Saturday 17 August 2013

Maokkong Gondola

The Maokong Gondola offers specatular views of the Taipei Basin, especially at dusk.

The Maokong Gondola carries passengers 4km into the Maokong Hills, famous for tea houses and beautiful views of Taipei.

It feels like quite an escape from the city.

Maokong used to grow tea for Taipei, and while some tea plantations remain (many it seems for aesthetic purposes) most tea is brought in from further afield, with the best tea in Taiwan coming from Alishan and Lishan.

Taipei 101 and Zhinan Temple (which has its own gondola stop)

 A trip up Maokong Gondola, a walk in the hills and an afternoon preparing and sipping Taiwanese tea watching the sun set over Taipei makes for a very enjoyable day's outing.

tea plantations, Cherry Blossoms and a teahouse to enjoy then from

The French-built gondola system has been plagued by technical and economic problems from the beginning, including some rather disturbing erosion of the pillar foundations, and at one point it was closed for two years, during which time several pillars were relocated. My understanding is that the French engineers didn't factor in the typhoons and other weather extremes Taiwan is regularly subjected to.

The sun sets over the Maokong Hills. The Gondola and the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Building (near Taipei Main Station) are visible.

 One noticeable example of this for passengers is that there is no ventilation or cooling system in the cars - perhaps unnecessary in Paris, but a good idea for Taipei in summer! One idea suggested is to place solar panels on the roofs, and use these to power fans in the cars. It should be noted that while there have been closures and safety concerns, there have never been any injuries or fatalities, and it is considered safe to ride.

Maokong has some colourful wildlife.

Environmentally speaking the project has also been controversial from the start, with some environmental groups opposing its construction. While all infrastructure affect the environment (increased litter is one concern raised) a gondola has a relatively low footprint (literally and figuratively) and is certainly better for the environment than buses up and down the mountain (which still run).  A better option environmentally speaking (assuming the extra food you'll need to eat to make up for the lost calories you'll burn come from locally-produced vegan food) is to hike from Cheng Chi university, a beautiful walk. As the gondola is used by locals to commute to Taipei, prices are incredibly cheap, at 50NT (~$2) each way (not including the MRT trip to reach it).

The ubiquitous Taipei 101 as seen Maokong

Unfortunately as of my last visit there are no vegetarian restaurants in Maokong, so it's best to eat before going, and just enjoy the tea in the teahouses. (There used to be a vegetarian stall in a food market just outside the exit, but it appears to have gone.)

Unfortunately this Buddhist food stand (from 2010) seems to have gone. Please let me know if it re-appears - Xie xie.

One good option would be to eat at the Mikai Loving Hut, close to Nanjing East Road Station, which is also on the Neihu/Wenshan (brown) MRT line, one stop north of ZhongXiao Fuxing. Note that they often close during the weekends, and their opening hours (from their website) are as specified: "Closed on the second Saturday and the first, second and third Sundays of every month." It is open on the fourth and (when applicable) the fifth Sundays each month, but will then close the following Tuesday." It's probably a good idea to call and check they're open (02 2545-6100).

Alternatively, the Thai Cuisine Vegetarian Restaurant is open daily for lunch (11:30-14:00) and dinner (17:30-21:00). It's almost on the way, being a short walk from Shandao Temple Station, or just from Taipei Main Station.

To get there, take the Bannan (blue) line to Zhongxiao Fuxing, and then transfer to the Wensha (brown) Line to Taipei Zoo Station (the last stop). (The zoo and the gondola are separate entities, despite all being located close together). There are three stops along the gondola route, including Zhinan Temple (visible from the gondola), however note that if it's busy and the cars are full  you may have difficulty getting back on if you get off at any of the other stops.

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