TAICHUNG A City for Four Seasons
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.
BY RICHARD SAUNDERS
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.