Hitchhiking to Dog Temple


(Bark at the moon!)

I have had so many amazing experiences living and traveling in Taiwan, and I'd love to tell them all! So today I'm going to share a hitchhiking dā biàn chē 搭便車 experience I had in my early years here in Taiwan.

It was mid-October, 2009 and the weather in Keelung was cold and wet…it's always wet there though. The port town of Keelung jī lóng 基隆 in the North of the island has an infamous reputation for raining on people's parades(literally). It rains practically all 365 days of the year, and locals nick name it the "Rainy Port". The humidity there is ridiculous, and if you forget to turn on your dehumidifier, mildew will cover your walls in a heart beat(I myself had a horrible experience with this). Despite the weather, Keelung is a great place to get a feel for Taiwan. The local people are extremely friendly, and the beautiful coast and mountains surrounding the area are filled with beautiful locales waiting to be explored.
(Some pics of the beautiful harbor-town Keelung)
My Taiwanese fiancé Ruby and I had been dating for around a month, and we weren't going to let the weather win, so we decided to do what many Taiwanese locals love to do in the cold seasons and take a trip to the nearest hot-springs to soak. Hot-springs, or wēn quán 溫泉 as they are called in Chinese, are prized for their restorative properties, and they have been since the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and before. In fact, many of the islands' hot-springs are historically tied to the Japanese colonization of Taiwan.
The closest place to Keelung is Jinshan, a town that exists only around the hotspring industry. Jinshan jīn shān 金山 in Chinese means "gold mountain" and the amount of capital that the place generates with its hot-springs ensures that it is aptly named, though, unfortunately there is no mountain made of gold. Like many hot spring-towns in Taiwan, there are resorts of varying prices and quality lining the streets of Jin Shan.
Ready to pamper ourselves, Ruby and I got an early start. We headed downstairs and took a bus from my apartment complex to the train station.    There are buses to practically anywhere you could want to go (within reason, none to Kending, or Penghu, sorry!) around the train station. We stocked up on some snacks, ordered a couple of teas, then found a bus headed for the resort town. It's fairly easy to get there from Keelung by bus, though you lose a lot of time waiting, and the ride itself is probably going to be around half-an-hour or longer, so it's best to drive if that's an option.
(A few photos of the community I lived in at the time)
When we got there, it was a simple matter of checking in at the various hot-springs and asking around about the best prices in town, as some of the fancier places can be quite pricey. If you have the money, it's worth it for the experience, but we were on a budget so we went the cheap-route. After looking around we found a decent place for around 250NT for fifty minutes. That was incredibly cheap, and I doubt it's possible to find a deal like that now. Though it wasn't the most beautiful place in town, it worked for us!
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(Left: a picture of Jinshan. Just walk around until you find a place that suits your fancy. Right: a beautiful hot-spring resort in Jinshan…not where we went though!)
Quick Tip: For anyone planning to go to a hot-spring in Taiwan, remember to bring your own towel as you will have to buy one from the resort if you need one, and they generally overcharge much more than is reasonable. Also bring water or sports drinks, you'll need them!
Two things happen every time I visit a hot-spring. 1. I pay for around an hour of soaking time, but usually only use 20-30 minutes of that time. 2. I am completely dead-tired despite doing nothing but sit in water, and I usually sleep like a baby on the bus ride home. This time was no exception, but it took a considerable amount of effort to get there, so we decided to check out a famous temple in the area
The Eighteen Kings Temple shí bā wáng gōng 十八王公 is not far from Jinshan, so we decided to take a bus over and check it out. The temple is situated along the coast, and the waves can be big and scary on a windy day. The temple is famous due to the story of a fisherman and his dog. The fisherman drowned at sea, but his dog survived. Being the loyal animal it is, the dog jumped down into the grave the local people dug for the fisherman, not wanting to be separated from its master. Now people come there and make offerings to the dog and pray. It's a really cool place to visit, and just goes to show how awesome dogs are!
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(People come here from all over to pray and make offerings)
(The dog that made this place famous!)
After leaving the temple, we once again got on a bus and headed back to Keelung…only after a while we realized that I had left my camera and we got off and tried to walk back to get it. We were a long way off at this point, but no buses were coming, so we just started walking, and the creepiest ting happened. After a while we looked back and we noticed that as we walked under the street lamps they were turning off, one-by-one, but all of the ones ahead of us were still lit. It was super creepy, just like something out of a scary movie!
About half-way back to the temple we came across a middle aged man parked on the side of the road. He had been fishing and was putting his catch in his trunk. We asked him how much further up the road the temple was, and he told us it was still pretty far, and offered to drop us off there. We took him up on his offer and got in the car. While driving, I remember him constantly muttering to himself, and given the setting and the lights from before, it was quite a strange encounter.
He dropped us off at the temple and we asked around if anyone had found a camera..,but no one had. After taking one last look around we headed back to the bus stop to wait for the next bus back to Keelung. I  might have lost my camera, but I gained an interesting story to tell along the way. Too bad about all of the pictures I took though!
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this story, and I'd love to hear you share your own interesting stories or experiences in the comments below. See you next time!


Chinese phrases of the day:

搭便車= hitch-hiking

基隆= Keelung

溫泉= hot-spring

金山= Jinshan

十八王公= The Eighteen Kings Temple




No Hitching, Just Hiking: Part 2 七星山


This past Thursday, I went to Yangming Mountain Park with a few friends. This place is huge, the air is fresh and the scenery is beautiful. There are tons of hiking trails, hot springs and scenery to take in, and it's also a famous place to go to see Taiwan's national flower, the beautiful plum-blossom méi huā 梅花, and many others when they bloom in the spring.


(Ruby and I with some beautiful plum blossoms…not at Yangming Mountain Park though!)

But we didn't wake-up at 5AM to take the train from Zhongli to Taipei just to see a bunch of flowers! Our mission was hiking to the tallest peak in the park, qī xīng shān 七星山 Seven-Star Mountain.


(A shot of the train station in the early morning)


We took the hóng 紅15 bus from MRT Jiantan Station which goes directly to the trail head. On my previous visit, I had taken bus number 260 from Taipei Main Station and switched busses at the Yangming Mountain Park visitors' center. Either way will work fine, depending on your plans.


This was my first time taking a bus directly to 七星山 though, and like any good adventure, it was a little chaotic. When we got off the bus, the sky looked really gloomy, and before we had figured out where the trail was, it started raining heavily. Luckily we were right next to a free wēn quán 溫泉 hot spring, and we were faced with a choice. We could either climb-up into the mountains in the pouring rain and freeze our butts off, or we could soak in the hot spring for a bit and wait the weather out. Easy choice, only there was an unexpected surprise…
(The hot spring from out front)
(The hot spring is on the other side…a naked hot spring. I had no idea it was going to be this kind of party!)
After relaxing in the hot spring, we decided to figure out where to go and asked around a bit. Eventually we took a bus back to the visitors center and got on another bus to take us to the trail head. We got off at the deceptively named 七星山 stop, which was nowhere near the mountain, and we had to walk for a bit before coming to the trail.
I had done this hike a few years earlier in the hottest part of the summer with my fiancé, Ruby, but it was a totally different animal this time. Hiking in the summer's heat made it a lot more difficult and exhausting, but this time it felt rather easy and it only took about an hour-and-a-half up and down, whereas it had probably taken around three hours total the last time. As you climb up, you can see tons of sulfur deposits and it feels like you've traveled to another planet.
(This sign talks about the volcanoes in the area which we owe the hotsprings to!)
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(A few pictures of the misty mountain)


I had wanted to make this hike again because the last time I was there, my camera's batteries died when I got to the peak, and I was hoping to take a few pictures of the scenery from the top this time. Nature was conspiring against me, however, as the higher we went the foggier it got. we could barely see anything. And after a while the wind picked up and I felt like I was going to be blown away!
(They were building a new rest area and had left all of the tools out. This is when the wind picked up!)
(Here I am at the top. Couldn't really see much that day)


After hanging out at the top for a bit, we made our way back down the other side of the mountain and checked out the other peak. The scenery was spectacular and it was a fairly easy hike down. Embarrassingly, the trail ended just by the Lengshuikeng hot spring where we had started off at!
(Soaking our feet in the hot spring water)  


Unfortunately the hot spring was closed for cleaning, though we soaked our feet in a natural hot spring pool just out front. It was cold, windy and we were hungry, but it was another amazing day in Taiwan.
Check out the rest of the pictures here!
How To Get There:
Yangming Mountain Park- Take bus number 260 from Taipei Main Station (outside the South exit)
七星山– Take the bus at the Yangming Mountain Park visitor's center, or alternatively take the 紅15 from MRT Jiantan station
Chinese phrases of the day:
梅花= plum blossom(s)
七星山= Seven-Star Mountain
溫泉= hot spring(s)
= red