By the vertiginous standards of Taiwan’s interior, Guanyin Mountain (觀音山) — which straddles Kaohsiung’s Dashe (大社) and Renwu (仁武) districts — is a micro-mountain. Judged purely on its height, it wouldn’t deserve a paragraph.
The summit is just 177m above sea level, making it one of the shortest of xiaobaiyue (小百岳, “Taiwan’s Little Hundred Mountains”). But in terms of how far you can see from the top, and for how little exertion, Guanyin Mountain is entitled to some kind of accolade.
The day had begun with a rush-hour motorcycle ride through bleak industrial neighborhoods. My mood improved as soon as I reached Guanyin Lake (觀音湖), a 17-hectare body of water about 3km south of Guanyin Mountain. While egrets pecked at the mud, a few humans exercised on the path that hugs the lake’s eastern shore.
Photo: Steven Crook
Like the nearby hill, Guanyin Lake is named for the Buddhist goddess of mercy. In the Indian subcontinent, where she’s a he, Guanyin is known as Avalokitesvara.
From the lake, I rode past bamboo groves, little shrines and clusters of graves to Yancheng Lane (鹽埕巷), site of the main trailhead for Guanyin Mountain. The local government has marked out plenty of parking spots for cars and motorcycles, but the brand-new bathrooms aren’t yet open to the public. The bilingual mapboard will help you get your bearings.
The first section of trail is as wide as a road. It ascends to Gaosuwei Rest Stop (高速尾休息站), where there’s a pavilion and some benches.
Photo: Steven Crook
I had three options. I could go straight on and follow a broad concrete track down into thick woodland. On the right, knotted ropes led up a very steep hillside. On the left, where a sign pointed to the Sky Cave (天洞), the gradient was less intimidating.
I didn’t see any reason to go downhill, and without gloves I didn’t fancy ropework. Several other people were heading up or emerging from the Sky Cave route, so I took a swig of water, mopped my face and hiked in that direction.
Just 20 minutes after locking my motorcycle, I was standing on a wooden platform that adds a tiny bit of height to Guanyin Mountain’s summit. From it, I could recognize 85 Sky Tower (高雄85大樓), Taiwan’s tallest building when it was completed in 1997, to the southwest. To the northwest, the distinctive flue-gas stacks of Hsingta Power Plant (興達發電廠) were visible through the haze. Most of Kaohsiung’s population of 2.72 million lives between these two landmarks.
Photo: Steven Crook
I won’t pretend that the southern city is a beautiful metropolis, but I was genuinely impressed by what and how much I could see. In addition to the high-speed railway, Freeway 1 and natural features like Banping Mountain (半屏山), I counted five cargo ships in the Taiwan Strait.
For decades, the Sky Cave (which is just beyond the summit if you’re coming from Gaosuwei Rest Stop) was thought to be a natural cave. Only last year did researchers conclude that it was carved from the bedrock by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, presumably to serve as an air raid shelter. It’s said to be about 20m long, and no barrier prevents the adventurous from taking a look inside.
July mornings are always warm, and the day was unconscionably humid to boot. I’d not got far beyond the Sky Cave before my shirt was drenched. As I moved along the ridge, a rain of sweatdrops fell from my brow. Worried that I’d exhaust my water and end up far from my motorcycle, I returned to Gaosuwei Rest Stop.
Photo: Steven Crook
After a breather, I set off on the downhill path toward the Acacia Forest (相思林). This turned out to be easy hiking — no challenging gradients, plenty of shade and a one-way distance of just under 600m.
I didn’t spend long in the forest. It isn’t spectacular, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the large and strikingly blue building I’d seen earlier from the ridge near the Sky Cave. I couldn’t be sure, given the distance, but from its shape I guessed it might be a temple.
A quick online search turned up nothing, so I motorcycled east along Road 186A (186甲). And near the Chen Family Graveyard (陳氏墓園) — among those buried here is the mother of Chen Chi-chuan (陳啟川), mayor of Kaohsiung from 1960 to 1968 — I found what I’d been searching for.
It’s a religious institution in the Chinese tradition. That much is obvious from the crane, dragon and swastika motifs. But while temples located off major roads tend to announce their presence with a monumental gateway, here I didn’t see a signpost, or even a name at the front of the building.
Beside the compound, concrete steps go up the hill. I followed them in the hope there’d be a back entrance to the property, the main doorway being emphatically shut.
These steps, I learned from a signpost, exist so hikers can scramble to the top of Luotuo Mountain (駱駝山, “Camel Mountain”). According to that sign, it takes 23 minutes to cover the 856m from the end of the steps to the top of that hill. Hiking blogs say it’s possible to continue beyond Luotuo Mountain and loop back to Guanyin Mountain.
Returning to the parking lot, I hunted around for another way in. One gate was padlocked, and a workman retouching exterior paintwork ignored me. So close but none the wiser, I thought.
Later, I discovered that the name of this oddity may be Wuji Guanyin Temple (無極觀音寺). However, a Kaohsiung telephone number associated with that name proved to be a dead end.
A temple that couldn’t make itself more eye-catching if it tried, but which otherwise does absolutely nothing to alert the outside world to its existence. Perhaps the people who worship here don’t want anyone to know about their sect. It’s like they’ve found a secret, and they don’t wish to share it.
Steven Crook has been writing about travel, culture and business in Taiwan since 1996. He is the author of Taiwan: The Bradt Travel Guide and co-author of A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai.
Earlier this month, Vice President William Lai (賴清德) was elected unopposed to the chairmanship of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). As the chair, Lai is now the presumptive presidential candidate for next year’s election. Even as he became chairman, the global media was sending out signals about the coming fight we face to redefine Lai. As he accepted his new role, he made a statement on independence. He said that he “pragmatically considers Taiwan as already a sovereign, independent country, therefore there is no need for a separate declaration of Taiwanese independence.” This calm statement, DPP boilerplate now for over
When Sunny thinks back to March last year, she laughs ruefully at the ordeal. The 19-year-old Shanghai student spent that month locked in her dormitory, unable to shop for essentials or wash clothes, even banned from showering for two weeks over COVID fears. In April, the entire city locked down. It was the beginning of the chaos of 2022, as local Chinese authorities desperately tried to follow President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) zero-COVID decree while facing the most transmissible strain of the virus yet: Omicron. “Everyone was panicking, no one was ready,” she tells the Observer. By the end of the year, zero-COVID
A green-hued comet that has been lurking in the night sky for months is expected to be the most visible to stargazers this week as it gradually passes Earth for the first time in about 50,000 years. The cosmic visitor will swing by our planet at a distance of about 42.5 million kilometers. Here is an explanation of comets in general and this one in particular. WHAT IS A COMET? Nicknamed “dirty snowballs” by astronomers, comets are balls of ice, dust and rocks that typically hail from the ring of icy material called the Oort cloud at our solar system’s outer edge. One known
The cool, clean river water quickly evaporates as I warm myself in the tropical sun, still strong at midday even in November. Below me is a bend in the river, and a deep emerald pool has formed here alongside the concrete platform I am sitting on, which once served as a check dam, but today serves as the perfect place to launch myself into the water. On shore, children splash in the water as parents sit nearby under awnings. Above me, a hawk traces out lazy circles against the bright blue sky. In the distance, a train emerges from a