A visit to Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area would not be complete without a trip on the iconic yellow Bong Bong Train (an onomatopoeic name which references the sound of the engine chugging along the tracks – not the sound of the horn as I had initially though). The twenty minute journey takes you from the hub of the old village clustered around Taipingshan Villa, out to Maosing Station. After opening in the 1920s, the tracks were part of an network of logging railways and aerial ropeways which fanned out across the slopes, all coalescing in the valley below at Tuchang where the lumber would be further processed and put on trains bound for Luodong and beyond. The section connecting Taipingshan Village with Maosing Station is now the only part that’s still operational.
There are two trails to explore once you get to Maosing Station which are collectively known as Maosing Reminiscent Trail. The signage there seems to suggest that it would only be possible to complete one trail in the time that you have before your train heads back, and whilst that may be true for families or slower walkers, we found we were able to complete both. This trail guide covers the longer, flatter there-and-back walk, for the guide to Maosing Loop Trail you can check here. If you want to do both, then I advise starting with the loop trail and then doing this one, that way you can always return and make your way to the station if you’re running out of time.
Distance: 2km, perhaps a smidge over.
Time: 40 minutes to an hour – we were on the quicker side. I don’t think that the 90 minute time guide on all of the signs is anywhere near accurate.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 1/10 – By far the hardest part about this walk is travelling into Taipingshan.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 1/10 – This is a very easy walk, very few steps and a short distance.
Total ascent: Less than 100m.
Water: A single 0.5L bottle will suffice.
Shade: Nice and shady throughout.
Mobile network: My Taiwan Mobile was pretty crap, Teresa’s Chunghwa fared much better.
Enjoyment: A ride on a train, historic logging relics, and old forests all on an easy wander, what’s not to love.
Route type: There and back.
Permit: None needed, but you do need to pay to get into the park and then buy tickets for the train. (See the bottom of the post for more information on this.)
Jump to the bottom of this post for a trail map and GPX file.
To walk the Maosing Main Trail, head straight out of the station heading in the same direction as the train was travelling.
Towards the end of the station we found ourselves crossing over the loop trail where there upper and lower halves intersect. For the first hundred metres or so there is a fenced-off wooden walkway beside the tracks.
On the left, a short raised path leads out to a viewing platform where you can see over the tops of the trees into the valley below.
Beyond the viewing platform, there is no longer any trail, and instead you have to walk along the tracks. Soon you can see the turntable that the engines use to switch directions before heading back to Taipingshan Village. After arriving at the station, the engine is uncoupled from the carriages, then it chugs along a further 50 metres or so to this spot, gets spun around 180 degrees, and then shuffles past the carriages on a side track before being reconnected.
Also worth noting are marker posts spaced along the trail. These tell you not only how far you have come, but more importantly, how long it will take you to walk back to the station which comes in quite handy when trying to figure out when you need to turn back.
Unlike the Maosing Loop trail, this one is almost entirely flat, with just minor slopes along the way. This can be attributed to the fact that it follows the now abandoned rails that once connected Maosing Station with the logging operations taking place around Cueifeng Lake
In a couple of places you can glimpse distant hills, but even early in the day there were clouds clipping their summits.
When park authorities decided to reopen this portion of the historic railway to visitors, they had to figure out what to do with the rails and sleepers that had just been left in situ to accumulate moss. The solution they settled on was multi-pronged. In places where a landslide or rotted bridge made the path dangerous they installed new trestle bridges that have been designed to incorporate the rails so that the new merges pleasantly with the old.
In other places they’ve opted to leave the decaying structure as a historic relic, and where the route has remained largely intact, they have kept the tracks where they are, but removed the sleepers and filled in the path with gravel as deep as the rails to let people get the sense of walking in the footsteps of history without tripping over it.
This particular stretch of old track is draped in hanging mosses. (The flight of steps here is the most steps at one time at any point along this trail.)
With tall trees blocking out much of the sunlight, damp, shade loving life like ferns and moss tend to make up most of the plant life seen on the forest floor. But there were scatterings of plants beside the trail, mostly with tiny, delicate flowers in shades of white and purple
The current end of the trail is closer to the train station than it was when it opened (perhaps explaining why all the signage says that the walk should take an hour and a half when in fact it really shouldn’t even if you choose to crawl it on all fours), a landslide took out the final part of the trail and it’s just never been replaced.
Heading back in the opposite direction gave us the chance to enjoy a few sights we’d managed to miss on the the way out.
Like this fresh pile of serow poo. (The park is also home to a handful of larger mammals like Formosan rock macaques, muntjac deer and yellow-throated martens.)
Teresa sticking her head in a hollow tree trunk, because she is basically still a child at heart.
We made it back to the station a few minutes before our train was due to leave and watched the station staff flip the seats so that we would be facing in the right direction.
This time we chose to sit a little closer to the front.
The collection of buildings that make up Taipingshan Village is clearly visible from from the tracks, and if you look closely you should be able to see the deep red leaves of the main steps’ maple trees cutting a line through the middle of the scene.
About half way into our return journey, we discovered a stowaway hiding on Teresa’s backpack. It was a very slow, very handsome long horned beetle. We took it with us when we disembarked and tried to coax it off our glove onto a tree, although it seemed reluctant to leave us.
When to visit Taipingshan
The park is open year round, and is beautiful in any season, but the area is prone to heavy rain, so check the weather forecast before your visit. The park is open to guests from 8am to 9pm daily, and you should aim to arrive early if you want to see some views before the afternoon clouds roll in.
Tickets can be bought at the entrance to the park and cost $200 for a regular visitor on holidays and $150 on weekdays. There are concessions available for people over 60, kids under 6 years old, and people with some types of disability. There are also fees for parking (cars $100, scooters $20). For more information you can check here.
Bong Bong Train Tickets
There’s no online ordering for bong bong train tickets, so have to be physically in the park to purchase them. If you’re staying the night you can buy tickets for the following day any time up until 5pm, which might be smart given that tickets for all but the first two trips (7:30am and 8:80am) tend to sell out pretty quickly according to staff who spoke to us. There are a total of nine services every day (with a few extras on national holidays), leaving at half past the hour and returning ninety minutes later from 7:30am through to 3:30pm. In order to make sure that there are enough seats for people wanting to come back you are asked to return on the service specified on your ticket. A regular ticket (13-65 years old) will set you back $180 while a concessionary ticket (kids aged 3-12 and people over 65) is $120.
Staying in Taipingshan
The park has accommodation in the form of Taipingshan Villa (which is actually five separate buildings, each named after a species of conifer). As of 2022, prices range from $1200 for a bunk in a four-bed dorm to $9800 for an eight-bed room. They can be booked through this website as far as two months in advance, but rooms tend to sell out early.
How to get to Taipingshan
Google maps address: Taipingshan is accessed by driving inland from Yilan, then crossing the vast expanse of Lanyang River and driving up Taiping Forestry Road. You’ll have to stop at the toll booth to pay the entrance and parking fee, then continue up the road for quite a way until you reach the carpark. The walk itself starts from in front of Taipingshan Villa Service Station.
GPS location: N24 29.545 E121 32.205
Public transport: Kuo-kuang Motor Transport (also known as King Bus) run the 1750 once-a-day service which picks up passengers from Yilan Transfer Station at 7:40am and Luodong Transfer Station at 8:00am. The bus makes its return journey from Taiping Villa (where this walk starts) at 2:30pm with an hour long stop at Jiuzhize (鳩之澤, also often spelled Jiouzhihze) on the way back. If you’re planning to walk more than one of the trails then you should definitely look into staying at the park in order to make the most of the trip.
Other trails in Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area:
- Cueifeng Lake Circular Trail
- Cypress Trail
- Jancing Historic Trail
- Maosing Loop Trail
- Taiwan Hemlock Trail
Maosing Main Trail Map
GPX file available here on Outdoor Active. (Account needed, but the free one works just fine.)
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