You can find all sorts of oddities tucked into the hills of Taiwan, and Keelung’s unique brand of oddity seems to be caves with temples in them. This walk includes one such cave temple, as well as a scrappy climb to a peak with distant views of Taipei 101.
Distance: 3km including the peak and the cave, but it would be a lot shorter just to visit Yuemei Cave.
Time: We spent a little under two and a half hours here, including faffing time both before and after the walk itself. Actual time on the trail was more like two hours. The guy at the temple where we parked said that most people only take about 30 minutes to walk to the cave and back.
Difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 3/10 – it’s not the easiest spot to get to without your own transport, the trail itself is a little rough and overgrown, with little signage, and no English signage.
Difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 5/10 – I would have been too anxious about dogs/snakes and all manner of unknown threats to do this one when I first came. It’s not really dangerous or difficult, but you have to be able to get to the trailhead (tough unless you have your own transport, although not impossible), the lack of signage would make things harder too unless you’re confident following a map/GPS track. It appeared that someone had recently passed through to clear the trail when we went, but I imagine this peak is visited quite infrequently. However, if you’re only interested in visiting the cave temple then the walk is a lot easier.
Total ascent: About 150m to a high point of 298m on Xiandonghu Shan.
Water: We drank close to 0.7L each, but the proprietor of the temple at the trailhead offered us water both at the start and end of our walk – better not bank on him being there though.
Shade: Quite well shaded except for at the peak – I managed to survive the October sun using just suncream, although I couldn’t stay on the peak long.
Mobile network: Mostly pretty clear.
Enjoyment: The walking was a little too overgrown for my tastes, but the view from the peak was worth it, and I really enjoyed visiting the temple.
Other: Long sleeves, long trousers and gloves would be smart if you plan to visit the peak. We did not have gloves, and Teresa was wearing shorts – we paid in blood for our error!
Permit: None needed.
Jump to the bottom of this post for a trail map and GPX file.
We scootered to the start of the walk and parked up here in front of a strangely quiet temple – or at least it would have been quiet if not for its duo of ferociously noisy guard dogs. On the right, you can see a miniature pinscher mid-bound as it made its way over to bark and yap at us, and on the left was an equally noisy, but more friendly-looking Formosan mountain dog. The mini pin was chased by the temple’s guardian and eventually taken back indoors.
Naturally, Teresa had to go and make friends with the other one. We later learned that he is named Caishen Ye (財神爺) a god associated with wealth – I’m not sure how common it is to name dogs after gods, it seems strange to my ears, but who am I to judge. Caishen Ye didn’t demonstrate much of a godly demeanour, instead, he seemed intent on licking as much of Teresa as he could.
We washed off his greetings in the temple’s outside sink before popping in for a quick look. Several altars were set up for worshipping a whole host of Taoist deities, with the central altar having a pretty good view across the car park to the distant hills beyond.
Behind the large temple, there was a smaller Tudi Gong temple, the signage around which confused both of us. There was an even smaller altar to the right which Teresa said had a sign saying it was a guard dog god or something to that effect, she said she didn’t know what it meant. For my part I was confused by the profusion of signage on the land god temple, one saying the god is Fude Zheng Shen, another saying it is Wangyi Tudi Gong, and a third proclaiming that this is a mountain god small temple. How many names does one small temple want?
Once we’d had our fill of temple curiosity, we took the old track leading up to the left of the main temple building.
It would be possible to drive your scooter a little further, up to this old water tank, but walking along the old farm track was a good way to stretch our legs before the real walking started.
The track continues beyond the water tank, but it’s littered with fallen leaves and cracked by earthquakes and time.
At some point, the track narrows further, although you’re still following the remnants of an old tarmac surface. The plants on either side of the trail were vibrating with butterfly life, although I was a bit too jittery to enjoy it. Recently there have been a number of reports of hornet attacks (October being one of their more active months). Thankfully no vengeful hornets manifested.
Where the track opens up just a smidge we came across the junction which would take us up to Xiandonghu Shan. There were signs attached to the tree on the right, but they were so weathered that it was impossible to read them. To climb to the peak you’ll need to take a left here, but if you’re just interested in visiting the temple then it’s just a short walk on if you keep heading straight.
The trail climbs steeply at first and felt fun to be walking on a different type of trail surface. After a while, the steepness levels off a little as the trail follows the sloped ridge up to a peak.
Given that less than a month ago Teresa had surgery to remove a giant metal pin from her leg, I think she did remarkably well.
Although I think she quite quickly regretted her decision to wear shorts instead of hiking trousers.
Higher up, the trail cut through a dense area of screw pine, but despite the path being overgrown, it remained clear and easy to follow.
Signs attached to a tree, and the map we were using seemed to indicate that there was a second path joining from the right here, but it appeared not to have been walked in years (Teresa didn’t even notice the junction, and I might not have if I hadn’t been paying attention to the map). Theoretically, you could use it to loop back down towards the temple, but I really don’t recommend that unless you’re experienced with bushwhacking and going off trail – I’m not sure what led to its disuse, maybe nothing, but also it’s possible that a typhoon or earthquake made it impassable.
Just beyond the not-really junction, we found ourselves facing a wall of greenery.
The plants had grown so densely here that we had to essentially swim through them. I was more than ready to give up and turn around, but Teresa is made of tough stuff than me, and she pushed through.
I’d say maybe thirty metres or so was overgrown like this, then the path opened out once more into the type of just slightly overgrown forest that we’d been walking through for the rest of the journey.
There was one more (thankfully shorter) section of overgrown grasses just before the peak, but seeing the red flag was enough to reassure us that we had almost made it.
There was an unexpectedly large and open clearing at the summit, and a couple of old peak signs (although the lettering on the other one had long since worn away).
Teresa sat down and set about pulling the grass seeds out of her socks. I made an attempt to remove them from my trousers, but soon realised the futility of my endeavour and gave up.
Instead, I turned my attention to the scenery. Views of Taipei 101 are a dime a dozen, but this view is was more pleasing to me than most. For a start, each of the tall buildings in that Xinyi District cluster is distinct and separate from each other at this angle, then there is the collecting of hills which seem to mirror the shape of the buildings immediately beyond them, and also the great profile of Nangang Shan on the left. It is a particularly nice view of the city.
Looking a little more westwards I spotted the grand structure of Lingtai Shan Lingxuan Temple.
And far off in the southeast distance I spotted the weather station that sits on top of Mount Wufen–one of those landmarks that instantly tells hikers in northern Taiwan where they are.
We lingered on the peak for maybe ten minutes before heading back the same way that we had come (there is another trail which leads away from the other side of the peak, but that would have meant having to do a long road walk to return to our scooter).
Pushing our way back through the rough section was made easier by the knowledge that it was just a short part of the trail.
However once through the worst part of it, Teresa did have a brief fight with the flagellum of a rattan vine – unsurprisingly the vine won. (Thanks @TrevorCPadgett for the plant knowledge.)
It took us about half an hour to make our way back down from the peak to the old track – almost exactly as long as it had taken us to climb up. Once back at the junction we took a left turn and headed on to see the cave.
Along the way there were a few signs of past habitation, although judging by how collapsed the buildings were I’d guess they’ve been abandoned for quite a long time. We could hear people ahead of us at this point, but we didn’t see them.
An unexpected rock face is the first sign that you’re almost at Yuemei Cave – we could still hear the other walkers, but they must have passed straight on through the temple because we never saw them.
Yuemei Cave (月眉洞) is less of a ‘proper cave’, and more of a crepuscular cave, a shallow opening at the base of the cliff that looks to have been carved out by gradual erosion.
Although it could be said that the human-added religious features have destroyed the cave’s natural beauty, it is easy to see why the location drew religious practitioners – the spacious rocky overhang of the natural shelter has a very special atmosphere. You can almost imagine weathering a storm here feeling safe and protected from the elements.
Buddhist deities grace the main altar, with a smaller dragon altar lower down to the left and a collection of seats and shelving collected around a hut to the right.
I felt glad that the hikers in front of us had passed through without stopping. It was so peaceful to have this place to ourselves.
I’m not sure how long we spent there, but the journey from the cave back to our scooter was brief, around 15 minutes or so. We were once more greeted by over-enthusiastic kisses from Caishen Ye as we sat on the steps to deseed our clothing. (It was a good job we did stop to do this because I found a tick crawling its way up my trouser leg.) All in all, it was a very good little walk.
How to get there
Google maps address: If you drive or ride a scooter it’s easy enough to park up in front of the temple as we did. The temple is Erlu Yuanshuai Caishen Temple.
- Temple at the trailhead – N25 06.340 E121 40.180
- Yuemei Temple – N25 06.655 E121 40.330
Public transport: It would be possible to do this walk using public transport, but it would add another 20 minutes of walking on either side of the hike itself. I’d say it was still worth it if you planned to visit the peak and the temple, and/or if you particularly enjoy unique temples. To get here you’d first need to catch a train to Qidu Station, exit via the northwestern entrance, turn right onto Guangming Road then take the first left onto Zizhi Street. When you get to Mingde First Road, cross over, then turn right and walk towards the bus stop (the one that’s on the far side of the road from the post office). From here you need to catch the 702 minibus and ride it as far as Yikeng (一坑). The journey should take a little under half an hour and cost $15. Once at Yikeng you’ll have to follow the rural lanes up to the trailhead. There were several dogs that we passed on the way up, they didn’t pay any attention to us, but they may be a little warier of pedestrians so be alert.
Further reading: If caves and interesting holes in rocks are your thing, then you’ll definitely want to check out Richard Saunder’s post on the subject.
YUEMEI CAVE TRAIL MAP
GPX file available here on Outdoor Active. (Account needed, but the free one works just fine.)
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