August 30, 2008
Nantou part 3 - Chi Chi and Puli
Chi Chi (Jiji)
Very close to the epicenter of the 9/21 quake, Chi Chi is a small town, most famous for, you guessed it, the quake, which is also called the Chi Chi Earthquake in Chinese and one of the three branch rail lines in Taiwan.
The railway branch line, was built by the Japanese (as were the other two branch lines) to provide support for the hydroelectric system. However, where the other two lines, the Pingxi and Neiwan lines are scenic destinations in their own right, the Chi Chi line is more functional than scenic. Trains only run every two hours and the ticket seller recommended we buy a return trip and not leave the train. The return trip only costs a bit more than NT$50 and provides a welcome air-conditioned break for the weary traveler.
The station was also built by the Japanese and made out of wood (unusual for buildings in Taiwan) and was heavily damaged during the great quake, which left it with a 20 degree list. The station has now been restored to its original state and now is also able to withstand a huge quake (again we take their word for it). It is quaint, but bring earplugs for the tinny music which is played at ridiculous volume.
Next to the train station is a museum dedicated to the earthquake damage and the rebuilding. The rebuilding of the station was seen as a major advancement in the post quake recovery of the area as a whole, which explains the emphasis placed on this area. And the photos in the museum are truly amazing. In places the track was twisted to an unbelievable degree.
The major attraction here is the brewery and Puli is a good base for travelling around the area if you have your own transport. If you don't have a car, then Puli is the good place to catch buses or the train to other destinations around the area.
Puli Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Brewery
The brewery itself was massively damaged during the great quake, and when you visit the brewery you will see a broken roof beam on top of a crushed vat.
There are two parts to the brewery, one being the major production area which is not open to the public, and the other containing some production, but also the visitor center and shop. The second floor has a gallery of photos showing the destruction both of the town and the brewery - pretty horrifying stuff.
Through local and foreign investment, the brewery has been completely rebuilt exactly as it was. The shopping area on the first floor has all the Taiwan Alcohol and Tobacco Bureau products for sale and more. Health drinks and local ice cream are also available and you can try most of the products before you buy.
Nantou is a beautiful county and should be on the "must see" list when in Taiwan. Having your own transport is a huge bonus, so either drive your scooter down (it can and has been done) or think about hiring a car.
It is also worthwhile to see the damage that the earthquake caused first hand. The immense power of that event is something that cannot be described in words, but must be seen to be believed. Coupled with the immense beauty of the county, it really is a trip to another world.
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