Saturday, 9 February 2013

Lion Head Mountain

sunrise over the pagoda at Lion Head Mountain

 It's been a while since I've made it to Lion Head Mountain (also called Shitou Shan or Shishan), but as one of my favourite countryside retreats in Taiwan, and only a short scooter ride from where I used to live, it's a place I have fond memories of. So this post is a bit of a trip down memory lane.

Changhua Tang Temple (left) and visitors carpark (right)

 Lion Head Mountain has been a sacred spot for Buddhists since the Ching Dynasty, and the oldest temple dates back over a century.

The mountain has since grown into a network of Buddhist and Taoist temples, ranging from large and elaborate to humble Budhhist nunneries.

Many temples like these are actually built into caves.

And of course there are moral lessons to be learned...

therefore....   be vegan!

But it's more than just temples: the breathtaking scenery alone makes LHM a great day's hike or better a charming weekend getaway from Hsinchu or as far as Taipei.

the view looking down towards the Changhua Tang Temple (taken from a hiking path)

It's not just the temples which make interesting stops along the way.

 Being a Buddhist spot, it's a safe haven for a range of fairly tame wildlife.


But it's perhaps not the place for one with a spider (or other insect) phobia.

Note the spider (top right).

These guys are the size of a human hand.

And these guys tend to inhabit the outdoor areas around temples.

To really experience the tranquility of this sacred spot, I recommend staying overnight at the Chanhuatang (also Cyanhua) Temple. Being a Buddhist institution, the rooms are clean and simple, and feel perfectly appropriate for the location.

Meals are simple temple food, and I am assured that the fake meat is vegan, and it seems like basic wheat gluten. They don't use an dairy products in their cooking, and of course being Buddhist they don't use egg.

a meal at the Changhua Tang Temple

The early sunrise over the pagoda is indescribable, so be sure to go to bed early and get up to enjoy it.

Sunrise over the pagoda arrives early and doesn't last long.

It's not easy to get to Lion Head Mountain. By far the best way is with your own transport, and I used to ride there on my scooter, using the Papago App on my smartphone. It was a gorgeous ride, and a scooter makes it so easy to stop along the way to look at the scenery. There are also other sites around the area worth visiting.

a beautiful Buddhist altar

Beware that Lion Head Mountain is a very popular weekend attraction, so if you're after a more solitary retreat, visit during a weekday. I stayed overnight during the week and felt as if I had the whole mountain to myself; my scooter was literally the only vehicle in the visitor's carpark.

Buses generally go to the Lion Head Mountain Visitors Centre, which offers English maps and guidance, and nearby is a charming teahouse. From there it's a pleasant hike to the Changhua Tang temple (where it's possible to stay overnight, as described above), and the area around the visitor's carpark becomes alive with small markets during the weekend.

The pagoda looks and feels very different in daylight.

2013 Update: There is now a "tourist bus" from the Hsinchu High Speed Rail station (in Jhupei/Zhubei, north of Hsinchu City) to the Lion Head Mountain Visitors Centre. Note that the last bus back is currently 6PM, but be sure to check this and confirm it on the day (unless of course you are fortunate to be able to stay there overnight).

To take public transport, take a train or bus to Hsinchu, and then another bus (or train, using the Neiwan Line which reopened in 2011, but a bus is probably easiler) to Zhudong (not to be confused for Zhuzhong). Then take a bus from Zhudong Bus Station to Shitoushan / Shishan. Arrive early and be sure to check at the visitors centre when the last bus departs, as you'll need to either have checked into the Changhuatang Temple for the night, or hike back to the visitor's centre in time for the last bus (which may be late afternoon). I highly recommend staying overnight if using public transport (or even if not).

On my first (one-day) visit I was fortunate to be offered a long ride on the back of a scooter to the nearest bus station by a kind-hearted local, saving me the walk back up to the Visitor's Centre, but I wouldn't count on this happening again.

 Note that google maps doesn't recognise "Lion Head Mountain" (in English). If you can't use the map below, translate the name in Google Translate, and it will then be recognised.

The top right marker is the Visitor's Centre and cafe, where the bus stops. The bottom right marker is the Changhuatang Temple, Visitor' Carpark etc, which is the area which comes to life during weekends. If driving, I would recommend first going to the visitor's centre for a map (unless you already have one) and then driving to the Changhuatang temple, and exploring the mountain from there.

View Lion Head Mountain in a larger map


  1. Hi there!

    I was so thrilled to find your blog! I am an American graduate student spending the semester in Taipei. I have been vegan for over ten years now, and am trying to find my way around what I can/can't eat here, as I am still, very slowly learning the language - again, your blog has been so helpful! One thing I am trying to find is a non-dairy milk that is palatable to my American taste buds. The one brand of soymilk that I have tried so far reminds me very strongly of raw tofu, which I love, just not in my morning cup of tea. Do you have any suggestions for rice or almond milks, and where I could find them? Thank you so very much!

  2. Hi Emily
    Always nice to hear from a reader of my blog :) What are you studying?
    Yes indeed soymilk in Taiwan certainly takes a bit of getting used to... I did, but it took a while. I would first suggest Jasons grocery store (in the basement of Taipei 101, by the foodcourt). I think they would at least have imported soymilk, but I'm not sure about rice or almond milks. Otherwise possibly any of the many organic shops around Taipei?

    1. Thank you so much! I think I just need a little taste of home on the side, while my taste buds adjust, as I'm sure they will :) I will check out Jasons this weekend. I am currently studying costume technology for theatre, and my cohorts and I are spending the spring at TNUA. I and will no doubt be referring to your blog on a very regular basis :) Thank you again!

  3. one question sorry. What do you think of the Vitamin B12 issue? Do you take supplements. I refuse to take any supplement, as it would defeat a major part of my argument for being vegan. Do you have any suggestions?

  4. Hi Dean
    That's a tricky issue. I'm not a big believer in supplements, but I do take B12, though not very consistently. The way I see it is our diet now (well, most people in urban areas at least) have a very unnatural diet, in processing and hygiene if not in food itself, and a lack of vitamin B12 results from that. It just happens to be that meat contains it because it rots so much faster than vegan food that the bacteria on it build up fast enough to produce B12. So I don't even see it as a vegan issue.
    Many people are B12 deficient (mostly non-vegan elderly) and the consequences can be severe, including permanent nerve damage, so to me it seems sensible to take a supplement. I see it as a big risk not to. Apparently we only need about a microgram a day, and the body can store it for years, so I just take one on and off when I can remember (to order it, and to actually take it).
    Other than that I occasionally take vitamin D if I think I'm not getting enough sunlight, and the odd other vitamin, but not many. I try to eat a healthy diet.
    What's your argument for being vegan that goes against supplementation?