Fri, Jul 13, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: Scaling Kinmen’s Taiwu Mountain

Perhaps the finest hike of Taiwan’s outlying islands lies in the center of Kinmen, a place better known for its military relics and beautiful old architecture

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

The Baierjie Old Trail climbs to the top of Kinmen’s Taiwu Mountain via the granite sheets of its northern face.

Photo: Richard Saunders

Taiwan’s outlying islands are slowly emerging from their undeserved neglect. It’s true that the main islands of Penghu (澎湖) have been a popular destination for both Taiwanese and expats for a couple of decades, while tiny Siaoliouciou (小琉球) and the enchanting Green Island (綠島) have become summer favorites. But with about 100 outlying islands to chose from (of which around 30 are accessible by plane or public boat service), there are still plenty of little-known island backwaters for the curious traveler to discover.

Lying just off the Chinese coast, within clear views of Xiamen’s skyscrapers, the still heavily fortified Republic Of China-held island of Kinmen (金門) was forbidden to outsiders until it first opened to tourists in the mid 1990s. In the intervening two decades it’s become a hugely popular spot, as much for businessmen using it as a stepping stone on the “small three links” (小三通) between Taiwan and China as for tourists coming to admire its fantastic old villages and impressive military relics.

Since the opening of the small three links, Kinmen has developed at an alarming rate, and today a significant degree of the island’s old-world charm has disappeared. Some of its beautiful old Fujianese edifices have been restored to the extent that they no longer look old, while a number of the island’s unique Wind Lion God statues have also suffered the indignity of being repainted recently in gaudy colors.

Besides a rash of new residential development, at least one top-end department store on the island fully equals, in its capitalist opulence, Taipei 101’s exclusive shopping mall. Kinmen is still a great place to visit, but it’s liable to be a nasty shock to anyone that knew and loved the island in those decidedly rough-and-ready yet charming early days during the late 1990s.


Although often shaded by trees, all ascents of Taiwu Mountain are quite steep, so during the hottest months leave the ascent until later in the afternoon. Before you go, try to pick up a copy of the guide to Kinmen and Matsu (自遊達人金門馬祖; in Chinese only) by Outdoor Life (戶外生活圖書公司), available in most bookshops. Look out for the bright yellow cover. An excellent free map is also available at hotels and tourist info offices around the island. Baierjie and Doumen trails are both far from any bus stops. Hiring a bicycle, scooter or car is simple on the island, and the best way to reach them.

The enchantment of Kinmen remains, however, in the small, protected pockets of the Kinmen National Park. By far the largest of these on the main island is its surprisingly rugged heart, the granite whale-back ridge of Taiwu Mountain (太武山; 262 meters). Although parts of the heavily militarized mountain have been open since the early days of tourism, it’s only recently that visitors have had freedom to enjoy Taiwu Mountain’s scenic splendor. This new accessibility has unexpectedly revealed it as perhaps the best place in any of Taiwan’s outlying islands for hiking.

Today visitors are allowed to climb the hill by at least four routes. The most popular by far is to follow the road starting at Kinmen Martyrs’ Shrine (金門忠烈祠) at the western end of the ridge. From here it’s 30 minutes or so up the road to Haiyin Temple (海印寺) near the summit, where most visitors turn back and return the way they came.

For a much more interesting climb, forego the road entirely and make a loop hike by following the lovely Baierjie (百二階古道), or Caicuo (蔡厝古道), old trail, then return by the shorter Doumen Old Trail (斗門古道). Both routes climb the steep, rocky northern face of the ridge.

You’ll probably need a map to find the trailheads. Baierjie Old Trail starts at the settlement of Caicuo (蔡厝). The first section, along a recently upgraded path of neat stone steps, isn’t very promising, but after passing an attractive tree-fringed pool, the trail reverts to a more natural dirt surface, and soon climbs up onto the impressive granite sheets of the hill’s northern face.

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