The “Silver River” Cave

A (Short) Hike on Taipei’s Wild Side

Text: Richard Saunders
Photos: Vision Int’l

 

There is no shortage of trails in the mountains surrounding the Taipei Basin, many quite scenic and easy for the average hiker to follow. One such trail leads from the Taipei suburb of Xindian to the tea-plantation area of Maokong, passing the unique Yinhe (“Silver River”) Cave.

Temples are ubiquitous in the populated areas of Taiwan, and even in the mountains small shrines to the Earth God (Tudi Gong), at which locals may pause to pray and perhaps leave an offering in return for a safe passage, can be found beside many trails. These are often exuberantly colorful places to experience the equally colorful local culture.
Yinhe Cave, however, is unique. Although this tiny temple is of no architectural distinction and there’s little to see inside, its gravity-defying position makes it one-of-a-kind. It clings to a ledge half-way up a tall and sheer cliff face, beside a lofty, graceful waterfall.

Yinhe Cave lies at the head of a wooded ravine just outside Xindian, Taipei’s southernmost suburb. It is reached with a short and easy climb up a stepped path from the road. Public transport provides easy access to the trailhead. Take the Taipei Metro to Xindian Station (the southern terminus of the Songshan-Xindian Line) and then take bus Green 12 (headed for the town of Pinglin) from the bus stop outside the station. After getting off at the Yinhe Cave bus stop, walk along the highway (Provincial Highway 9) for about 50 meters to a sharp hairpin bend, and turn onto narrow Yinhe Road. There is a large Buddha statue at the entrance. Follow the road for about a kilometer, until you come to another sharp bend. A signpost on the right points to the first steps – of almost 500 – leading up a thickly wooded hillside beside a cascading stream. The scenery is lovely right from the trailhead, despite the proximity of the urban built-up area, and it’s not long before the waterfall and the little temple behind come into view above.
A final push up a steep flight of stairs and through a gateway (usually kept open during daylight hours) gives access to the temple, a collection of cramped chambers with the natural rock of the cliff face for a back wall. Emerging from the last chamber brings you to a path that climbs along the natural overhang in the sheer cliff, passing behind the waterfall and finishing at a small natural cave with a large statue of Lu Dongbin, one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese legend.

The scenery is lovely right from the trailhead and it’s not long before the waterfall and the little temple behind come into view above.

 Lu Dongbin is also worshipped at Zhinan Temple (www.chih-nan-temple.org), one of Taipei’s biggest and most popular temples, which is reachable by a pleasant and not-too-strenuous 2-hour hike over the hills from Yinhe Cave. Head down to the foot of the waterfall; facing the waterfall, the main path veers to the right here, and beyond a flight of steep steps rejoins the stream at the top of the waterfall. In a couple of minutes the surfaced path crosses a bridge on the left at a fork in the trail and heads uphill, bringing you, eventually, to Muzha’s well-known Maokong area. This trail is broad and easy to follow.
If looking for something a bit wilder and more natural, at the aforementioned fork in the trail keep to the right and follow the narrow dirt trail that continues along the right bank of the stream. Conditions here can be a bit muddy after rain, and it’s necessary to cross the stream several times in quick succession, but the plentiful rocks in the streambed generally make it easy enough to accomplish this feat dry-shod.
After about 10 minutes the trail crosses the stream once more and veers left, climbing through the jungle to the top of a ridge. You will reach a wooden resting platform about 30 minutes after the crossing. It’s a surprisingly secluded walk considering the fact that the big, busy city is just over the next ridge, and it’s unusual to see more than a couple of other hikers along this stretch of the trail, even on weekends. As the trail continues down the far side of the ridge a raised boardwalk makes progress easy, and soon the path emerges onto a road in Maokong, directly opposite the uppermost station of the Maokong Gondola (www.gondola.taipei), Maokong Station.

  Before taking the gondola across the valley here to Zhinan Temple (the next stop) or all the way down to the Taipei Zoo (www.zoo.gov.taipei), where there is a connection with the Taipei Metro’s Wenhu Line, it’s virtually de rigueur while in the area to sit back and enjoy a leisurely hour or two sipping tea, ‘old man’ style, while enjoying panoramic views over Taipei and the surrounding hills (an especially memorable experience at night when the city lights up). Teahouses are dotted along Sec. 3, Zhinan Road on either side of Maokong Station. Those wanting to learn a bit more about the area’s tea production can visit the nearby Zhang Nai-miao Memorial Hall, dedicated to Tieguanyin and Baozhong tea.
For those eager to explore a little more, several short, easy trails that start near Maokong Station provide a nice, easy postlude for your hike. Simplest is the level Camphor Tree Trail, a short stroll through camphor trees and tea fields. Another short, signposted trail, to the curious natural pothole formations after which Maokong (which means ‘cat holes’) is named, begins a 10-minute walk along Zhinan Road from the gondola terminus (facing the station, turn right).

A visit to magnificent Zhinan Temple is another compulsory stop when in the area, and since the temple complex is pretty spread out, expect to do a fair amount of walking to explore it fully. For eager hikers, however, after Yinhe Cave the best hike in the area is launched from Zhinan Road after a walk of a couple of minutes uphill from the gondola station, taking you to the top of rocky Houshanyue. It’s a short but very steep climb, the last section of which is up a series of rocky bluffs with fixed ropes in place so hikers can haul their way to the top, where there’s a magnificent view of the Taipei Basin.
From the Houshanyue peak the trail follows a ridge, eventually joining up with a classic Taipei-area hike, the Bijia Ridge walk. This rather strenuous but wonderful day-long hike follows a long, rugged ridge from Maokong all the way to the old town of Shenkeng, now a district of New Taipei City, about 10 kilometers to the east. On the way you pass through pristine forest, with magnificent views enjoyed at several points, especially from the rocky cap of Mt. Bijia. This hike is generally done in the opposite direction, which means the chance, at the end of a long day, to enjoy a pot of reviving tea. Ending at Shenkeng, however, has the advantage of finishing at a place famous for its tofu. Restaurants along Shenkeng Old Street sell a range of delicious dishes that taste especially good after a day spent in the hills!

Richard Saunders is the author of several books about hiking and traveling in Taiwan, including Taipei Escapes I and II, introducing day walks and day trips in northern Taiwan.


 

English and Chinese

Baozhong tea包種茶
Bijia Ridge筆架連峰
Camphor Tree Trail樟樹步道
Green 12綠12
Houshanyue猴山岳
Lu Dongbin呂洞賓
Maokong貓空
Maokong Gondola貓空纜車
Mt. Bijia筆架山
Pinglin平林
Shenkeng深坑
Shenkeng Old Street深坑老街
Tieguanyin tea鐵觀音茶
Tudi Gong土地公
Xindian新店
Yinhe Cave銀河洞
Yinhe Road銀河路
Zhang Nai-miao Memorial Hall張迺妙茶師紀念館
Zhinan Road指南路
Zhinan Temple指南宮