Taking Taiwan's Slow Train

Taking Taiwan's Slow Train
Indulging in Local Culture on an Around-the-Island Trip


I bought a packed lunch from a platform vendor containing both lean and fatty pork, a slice of sausage, marinated egg, cabbage, bamboo shoots, sun-dried radish, tempura, and rice

Even on this midweek morning, the small sleepy station thronged with what can only be described as religious pilgrims

It was a case of yuanfen (緣分), as the Taiwanese call it. "Happy synchronicity" or "fate" might be one translation. On one day a couple of months ago, Travel in Taiwan asked if I had any train-travel experiences to share with readers, I was asked to update my book about local religious practices, and the radio forecast unseasonably cold, wet weather in northern Taiwan for the following four days. I needed no further incentive. I called the Taipei Railway Station. "Yes, for NT$1,706 you can travel around the island in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction for 15 days, stopping off at up to seven different places." I called Travel in Taiwan. "Yes, I have some train-travel experience, but in four days' time I'll have much more." Early the next morning, I boarded a slow train heading down Taiwan's east coast. This section of track includes some of the island's most stunning scenery, so I didn't want to rush it. Actually, like the tastiest morsel of food, I'd rather have kept it till last, but I wanted to start on Taiwan's oldest stretch of railway and keep the newest till last. That connecting Taipei and the nearby port of Keelung was completed in 1891, whereas the High Speed Rail tracks running up the west coast from Kaohsiung to Taipei opened in 2007 (though riding this requires the purchase of a separate ticket). Taiwan's first "iron road" was part of first governor Liou Ming-chuan's modernization blueprint for the island. Before embarking, I visited a statue of Liou in Taipei's 2-28 Peace Park just to the south of the station. The park is a good spiritual departure point for a rail trip. In addition to Liou's statue, there are also two of Taiwan's oldest trains, "Soaring Cloud", which was imported from Germany and used between 1888 and 1924, and the even older "No. 9," which arrived with the Japanese in 1895. The park's National Taiwan Museum, www.ntm.gov.tw, was opened in 1908 to commemorate the inauguration of the North-South Railway from Taipei to Kaohsiung.
Many of my fellow travelers, changing at Rueifang (the only station/community in Taiwan named after a shop, a hardware store that served the local mining industry) for the branch line to inland Pingsi or the bus to Jioufen.

At the popular seaside resort of Fulong I bought a packed lunch from a platform vendor. These Fulong Lunchboxes are now so well known they have given rise to a chain of restaurants throughout northeast Taiwan. At just NT$50 and containing both lean and fatty pork, a slice of sausage, marinated egg, cabbage, bamboo shoots, sun-dried radish, tempura, and rice, it was both good value and tasty. The train's conductor waited until every passenger wanting lunch had bought one. My vendor said he'd sold lunchboxes for 40 or 50 years, since he was a child.
The sun came out and the sea appeared as we emerged from a tunnel into Yilan County and passed seaside Dasi, popular with surfers. I was happy to have left the four days of rain behind.
The train stopped in Toucheng
("Head" Town), so named as it was the first major Han Chinese conurbation in this relatively inaccessible part of the island. Although it holds a major annual religious event in which, among other things, young men compete to climb greased poles, I stayed on the train as the event occurs in the Ghost Month of summer. Toucheng is also a jumping-off point for Gueishan Island (Turtle Mountain Island).
I similarly stayed onboard at Jiaosi, famous for its hot springs, but got off in Yilan City to buy some a-hsiew (Taiwanese pronunciation; smoked duck), a foodstuff found only in this area.

Along much of the coast here the rail track clings precariously to the cliffs that plunge steeply into the sea. Fishing boats bobbing on the ocean, picturesque harbors, and occasional villages in mist-filled valleys (look out for Nan-ao for example) make the journey unforgettable.
Traveling around Taiwan offers such a range of opportunities to savor natural and manmade delights that I wanted to get off everywhere, but especially at stations with romantic names such as "Bamboo Field" (Jhutian), "Phoenix Mountain" (Fongshan), and "Come Back" (Gueilai).

Captions: Left: Buying a lunch box at Fulong Station Right: Historic locomotives are operated by the TRA on special occasions. Opposite, far left: Train running along the scenic east coast

Small station in Taichung County. Opposite: Having fun during a train ride.

2-28 Peace Park 228和平公園
Bao-an 保安
Beancurd Pudding 豆花
Burning of Wang Ye's Boat 燒王爺船
Cijin Island 旗津島
Custard Apples 釋迦
Dasi 大溪
Daylilies 金針花
Fongshan 鳳山
Fulong 福隆
Gangshan Lamb 岡山羊肉
Green Island 綠島
Gueilai 歸來
Gueishan Island 龜山島
Jhutian 竹田
Jhihben 知本
Jiali 佳里
Jiaosi 礁溪
Jioufen 九份
Kending 墾丁
Nan-ao 南澳
Nat. Museum of Prehistory 國立台灣史前文化博物館
Nat. Taiwan Museum 國立臺灣博物
館 Olen 黑輪
Orchid Island 蘭嶼
Oyster Omelet 蚵仔煎
Pingsi 平溪
Rueifang 瑞芳
Danzai Noodles 擔仔麵
Shrimp Rrolls 蝦卷
Smoked Duck 鴨賞
Taimali 太麻里
Toucheng 頭城
Wax Apples 蓮霧
Yongkang 永康


Lovely Lotus Flower Fields

Little Streets and Small Alleys

Noodles, Buns, and Dumplings

Shin Kong Chao Feng Resort Ranch

Hao Bu Hao Chi?

Taitung by the sea

Sleep, Eat, and Buy Options in Alishan’s North Sector

Mt. Guanyin

A Night at the Market

Alishan North

Green and Sleepy

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Taiwan and Hotpot

Jinyue Indigenous Village

Seven Stars Mountain

DaMorLee Leisure Farm

Quick Trip to Taipei

Up into the High Mountains

Romantic Evenings in Kaohsiung

Railways to Bikeways

Xiang Luo Lei Restaurant

Land Ho! Penghu – Beckoning You

The Guanshan Town Circle Bicycle Path

The Heart of Hualien

Dageeli Tribe Restaurant

Coastal Hualien

Ximending (West Gate District)

Bunun Hunters Restaurant

Hello Hualien!

The Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area

Tianwei Highway Garden

Prowlin’ in Maolin

Strawberry Town

The Maolin National Scenic Area

Stairways to the Sky

Pedaling Along

Daluan Restaurant

Around the Northern Tip

Hats and Mats

Orange Country

Travel Taiwan, Film Taiwan!

A Place to Relax

Through the Grapevine

The Tatami of Dongshi


Lion’s Head Mountain and Beipu

Exploring the Valley of the Glowing Sky

Fruit of the Angels

Its Cake Culture

The Amazing Bamboo

Yilan’s Kumquats

Lovely Nanzhuang

The Sea of Flowers in Xinshe Festival

Healthful Eating and Delicious Flavors

The Black King Kong of Yuanchang

From Art Brush to Beauty Brush

A Strange Fruit

The Sound of Drums

Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival

The Hot Springs of Beitou

Simakusi (Smangus)


Water Frolics

Overnighting on the Northeast Coast

Giant Buddha, Old Temples, and Glass Art

Mt. Beidawu

The Most Joyous Thing in the World is Music

Taiwan Fun on the Tropic of Cancer

FUN WITH CHINESE - Men in the Fields during Rain

NK 101 Tea @ Style

Taitung Backpack Bus Trip

The Life of Pi

Taipei’s East District Where the Art of Shopping Is Serious Business

Spring Onion Country Yilan's Sanxing Township Offers Ideal Conditions for Cultivating Scallions

Sandy Beaches, Rocky Coastline, Quiet Country A Whirlwind Tour Round Hengchun Peninsula

What Happened at Wushe

Confucius Day

Keeping It in the Family: I Wan Jan Puppet Theater

Taiwan Has a Unique Culture

Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit and the ROC's 100 Years

All the Flowers You Can Dream Of

Music from the Marshland

Pristine Scenes

Fierce Faces

Following the Tide

A Wonderful World Out There

Off to the Beach and the Rocks

Taiwan’s Easy Rider Goes Into the Wild


Taipei Int'l Flora Expo




Taiwan's Ultra Man Going Beyond Extreme

Rice by Any Other Name

Taiwan is Beautiful!


Slate Houses and Mud Rivers

From Fir Formosa

Touring Kaohsiung by KMART


Taoyuan HSR Station

Taking Taiwan's Slow Train

Bus Trip to Central Taiwan

Establishing a Beautiful Taiwan

High Mountain Ecology

Exploring High Mountain HighsTaiwan at Her Peaks

Cultural Tourism in Taiwan:What's in It for You?

Getting to Know Taiwan's Indigenous Cultures

Leaving Stress Behind

Taiwan! "Feel Good" Country

Exploring Taiwan's Rural Side

Aboriginal Tribes & Festivals

The Famous Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Night Markets in Taiwan

Great Arts, Culinary Exhibitions and Events in Taiwan's National Palace Museum and Other Places

Mountains in Taiwan

Water Fun in Taiwan

Taiwanese Arts, Arts Festivals and Interesting Artifacts

"Taiwan's Ghost Festival and Other Religious Events"

Dragon Boat Festival

City: The Tallest Building Taipei 101 & Kaohsiung's Love River

National Scenic Area (IV)-Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area, Penghu National Scenic Area, Matsu National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (III)-East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, East Coast National Scenic Area, Maolin National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (II)-Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area, Alishan National Scenic Area, Southwest Coast National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (I)-North Coast & Guanyinshan National Scenic Area, Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area

Offshore Islands- Penghu、Kinmen National Park、Matzu、Green Island(Lyudao)、Orchid Island(Lanyu)

Eastern Taiwan- Taroko National Park、East Rift Valley、Rueisuei & Hongye、Jhihben

Southern Taiwan- Alishan、Tainan、Kaohsiung、Dapeng Bay & Little Liouciou、Kenting National Park

Central Taiwan- Miaoli、Taichung、Changhua、Nantou、Yushan National Park

Northern Taiwan -Taipei City、Yangmingshan & Beitou、Danshuei、Wulai、Jioufen & Jinguashih、Yilan、Taoyuan & Hsinchu