Taipeians (Taipei-ites?) are blessed with access to nature within easy striking distance of pretty much anywhere in the city. The lush green hills which surround the city, straddled by national parks, forests, splashing streams and hot springs, are only a 20-40 minute bus ride away. I had not realised though that there is one forested slope even closer – the Four Beasts mountain which rises up a mere fifteen minutes walk from Taipei 101, the world’s one-time tallest building and very heart of Taipei.
From the hiking trails on the Elephant, Lion, Panther and Tiger peaks you can look over trees and boulders to the city spreading out below.
The city is also intersected by two broad rivers, the Keelung and Tamsui rivers. Like other newly post-industrialised cities (Seoul springs immediately to mind), the city is in the process of beautifying and sprucing up the river banks, lined by roaring freeways and long unloved by the locals.
However with refurbished docklands, new parks and an ambitious and increasingly popular network of riverside bicycle pathways, Taipei’s rivers are seeing a very real improvement.
One of the most interesting projects, a short and well-signposted walk from Gongguan subway station (Exit one) is the “Treasure Hill”. Home to a well-known riverside temple and in fact one of the first ethnic Chinese outposts in the Taipei basin (at a time when it was still mostly occupied by indigenous Malayo-Polynesian tribes), the area later saw a steep decline. It transformed into a squatters village of illegally built brink and concrete shacks, pile up on top of each other on a steep slope – almost a Taiwanese favela.
AS part of its riverside refurbishment the Taipei authorities took possession of the houses, installed sewerage and plumbing and returned them to their residents, augmenting the area with a large “artist village” tasked to create local artworks, new parkland and pedestrian paths and a skate park (again, a bit like Seoul.)