Taoyuan HSR Station

Your Launchpad into Undulating "Peach Garden" County


Taoyuan County lies southwest of Taipei City. On its coastal plain sits Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the main gateway to Taiwan. Just 15-20 minutes away
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.
Let's now move up (Northeast) from Longtan along the freeway. On the Dahan River, main tributary to the Danshuei River that flows through Taipei and out to sea, is the town of Dasi, a history buff's delight. Up until the days of Japan's colonial rule of Taiwan (1895 - 1945) the waters were navigable this far. Trade was brisk, camphor the main draw. The main dock was by today's Heping Road. In the old commercial area formed by Heping and Jhongshan Roads, old baroque-facade commercial establishments stand shoulder to shoulder, many built by Westerners and later by Japanese. Facades bear the names of the business concerns and wonderful carvings of birds, animals, flowers, and plants. Today the narrow-front, deep shophouse-style locations house traditional businesses producing dried beancurd, religious-worship items, and old-style wooden furniture, and engaged in iron-mongering and stone working, the goings-on visible from the street. Tourists are welcome to come in and watch. The entire district has been refurbished, street-wiring put underground, making for a stimulating step back into the past. Make sure to buy some of the dried beancurd, for which Dasi is renowned; the secret is said to be in the local mineral-rich waters.
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.
There are three sections to Lalashan, pierced by a steep road. The town of Baling sits at mountain bottom, Upper Baling in the mid-reaches. These areas are known for their peach orchards; buy from the Atayal natives to be sure you're supporting the local economy and getting local produce. I can vouch for the delicious rep of Lalashan honey peaches; my wife's uncle has an orchard here, and we've helped harvest the juicy, baseball-sized treats.

An entirely different world awaits in the upper reaches of 2000-ft-plus Mt. Daguan, the Mt. Daguan (Lalashan) Nature Preserve. A marked trail 3.7 km long meanders past 22 shenmu, or "divine trees." In this magical ancient-cypress forest about 120 venerable giants are 500-plus years young, the most senior about 2,800 years, the tallest 55 meters. Trekkers emerge near the peak to a rolling green plateau; 30 minutes later you're on top, soaking in as locals do ultra-powerful high-mountain ci (氣; "vital energy") and basking in the grand widescreen views of neighboring mountains. Note that the preserve has a visitor center, and guides can be booked for tours at (03) 394-6061.
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.
Ancient trees at Lalashan.

Atayal Tribe? 泰雅族
Baling????? 巴陵
Dahan River 大漢溪
Danshuei River 淡水河
Dasi 大溪
Heping Road? 和平路
Honey Peaches 水蜜桃
Jhongli? 中壢市
Jhongshan Road 中山路
Lalashan 拉拉山
Longtan 龍潭
Mt. Daguan? 達觀山
Mt. Daguan Nature Preserve 達觀山自然保護區
Shimen Reservoir 石門水庫
Taoyuan County? 桃園縣
Upper Baling 上巴陵
Window on China Theme Park 小人國主題樂園



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