tian mu old trail (天母古道)

distance: 3km if you do the trail one-way and catch a bus at the university, 4km to do a short loop, 6km if you walk up to the university and loop back.

time: about 2 hours with no stops, but it took us about 3.5 hours with time for refreshments near the university.

difficulty: 4/10 the path is all paved and although there are quite a lot of steps it’s really not that tough. One to save for a break in the rain as the terrain is walkable even after a few showers.

water: 0.8L you can replenish near the midway point if you loop back at the university.

shade: well shaded for most of the trail parts but almost no shade on the road to the university and on the road section of the return route.

mobile network: no problem, available throughout.

enjoyment: 5/10 good exercise and easy to get to but not much in the way of views.

If you’re coming on public transport you should find yourself alighting at a roundabout, it’s the last stop for several bus routes. From there you need to walk a little way up Zhongshan North Road Section 7.

The trail starts just to the right beyond the sandy coloured building.

Almost all the signage on this hike is bilingual, but apart from a few off-shoots there’s pretty much nowhere that you can go wrong on the way up.

There are a few signs with information and warnings about the local Formosan macaques. We didn’t see any (luckily, after being rushed by a troop in Hong Kong I have had a strong desire to keep a distance from these creatures), but we did hear a few giving warning barks from the trees above us. I’ve been assured that Taiwanese monkeys aren’t as aggressive as their Hong Kong cousins but I wouldn’t want to test it.

Heading up the steps from the start of the trail you’ll find yourself climbing past small farms and houses.

We passed a few fellow walkers and residents on the way up.

Keep heading up. 

If you’re planning to go all the way up you can just follow signs pointing to the university.

We saw many of these curious snails on our way, they’re a species called aegista mackensii which is only found in Taiwan. They have the most intriguing row of spine-like things fanning out from the outer ring of their shells.

We also met this rather charming little lizard.

And there were literally hundreds of these giant millipedes. They were about 12-15cm long and seemed to be enjoying eating the damp wood.

There a few places where you can get a glimpse of the valley and hills beyond.

But mostly you’ll be going up and up on a tree-lined path.

At this first rest pavilion you can read a little about the history of the path, or more importantly the pipe which runs up alongside the path.

Just beyond the pavilion you’ll find a couple of taps where you can wash your face and refresh. When you’re done follow the path going off the the left.

For a while you’ll have a break from climbing steps as the path meanders around the side of the mountain. If you’re planning to do the shorter, 4km loop keep walking for a while and then look out for a path going down to the left, it’s just after a small ‘rubbing station’, (a lot more innocent than it sounds), where you can make rubbings of several small metal tiles which depict local scenes. If you take this route you can refer to the directions a little further on in this post.

Some of Taiwan’s many stray dogs sunbathing on a patch of concrete. (If you’re trying to do the short loop and you reach here then you’ve come too far.)

As you enter the tunnel of trees you’ll be starting the final climb to road.

This is the end of the hiking trail, head up to the right to reach the shops near the university for refreshments.

Keep going up and up until you see a church on your right. If you want to top up your water you can find a water fountain just around to the left of the church’s main doors.

We made use of their facilities and filled our bottles.

At the church turn left and continue along the road until you meet the main junction. From there you’ll be able to find shops for refreshments or bus stops if you feel too tired to do the return leg.

Once you are ready to walk back down you need to retrace your steps.

After coming down the same way you’ll reach this point (that’s the ‘rubbing station’ mentioned earlier in the post), you need to turn right here.

Where the steps disappear and it becomes path you need to head left.

After a while you’ll reach another mountain shelter, pass through it and you’ll be on the road.

The road offered us some of the better views of the hike, we could see across the valley to a distant pagoda, perhaps one where people’s ashes go after cremation.

At the junction follow the road going to the left.

After a short while you’ll pass a rather creepy ‘ghost restaurant’, (www.asui.idv.tw is the website given on the sign).

Just beyond that is the also creepy temple-like compound which seems to have tunnels cut into the mountainside and a black cat to guard it. Don’t worry though, you’re nearly back to where you started.

Just beyond the big tree on the left you can turn left and you’ll find yourself back at the trailhead.


how to get there

car or scooter: google maps address: 3-5, Lane 232, Section 7, Zhongshan N Rd, Shilin District

GPS location: N25 07.67580 E121 32.01258
Public transportation

public transport: it should be easy to find a bus that stops here, 220 and 685 both go from near Zhisan MRT stationn, (under 10 minutes walk), M11 and 616 go from the station itself but not so frequently. Other buses can be caught Jiantan station.


My new words learnt on this hike were:

  1. 我想不通 wǒ xiǎng bù tōng / I don’t understand
  2. 往下 wǎng xìa / down, downwards
  3. chuō / poke
  4. 以狗會友 yǐ gǒu huì yǒu / have dog meet friends, something like if you take your dog to the park you can meet other people with dogs, dog can be replaced for car or other similar hobby groups, on the trail we saw the same sentence but with mountain instead of dog – apparently that’s weird.
  5. 山友 / shān yǒu / mountain friends, basically all the people you encounter whilst walking.
  6. 涼亭 / líang tíng / wayside pavilion, the direct translation seems to be arbour but it’s used to refer to the shelters you see on hiking trails here.
  7. 我流很多汗 wǒ liú hěn duō hàn / I’m sweating rivers or I’m sweating buckets, something along those lines
  8. 小毛蟲 xiǎo máo chóng / slug
  9. 彩虹 chǎi hóng / rainbow
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