Taoyuan HSR Station
Your Launchpad into Undulating "Peach Garden" County
THE "PEACH GARDEN" - LITERALLY, "TAOYUAN" COUNTY. A COASTAL PLAIN SURROUNDED ON THREE SIDES BY HILLS, UNDULATING EVER HIGHER AS THE TRAVELER MOVES INLAND. HOME TO MANY A MAN-CREATED AND NATURE-CRAFTED TOURIST GEM.
by taxi (or regular "Ubus" service) is the Taoyuan High Speed Rail station, in the small city of Jhongli. By car, it takes perhaps
an hour to travel from Taipei city center to the station. By the HSR bullet train we cut that time to a fraction. For the international traveler the most compelling Taoyuan draws are inland, away from the station and plain, in the hills and rising mountains beyond. Convenient transportation links are available from the station.
The station itself is a grand piece of architecture, a sprawling creation bold in the use of curtain glass and steel columns. The broad glass front, with a wide plaza in front, allows sunlight to stream into the airy terminal. The welcoming feeling is akin to that of an airport terminal — appropriate and a deliberate nod to the station's nearby airport. Both locations are meant to be evocative of open arms, welcoming architectural passports to adventure. The station radiates with light from within at night.
The only-one-of-its-kind Window on China Theme Park is south of Jhongli, near the town of Longtan (Dragon Pool). I recommend this spot for those who dream of traveling the globe's four corners but lack the time and/or the deep pockets. Here are the world's great manmade structures — as mini-wonders — in the world's second-largest collection of miniature structures. The teensy replicas are still quite large, the scale 1:25. There are two sections. In the Mini China and Taiwan area you can enjoy a bird's-eye view of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Longmen Buddhist Caves, Taipei's Longshan Temple, and other greats. When there I always think "Godzilla-eye" view is more apt, fondly recalling the scale-model sets in the Japanese movie classics, though I rarely try to crush anything underfoot because I think staff are on to me. In the Mini Kingdom section, stomp about the pyramids, Statue of Liberty, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and other must-see spots. You can afterwards say "been there, done that" for all, not mentioning you mean the mini-versions.
I particularly enjoy the hundreds of to-scale bonsai trees and the 50,000 mini-people, some mechanical and some that go on parade or dance to music. Though the replicas are miniature, the place is big, so ride the free mini-railway. I also recommend the quality Chinese acrobatics, folk-arts shows, and aboriginal song-and-dance performances at the dedicated theater.
Upriver from Dasi, where the Dahan turns sharply inland (moving upstream) from a broad valley, the great dam that holds back the waters of the awesome Shimen Reservoir straddles the mouth of what once was a deep gorge stretching far, far into the high hills. Said gorge was once the remote home of native tribespeople who long resisted Han Chinese and Japanese incursions into the resource-rich area. Today the waters, about 133 meters deep, brim close to the tops of the reservoir-side peaks, though peaks and ridges still loom high above we mere ant-like mortals at water's-surface level. The area's majestic maples were planted for soil conservation. There are both easy and more challenging paths and trails, and pavilions strategically placed for scintillating big-picture panoramas, especially in maple-painted autumn. Take one of the yacht cruises, which slip by postcard-perfect picture-taking backdrops. The dam-side eateries specialize in reservoir-catch cuisine; I vouch for the delectability. What always gives me the biggest thrills here, however, is standing atop the hydro dam, watching the waters hurtle into the valley below, and marvelling at the audacity of Man in his nature-wrestling adventures and misadventures — think the Hoover Dam, in scale-model form.
In the high hills inland beyond Dasi and the reservoir is Lalashan (Mt. Lala), along the serpentine Northern Cross-island Highway (No. 7). The official name is Mt. Daguan, but most islanders continue to use Lalashan, the "Lala" a native-tribe term.
Our destination-sampler buffet has served up a mere smattering of the travel choices available in Taoyuan. For much more, visit the THSR website (www.thsrc.com.tw), which has a nifty downloadable tourist guide, or the Tourism Bureau website. Both have solid info on transport to all sites, and the former also has specific info on taxi and shuttle-bus availability from the rail station.
Captions: Traditional food of the Atayal tribe.