill will take the curious visitor on a rewarding journey through several chapters in the area’s history.
Distance: About 4km to loop the hill – although there’s potential to extend it if you fancy walking as far as Sanqing Temple.
Time: I spent about 2½ hours making my way around, because I was there to wander rather than purely for the exercise.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 0.5/10 – This is an urban stroll, not a hike.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 1/10 – There are a few steps, but if you can manage those you’re fine. The skywalk itself is even suitable to bring a pushchair or wheelchair on.
Total ascent: Around 100m, but aside from the steps right at the start you aren’t ever really aware of climbing.
Water: A single bottle should suffice, I didn’t see any, but usually you can top up water bottles in libraries/temples/museums and there are many of those around here. There are also vending machines and a few stalls so you don’t need to worry about not having enough sustenance.
Shade: Patchy, I went in October and still used an umbrella to cover myself in some of the more exposed areas.
Mobile network: Clear throughout.
Enjoyment: This would be a great walk for people who are into culture and history, or for bird lovers during the annual buzzard migration season.
Seasonal: Visit in March or April to catch the buzzard migration.
Other: According to local urban legend, you shouldn’t come here on a date with your sweet heart unless you’re secretly hoping they’ll break up with you.
Permit: None needed.
Jump to the bottom of this post for a trail map and a GPX file.
I started my wander around Bagua Shan from the plaza in front of Changhua County Art Museum (on the left), and Changhua Butokuden (彰化武德殿 – on the right). Changhua Butokuden (also known as Changhua Wude Hall if you prefer romanised Chinese over either a direct to English translation or romanised Japanese), is a Japanese era martial arts training centre which was established by the colonial authorities in 1930 as part of a large scale effort to disseminate Japanese martial arts (and concomitant values of ‘Japaneseness’) throughout the land. The building suffered damages resulting from the 921 earthquake which rocked Taiwan in 1999, but it was carefully restored by the local authorities over the following years. The many martial arts halls from this period are a fascinating subject in and of themselves, and if you’re interested it’s worth seeking out further reading on the matter.
From here I took the steps leading up between the to buildings and towards Guashan Road.
As befitting the grounds of an art museum, the steps were decorated with sculptures of anthropomorphic bird-spotting birds, all perched comically on railings or in the branches of trees. Most of them seemed to be some type of pheasant, but one or two looked like they might be one of the grey-faced buzzards that Bagua Shan is famous for.
At the top of the steps I swung left and crossed over Guashan Road and made for the pavilion on the corner.
Steps lead up beyond the pavilion and into the wooded area. It seems there are two parallel trails leading up the hill towards the area next to the giant Buddha with several other paths which splinter off between them and to the sides.
At each junction I took the central path heading straight up the paved trail through scruffy urban hill type foliage – the type you see on all of these previously denuded hills which have had past lives as hill forts.
Part way up, I took a brief detour from my upwards journey to take a look at an underwhelming fountain (more just a pond really), before returning to the steps. I don’t know if it’s just because I visited out of season, but it seemed that a few of the park’s water features had been turned off.
At the top of the steps the trail joins a semi-pedestrianised road called Wenquan Road (溫泉路 – I hadn’t ever heard Changhua being associated with hot springs before, but apparently the site of the current second carpark used to be a hot spring). Opposite where the steps exit onto the road there is a giant rusted wall bearing the words of Lai He – a Changhua native, born into a local Hakka just a year before the battle of Baguashan. Along with many of his peers, Lai was educated in the Japanese schooling system of the day, but when he wrote, he chose to express himself in Chinese during his early career, and later also in Taiwanese. As well as making these controversial linguistic choices at a time when Japanese colonial powers were intent on forcing their Taiwanese subjects to assimilation into the Japanese empire, Lai further risked making himself a target by being critical of the Japanese authorities in his writings, and by openly engaging in efforts to raise Taiwanese identity (he helped to found the Taiwan Cultural Association). His involvement with anti-Japanese political groups saw him being jailed twice. During his second internment, he contracted an illness which would bring his short life to an end in 1943.
These days he is remembered as a humble poet-doctor and all sources that discuss his work emphasise the fact that he was a salt of the earth, man of the people, unpretentious type of person who gave equal weight to the words and woes of all, whether they be a farmer or professor. It seems fitting then that such an unpretentious material has been chosen to memorialise his words, and that the words themselves are merely an absence or presence of that material, there’s no veneer or special gloss that has been applied, the lines stand out by themselves.
Turning away from the poetry wall I headed up the wide path towards the giant Buddha statue. (This would be a right turn from where the steps let out onto the road.)
At the front of the plaza an arced raised walkway extends out from the side of the hill.
From here visitors can look out over the sprawl of downtown Changhua and out towards the coast. On the day I visited, the sky was a hazy blue, but still clear – a stark contrast to the moody grey clouds that had been massed over Taipei when I saw it from the train window earlier that day.
You can also turn 180° and observe the giant Buddha statue in placid meditation beyond the nine dragons fountain (another non operational water feature).
Up close the Buddha and the massive guardian lions which flank him are rather imposing, and it’s not entirely surprising to me that they would feature in local folklore. The most well known story involving the Buddha is the tragic tale of two lovers whose families refused to sanction their union. A young woman from a well off local family fell in love with a man who worked as a delivery person for her family’s store, but her parents disapproved of the relationship, assuming that the man was more interested on getting his hands on the familial riches. Resentful and defiant, the young couple climbed up to the Buddha statue harbouring bitterness towards all happy couples in their hearts. The tale says that they hung themselves here – one on each of the Buddha statue’s earlobes, and that since this moment their death has brought a curse on all couples who visit the hill together. Despite seeming to have dubious veracity, this curse is relatively well known in Taiwan to the point where it was put forward as a probable cause after a celebrity couple who had their wedding banquet here later broke up. (Thankfully I left Teresa back in Taipei on this occasion, although when I mentioned the curse to her she said “你為什麼不早點說？我們要剛快去吧！” How sweet she is.)
The main gateway to the statue and temple complex is on your right as you face the Buddha and a wide path lined with Buddhist figures leads up from the road to the temple.
If you’re into Buddhist spirituality or just religion more generally it might be worth popping down to a Nantian Temple which is just a short way outside these gates and which has a special kind of attraction depicting the 18 levels of hell in gory animatronic dioramas. I didn’t pay it a visit on this occasion but it’s on my list of places to stop at next time I’m in Changhua.
Instead of walking down towards the main gate, I turned to follow signs in Chinese pointing me towards the skywalk.
In the shade of the Buddha’s walls and a few sprawling banyan trees there is a tourist market of sorts selling trinkets, dried fish as well freshly roasted peanuts and sweet potatoes. I imagine it’s bigger and busier on the weekends, but in general it just seems that this area is a little outdated and past its heyday (although it looks like there have been efforts to breathe new life into the park in recent years).
To the rear of the giant Buddha and the temple it sits in front of you’ll find the octagonal form of Bagua Pagoda (八卦塔), an elegant columbarium which looks like a pleasant enough place to let the bones of your ancestors rest. (I couldn’t find anywhere which explicitly says this, but I imagine that this bone tower isn’t open to any new residents – the whole back area of Baguashan has been given over to graves on account of the hill’s positive feng shui, and it seems that competition for spaces is tight.)
To the right of the columbarium (as you observe it in the above photo), you’ll find the entrance to Baguashan Skywalk.
The skywalk (built in 2016), is a little over a kilometre long and offers an enjoyable alternative to dodging scooters and navigating the split level paving that you inevitably run into at ground level.
There are multiple entrances to the trail along its length, as well as information boards pointing out different buildings and some of the animal and plant life in the area.
Features of note on the signs range from the mundane (Changhua Water Distribution Centre), to the historical (Changhua Military Shrine), to the everyday like this baseball stadium. It seems that the authorities just deemed everything that was visible to be worth explaining, I can’t say that I found all of the information boards to be of interest, but I admire the sentiment at least.
As well as offering views over the surrounding area, there are sections of the skywalk which take you through green, leafy tunnels through the trees.
If you feel like climbing down from the trees to explore the surrounding area, there are plenty of places where you can make an exit from the walkway, but I decided to follow it to its end.
Towards the eastern end of the skywalk I passed the squat concrete buildings which make up the old Chenggong barracks (now repurposed as an ecological camp).
The skywalk rejoins the land in front of National Changhua Living Art Center – check their Facebook page to see if there are any exhibitions on before you go.
Perched on top of the art centre you might catch a glimpse of this pair of grey-faced buzzards. When I visited in October, it was well out of season for buzzard spotting (in Changhua sat least, it would have been prime buzzard watching time if I’d been in the Hengchun Peninsular), but if you visit in March or April (around Qingming Festival) you’ll find yourself right in the flight path of thousands of these birds as they fly north to their summer breeding grounds in Japan, China and Russia.
I turned left away from the end of the skywalk and passing the main entrance to the old Chenggong barracks/eco camp on my left. It’s not immediately clear where to go, but I soon spotted some steps with a signpost directing me back towards the big Buddha.
The steps take you through some of the less scenic parts of this national scenic area – grubby concrete walls to the left and dilapidated housing to the right.
At the top of the steps I knew I would need to turn left and follow the road back as far as the Lai He poetry wall before heading downhill again, but sometime on the right caught my eye and I went to take a quick look.
Parked up alongside the road there are two decomissioned military planes – one is an F-5E (a mean looking supersonic fighter jet), and the other is this gargantuan C-119 (a cargo plane with a bizarre twin-boom design. Steps lead up into the body of the plane and I’m sure many a child has enjoyed gazing at the flight deck and imagining they were in control.
Once by the plane I spotted a trail heading off around the side of a nearby restaurant and went to have a little look. From here you can look across the city to the the hills that border Dadu District – and although I didn’t know what I was looking at when I was there, I once climbed up that hill with my dad and looked back towards Baguashan.
After having a quick wander around the aircraft, I returned back up along Guashan Road and kept walking towards the point where I’d entered the network of trails earlier on.
The strip of land beside the road has been turned into an exercise park for visitors to use, and indeed there were many people making enthusiastic use of it. Somewhere along here I must have passed the triangulation stone for the actual peak of Baguashan, but it was unobtrusive to the point of invisibility.
A little further up the road there’s a white archway marking the entrance to 1895 Taiwan Resistance Peace Memorial Park – a small park established to commemorate the several thousand Taiwanese Hakka militia fighters who lost their lives in the Battle of Baguashan. This battle was one of the many skirmishes which occurred as the Japanese army fought to gain control of the land by pushing their way south from Taipei to Tainan, although by all accounts this one was particularly catastrophic for the resistance fighters. Hakka troops numbering between 3,000 and 5,000 were facing the superior manpower, organisation and military might of 15,000 Japanese soldiers. Thousands met their end here here and the bodies were piled up in mass graves on the hillside where they died. Perhaps unsurprisingly this is another source ghostly legends. One particular story claims that a group of students were playing football nearby, only to realise at some point during the game that the object they were kicking around was a human head rather than a ball.
Near the Peace Memorial Park there are a couple of old canons which – according to signage – were used by the Hakka soldiers during their defense of the hill.
By this point I had almost come full circle and found myself walking under one of the arms spanning off from the skywalk.
Following the road around will take you towards the back end of the temple and pagoda, right next to the water distribution centre. Since I’d come from the left, I decided to follow the road as it curved right around the temple.
There was nothing much of note on the road here and I soon found myself back in front of the poetry wall. Instead of returning back down the same flight of steps I carried on walking down the road a little further.
Where the road bends sharply to the right I took a flight of steps which continued to head more or less straight down.
This little stretch of path between here and the municipal buildings gathered at the foot of the hill has been beautified and turned into Baguashan Literature Hiking Trail (八卦山文學步道). Evenly spaced along the sides of the path you’ll find snippets of Chinese verse – sadly my reading ability is not good enough to enable me to enjoy them.
By the time I was nearing the bottom of the hill there was golden autumn afternoon sunlight shining through the trees.
Towards the end of the trail you will spot a particularly grand looking red brick pavilion. This is Tai-chi Pavilion (太極亭), and although this structure is newish, there has been a Tai-chi Pavilion in the area since the early 1800s when a local official built one in the city to try and entice the good ‘qi’ down from the mountain and into the city. Later on that pavilion was moved to the base of the Baguashan Trail, and later still it was rebuilt here after the original was destroyed. Whether or not it successfully drew positive energy is hard to say, but it certainly drew in people, and it became a popular spot for chatting and tea drinking.
Just before the steps returned me to the library, I passed one final relic of the hill’s past lives: an old military bunker – probably one of several that I had passed on my amble around the hill.
How to get there
Google maps address: I started my wander from in front of Changhua County Art Museum.
GPS location: N24 04.640 E120 32.760
Public transport: You can walk here from Changhua Train Station in about 15 minutes, there are also a couple of buses which head that way, but I’d still recommend working through the city.
Further reading: If you’re interested in more general travel around Changhua, then this article offers a few pointers.
- Sanqing Temple Trail Western Loop
- Sanqing Temple Eastern Loop
Bagua Shan Trail Map
GPX file available here.
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