Maokong is a quaint little hilly village located at the top of an evergreen mountain overlooking the city of Taipei. The highland spot is widely known for Maokong Tea Village and Gondola Cable car. It is one of the most scenic spots in Taipei (the other being Elephant hill) providing breathtaking views of Taipei City.
These views can be often accompanied with a hot cuppa to drink, particularly from their popular selection of locally-grown Maokong tea served by the number of establishments which reside in the village.
The name Maokong literally means “cat sky“, but this is no cat village with free-roaming stray cats (e.g. Houtong Cat village), so prepared to be disappointed if you are expected to be swarmed by a horde of fluffy adorable cats up here. The village is located in Wenshan District of Taipei, Taiwan.
Getting to Maokong Hill
Getting there by public transport involves an MRT and transfer to the Maokong Gondola which serves the mountain. Geographically, Maokong is located on the suburban outskirts of the city of Taipei. It sits on the edge of Taipei Basin with its location on the MRT map is on the extreme south-east of the subway system. When looking at the MRT map, the presence of a connecting Gondola cable car icon on the Taipei Zoo station map is a good hint of the station.
From the main Tamsu-Xinyi (Red) MRT lines, transfer to southbound Wenshan (Brown) line. The trains here are rubber wheeled based viaduct sky trains which will bring you on the final league of your journey before terminating at Taipei zoo station. Your destination, the gondola building can be seen from the MRT route perched by an evergreen hill-side on your way to the station flanked by hills.
The cable car station is strangely, not situated where the MRT station is. Rather, it is a short 8 minute walk away through the Taipei Zoo open park (a zoo park with animal theming) next to the Taipei Zoo MRT station stop.
The Maokong Gondola station
Greeting you at the cable car station is a tall 5 floored building, which is the start and ground base station of the entire Maokong Gondola system. It spans through 4 separate intermediate stations where you can hop-on and hop-off anytime in any direction you wish.
Perched on the walls at the building ground floor entrance is a rather adorable Animal clock. It comprises of animated animatronic animals which will spring into action every hour, moving with the music to bring a smile to visitors waiting in the gondola queue lines.
The Maokong Gondola is a cable car gondola lift transportation system operated by Taipei Metro itself. It opened on 4 July 2007 and is the only public transport gondola system in the city. It was conceived with the intent to make reaching Maokong more conveniently for local residents and tourists. Prior to the gondola, going up involves a lengthy drive up.
Going up using the gondola is best way up Maokong now, taking just about 30 minutes with fantastic views not otherwise experienced driving up. Furthermore, the scenic cable car system operates almost daily, subjected to weather conditions (live status viewable on the Gondola official website).
Thankfully, the gondola has a pretty good safety record to boot. The only major service disruption in the history of the gondola happened on October 2008, where it was closed for two years for repairs following a mudslide erosion incident of a major support pillar.
Working the Gondola ride costing
A single trip journey from starting Taipei Zoo station to Maokong station costs $120 NT on a regular cash fare. You tap through the regular turnstile gantries at the top departure area of the building.
Easycard holders (Taipei cashless card system) will receive a NT$20 upfront 20% discount only on weekdays; the discount is not applicable holidays and deferred holidays. Moreover, tickets for children aged 6-12 years of age and seniors over 65 cost a discounted $50 NT.
There are several Easycard self top-up machines on the top floor you can use if you have insufficient stored value to make the trip. One tap on the gantry starts the one-way journey up, where tapping out at any of the intermediate stations incurs a fare payable only for that league of the journey (about roughly $40 NT between stations).
The full one-way fare ($100 NT discounted) deducted when you take a ride from the bottom most Taipei Zoo station and exit at the top-most Maokong station. Similarly a return trip follows the similar system back down.
“Eyes of Maokong” Glass-floored Crystal Cabin
Every 4 regular cable car cabins which departs from the station (frequency about every 2~4 minutes) is a special red crystal cabin called the “Eyes of Maokong” Gondola. These cabins have see-through glass floors allowing you to see panoramic view of Maokong through the ground below you as the cable up ascends. It was touted to give riders the sensation of soaring through the sky.
The Crystal Cabins were launched on March 2010 as a modification from the original existing operational gondola cabins. There are 31 of such “Eyes of Maokong Gondola” Crystal Cabins identified by their unique red exterior and cartoon artwork. Also, the entire cable car floor of the original cabins were cut out and replaced with tri-layer 48mm-thick reinforced glass.
Moreover, each modified cabin is CE certified. Each glass-bottom weighs about 213 kg at the expense of a lower maximum occupant capacity. Hence, each crystal cabin can take about 2 lesser adult occupants and up to 5 passengers.
The Gondola cable car ride up
The Maokung gondola goes through 6 different stations before reaching the top, when going up the mountain from the Taipei Zoo MRT station, they run in this sequence: 1) Taipei zoo, 2) Angle station 1, 3) Taipei zoo south station, 4) Angle station 2, 5) Zhinan temple station, 6) Maokung Station.
Two of the angle stations are maintenance and service stations which does not allow disembarkation. The entire city of Taipei can be seen from the mountain, especially on a cloudless day.
Moreover, as the cable cars are mostly “terrain hugging“- climbing near the hill surface through most part of the ride. In a crystal cabin, what you see most of the time through the floor are dense vegetation, and an occasional road or house with an elevation in the range of 5-10 meters to the ground.
Though the glass floor provides for a unique visual experience, there is actually not much to actually see below through the glass floor. As with public safety procedures for those who fear of heights, the Taipei Metro also recommendations passengers who have heart disease, high blood pressure, acrophobia, or any other physical/medical conditions which can potentially cause discomfort to avoid riding in the Crystal Cabins
Panorama of City of Taipei from Maokong Gondola in the day
Sights from the Gondola
The highlight of the ride are the views after Angle station 2. Form here, the cable car goes into a steep climb up the mountain face, where it reaches near-top viewing altitude and traversing over the top mountain ridgeline. Notably, the north-facing views are the best.
Sights to look out here too nearing the end of the upward journey will be the Zhinan temple, a small temple with a pagoda surrounded by a pond with a golden dragon fountain. It is situated at the 2nd-last stop before the Maokung end station. Also, there is also a line of Chinese zodiac stone statues lined within the temple educational area grounds too. Moreover, this cable car stop too is where you alight to go on the Zhinan temple Maokong hiking trail.
Up on Maokong hill
Tea lovers will also enjoy Maokong for a wide variety of specialty hipster-like cozy tea houses situated at the top. Greeting you right at the top Gondola station, at the end of the forward journey of your gondola ride on the mountain top is a visitor welcome center and an open assembly area.
Here, you can find large advertisements hawking the selection of tea houses up here as well as map signs pointing to the various points of interests up here at Maokong. Also, there are several public pathways for trial hiking (Camphor tree trail and Tea fragrance loop trail) and vehicular roads for cycling. These includes those leading from National Chengchi University at the foot of the hill to the top of the mountain where the visitor center reside. Moreover these pathway routes are popular leisure routes on weekends.
Eateries on the hill
Moreover, there are also a couple of stores and a small Food center along the road here selling street foods. This includes the popular Maokung macha cat biscuit ice-cream, which I only discovered only after reaching the top. One cone goes at about $200 NT each and you can also purchase them from stalls at the ground gondola station. Just look for their distinctive promotional ice cream signboards to guide you to the delicacies ahead.
Heading into Maokong hill and moving along the left road brings you along a winding forested hill road. Henceforth, you go past a Buddhist temple, as well as a small tea plantation and agriculture area. The very slopes of the hill used to be the biggest tea growing area of Taipei. There are several intertwining footpaths which were laid then to transport the harvest of tea.
Today, Maokong itself still produces some tea, most notably the “Tie Guan Yin” variant of tea served here and cafes in downtown Taipei. However, this activity only comprise of only a small part of what they used to produce.
Also, there are a couple of sit-in restaurants perched on the slopes of the hill in the area. These eateries cater for the consumption of both tea and food. They can be seen stacked on each other on the slope like terraces. The spot is also a popular place known for their local tea culture with fantastic views of the Taipei City scenery both day and night. Most of these eateries only accept cash as payment.
This, together with the scenery is the main reason why the region is more of a tourist spot with less agriculture now. Notably, most of the tea presently served here in Maokong are, as a matter of fact imported teas.
Cat Nothing to do café- Tea and chill
An open air Open Cat café sits just by the side of the main village road. You can distinguish it by a makeshift and lawn chairs with umbrella on a verge overlooking a view of Taipei city on the side of the road. However, the prices of the tea and coffee served are not exactly affordable. You do have to pay a premium for the location and the panoramic view to boot too. But check out the views!
Panorama of the view from “Cat Nothing to do Café”
Furthermore, the spot up here is good for those looking for a relaxing break from the busy city. You can sit back with a cup of tea and nice dinner, all while taking in the beautiful city views of Taipei. You can even see the Taipei 101 building in the far distance from Maokung, with elephant hill not too far off on the distant right.
Surprisingly, the tea served here at the cat cafe are teas not grown from Maokung itself. In fact, the stall claims their imported tea tastes better. But there are several cafes along the road which does so. However, they all tastes the same to me at least.
Maokung Cat Ice cream
Maokung Cat Ice cream is a must-try up here. There are several dessert cafes serving them along the village road. Each ice cream serving ($200 NT each) is served on a waffle cone. Here, you have a choice of green tea or oolong/sesame-ish flavored cones. Furthermore, it is claimed that the ice cream are made from the teas grown up up here on Maokung. Each cone is topped off with their trademarked Maokung crispy cat biscuit.
The ice cream is soft, but not overly sweet. Notably, I tend prefer the green tea version one. It has a nice matcha tea taste to it, with it’s sweeter taste more to the liking of my sweet tooth. It is a neat touch for an item only found up here on the slopes of the mountain.
Heading back down the hill
The tea houses and shops on Maokong are open according to their own schedules. The Gondola service is open daily from 8:30am to 9pm. There is an opening hour extension to 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
In addition to the ice cream. Traditional Maokung teas can be purchased from one of the many stores up here too. The teas are packed in catching brightly coloured tins which I found to be rather gimmicky. But otherwise a neat touch. Also, if you missed any of them on Maokung, fret not, you have the option to find a store located within the Taipei Zoo gondola station too.
Hence, it is very feasible to take the cable car down on the night stretch to see Taipei city lit up at night. This is also taking into consideration that you do not miss the last cable car down to ground level too. Check out the night views!
Panorama of City of Taipei from Maokong Gondola in the night
Also, it is advisable to only take the crystal cabins in the day and the regular cabins at night. However, you won’t be able to see anything below at night. The vegetation below you will be literally all only pitch-black after 6pm, with benefits of a much shorter queue wait for a regular cabin. Hence, this is a useful tactic especially peak periods in the evenings when everyone on the mountain is done with dinner and all headed down too.
Alternative ways down Maokung hill
Moreover, Maokung is also very well served by a series of intertwining hill roads which meander to the mountain top. Thus, taking a Taxi down too is also another viable alternative mode of transport down. Hence, several taxi drivers will often camp at the Cable car station. They will try to sell you taxi trips down the hill claiming to be faster and cheaper (about $75 NT per head) from the top Maokung station.
In all, a visit to Maokong mountain is good for about 2-3 hours. This will comprise of a gondola return journey as well as about 2 hours for a relaxing lunch or tea break. Definitely a place away from the buzz of crowded Taipei.
Lastly, view more photos of the Maokong Gondola and Maokong village here.