Usual suspects to visit in Taipei could be listed easily : Sun Yat Sen square, national palace museum, Taipei 101 etc. For those that have the time and will, venturing to Beitou, Tamsui on the suburban fringe of the city is something that can be considered.
This story focuses just on Maokong 貓空.
Literally translated, Maokong means “Cats’ Hallow” in the closest of semantics. But there are no cats here. Rather it used to be a place where Civets ranged. And since they hid in the many holes and caves, the name stuck.
We were staying at Ximending, so the best way is to take the MRT. To get the best deal, buy the day pass. For NT$350pp, it is good for a full day’s access to the gondola. You can also use the public transport system such as the MRT. We took line 1 that ends at 忠孝复兴 station. From the station it is just a short hop to the entrance of the gondola main station located close to Zoo’s entrance.
The cable car / Gondola
Commissioned in July of 2007, the gondola had ran repeatedly into operational issues in its early years. However, it has mostly been resolved. Though the lady from whom we purchased the day pass still told us to go early in case it rains and gets windy…fortunately there were no rain or winds – well bad if you had a really sweltering day of heat and humidity. Be prepared to sweat it out in the cabins. This had been a perennial issue and is still not resolved. But at least you have a view!
There are 4 stops, thus 3 sections over which the cable car will traverse over hills and small mountains. Originally there were more, but some had been closed from the public. The highest point is Maokong peak at 230m.
During the ascend, it was quite disturbing to feel something or someone watching us. It was Taipei 101! She was peeping over the hills looking enviously at us. The verdant hills are a contrast to the cityscape that we had just escaped from. Here, life seems slower. Perhaps it is the fact that we are beyond even the suburban influence of the big city.
In 2010, “crystal” cabins were introduced to the gondola. There are 30 cabins that have been retrofitted with 48mm thick glass bottoms. Said to operate at intervals of 3 minutes, they can only seat 5 persons and not the standard 8 persons. If you queue for it, it will take longer and is a separate queue. For now we are busy looking through to see the plantations that line the valleys, through the floor!
In the past there were safety concerns about the pillars of the gondola. In fact it is true that former President Ma Ying Jeou was trapped in mid air on its opening day! But these have been resolved. So sit back and relax, it’s safe!
The one stop we made was here to make our way to the temple complex perched on Monkey mountain. It is said to be dedicated to Lu Dong Bing, one of the eight immortals of Chinese folkore. Perhaps dedicated is too much to say. It is afterall a Taoist temple with a seminary that offers and awards 2-year BA degrees and even MA courses.
Some say that if unmarried couples come here they will eventually separate. That’s because the immortal (Lu) is said to have a way with unmarried women, seducing them…So if you ever want to lose your girlfriend this would be a good place to bring her. Perhaps she will dump you for the immortal…
When we came here it was rather quiet and not thronged with devotees. Perhaps it is not an auspicious day. It must be a popular temple though, as there are wish charms hanging on the trees that line the walkway to the temples. Like most religious temples in the world, if you make a wish and it comes true you will need to come back give thanks.
Today the facade is under restoration so we decided to venture to the “大雄寶殿”. Fortunately for us the walkway is covered for today was >35°C to walk under the sun. The long corridor has decorations similar to that in the palaces of China and each section has drawings to illustrate specific ancient idioms or wise sayings. Cannot imagine folks trying to surmount the 1000 steps stairway to get here. Like the peak in Hongkong, there are numerous walking trails. Since it is near the zoo, many parents bring their children here where they get in the outdoors instead of playing with their mobile devices.
Looking over the horizon, the city of Taipei comes to view. And 101 tower is still looming in the distant. It must be quite a sight with the illuminated city in the night. Perhaps it’s good even for the fireworks during New Year’s eve?
Final stop and terminus, Maokong station – our objective is to look for lunch!
The road lining the station is alive with little eateries and shops + local hawkers. Our intent was not any of these, but to find the restaurant that Suan had researched. Called the Spring square restaurant, it was located on the slopes and we missed it. Fortunately the locals re-directed us and we were soon sipping tea looking at the views.
We had 鐵觀音 tea, which soothed our bodies. This was recommended to us, as the area specializes in the cultivation of this tea breed/species (whatever). Having relaxed, we were served Rosella that they grown themselves and pickled with sugar. Our lunch was simple with stir fried curly fern and bittergourd stir fried with salted egg. We have to say the salted egg was not salty at all! LOL.. To top it all we had a large pot of chicken soup with fresh bamboo shoots and mushrooms.
Coming to Maokong should be at least a half day activity. Best time is in the mornings and probably recommended in the cooler months of Spring or Autumn.
Updated July 2016