Things Yon Really Need to Take Home from Sunny Kending
It's the same all over the world. Wherever large numbers of tourists congregate, souvenir vendors will soon set up shop to hawk everything from cuckoo clocks to "authentic" outer-space rocks. Since Kending is one of the premier tourist spots in Taiwan it is not surprising that it has a fair share of souvenir stalls and shops. Let's find out about Kending memorabilia you really need to take home.
While the thought of souvenir vendors might conjure images of street peddlers nagging and begging you to buy useless stuff, or "friendly tour guides" luring you into dark alleys where you are "invited" to buy local carpets, there is no need to worry while traveling in Taiwan. One of the biggest assets of Taiwan's travel environment is that it is extremely safe. Living standards are high, and foreign visitors are usually treated with high respect. Bargaining, while existing to some extent at night-markets and in certain shops, is less common than in other Asian countries where you might beat down the seller and still end up paying more than you should.
When it comes to the quality of the goods on offer, there is a wide range. Of course, you'll find the ubiquitous plastic trinkets that are bound to become dust catchers in years to come or are destined for the trashcan soon after your arrival back home. But if you want to take home something uniquely representative of Kending, check out the many fine products designed, created, and sold by local entrepreneurs, many of whom are themselves gifted artists.
The town of Kending is not that big, so it's quite easy to find its central shopping area. Most shops and restaurants are located along the main road, Kending Road, which is part of Highway 26.
T-shirts, caps, and shorts are the preferred attire of most visitors spending time in tropical Kending, and there is no shortage of shops selling the T-shirts and other brightly colored summer wear. Reportedly there are 30 shops specializing in T-shirts alone, and by specializing it is meant that these shops really make an effort to design and create unique works which sometimes are even customized to meet the individual taste of the buyer.
A good place to start looking for your next "I was in Kending" T-shirt is the Songlin T-Shirt Shop at 165 Kending Rd. The shirts here feature unique designs and images that separate them from the average tourist-oriented outlet. Apart from T-shirts the shop also has a rich assortment of caps, hats, slippers, and other de rigeuer beach-fashion apparel.
The majority of Taiwan's indigenous inhabitants live in the central mountainous regions and along the eastern coast of the island. While the town of Kending is not in the immediate vicinity of aboriginal settlements, there are a number of shops specializing in the unique art of Taiwan's "first people". There is a wide range of objects to choose from, including wooden sculptures, woven and embroidered items, leather bags and purses, accessories made with beads, and much more.
A wide collection of aboriginal handicrafts can be found at Native Trading Post, located at 21 Kending Rd. The shop is known for its warm and friendly owner, herself a member of Taiwan's aboriginal community. Check out the many items made of leather that feature traditional tribal motifs, the wood-sculpture art of the Bunun tribe, and the intricately woven and richly embroidered traditional clothes. While an elaborate necklace made of colorful beads can set you back several thousand NT dollars, there are also many smaller items costing just a little more than a hundred NT$.
For more info on the tribal art of Taiwan, you can visit www.tribe-asia.com, a website with info on a large selection of indigenous artworks and handicrafts from Taiwan and the surrounding region.
Kending has a tropical climate and is known mainly for its sun and sandy beaches. During the short winter, however, it can be chilly at times, and windy, very windy. In 2002 a new annual festival was born in which Kending's strong winter winds play an important role - the Kending Wind Bell Festival. Aiming at attracting more tourists to the national park during the off-season, the festival has become a showcase for an amazing variety of windbells and chimes in all shapes and sizes.
Many of the shops selling decorative items and accessories in Kending also feature locally made wind-bells and chimes. If you take one of these unique-sounding devices back home you can hang it on your balcony or your front porch, and when the wind blows and you hear the charming melodies created, you can close your eyes and remember the beautiful times you had at Kending.
A large assortment of windbells and chimes can be found at Zesin Souvenirs, at 158 Kending Rd.
Seashells and corals are the main reason the sand of Kending's beaches - in contrast to many dark-sand beaches around the island - is so fine and white. If you are on the hunt for some unique shells or products made from them, head to Eluanbi, the southernmost tip of Taiwan proper, and visit Seashell Collection 23. This shop is filled to the brim with seashells of amazing shapes and colors.
There are hundreds of other shops in Kending selling unique souvenirs and items for every tourist's taste. While shopping might not be the main reason for you visiting the farthest of the far south of Taiwan, the myriad creative outlets here will leave you no excuse to go home empty-handed. Happy exploring!
If you read Chinese, you can visit a number of specialized websites introducing you to the commercial sites of Kending. You'll find details on shops and other establishments, as well as useful maps and links, at:
Lunch Between Swims,Dinner Afterwards
Outdoor Activities in Kending- Take Off to the Great White South
Kending-One Weekend Is not Enough
Romantic Dining Options along Kaohsiung's Scenic Waterway
There's much to keep mind and body fully occupied during one's leisure hours in the big, muscular, strapping city of Kaohsiung, but when in that city, do as the Kaohsiungers do on weekends and holidays and head to the countryside. Surrounding Kaohsiung County offers pleasures of many a nature, embracing religion, age-old handicrafts, vigorous whitewater exercise, aboriginal culture, soothing hot-spring soaking, nature's bounteous scenic creativity, and classical martial-arts competitions.
Kaohsiung City sits on the coast. Kaohsiung County surrounds it save on the seaside, changing as the culture-explorer moves inland from relatively flat, open lands to foothills to mountains towering 3,000 meters. Yet whatever the adventure chosen during a Journey to the South, your destination is never more than a few hours away by vehicle from your southern-city launchpad.
Sounds like a can't-miss opportunity? You're right. So let's launch. What we'll do is visit a selection of the county's gems of greatest sparkle, then point you in the right direction research-wise so you can continue on your way. Yes, sounds like a plan.
This popular recreational destination is located not far outside city boundaries, on the northeast. Largest lake in the Kaohsiung city/county region, it was developed from wetlands into an industrial-use reservoir, the waterbody afterwards made the focus for a landscaped, tourism-dedicated forested park opened in 1960. Most southern residents have fond memories of youth-era trips to the lake with parents and siblings.
A tree-lined esplanade courses through a Ming-style arch to the park (entrance fee NT$100; park open 6 a.m. - 5 p.m.) and 7-km lakeside loop road. The loop gives access to an orchid collection, aquarium (in what was originally an anti-nuke bunker, built 1961), boating, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, and golf.
Another main attraction here is towering, dignified Jhongsing (Restoration) Pagoda. The top of the seven-story tower is reached via a winding staircase; this is the lake area's tallest structure (43 meters), making for the best panoramas.
"Light of Buddha Mountain" is perhaps the primary center for Buddhist scholarship in Taiwan. Perched on a hill above the plains, on the banks of the Gaoping River, this oversized complex looms into view from far off. The complex consists of a number of shrine halls, pleasant colonnades, pagodas, pavilions, sculpted gardens, meandering footpaths, and myriad placid crannies and nooks for meditation. Visitors are welcome (open hours 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.), and study retreats are possible, even in English, with advance notice. English tours are also available.
Foguangshan is renowned for its brilliant array of iconry. By the entrance stands Taiwan's tallest image of the Buddha (32 meters, 105 feet), surrounded by a corps of 480 life-sized renderings of disciples.
The main shrine is the "Great Hero Jeweled Shrine". A massive space, the lack of any artificial lighting here is a striking feature. Heaven's rays wash in through a completed circle of large windows atop the high walls. In this holy place are three immense renderings of the Buddha, 20 meters (66 feet) high. Each sits in meditative repose, engaged in various mudra (hand gestures) carrying specific religious meaning. Wall space is taken up with a coruscating universe of tiny niches ?within each of the 14,000 flickers a miniature lightbulb illuminating a small Buddha image.
We head higher into the hills now, to one of the nation's youngest national scenic areas. Maolin National Scenic Area is situated in the county's southeast corner, spilling over into Pingtung County. The two primary attractions here, on which all others are built, are dynamically robust in nature - the high peaks sliced through by deep river valleys, and the homeland of the colorful Rukai mountain people. There are also Paiwan, Bunun, and Tsou inhabitants.
Still shots will not be able to take in all that the naked eye struggles to take in, so have your digital camcorder at hand for the necessary sweeping panoramas. Grand precipices, staggering waterfalls, hurtling rivers, roaring whitewater rafting, gorge-spanning suspension bridges, busy Formosan macaques, majestic Formosan blue magpies, cliffside-clutching temple retreats, virgin forest, the richly swirling colors of Butterfly Valley, Baolai and Bulao hot-springs resorts (more on those later), native-tribe cultural performances and handicrafts, exhilarating mountain climbing and hiking, river-tracing, camping...
...getting tired now. You get the picture. Among numerous other cultural achievements, the Rukai are famed for their ingenious slate houses, some of which come with attractive slate patios and low slate fencing that looks uncannily like the proverbial "white-picket fences." When houses are grouped together on flat land the effect is remarkably akin to a neat, prehistoric suburb.
Tourist-oriented rafting on the Laonong is a recent development, yet already rivals rafting on the east coast's Siouguluan River in terms of thrills, infrastructure, and popularity. In the spring and summer high season the Laonong's waters crunch together in whooshing, surging cataracts past sharp crags, cliffs, and precipices. Rapids rip past huge boulders strewn about the often-wide riverbed, the waters rumbling and rolling ever downward, jostling for position. Perfect for rafting.
The route starts at the village of Baolai and ends 16 kilometers downriver at Sinfa Bridge . Because of the many small, rocky beaches and shoals, the waters are more excited than on the Siouguluan. The landscape is even more majestic, the glorious peaks and bluffs reaching even higher. May through October offers almost continuous rafting (class 4) at what has emerged as the south's premier inland watersports location. The cost per individual is usually NT$800 per three-hour trip, with discounts for groups over 20. Local rafting companies offer shuttle-bus services from the city of Kaohsiung during the busiest times, generally weekends and during summer holidays. Check the Laonong entry on the Tourism Bureau website for recommended rafting enterprises.
High-mountain Taiwan, geologically speaking, is the direct result of tectonic activity that makes for natural hot springs almost wherever you tread, hill and mountain. After a day's rafting on the Laonong, two resorts are especially close at hand, Bulao and Baolai. Both are open 24 hours. Their waters are crystal-clear and odorless, their positive health effects leading to their being called natural "beauty soap."
Both sites were developed by the soak-loving Japanese during their tenure as the island's colonial rulers (1895-1945). Both are on terraced lands near the Laonong; from their springs emerge low-alkaline carbonic-acid waters. It is believed these waters, which are drinkable, are effective against fatigue and sore muscles/joints, as well as against more serious complaints such as skin ailments, rheumatism/arthritis, and neuralgia. Soakers' skin is also beautified.
Let's now shoot up into the northwest of the county. The town of Neimen sits at an opening in the hills leading into the deeper recesses. "Neimen" means "inner gate."This was the dividing line between the mountain aborigines and the Han Chinese in pioneering days.
Today the town is best known for the annual Song Jiang Battle Array competition, a unique cultural event experienced nowhere else, part of birthday celebrations for the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, held at 300-plus-year-old Zihjhu (Purple Bamboo) Temple. Her birthday, the 19th of the second lunar month, falls in March-April.
Taiwan's best martial-arts teams take turns on the temple's grand plaza to show off "Song Jiang" military formations. "Song Jiang" is the main character in the classical Chinese novel Water Margin , who formed his men into intricate formations emphasizing quick transformation to different fighting technique. Onlookers may number several thousand. The competitors wield old-style weapons and rattan shields, and some dress as characters from the novel (108 in total). In the old days martial-arts teams, centered around temples, also served as militia; Neimen was once under threat of aborigine attack.
The lovely town of Meinong, also in the county's north, sits at the divide between a high-mountain valley and more open, farm-able lands. This is a proud Hakka enclave.
The town is best known for its exquisite hand-painted oilpaper umbrellas. Visitors can look in on master craftsmen in shops practicing the craft in much the old ways. The family is all-important to the Hakka, and the circular perfection of the umbrella is equated with the "perfection" of the complete family circle. The umbrellas are also traditional wedding gifts, for the Hakka pronunciation of "paper"(jhih) is similar to that for "children"(zih). Such a gift promotes fecundity. At local shops, an 8-inch umbrella should be NT$400 (US$12) to NT$600 (US$18), a 19-inch version NT$1,200 (US$36) or more.
Many older architectural gems have been caringly preserved along the narrow old streets, notably along Yongan Old Street; the Hakka take great pride in their tradition. Many visitors like to purchase the distinctive traditional Hakka dress; you can have your own clothing made at the sole shop still engaged in this trade. They'll need a few days minimum for custom cuts, however.
More Info Online
A number of websites offer you much more detail on these and other Kaohsiung County attractions, including on transportation and possible accommodations. The official Kaohsiung County English tourism-info site is at www.kcg.gov.tw/EN/ Foguangshan has a dedicated website at www.fgs.org.tw The Maolin National Scenic Area has its own website, at www.maolin-nsa.gov.tw The Tourism Bureau website, at www.taiwan.net.tw, also provides info and links for all these sites.
A Short Visit to Taiwan's Capital
It's home to nearly three million, it's the seat of the national government, it's one of the island's main transport hubs, and it's the northern terminus of the Taiwan High Speed Railway (THSR). Taipei City, the capital of Taiwan, is close to the island's main international airport, and the usual place for foreign visitors (both business and leisure travelers) to start a trip to Taiwan. After a quick visit to the city's main tourist attractions, travelers often head for renowned tourist attractions further afield such as Taroko Gorge or Sun Moon Lake . Spend a little longer in the Taipei area, however, and there's an extraordinary variety of things to see, along with a remarkably efficient and comprehensive network of public transportation giving convenient access to enough attractions to keep visitors happy for a week or more.
Taipei City sits in a bowl surrounded on three sides by mountains, and has two main centers. The modern, high-tech part of the city in the east, around Taipei 101 and the wide boulevards of Xinyi (Sinyi) Road and Renai Road , is on every visitor's list, and a day could easily be spent here admiring the view from the top of the world's tallest building, shopping in the many exclusive shopping malls, and eating at one of the many excellent restaurants. Taipei's older city center lies several kilometers to the west, in the area around the main railway station. This area remains Taipei's principal transport hub, and most travelers will probably pass through this area at some time during their visit. With the opening of the Taiwan High Speed Rail service between Taipei and Taiwan's second largest city, Kaohsiung, this year, virtually the entire island of Taiwan is now within easy reach of the capital city. The fastest trains make the full trip in just ninety minutes (just forty minutes more than by air), and buying tickets for the service is simple and convenient: an English-language section of the THSR website (www.thsrc.com.tw/en/) is available for reserving tickets on the Net, and phone bookings can be made in English on the THSR hotline ( 4066-5678 or  6626-8000), although bookings can also be made in person at Taipei's main station on the day of travel.
Conventional trains, both express and local, pass through Taipei Railway Station every couple of minutes bound for stations along the east and west coasts, and are a great way to explore the historic towns and beautiful countryside around Taipei. The station also lies at the intersection of two of the city's MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) lines: the north-south Danshui (Danshuei) line and the Bannan line, which runs the length of the metropolis from east to west. Three underground shopping malls extend west and north from the station complex, one leading to the city's main long-distance bus station, offering fast, regular, and comfortable services to cities and tourist resorts all over the island.
The imposing Taipei Railway Station building was opened in 1989. It houses the main railway station for conventional trains, the MRT station, the terminal station of the THSR (opened in March 2007), a second-floor shopping and food mall, and the headquarters of the Taiwan Railway Administration. The cavernous, marble interior with its powerful air-conditioning is a popular escape from the heat and dust of the Taipei summer. Several small exhibitions line the corridor walls, offering a glimpse of the treasures on display in the city's museums, of Taiwan's beautiful arts and handicrafts, and into the history of the island's railroad service.
The square outside the main station is a pleasant area of marble walkways, fountains, and flowerbeds, with the 51-story, 244-meter-high Shin Kong Life Tower , Taipei's second-tallest building, dominating the view. This area is also a good place for shopping: dive into the maze of side streets to the south of the station to find all manner of stores selling everything from CDs to clothes, traditional Chinese foods to high-tech computer software. A 20-minute walk away (or a 3-minute MRT ride from Taipei Railway Station) is the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall , until recently known as Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall , an imposing building in classical Chinese style set in huge grounds and fronted by a great square of white marble. This, one of the 'must-sees' of Taipei, is worth a visit anytime, but during the cool, balmy evenings of summer it's especially popular, the pleasant breezes attracting many local residents, including several groups that gather here to practice ballroom dancing and youths who move to more recent sounds. Just a short walk away, on Xuzhou (Syujhou) Road , the Chinese Handicraft Mart of the Taiwan Handicraft Promotion Center is one of the capital's premiere places for buying gifts for family and friends back home.
For a far older relic of traditional Chinese architecture, ride the MRT from Taipei's main station (or leave the THSR one stop earlier if coming from the south) to Banqiao (Banciao) Station , then take a short taxi ride to Lin Family Mansion and Garden , one of the finest Cing Dynasty houses (built in 1853) surviving in Taiwan, surrounded by a very fine Chinese-style garden. Banqiao Station is both a convenient transportation hub and something of a sight in itself: a huge edifice topped with tall twin towers, with a palatial interior of high ceilings and marble floors. The stations for the conventional railway, THSR, and MRT services (it's just ten minutes to Taipei Railway Station) are here, while an adjoining bus station has regular, comfortable, and safe bus services to all parts of the island.
It would take three or four days to see even the main sights of Taipei, but the convenience of the THSR and the MRT network allows residents and visitors based in southern Taiwan cities, such as Kaohsiung or Tainan, to spend a day in the capital and be back at home in the evening. After a visit to the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, it's just a short MRT ride north to the city district of Shilin (Shihlin), then five minutes on a bus to Taipei's top attraction, the National Palace Museum , which recently fully reopened following an extensive renovation lasting four years. It would take a full day to fully appreciate the riches on display in this, one of the world's great museums, but a good, still-educational compromise is to take one of the guided tours in English given several times a day for an introduction to some of the more distinctive and famous works of art on display.
This is as good a place as any in town for lunch: the San Hsi Tang Tearoom on the fourth floor offers authentic Chinese food, a fine oriental ambience, and great views!
Back at Shilin (Shihlin) MRT station, a five-minute walk from Exit 2 leads to Shilin Official Residence , erstwhile home of late president Chiang Kai-shek, and today one of the best places in this part of Taipei for a midday siesta. The gardens here make a fine and surprisingly peaceful temporary respite from the big city; there's even a flourishing wetlands-conservation area in the rear.
Back on the MRT heading north, change at Beitou station and ride the one-stop Xinbeitou (Sinbeitou) branch line to access Taipei City's own hill-area hot-spring resort. There's a great selection of hot-spring opportunities within a stone's throw of the station, from the simple but old and atmospheric Japanese bathhouse called Lung Nai Tang ( beware, the baths here are scorching hot, as per the Japanese taste!), to much newer luxury establishments such as Spring City Resort and SweetMe Hotspring Resort . Even if a hot-spring bath doesn't appeal at the height of summer (though it's actually surprisingly refreshing), be sure to pay a visit to the nearby Beitou Hot Spring Museum , housed in another old Japanese bathhouse, which is a beautiful and well-preserved relic in its own right. Inside stands a huge block containing Hokutolite, an extremely rare (and mildly radioactive!) mineral formed by the evaporation of hot-spring water. Apart from a deposit in the stream behind the museum, the mineral is known to exist only in solitary sites in Japan and Chile.
Follow the road ahead for another five minutes to the huge, bubbling pool of near-boiling hot-spring water known as Di-Re Valley . This extraordinary place is a rare sight indeed outside the thermal wonderlands of Yellowstone or New Zealand's Rotorua. Some of Beitou's hot-spring baths are fed by this source, but watch out - this water is of the 'green sulfur' variety, which although apparently beneficial for arthritis, skin disease, and gout, stings like crazy if it gets into the eyes or an open cut!
Before heading back to the THSR station for the short trip back down south, take a southbound MRT train to Jiantan station. Right opposite the station is Shilin Night Market , which every evening around dusk turns into an incredible, seething mass of humanity, delicious local food, cheap clothes, toys, beauty products, shoes...you name it.
A single day in Taipei could never do justice to the city, let alone the wonderful surrounding countryside. If a leisure trip here can be stretched to two or three days, try to get out of the city and see a little of the hinterland. One of the loveliest day-trips in the Taipei area is a ride along the historic and scenic Pingsi branch-railway line. Take a conventional train east from Taipei to the town of Rueifang , and change here to one of the brightly colored, two-carriage trains that set off along the branch line every hour or so.
Laid about a century ago to transport coal dug from mines in the valley of the infant Keelung River to port, the area has long left its industrial past behind and is a place of natural beauty. Buy a day-pass for the line and stop off at several stations, pausing to admire the peaceful wooded hills and river, the spectacular Shihfen Waterfall ( the 'Niagara of Taiwan'), or visit the Taiwan Coal Mine History and Culture Exhibition Hall nearby. Get off at the penultimate stop, Pingsi itself, for perhaps the most unforgettable activity of all.
Several small workshops in this tiny, very traditional village make (or, even better, teach visitors how to make) sky lanterns, huge Chinese paper lanterns with paper 'ghost money' fastened in the base, which when lit, turns the fragile orb into a miniature hot-air balloon. The best time to send off your own sky lantern is on the night of the Lantern Festival, two weeks after Chinese New Year, when hundreds of these beautiful, ghostly creations float into the darkened sky.
However, they've become a year-round activity, and making and setting one free is a memorable and unique way to spend an evening. Before releasing your lantern, however, be sure to write a wish on the side. When the lantern is released, it ascends to the heavens where the gods, if so inclined, will grant your request.
Here's wishing you'll have the chance to come back for a longer stay sometime, for there's a great deal more of Taiwan still to see!
Much More than the Alpine Train to AlishanIt's
It's a safe bet that most visitors to Taiwan will at least pass through the central city of Chiayi at some point in their stay here, if only for a brief stop on the way to one of the island's 'top three' tourist attractions, the mountain resort of Alishan . Give the area a little longer, however, and the traveler finds there's a great deal more to do in the city and surrounding countryside than catching the mountain train and admiring the magnificent forested slopes on the way up.
Chiayi sits near the foot of the Central Mountain Range in the center of the island's flat western plains, and is easily accessible from Taipei by train or bus. Take an HSR (High Speed Rail) train and it's just eighty minutes to the tropics. Yes, the city sits right on the Tropic of Cancer: drive or take a taxi just a few minutes from the city center down Provincial Highway No. 1 and you'll pass under a long metal arch which officially marks the border of the tropics. Next to the road here stands a small park with a futuristic, five-story-tall monument that looks something like a UFO. Another decidedly modern-looking landmark is the 62-meter-high Sun-Shooting Tower in Chiayi Park. The coffeeshop at the top is a great place to relax and get an aerial view of the city.
On the whole, Chiayi remains a traditional city, and one which repays a little exploration. Walk around the old streets, enjoy the bustling street markets and old temples, and if you're feeling hungry, try the nutritious, inexpensive and very tasty rice with turkey, for which the city is renowned islandwide. Several small eateries in the city center have been serving up this delicacy for fifty years, and the food is absolutely delicious! Chiayi's other famous specialty is a kind of ceramic called 'cochin' or 'koji' . Originally used as a form of decoration on local temple roofs, cochin ceramic pieces in the form of everything from Chinese dragons and tigers to teapots are now produced for tourists and make a great souvenir of a Chiayi stay, although they're a familiar sight in giftshops elsewhere around the island as well. If you take the train to Alishan, which leaves from the little Beimen station in the north of town, visit the nearby Cochin Ceramics Museum to see some exquisite examples.
It's just a short shuttle-bus ride from the High Speed Rail station into the heart of Chiayi City and the main-line train station, where several bus stations provide regular services to Alishan and points all over Chiayi County. More adventurous visitors can hire a scooter from one of a couple of shops which rent out safe, new vehicles, and tour the area independently.
For a short trip out of town, try taking a bus or driving along County Highway 159 for about an hour to 300-year-old Zihyun (Purple Cloud) Temple at Bantianyan . Perched high in the foothills of the Central Mountain Range overlooking the flat plains of western Chiayi County, the temple offers stunning views over the lowlands below, and the air is refreshingly cool. In front is a large foodstall plaza offering all manner of traditional snacks, from sweet candy made from yams to roast boar.
Although Bantianyan is quite a popular place, especially on weekends, visitors with their own set of wheels can follow the beautiful route 159 further up into the mountains, where visitors are rare. This is one way (although rarely used) to reach Alishan by road. After running about thirty kilometers and negotiating through some spectacular scenery, it joins the much wider, faster Alishan Highway (Provincial Highway 18).
The cool, unspoilt pine-covered mountains of Alishan are understandably the most popular destination in the Chiayi area, but there's much to see on the way. If time permits, get off the train to Alishan at Fencihu , roughly the half-way point of the line (or take a bus from Chiayi). With a whole network of new trails recently opened, and a long list of fine homestays to chose from, Fencihu is a grand place to wind down for a couple of days. The surrounding countryside is interesting too, with caves, fine viewpoints, and a rare species of bamboo with square stems! Nearby Rueili is another popular mountain town, and an especially interesting destination for hikers. Well-maintained trails pass several fine waterfalls, rock formations, and an impressive gorge.
To get a little off the beaten track, try branching off the Alishan Highway ten kilometers out of Chiayi onto Provincial Highway 3, heading south. Within an hour or so, the road reaches Zengwun Reservoir , the largest lake in southern Taiwan (and one of the most scenic). This area is prime hiking country, with many scenic waterfalls, and the nearby village of Chashan ( 'tea mountain') is, unusually, home to members of both the Tsou and Bunun indigenous tribes, who operate homestays and organize various outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking for their visitors. While in town, check out the unusual Fire and Water Spring in the wooded hills just outside. Natural gas percolates naturally through cracks in the ground here, where it can be ignited with a match. Back near the reservoir, Chiayi Farm is one of the best places in the area to kick back and relax in inspiring surroundings.
Chiayi County is probably best known for its marvelous mountain scenery, but there's a lot to enjoy in the coastal lowlands as well.
Directly west of the county capital, and served by a regular bus service, the town of Budai sits on the coast, famous locally for two things: fish and salt. If you prefer oysters or other fruits of the sea to Chiayi City's delicious turkey, head straight to the tourist fish market here to feast on seafood that's as fresh as any in Taiwan. Budai is a town surrounded by water: the sea lies to the west, while countless artificial pools lie sprawled across the flat coastal plain around the village. Many are used for raising fish, while piles of a snow-white substance stacked beside others are proof of Budai's second main industry: salt extraction. Salt production is largely mechanized now, but workers can still sometimes be seen tending the salt-evaporation ponds, especially during the spring, when the sun is hot and rain rare.
Budai lies within the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area, established in late 2003, and just south of town lies Haomeiliao Nature Reserve , a huge area of sandbars, lagoons, mangrove swamp, and coastal forest. This area is a good place for watching marine birds and other animals, and if you have come this far you might also make a short trip further south to Cigu Wetlands , a favorite wintering spot of the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill .
If history and culture are more your thing, the Chiayi area boasts several of Taiwan's most important temples. Chaotian Temple in the town of Beigang , a 45-minute bus ride to the northwest of Chiayi City, is Taiwan's largest temple dedicated to Mazu, goddess of seafarers and fishermen. Established in 1694, the temple was also (until 1987) the goal of one of Taiwan's most amazing annual traditions. Around the 23rd day of the third lunar month each year (April 28th in 2008) a team of pilgrims carried a sacred Mazu icon from her permanent home in Jhenlan Temple in the town of Dajia ( near Taichung) to this temple to be blessed, and then carried her back again. The procession lasted eight days, during which the pilgrims covered a distance of nearly 300 kilometers. Nowadays the icon is carried to Fongtian Temple in the nearby town of Singang , which is also well worth seeing.
Chiayi County is one of Taiwan's most varied and fascinating counties, and it's well worth allowing time to see a few of its many attractions. Using Chiayi City as a base, a surprisingly comprehensive network plied by comfortable, modern buses gives easy access to most of the county's main tourist areas (and there are even several daily runs to some surprisingly remote places). Furthermore, an ever-increasing range of homestay accommodation (including many run by aboriginal families) makes a friendly alternative to the hotels found in the more developed tourist destinations.
Taking the new high-speed rail taichung in central taiwan is just an hour away from either taipei or kaohsiung, and there are many reasons to pay the city and its surrounding countryside a visit.
Lying near the western foot of the Central Mountain Range , about half-way between Taipei and Kaohsiung, Taichung , with a population of just over one million, is Taiwan's third city, and one of the island's most pleasant, thanks to a sunny climate, friendly, relaxed locals, and well-laid-out city center.
NOW JUST 45 MINUTES FROM TAIPEI, thanks to the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR), Taichung is a good base for exploration of many of central Taiwan's cultural and natural attractions, such as the old town of Lugang , Sun Moon Lake , and the forest parks of Sitou and Shanlinsi . The THSR station is at suburban Wurih, a streamlined, gleaming-white structure intended to resemble a wool shuttle, a reference to the train speeding along the tracks at great speed like a shuttle through a weaving loom. The station is at the center of a new and expanding commercial area a short trip to the south of the city center, and the area around the station is presently being developed, to provide new business opportunities for enterprises and investors; facilities will include an on-site shopping center and hotel.
Arriving at the station, at present the easiest way to get into the center of Taichung and to the bus and city-center train station is to take a taxi or bus run by Fast-Link (07-412-8168, www.fast-link.com.tw). Alternatively, a car-rental service is provided by Car-Plus (0800-222-568, www.car-plus.com.tw) or Easy-Rent (0800-024-550, www.easyrent.com.tw). There is ample vehicle parking at the station; cars picking up passengers are allowed to park for up to 30 minutes free of charge. Work is under way at the moment on an MRT ("Mass Rapid Transit") line which upon completion will make the trip into town even quicker.
With so much to see within an hour's drive or two from Taichung City, the temptation is to head out of town immediately; yet with a couple of excellent museums, a fine temple, and plenty of good food, Taichung deserves a day to itself. Start your exploration of the city with a look at the Confucius Temple , the most handsome of Taichung's many places of worship; its spacious grounds are a great place to escape the buzz of the city for awhile. Close by, Baojue Temple is very popular with photographers for the enormous sitting Maitreya Bodhisattva statue that stands on the grounds. Allow the best part of the day to explore a couple of Taichung's very fine museums, especially the National Museum of Natural History, which is one of the best on the island, featuring fascinating dioramas and exhibits covering all aspects of evolution and the natural world, and a tropical rainforest enclosed in a greenhouse.
To round out your exploration of the city, pay a visit to one of its night-markets to try a few traditional snacks, or to "Lakeside Tea and Shopping Street" , a pedestrian precinct near Fongle Sculpture Park in the southwest of the city, lined with fine restaurants.
Take note: many close on Mondays.
Taichung is the most convenient base for one of Taiwan's best-known and most beautiful scenic areas, Sun Moon Lake , which is about 90 minutes away by car or regular bus service. Just to the southwest of Sun Moon Lake is the town of Shueili, famous for its pottery production and its unique Snake Kiln, so-named after the long, narrow shape of the original kiln. This is a fine place to see a traditional craft technique that has all but died out in most other parts of the island. Below Shueili, a mountain road twists its way further south through vast tracts of bamboo grove to Sitou , part of a huge forest reserve owned by National Taiwan University. The cool, misty climate, never-ending groves of arching bamboo, and comfortable accommodation have long made Sitou a favorite spot for honeymooning couples, and in fact all fellow Taiwanese, who come to experience the great beauty of this archetypal Chinese landscape. For natural beauty of a more dramatic kind, follow the road on up past Sitou for another twenty kilometers to Shanlinsi, another forest reserve set in a deep gorge, with three thundering waterfalls. Several daily buses from Taichung run to Shanlinsi, passing through Sitou en route; there are also buses from Shueili.
During the winter months, a more popular trip into the mountains from Taichung is to the hot-spring resort of Guguan, on the Central Cross-Island Highway about 50 kilometers east of the city. Guguan has been famous since the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945) for its hot springs, and achieved particular notoriety after, so the legend goes, the Emperor Meiji was granted a son following a bath in the springs, which are still sometimes called the "male child springs." The clear, odorless, slightly acidic water is also suitable for drinking. Guguan was severely damaged by the great earthquake of 1999, and then suffered further in floods caused by Typhoon Toraji two years later, but the town's hot-spring hotels have since been rebuilt to new standards of comfort and style and are open for business once more.
Just to the south of taichung lies the oft-forgotten county of Changhua . The smallest of Taiwan's counties, Changhua does however have several very fine tourist draws, all a convenient day-trip from Taichung by bus or car. Looming above the eponymous county town, Baguashan is a low, independent ridge of hills commanding very fine views over the city and out to sea, and was once site of an important military post and scene of the largest battle during the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1895. Today it's best known for the enormous (22 meter) black sitting-Buddha statue, at the northern end of the range, looking out over the city, and for its comprehensive network of cycle paths. The entire range is now protected as part of the Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area . Fifteen kilometers west of Baguashan, down on the coast, is Lugang, one of Taiwan's oldest ports, which has preserved a number of beautiful old alleyways such as the Nine-Turns Lane, plus two very old and very beautiful temples.
Less than an hour from either Taipei or Kaohsiung by the Taiwan High Speed Railway, sunny Taichung is one of the most attractive cities in Taiwan, and is certainly well situated for excursions to some of the island's most beautiful and most historic sites. It's also a city where you can almost guarantee comfortable weather throughout the year, and with a wide range of nearby attractions, from hot springs to cool bamboo forests and from shady bike paths through the forest to steep hiking trails up to plunging waterfalls, Taichung really is a city for four seasons.
Taichung City Government website: http://english.tccg.gov.tw/
THSR website: www.thsrc.com.tw/en/
Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area: www.trimt-nsa.gov.tw/eng/main.aspx