October 28, 2008
The Northwest Coast
The northeast coast of Taiwan rightly gets attention as a top place to visit and it's a trip I have taken many times. But what of the northwest? Easier to get to than the east part, and with the weather cooling down nicely, I decided it was time to find out.
The jumping off point for this trip is Danshui, which is easily reachable via MRT and a good place to visit in its own right. You can catch a bus from here to Keelung and it follows the road along the coast. With baby in tow though, we decided to hire a car and drive from Taipei.
Sanzhi (for Google Maps, “Sanjhih Township, Taipei County, Taiwan”)
Before you arrive in Sanzhi, you will see come across a deserted complex, that might have been a hotel, or housing complex, or set for a 1970's sci-fi movie, no one seems to be sure. I like the description of a “pod village” as used on this site, which has some great photos.
An unusual tourist destination perhaps, but it's a great backdrop for photos and seems to have gained some international notoriety (Google “san zhi”). Rumors of ghosts abound and so I could only have a look from outside the complex (belief in ghosts/spirits is strong in Taiwan and they can follow you apparently). Ironically it seems as though now it is becoming well known it might be demolished. If you hear anything please let me know.
Sanzhi is a small town, but there are a couple of things of note, all of which are well signposted in Chinese and English.
The visitor center is well done and the museum sections have English explanations of the history from the indigenous people up to the modern day. There is also a “nursery room” if you do have an infant with you and in general the center is child-centric.
Very close to the visitor center and probably the reason for its location is the birthplace of the first democratically elected president of Taiwan, Lee Tung-hui. I must point out that it's a humble room, but historically you could argue this is an important landmark in Taiwan.
Puppets are still popular in Taiwan, although not as much as they used to be. Chances are if you turn on the TV in your hotel room, you'll see a puppet drama complete with kung fu and pyrotechnics. In fact they can be pretty bloody affairs!
Tucked away in Sanzhi is a small puppet museum, home of the famous I Wan Jan Puppet Theater. View the fearsome puppets upstairs, then get a drink and pose for some photos downstairs. You can also buy puppets and they would make a fairly unique gift.
There were other things to do here, and I think we'll be back. If only to have a look round the “pod village”, although don't tell the wife.
One thing of note about Taiwan is that it gets dark at roughly the same time throughout the year, around six pm. If you want to drive back over Yangmingshan (and there are some great views) then watch the time.
Being an island, the seafood in Taiwan is fresh and plentiful. A little way up the coast from Sanzhi is Fuji Fishing Port, which is well known and hence can get very busy. Nonetheless there is ample parking and there are loads of places to eat.
As I mentioned, the seafood is fresh, very fresh. In fact so fresh it is mostly still alive. If you see fish in tanks they are most likely not there for decoration (except perhaps for the Coi), so this might not be for the squeamish.
There are basically two options to order food. Walk through the market style area and buy what you'd like, then ask for it to be cooked for you at the end of the market. Alternatively, just go to one of the restaurants and point at what they have, then you don't have to carry it with you. Either way, it tastes great and there are some great views.
Shimen Stone Arch
If you keep going along the coast, you will come across this hollowed out rock. There isn't a tremendous amount to see, but you can grab light refreshments (if you have room after your seafood lunch) and it is right on the coast which is always nice.
Open Air Cafes
One of my favorite developments over the last few years has been the growth of open air cafes. There is a great selection along the coastal road with a great view and cooling sea breeze.
Actually it was quite windy when we visited. It's amazing how much mess the top of a latte will create when caught by the wind. Luckily no one was sitting behind me, but these kind of places will give you an opportunity to chat to some Taiwanese. You can't help but relax for one thing, and so sitting relatively close to each other, flinging coffee froth (optional), and a smile may well prompt a conversation. It's a brilliant way to learn more about Taiwan and the people, and to make new friends which I think is what traveling is all about.
I mentioned before about watching the time, and we didn't. The sun went down as we were drinking coffee so the drive back over Yangmingshan was in the dark. Still that makes for another journey!
Before starting this trip, I wasn't expecting us to find much to do and see, but I was pleasantly wrong. If you have a car (actually you could get to at least Sanzhi by scooter) then you can easily spend a day up on this side of the island. In fact, I am looking forward to going back.
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