Text: Richard Saunders
Hiking the Goddess of Mercy Mountain
Mt. Guanyin is one of the scenic highlights you’ll see on the way to the port town of Tamsui from central Taipei. Situated on the opposite side of the Tamsui River, the mountain resembles Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, lying down. There are numerous trails on the mountain, ranging in difficulty from easy but steep to steep and challenging. The views from the peaks are magnificent, and there is also a very special tiny temple in a narrow cave to be explored.
Rising above the Tamsui River estuary north of Taipei City, the shapely profile of Mt. Guanyin is an eye-catching sight from the riverside promenade in Tamsui, which sits on the east bank of the river. Viewed from the east-bank Guandu area, several kilometers upstream, it’s even more striking. From this angle its various peaks, silhouetted against the sky, form a figure reminiscent of the reclining Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy – hence the name. Seen from above, the pointy peaks of the mountain are also said to resemble the petals of a lotus flower (the Buddhist symbol of purity).
Despite its associations with calm Buddhism, Mt. Guanyin is a mountain born of fire. It’s an ancient volcano, created, like the Datun Mountain Range along Taiwan’s north coast east of Tamsui (the tallest peaks of which are in Yangmingshan National Park), as a result of the eruptions of a magma chamber, which still lies underneath Yangmingshan. The first eruptions, about 2.8 million years ago, created the oldest mountains of the Datun range; Mt. Guanyin was created during a later series of eruptions that began about 800,000 years ago, around the same time that Mt. Qixing (the highest peak, in Yangmingshan) was created. Over the following millennia the mountain has eroded, and the crater has worn down into the present shapely series of peaks that make Mt. Guanyin one of the most instantly recognizable natural features in the Taipei area.
That fine profile is one of the main reasons why Mt. Guanyin (part of the North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area) is such a popular hiking spot in the Taipei area. There are several ways to the top of the highest of its various summits, known as Yinghan (“Tough Man”) Peak because the Japanese military used the trail for fitness training during the 1895~1945 Japanese occupation period. The most popular route is the relatively easy one from the southwest, beginning at Lingyun Zen Temple, which sits in a beautiful spot, backed by the sheer cliff face of an outlying peak. Below lies the much smaller Lingyun Temple, a pretty and very photogenic place of worship.
After arriving at Lingyun Temple bus stop (see “Getting There” box), walk uphill, following the signs, to the Lingyun Zen Temple complex. After exploring the temple and enjoying the magnificent view, walk past the front of the main prayer hall and through the temple grounds and car park, to reach the adjoining road. The signposted, stepped trail that leaves the road here, on the right, is the path to Mt. Guanyin’s highest summit.
Winding up the wooded hillside, the first section of the climb is quite steep, so proceed slowly. Turn right at a “T” junction reached after about half an hour. From here the gradient becomes a bit more gradual as the trail gains the main ridgeline and follows its rolling curves, and there are views at intervals through the trees over the Taipei Basin and ahead to Yinghan Peak.
After about 20 minutes of hiking from the “T” junction, you come upon a trail crossroads just below the summit. Turn right up the stone steps and walk for a couple of minutes to reach the main Mt. Guanyin summit (616m). The view from the peak is tremendous, and you can see Yangmingshan on the opposite site, the whole of Taipei City laid out far in the distance to the right, and Tamsui and the mouth of the Tamsui River to the left.
To descend the mountain, you have several choices. One is to retrace your steps to the crossroads just below the summit, and then to follow the stepped trail on the right, which descends the eastern side of the mountain. After meeting a narrow lane after about 30 minutes walking, turn left and follow the lane downhill through a cemetery and orange orchards until you reach the highway (No. 15) that follows the west bank of the Tamsui River.
Cross the busy highway with care, and walk to the bicycle path that runs parallel and right beside the river. Turn left and follow the path (north) for about 20 minutes, to the Bali Ferry Pier. For a fare of just NT$23 (get your ticket at the ticket booth behind the pier before joining the queue, or swipe your EasyCard before boarding the ferry), you can take the little ferry across the river to Tamsui. There are services every 15 minutes or so. Don’t forget to look back at the towering bulk of Mt. Guanyin while crossing the river, or, even better, spend an hour or two exploring the promenade at Bali Left Bank before boarding the ferry in time to see the famous Tamsui sunset (weather permitting), which looks especially great from the deck of the boat. The ferry docks right in the heart of old Tamsui, 10 minutes from MRT Tamsui Station.
If you don’t want to cross the river to Tamsui you can take bus R22 (Red 22) from the Ferryboats Dock bus stop on highway 15 and get off at MRT Guandu Station. Explore the magnificent nearby Guandu Temple first, then take the metro back to central Taipei.
Another option for getting back down from Yinghan Peak is to retrace the route to Lingyun Zen Temple and then descend the rest of the way via Yingzai Peak and the narrow rocky ravine called Chaoyin Cave (“Tidal Sound Cave”). First, walk back through the temple past the main prayer hall, and at its end turn left up steps to the highest part of the temple complex, where a trail on the right, signposted to Zhanshan, climbs up the hillside. Turn right at the next junction (signposted “Yingzai Peak”), pass over the wooded peak (440m, with another great view just before the top), and take the dirt trail down the other side, keeping left at junctions. The trail is quite steep in parts, with fixed ropes, but is not too hard to manage; however, be careful during wet weather. At the foot of Yingzai Peak the trail joins a quiet lane. Follow this lane downhill for five minutes, and pass a small shrine beside the road to the right.
About 50 meters after the shrine, turn right down a concrete path, which winds down the steep wooded hillside to the mouth of a narrow crack in the rock face: the entrance to Chaoyin Cave. Entering the narrow, dark cleft, the walls of which close in on either side blocking out the sky, a path follows a little stream for a short distance until it widens into a “chamber” in which a small roofed shrine is housed. The stream tumbles over a little waterfall into a pool at the far end of the chamber before flowing under the metal floor of the shrine; the sound of rushing water provides one explanation for the unusual name, although (considering the mountain’s associations with Guanyin) it more likely comes from a similarly crack-like cleft of the same name on the island of Putuoshan, the place where Guanyin is said to have achieved enlightenment, not far from Shanghai in mainland China.
Follow the narrow road that connects Chaoyin Cave with the outside world, downhill, to a junction. Keep left, continuing downhill, crossing a stream along the way. At another junction beside a pond, take the road on the right. In about 700 meters it joins a larger road, right next to Mt. Guanyin bus stop. From here you can take bus O20 (Orange 20) to MRT Luzhou Station, and then ride the metro to central Taipei.
For more information about Mt. Guanyin, visit the North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area website (www.northguan-nsa.gov.tw). Before starting your hike, you might also want to visit the Mt. Guanyin Visitor Center, about a 15-minute walk up the road from the Lingyun Zen Temple trailhead, where you can find lot of information about the area, including about local birds of prey (Mt. Guanyin is a popular birdwatching area). If you want to trace the trail before your hike, check out Google Street View; the main trails were captured in October 2013.
To get to the main trailhead on Mt. Guanyin, take the MRT Nanshijiao-Luzhou Line (Orange Line / Line 4B) to its northern terminus, Luzhou Station. Leave the station by Exit 1 and take bus O20 (Orange 20), which runs every 20-30 minutes, from the bus stop outside the station. Get off at Lingyun Temple; the ride takes about 30 minutes. (Please note: The Mt. Guanyin bus stop on the O20 route is quite far from the peak of the mountain, so getting off the bus there is an option only if you want to take the long route uphill.)
English and Chinese
|Bali Ferry Pier||八里渡船頭|
|Bali Left Bank||八里左岸|
|Datun Mountain Range||大屯山系|
|Lingyun Zen Temple||凌雲禪寺|
|North Coast and Guanyinshan National Scenic Area||北海岸及觀音山國家風景區|