It’s completely silent.
Well, except for the sound of cicadas drifting up from the valley floor, and except for the sound of the wind whistling through the half open ventilation windows.
Beneath my feet, a long way beneath my feet, is the lush green of rainforest vegetation, the occasional farm, and, in some sections, what I assume is tea.
Off in the distance, the bamboo like spires of Taipei 101 and Taipei city can be seen. But here, in this cabin, it’s so far removed from the bustle and traffic as to be in another world.
I’m on the Maokong Gondola, climbing into the mountains above Taipei.
I’m a bit of a closet gondola fan, but even my heart races a little faster as we’re suspended and swaying hundreds of metres above the forest on the long crossings- I’m fine with the ascents and descents.
This isn’t your run of the mill climb up a mountain and be done with it gondola- it’s so much more than that… This gondola follows a route around 4.3kms long. Looking at the stylised picture on the station walls, it climbs over two peaks, drifts across the top of the valleys in between, before climbing to the final stop at Maokong, a good few hundred metres higher than where we started.
It’s also (thankfully) a few degrees cooler at the top.
They’ve been growing tea up here since the 19th century. These days the value is not in the tea so much as in the business of drinking it.
Up here in Maokong, they’ve perfected the art. There are a number of tea houses to choose from- all specialise in the high mountain oolong (that you don’t take with milk and sugar!) and all make rather a wonderful ritual- or production, depending on your viewpoint- out of the act of making and pouring a cup of tea.
In most tea houses, you pay a water or service charge (usually around 60NT$) plus purchase 75g of your tea of choice. This can be upwards from 200NT$. Then you make it…and take your time over drinking it…don’t worry, there are instructions and you’ll have help.
What’s for lunch?
Hey, this is Taiwan- of course you can get a meal.
Most of the tea houses also sell food, but there are also some street cart options as well and a food hall of sorts.
The tea houses that I visited had relatively (by Western standards) basic bathroom facilities- by that I mean a traditional toilet. This isn’t necessarily the case at all of them, but if in doubt, the restroom at the gondola station has both Western and Asian style loos- the picture on the door will indicate which.
The cost to travel from Taipei Zoo MRT Station to the top at Maokong is 50NT$- that’s less than $2AUD. Although ticketing is available, it’s recommended that you use your metro easy card to pay- it saves time when there are queues.
There is one crystal cabin for every 3 or 4 regular cabins. Where a regular cabin takes 8 people, the crystal cabins take just 5. The difference? The crystal cabins have a reinforced glass bottom that’s more than a little freaky, but totally great. The cost is the same, so if the queue isn’t too long, go for the see through floor.
The gondola is closed each Monday (or if Monday is a national holiday, the following day)…don’t say you weren’t warned.
Weekends are busy- especially in the afternoons- so you might want to take the bus up and catch the gondola back after dinner or an early lunch.
Also, the waiting time is longer if you are getting on at either Zhinan Temple or Taipei Zoo South stations than if you get on at Taipei Zoo or Maokong. Just saying.