Shitoushan (chinese translation Lion’s Head Mountain) is located in Hsinchu and Miaoli counties south of Taipei. It rises to an elevation of about 500 meters (1,500 feet). Lion’s Head Mountain has forest temples over a hundred years old. It is also one of the oldest Buddhist sites in Taiwan. Jeff and I had never been there, so we decided to go and check it out.
Lion’s Head Mountain gained its name in 1826 when Mr. Li Shenyi of Danshui viewed the mountain and commented on how the peak resembled the head of a lion. He was likely one of the few who could easily see a lion head shape in this mountain. I had to be shown a photograph of the mountain with a drawing of a stone lion superimposed on it in the visitor center to see how it got its name.
But first we had to get there. We decided to take the train down to Hsinchu. Unlike our trip to Fulong, this time we managed to take an express train that went almost directly to Hsinchu (chinese translation “new bamboo”). There are many trains that go between Taipei and Hsinchu because there are a lot of factories and businesses located in Hsinchu. So many people commute between Taipei to Hsinchu every day. Once we arrived in Hsinchu, we were told that the tour bus only made stops at the train station in Zhubei (chinese translation “north bamboo”), and at the high speed rail (HSR) station in Hsinchu. So we took the train one stop north back to Zhubei.
We got to Zhubei and found out that the tour bus runs every half hour, and we had just missed it. So we went to sit inside an air conditioned 7 Eleven near the bus stop to wait for 20 minutes.
The tour bus was air conditioned and comfortable, and it actually did a tour of Hsinchu on our way to the Lion’s Head Mountain visitor center. It made five stops before reaching the HSR station in Hsinchu, and a recording in Chinese and English explained the sites at each stop. Thus, we know that the HSR station at Hsinchu won an architectural design award.
It took about an hour for the tour bus to drive up into the mountains after we left the stop at Hsinchu HSR station. The total bus ride was about 1 3/4 hours, which was longer than I expected. So we did not arrive at our destination until around noon, and we had left our apartment before 8 am! When I write in the blog about the places where we go in Taiwan, it probably seems like we just easily get there, even without using a car. But traveling around on public transportation requires planning and working out the logistics of traveling to an area, and often we can only get a good sense of what is involved by doing it. In this case, subway to Taipei Main Train Station, plus express train to Hsinchu plus regular train to Zhubei plus tour bus added up to more than 4 hours of travel!
Lion’s Head Mountain was declared as a provincial scenic area in 1993. The scenic area includes Lion’s Head Mountain, Emei Lake, Wuzhi Mountain, and Beipu Town Area. Lion’s Head scenic area is very large, over 24,221 hectares, and has many hiking trails and historical sites. We saw Beipu Township and walked two trails on Lion’s Head Mountain on this trip. But first we stopped in the visitor center, so that we could learn more about the area.
We decided to eat lunch next, as we were both hungry. There was a restaurant with beautiful terraced landscaping around it next to the visitor center.
The restaurant served traditional Hakka, Atayal and Saisiyat cuisine, and lunch was very good!
The Lion’s Head Mountain scenic area is also well known for the wonderful fruit that is grown here. Asian pears, peaches, persimmons, lychees, dragon fruit, and wax apples are all grown in this area. We walked under several wax apple trees with fruit on them on the path from the visitor center to the restaurant.
I was hoping that it would be cooler up here in the mountains, but it was not. I guess that we were not up high enough. It was still very hot. So we decided to take the trail alongside of the river to Wanfo, as it would be shady with lots of trees.
We had only walked a short distance along the river trail before we saw the temple. Wanfo Temple is a Buddhist temple set into Shueilian Cave, the biggest cave in the scenic area.
Natural spring water drips from the rock ledge overhanging the cave, and also flows out from the rocks underneath the shrine. I was hoping that it would be cooler in the cave temple, but it just felt hot and damp.
After we left Wanfo Temple, we continued along the river trail to the Sticky Rice Bridge
The Sticky Rice Bridge got its name from the fact that sticky rice mixed with lime and sugar was used as mortar between the stones of the bridge. This bridge was built by the Japanese, and was very important when it was built because it because it goes across the Thread of Sky Gorge.
The trail and the bridge over the gorge were important for the local residents, as this was the main path connecting two area towns.
I was feeling very bad by the time that we reached the bridge. I was pale, dizzy, and nauseous, with a bad headache and rapid heartbeat. In hindsight, it is very clear that I was suffering from heat exhaustion. I had to sit for a while on a bench in the shade next to the bridge. Jeff was feeling okay, and had started up the trail back towards the visitor center. When he noticed that I was not following him, he returned and sat beside me until I was feeling a bit better.
It took me a long time, moving slowly, to get back up the trail to the visitor center. We had just missed the shuttle bus that takes hikers to the other end of the Lion Head’s Mountain Historic Trail. Jeff really wanted to see some of the historic temples along this trail, so we started walking up it.
I quickly realized that I should not have done so. I started feeling very bad again, after not going very far along the path. So I sat down alongside of the trail, and Jeff hiked a bit farther along the trail. He just went up to the first little shrine in the photo below, and then turned back because he realized that it was a much longer hike to the temples than we thought. After I felt a bit better, we walked slowly back down the trail and got on the air conditioned bus to ride back to Hsinchu.
I was feeling a bit better after sitting for awhile in the air conditioning, so we decided to get off the bus in Beipu to get something to eat. Beipu was the site of the original Hakka settlement in this area. It is famous for its well preserved houses on Beipu Old Street. and Chitian Temple. It is also famous for its Hakka cuisine and its special Hakka blends of ground green tea and nuts called “leicha.” (chinese translation pounded tea).
Beipu is located in the foothills of eastern Hsinchu County. It is the major Hakka town in the north of the island and has a population of around 97% Hakka. The Hakka people first moved out to Beipu about 150 years ago. This caused lots of problems with the indigenous Saisiyat tribe living in the area and the town of Beipu suffered many attacks..
Citian Temple in Beipu is a Taoist temple that is an important historical building.
The carvings on the roof of this temple were just amazing!
We took the bus back to the Hsinchu HSR station from Beipu, and took the high speed train back to Taipei. We learned a lot during our first trip to the Lion’s Head Mountain scenic area. Next time, we will likely rent a car instead of taking public transportation, as we can get there faster driving a car from Taipei. There is plenty of parking. and many of the trail heads are not close to the bus stops up in the mountain area. I am sure that we will go back when the weather is cooler, as there is so much to see in this area. Also, I will be much more careful for the rest of the summer when I am outside walking around in this very hot, humid climate, as i do not want to get another case of heat exhaustion.