Giant Buddha, Old Temples, and Glass Art
Taking the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus to Lugang
Text by Amanda Hsiao
Photos by Sunny Su, Fred Cheng
The bigger cities of Taiwan are filled with interesting sights to see, but I was ready for an adventure of a different kind. I was heading with two friends to Lugang, an old town located in Changhua County on the western side of Taiwan near the Taiwan Strait.
I didn’t know much about Lugang before the trip, which only added to my excitement as we boarded a High Speed Rail train in Taipei. A quick one-hour ride later we arrived at Taichung’s Wuri Station. At the station’s information desk we were pointed to the bus stop of the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle’s Lugang Line (bus No. 6936; for more info on the shuttle-bus service, visit www.taiwantrip.com.tw), where our bus was already waiting (Platform 5). We paid NT$34 each for a ticket to the Giant Buddha Scenic Area stop, then sat back to enjoy the scenery as the bus headed toward the first stop of my trip. (Note: There are different payment methods for the different routes of the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle network. For some services you can purchase day tickets allowing you to hop on and off buses unlimited times. For the Lugang Route, however, you can only buy single tickets from one stop to another.)
First Stop – The Great Buddha Scenic Area
After hopping off the bus at the Great Buddha Scenic Area bus stop east of central Changhua City, we walked uphill to the scenic area. Admission is free, and upon passing through the main gate we were greeted by colorful pagodas and temples and a garden. Listening to the gentle noise made by the koi fish and the soft splash of a little waterfall, was the perfect way to relax and drift into a Zen frame of mind.
The Great Buddha, which I was soon to find out is the largest Buddha sculpture in Taiwan, sits facing two stone lions and gazing out at the panorama of the city before him. I felt incredibly tiny standing between those lions, looking up at the benevolent figure. To make my trip more interesting, my editor had given me a few special tasks to complete while visiting various places of interest. The first was to guess how many floors are inside the large statue. Sizing up the Buddha, I guessed nine, and headed inside to see how accurate my guess was.
I felt incredibly tiny standing between those lions, looking up at the benevolent figure
The main floor houses a beautifully decorated temple with a myriad of candles lit in honor of the deity. Phoenixes soar above the altar, while elephants mark the entrance to the stairs to the higher levels inside the statue. After inspecting a curious electronic fortune-telling machine that uses a system of numbered sticks, we headed upstairs, where we found there are three more accessible floors, and two that are closed to the public. So my original guess of nine floors was off by three. Each of the three public-access floors contains life-like dioramas depicting the life of the Buddha. Not knowing much about the history of Buddhism, I was grateful for the English translation provided, and lost myself in the stories.
A small photo exhibition in a building to the side of the statue was next on my list of things to see, and a helpful guide gave me an explanation of the photos that showed the Great Buddha's history, starting with its creation in the mid-1940s, down to the present. With a few minutes to spare, we popped on over to the temple to the rear of the Buddha, where tribute is paid to a different deity on each floor. Visiting the shrines dedicated to the Buddha, Confucius, and Guan Gong (the Daoist God of War), I couldn't help but feel impressed at how one building housed so many different gods from so many different faiths. This is religious tolerance at its best, and I left feeling proud of Taiwan and its attitude of acceptance.
Second Stop – Lugang Old Street
Back down the hill, we waited a short while for the next tourist-shuttle bus, and then were back on the road heading to our next stop, Lugang Old Street (bus fare: NT$87). Lugang is famous for its rich history and many surviving heritage structures. At one point in time, between the 1780s and 1840s, it had one of the busiest harbors in Taiwan. The town’s name literally means “deer harbor,” reference to the vast number of deerskins exported through it. Seeing some of the best-preserved historical buildings in Taiwan, it isn’t hard to picture what the town must have looked like back in those early times.
The second special task I had been given was to be tackled next: tasting Lugang's famous snack foods. The place we visited first was Yu Jen Jai, a pastry store that is one of the oldest in town. The outside of the shop resembles what it must have looked like back in 1877 when it opened. The inside was filled with eager customers. Caught up in the excitement, I picked up a few boxes of phoenix-eye cakes, the shop’s signature snack, winter melon cakes, green bean cakes, and kousu cookies, a flaky melt-in-your-mouth-cookie that immediately became my favorite.
My next task was to sample some foods at a number of food stands where items cost less than NT$30 per serving, so I had to put off my digging into my delicious cake and cookie treats for a while. I tried shaved ice, a traditional summer dessert, my favorite version being one with short rice noodles as topping.
Next up was a food challenge that put my horrible guessing skills to the test. I had to show how much I knew about the local traditional foods in Lugang. One of my friends blindfolded me with a scarf, then guided me to another stand a few steps away from the shaved-ice stand – to the amusement of the people nearby, I was later told. A bowl and fork were put in my hand, and my friend told me to first try the outer covering of the food presented to me. It was a chewy – or as the locals say, “QQ” – substance, which I consumed slowly, trying to place the curious taste and texture. Next came the filling, which was a bite of meat with a salty sauce. All my guesses proving inaccurate, I was finally allowed to have a look. My snack was a Taiwanese-style meatball covered in a soft, chewy shell made from rice flour and sweet-potato powder.
After this failed guessing attempt, we followed a cobbled path to a tea shop that serves up a traditional specialty drink. I thought it was delicious, and learned that it was flour tea (miancha), a specialty drink of the area, served cold in the summer and hot in the winter. The tea tasted even better with the snacks I had bought earlier. Next time I visit the tea shop in summer, however, I think I'll have to give the flour tea with ice cream a try!
Our next destination was famed Longshan Temple, one of the oldest temples in Taiwan. With helpful guidance from the locals, we arrived at the temple in only a few minutes. My next special task was to answer the question: How old is Longshan Temple? My guess was far off yet again, and I was surprised to realize it has been here for more than 230 years (an original, smaller structure was moved here from another Lugang location in 1786, and the complex thereafter expanded). I strolled around the temple, peering up at the old wooden beams of the roof, marveling at the fact that it was put together without using a single nail. Farther into the complex I came across a group of priests chanting, accompanied by the gong of cymbals, as a worship ceremony started. Too soon it was time to head out, however, to my next and last stop.
Last Stop – Taiwan Glass Gallery
We took the bus (NT$28) into the wide open spaces surrounding Lugang, where we visited the Taiwan Glass Gallery. Once a factory, this is now a venue for glass-art exhibitions and glass-making activities. There are a variety of stalls, selling everything from souvenirs to little figurines of blown glass. Surrounded by the stalls is a demonstration area where visitors learn how glass is made, and there is a DIY area for children interested in taking home their own glass figurines.
Not to be missed is the gallery’s Golden Tunnel. After taking off our shoes and donning a pair of gloves (so we could clean the mirrors, the attendant teased), we entered a hall of mirrors filled with gold- and blue-colored lights. I quickly understood the importance of the gloves as I felt my way through, marveling at the way the lights turned a tunnel into a forest of pathways. I even jumped a time or two when my own image seemed to pop out at me, or the floor appeared to disappear into an abyss. Leaving the tunnel was almost like returning to the real world after a trip through a fairyland – but there were still other wonders yet to see.
Husheng Temple was built to honor Mazu, Goddess of the Sea. It was made using 70,000 pieces of glass, and is a sight to behold
Next to the factory is Husheng Temple, the only glass temple in Taiwan, built to honor Mazu, Goddess of the Sea. It was made using 70,000 pieces of glass, and is a sight to behold, whether you are viewing it in all its shining glory during the day, or when lit up by its many colorful lights and lanterns at night. Gods, goddesses, and animal guardians made of glass protect the entranceway. Inside, a large dragon curves along the walls, and because of the large windows of glass you can't help but feel as if it is soaring above you and the pond you come to in the center of the temple. In the back is a statue of Mazu; she looks over her domain, standing in front of a 4,500 piece layered-glass sculpture of Mt. Jade, Taiwan’s highest peak.
After lingering awhile, losing track of time while taking in the many carvings and statues that filled the temple, it was time to board the bus and head back to the THSR Station (NT$130). As the bus passed by a number of other factories-cum-museums, as well as the places we had visited earlier, I couldn't wait for the chance to come back, this time with my family, to show them the compelling attractions of Changhua and Lugang.
English & Chinese
Great Buddha Scenic Area 大佛風景區
Golden Tunnel 黃金隧道
Guan Gong 關公
Husheng Temple 護聖宮
kousu cookies 口酥餅
Longshan Temple 龍山寺
Lugang (Old Street) 鹿港(老街)
phoenix-eye cakes 鳳眼糕
Mt. Jade 玉山
Yu Jen Jai (玉珍齋)
Add: 186 Minzu Rd., Lugang Township, Changhua County (彰化縣鹿港鎮民族路168號)
Tel: (04) 2238-5356
Website: www.lukang.org (Chinese)
Taiwan Glass Gallery (台灣玻璃館)
Add: 30 Lugong S. 4th Rd., Lugang Township, Changhua County (彰化縣鹿港鎮鹿工南四路30號)
Tel: (04) 781-1299
Website: www.timingjump.com.tw (Chinese)