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Tranquil Lakes and Scenic Trails (TAIPEI Quarterly 2024 Summer Vol.36)

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Post date:2024-06-11

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TAIPEI #36 (2024 Summer)

Tranquil Lakes and Scenic Trails

Exploring the Enchanting Neihu District


Text Rick Charette
Photos Vision

Neihu District is in the northeast corner of Taipei's urban core. Here, the mountains that form the city's northside backdrop come down and run right into the community as spurs, with sizeable lakes found at their bases. Easy and quick Taipei Metro access means this enclave is a great destination for outdoor recreational fun followed – and/or preceded – by stops at stimulating temples, cafés, and teahouses.

1▲Baishihu Suspension Bridge

Expansive landscaped Dahu Park, is Neihu District's most iconic scenic attraction. MRT Dahu Park Station is on its northwest edge.

The park's location is deep within a long, shallow, well developed valley formed by the spurs, at its innermost end. "Neihu" means "inner lake," referencing the inner-extremity position. The star of the park is the tranquil, mirror-like 13ha lake called Dahu, or"big lake." The trailheads of several popular hiking trails are found close to the park grounds, one of which, Bailusi Mountain Trail, we'll be introducing below.

2▲Moon Bridge

Along with the many waterfowl such as egrets and herons, which add cute splashes to your memento shots, photographers also flock to the waters to capture its two elegant man-made tourism headliners, the Moon Bridge and lookout pavilions built right out over the water. All feature ancient Chinese imperial-style designs. The former is a long sweeping-arch bridge that crosses the lake at a narrow point, a lovely moon-shaped passage for water flow-through at its center, and the latter are side-by-side pavilions with bright-red pillars and golden yellow ceramic-tile roofs, reached via a dramatically zigzagging bridge.

On weekends and holidays, the park gets busy with picnickers, folks strolling the pleasant pathways, f ishermen, and the aforementioned shutterbugs. Also drawing in the fun-seekers are a heated swimming pool, sauna, playground, and other facilities, as well as the stately bald cypresses that festoon the grounds, which appear in brown and orange colors in late autumn/early winter.

After spending some time in the park, next we go for an easy hike up the mountain on the south side of the lake. It takes about one hour to complete the well-maintained 1.85km trail.

According to the city government, over 60% of Neihu is covered in protected forest. Immediately south of Dahu is the low, tree-carpeted Bailusi (White Egret) Mountain, the most prominent feature of one of the district's aforementioned spurs. This mighty "mountain" is a soaring 143m in altitude. It's said its name comes from a colony of egrets that used to breed on the north side of the mountain during the Japanese era.

3▲Two shrines near the Bailusi Mountain trailhead

The Bailusi Mountain Trail has two trailheads, one on the mountain's northwest side just off Dahu's southeast corner, and the other on the southwest side, just off Jinhu Road. Both are clearly marked – the first with a large sculpture of a white egret mounted atop a post, the second with a boulder on which the trail name has been engraved in red-painted Chinese characters.

5▲The flagstone trail up Bailusi Mountain is easy to walk

The route, paved and featuring night lighting, has f lagstone and stone step sections. It is winding and twisting, especially on the north side, meandering through pleasantly tranquil and shady tree cover. And it is narrow, with trees and shrubs for the most part very close. On the south side, along the bottom section, you'll pass by small farm plots of fruit trees, and on the top section, just below the summit, you'll pass a small clearing with a makeshift shelter where locals, mostly seniors, come to drink tea, exercise, and soak in the fresh air. There is a larger clearing at the summit itself.

4▲View of Neihu District from Bailusi Mountain

While traversing the north side, from the summit and a limited number of openings in the tree cover you can peer down over Dahu at the mountain's foot, and in the background, the elevated Taipei Metro line takes on the appearance of a serpentine white dragon circling the lake's shore. On clear days the summit also affords a comparatively unobstructed sweep of true mountain giants to the north, most notably the iconic Wuzhi (Five Fingers) Mountain, five peaks protruding prominently along its ridge line.

After reaching the southern trailhead, turn right and follow Jinhu Road north for about 1km to reach our next stop, a shop selling delicious French-style baked goodies.

The commercial area to the west of Dahu and Bailusi Mountain, within easy walking distance, abounds in good-tasting eateries and cafés. The urbane Gustave & Henri, a combination of bistro and patisserie, is the type of establishment you would serendipitously stroll by in a Paris quarter and find it impossible not to enter. The storefront is sleek subdued elegance, pitch black the primary design-theme color, with the mise-en-scène balanced with an exuberant painter's palette of bright pastel color splashes – i.e., pictures of the feast of delectable French-style sweet and savory treats that awaits within, posted outside and just inside the entrance.

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Here is just a petit sampling of what is born in the Gustave & Henri ovens: the bestseller quiches, spinach and cheese and the sausage and tomato; tartes, the crème brûlée and salted caramel walnut; dacquoises, the mango, peanut, and signature praline. Bon appétit!

7▲Quiches are among the bestsellers at Gustave & Henri
 
Gustave & Henri 古斯塔·亨利
🚩 34, Jinhu Rd., Neihu Dist.
📞 (02) 8792-2953
🕝 10:00am-8:00pm
🔗 www.gustavehenri.com

Next, we head to MRT Neihu Station (5 min. on foot), not to take the metro, but to board a small bus that will take us to the district's lush mountains.

Time now to head a ways up into the true mountains. Not far up-mountain from Dahu Park, reached via twisting Bishan Road, is Baishihu, a high-basin area rich with recreational farms (many organic), quality hiking trails, old temples, and lovely scenery. The trails, mostly flagstoned, lead you right through the farms – Baishihu is especially known for strawberry-picking operations.

The Baishihu Suspension Bridge is perhaps the area's most recognized attraction. The charmingly photogenic 116m-long structure, which leaps a shallow stream valley, has a deliberate spinal cord "dragon bone" look to its design, emulating an auspicious dragon swooping across the landscape. It has a straight suspension design that is similar to that of an underspanned suspension bridge. Built and opened by the city government in 2010 to facilitate tourist foot-traffic access to the local leisure farms, it connects Bishan Road to the trail network wending through the farms on its north side.

8▲Bishan Temple

Close along Bishan Road from the bridge entrance you'll see the grandly ornate roadside arch that leads uphill to the magnificent multi-tier Bishan Temple. This slope-hugging complex does not look down into Baishihu; it's on the Taipei Basin side of Zhongyong Mountain. It is both Taiwan's largest and highest temple dedicated to Kaizhang Sheng Wang, literally the "Sacred King Who Developed Zhangzhou" – a Tang Dynasty general charged with developing Zhangzhou in China's Fujian Province. Pioneer settlers who later crossed to Taiwan brought incense ash from home temples and raised new ones here.

Bishan Temple began as the humblest of cave shrines in the early 1700s. This sacred spot still exists, in the temple's rear. You'll see three stones within; it's said these were once one, split into three in the mid-1700s by lightning as a divine warning to make the local inhabitants look down and see that a force of attackers was gathering in the Taipei Basin below. The temple's lofty perch serves up commanding views over the metropolis, especially intoxicating at sunset when the city lights come abloom. 

Note that the temple is at the start/end of Section 5 of the Taipei Grand Trail (total trail length about 92km), a major city government initiative and a major draw for hiking enthusiasts.
 
Bishan Temple 碧山巖
🚩 24, Bishan Rd., Neihu Dist.
🔗 www.pkcswt.com.tw

The final stop on our Neihu excursion is a teahouse. From Bishan Temple's car park, follow Bishan Road west for about 250m, turn right at the fork and you'll shortly arrive at a quaint elegant teahouse.

To finish up your Baishihu walkabout, a bit of culinary refreshment is in order. Just upstream from the suspension bridge is the elegant Cook Cloud Tea House.

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Fronting the seating area, seen through a long wall of glass, is a serene garden courtyard with a carp-filled pond. The name "Cook Cloud" is embedded with the idea that while here you look up to savor the clouds above, and when looking down you savor the reflections of the clouds you've "cooked/brewed" in your tea.

10▲At Cook Cloud Tea House, enjoy fine tea surrounded by nature

Premium Taiwan leaf (with tea-brewing sets), coffees and other beverages, Taiwan-cuisine light meals, snacks, and Western-style desserts are on the menu, perfect for hikers to take a moment to unwind.
 
Cook Cloud Tea House 煮雲軒
🚩 31-1, Bishan Rd., Neihu Dist.
📞 (02) 2791-9636
🕝 Wed. to Sun. 11:00am-9:00pm
🔗 instagram.com/cook_cloud
 

🔎
Bailusi Mountain Trail 白鷺鷥山親山步道
Baishihu Suspension Bridge 白石湖吊橋
Bishan Road 碧山路
Dahu Park 大湖公園
Moon Bridge 錦帶橋
Jinhu Road 金湖路
Wuzhi Mountain 五指山
Zhongyong Mountain 忠勇山


🗺️Click here to see aforementioned spots on Google Map

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