Stay a little while and you’ll soon learn that Taiwan as you see it now is entirely different from how it was 100 years ago or even 30 years ago. As in my own country, there are marks of historical significance left all over the place, but maybe unlike in the UK, lots of the changes that the land has been through have wiped out much of what went before. Those who want to get a better sense of the forces that have shaped what Taiwan is today will need to pay close attention to the clues that are left behind. For me, hiking is an unparalleled way to stumble across these hints. It has led me to the double place names of Yilan’s Gaba River or Jiu Liao Creek, the fossils and broken memorial stone atop Zhishanyan, railroads to nowhere, old graves, forts and telephone lines left in mountain forests, the land god temples along old trading routes – each of these traces tell stories to those who want to listen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Shibajian Shan is no exception.
The land’s physical characteristics alone – a raised area overlooking Touqian River and the flat planes around Hsinchu mark it out as the kind of place that people will have been interested in for centuries. Indeed, the first recorded use of the land was as a deer hunting ground by the indigenous Pocaal people, (a branch of the larger Taokas tribe). Then when Han settlers arrived from Fujian, they gradually pushed the land’s original inhabitants inland towards the more mountainous areas, and by 1772 Shibajian Shan had been designated as an official gravesite. When Taiwan passed into Japanese rule, the hill’s function shifted once again and it became a place of leisure. A road was built to give easier access, and a hilltop viewing pavilion was erected so that tourists could enjoy the air and the views. But despite the Japanese efforts to beautify the land, the previous occupants were unwilling to relinquish their claim to the place. The graves that were built here by Han settlers had fallen into disrepair with the passing of the years – earthquakes, abandonment and time had left them disturbed and untended, and this made the ghosts unhappy. As far as I can tell, this is the point at which Bashi Jian Shan acquired it’s enduring reputation for being a place of many ghosts, (when I came back and told Teresa where I had been, her initial response was “Aiyo! I had a friend who went to the university near there. That place has lots of ghosts, that’s why I’ve never been there with you!”). As a practical solution to this problem, the Japanese authorities ordered the construction of 33 Guanyin statues which were placed around the park to calm and appease the restless spirits. 24 of these can still be found today, as can many graves. Then when World War Two broke out, the governing officials put a halt to the tourist trips – the Japanese had a major airbase in Hsinchu, which of course made the area a target for air bombing raids and so the park was repurposed as an air defence base – many traces of this period are still visible. Indeed, the tunnels got a second lease of life in the period after the war, when the KMT party took over rule of Taiwan and continued to use the area as a military defence base. This lasted for for about 15 years until in 1962 the park was reopened to the public as a a park – the tunnels are still here, but these days they house bats and earthquake detection equipment rather than military supplies.
If you keep your eyes open you will spot details harking back to almost all of these periods – Qing Dynasty graves swallowed up by bamboo, protective Guanyin statues, or defence tunnels and concrete walls, (let’s just hope you never get to meet the ghosts).
distance: about 7km – it could be a lot shorter if you only stuck to the main paved trail.
time: about 3 hours – likewise this could be a lot shorter if you took a shorter route or maybe don’t stop to look at things as much as I did,
difficulty (regular Taiwan hiker): 2/10 – some dirt trails, a little hard to follow at times, but you’re surrounded by city, so you’re not going to get lost for too long if you lose your way.
difficulty (new Taiwan hiker): 3.5/10 for the route I took, you’ll need to be able to follow a map, and there are a couple of short unpaved trails. A little bit of climbing but nothing too tough. If you keep on the main trail it would be only a 1/10 for difficulty.
total ascent: 244m
water: just take a refillable bottle – there are water dispensers literally everywhere around the park.
shade: on and off – I was fine without any extra protection on a bright but cloudy winter day. I would need an umbrella or hat in the summer though.
mobile network: perfectly clear throughout.
enjoyment: if you’re looking for an exciting and strenuous hike you’ll be disappointed, but if you want to go hunting for traces of history you will find a treasure trove of things to explore.
other: the local government seems to have gone to some lengths to make the main trail through the park an accessible one. I saw a couple of wheelchairs on the path, and I later found this write-up from the perspective of a visitor with a wheelchair user in their group.
GPX file available here.
The Mackay Memorial Hospital bus stop is about 100m up the road from the hospital building itself, so when I was dropped off by the intercity bus, I headed straight towards the hospital.
At the hospital, I crossed over towards McDonald’s, and followed the road ahead straight for quite some time. (Note: the bus stop to return is a little to the right of this McDonald’s.)
After passing an entrance to National Tsing Hua Universiry, keep following the road as it becomes a narrow, scooters-only lane.
At the end of the narrow lane, turn left uphill passing a YouBike stand and the gate to Taiwan Water Corporation’s Hsinchu offices on your left.
The road terminates at a carpark where I found a toilet block with many vendors selling fruit, vegetables and snacks. This is the main entrance to Shiba Jian Shan Park, and one end of the main trail which winds from end to end.
The trail passes several tunnels cut into the side of the hill. They were part of the fortifications built by the Japanese during World War Two. These days one of the tunnels has been repurposed as a home for earthquake monitoring equipment.
The main trail through the park is a wide tarmac road, and it seems this accessibleness makes it highly popular with the local elderly population. Although the schools still aren’t back at the moment, the great majority of walkers I encountered were grey-haired.
The trail is flanked by a large variety of plant life, plenty of which was in bloom and adding colour to the walk.
At a junction, the road doubles back on itself to the left, and I decided to take the steps up to the slight ridge between the two lanes. (Signposted as Sun Yat Sen Memorial pavilion.)
The path stretches on from the pavilion to another rest area with some exercise equipment and another water machine, (they are all over this whole park.)
Coming down from the exercise area, steps lead back down to the main trail/road. Here I turned left.
I didn’t stick with the main trail for long, and soon arrived here at this junction where I turned left and followed some steps downhill. There is a large shelter just off trail here, and when I walked by there was a group of five or six people practising a very passionate style of dance. (It seems this could be a daily occurrence because I’ve since found photos of them on another person’s blog).
The trail hits a clearing where two dirt trails start. I picked the right hand one which was signposted as heading towards Gaofeng Botanical Gardens (往高峰植物園).
The dirt trail became steps, then dirt again and then took a sharp left down and over this bridge here. The trail levelled out at a grassy clearing that looked like it would make a nice picnic spot.
Before arriving at the toilet block, I took a right up a narrow dirt trail through some bamboo. The path was marked with trail tags, and clearly quite well travelled.
Minutes after turning of the main path I had to take a number of left turns in quick succession, first this one, then another immediately after.
And then this left turn just before the path started to head downhill again.
The trail passes a couple of graves that are half hidden in the undergrowth, this one is by far the easiest to spot, the rest you could easily miss if you weren’t looking for them.
The dirt trail arrives down at a parking area where it heads right passing lots more tunnels heading into the hillside. A sign next to the furthest away one says that they’re now home to Taiwan leaf nosed bats.
The next short section of path is made of red brick steps which catch the light in a very pleasing way. There are a few turnings, but they can be ignored – just stick on the brickwork as far as it goes.
Where the brick steps end there is a T-junction, turn left and follow the gravel path to the crest of the hill. There is a small, rickety shelter up here, and (rather improbably) there is also a water machine.
After climbing down the steps, I arrived back on the main road-trail and turned left in order to continue my loop of the outermost trail. There are a couple of trails branching off to either side, but I stuck with the road to the end.
At the very end of the road exit through the gate and turn right downhill for a short way.
Almost immediately there is a gap in the trees to the right and the suggestion of a path leading towards a running track and sports field. At first I was unsure if I could go this way, but there weren’t any signs saying not to, so I turned right.
About midway down the long side of the track, the trail climbs up and into the trees again.
The trail on the right would have taken me back to the road I’d just been on, so instead I kept straight and followed the flat path as far as it would go.
At the end of the path, the steps turned up, but again I headed straight and kept walking along a dirt path. After continuing flat for a while, the trail curves to the right and starts to climb up some steps.
The trail climbs up to a junction where you can see one of the 33 stone Guanyin statues that were built around the park during the period of Japanese rule. Now there are only 24 remaining, and although I only spotted four or five on this visit, it might be a fun challenge to try and find all of them on another trip to the park. They’re all marked on a map, so it should be pretty simple.
Anyway, I turned left at the junction just before passing the statue.
Almost straight away, I ran into a second Guanyin statue, this one accompanied by many other figures. Here the trail bears slightly left as it continues downwards.
The next little section of trail really made me feel I was definitely not in Taipei anymore, (I’m not sure why, but it really didn’t feel like Taipei). Just before arriving at the road I took a right turn towards a large two-tone green structure. I wondered what it could be, something sporty for sure, but beyond that I couldn’t tell.
Following the curve of the building around, the road reaches some kind of changing rooms and one of the viewing stands, then a second later I spotted two cyclists flying round the banked track of an outdoor velodrome.
There was a class of teenage riders sitting on the grass just inside the track, I later saw the same group again out on the roads. The structure and the location were really rather grand, but I wonder how frequently it holds events, it does look like it may have seen better days.
From the velodrome, the road continues uphill until it ends near some steps up to a little garden area in front of a temple. Here you can spot another of the Guanyin statues – this one seems to have more company than some of the others as there are many chairs and signs that people come here to hang out, chat and drink tea.
I took a rough flight of steps which led up just to the left of the temple, (passing close to its silver water tank).
At the top of the steps, the trail rejoins a more established path at another temple-like structure and I headed left back towards the park entrance.
Before long I was back at the scooter parking area right next to the park entrance. I filled up my water bottle before leaving to get some spicy vegetarian noodles and return back to catch the bus home.
How to get there
google maps address: Shibajian Shan, 300, Hsinchu City, East District, 寶山路145巷38號 – there’s a large carpark and space for scooters at the entrance to the park.
GPS location: the main entrance where I entered and left the park is at N24 47.730 E120 59.200
public transport: coming from Taipei the easiest way is to take a bus from the Taipei Bus Station (next to Taipei Main Station) to Mackay Memorial Hospital. There are at least three bus companies providing services that run regular buses between Taipei and Hsinchu, (1822, 2011 and 9003). Buy tickets from the ticket counter before boarding, and if you don’t mind waiting a little extra on your return journey then it will probably save you a few pennies to ask them for a same-day return (this is cheaper than two singles). The journey takes a little over an hour, and then there’s a 20 minute walk to the park entrance.
further reading: Enjoy Hsinchu has a short mention of the park on their blog, but aside from that, there really isn’t very much English information online.
My new words learnt on this hike:
- 阿飄 / ā piāo – ghost, a cuter (?) way of referring to them, the second character means to float or drift (with the wind), and the first is a diminutive prefix (like -ie/-y/-i, or maybe -ling in English). I stumbled across this when looking into students’ ghost stories about the area and really want to use it as a dog’s name if I ever get another dog.
- 規定 / guīdìng – regulations
- 看起來滿毛的 / kàn qǐlái mǎn máo de – looks quite creepy
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