The Heart of Taiwan

Touring the Natural and Cultural Charms of Nantou County by Bus

Text / Cheryl Robbins
Photos / Nantou County Government, Tourism Bureau
pic

Nantou is often called Taiwan's most beautiful county, and deservedly so. It is blessed with rolling hills, majestic mountains, raging rivers, crystal-clear springs, and a tranquil tourist-resort lake. Although the devastating earthquake of September 21, 1999 has left some scars, Nantou County has rebuilt itself better than ever, and is attracting increasing numbers of tourists.

A variety of bus companies offer access to the most popular destinations, including Jiji, Shueili, Sun Moon Lake , Puli, Cingjing Farm, and Lushan Hot Springs.

pic

Jiji is best reached from the central Taiwan city of Taichung , via the All-Da Bus Co.'s Taichung-to-Shueili service, which runs about every 15 minutes and takes about two hours. There are stops in Jiji's town center and along the Green Tunnel" , a quiet, tree-lined road that connects Jiji with Mingjian. Getting around Jiji is easy as there are a large number of shops that rent bicycles.

Nantou County was once a major ceramics-producing center, a source of products such as roof tiles and large ceramic vessels for aging liquor. Along the Green Tunnel are a number of kilns, which now produce handmade mugs and decorative items and offer the opportunity to create your own ceramic artwork. Other attractions include the Jhenguo Buddhist Monastery, the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute's exhibition center, and the Wuchang Temple, which completely collapsed during the 921 Earthquake and has been left in ruins to serve as a memorial.

All Aboard

pic

However, the number one activity among tourists is a ride along the Jiji Branch Railway Line. After the 1999 earthquake the Jiji Railway Station was reconstructed, still maintaining its long-enjoyed allure as one of the few remaining wooden train stations from the Japanese colonial era (1895-1945), originally built in 1921.

The railway line was established to transport sugar and timber. It is now strictly devoted to tourism. Although it begins in Ershuei, a stop on the north-south trunk line, most riders get on at Jiji for the 15-minute ride to the terminal station, Checheng.

Checheng was once a flourishing logging town, and much physical evidence of that history has been preserved, such as the remains of its original timber mill and a picturesque pond that was used to store logs, all located a short walk from the landscaped park-like setting of the Checheng Railway Station.

Reliving Nantou's Ceramics History

pic

Another popular station to get off when taking the Jiji line is Shueili. In 1927 Shueili's now famous landmark, Snake Kiln, was opened. It has in more recent times been transformed into a ceramics cultural park that includes an exhibition area centered around the original kiln, early and contemporary works produced there, and pottery classrooms. The name of this kiln comes from the long tube-like shape of its brick furnace, now rarely fired up, which follows the undulations of the hillside.

Where Sun and Moon Meet the Water

From the Snake Kiln take a Green Transit bus to Sun Moon Lake. Yuanlin Bus Co. also runs buses between Shueili and Sun Moon Lake.

pic

Sun Moon Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Taiwan, divided into two sections, one roughly circular and the other somewhat crescent-shaped; hence the name of the lake. Getting around is not difficult, as near the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration facilities there are shops that rent bicycles and motor scooters, and on weekends Nantou Bus Co. runs shuttle services around the lake. Or, for an even closer look, take a yacht cruise from Shueishe Pier, which usually lasts about one-and-a-half hours with a stop at Sun Moon Village (also called Dehua Village), mostly inhabited by aborigines of the Thao tribe, and flyby around Lalu Island, located in the lake's center.

Other attractions in the area include the Cien Pagoda, from the top of which you have excellent panoramic views. This pagoda was built in 1971 by late President Chiang Kai-shek in memory of his mother. The Syuanguang and Syuanzang temples are serene spaces, which also offer excellent views of the lake. The latter houses relics of a high-ranking monk named Syuanzang, who lived during the Tang Dynasty (618AD - 907AD).

pic

From Sun Moon Lake it is a short Nantou Bus Co. bus ride to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, which is a combination of amusement park and outdoor museum. At the entrance is a European-style garden and chateau; beyond are rides, from carousels for families to exciting roller-coasters. Walk or take the sky tram or shuttle bus to the area featuring replicas of traditional dwellings of nine of Taiwan's 12 officially recognized indigenous tribes.

There is a lot to see and do around Sun Moon Lake, so it is best if you can spend at least one night here. There are plenty of options, from the hostel-esque Youth Activity Center to mid-range hotels to the five-star The Lalu , with its gourmet restaurants, lakeside teahouse, and spa.

Welcome to the Heart of Taiwan

Nantou Bus Co. also offers a service between Sun Moon Lake and Puli. Puli lies at the heart of Taiwan, meaning just off its geographic center. During the Japanese colonial era, the excellent quality of Puli's spring water and its suitability for making paper was discovered. Visitors can tour the Guangsing Paper Factory to observe how handmade paper is made.

Puli's spring water is well suited to the making of wines and spirits, and thus the Puli Winery was established to produce Shaohsing wine, a smoky brew made from rice, which visitors are welcome to sample. This is also the location of the Wine Culture Museum , the first museum in Taiwan devoted to wine culture and history.

Taiwan's Pastoral Landscape

pic

From Puli it is a 70-minute ride on a Nantou Bus Co. bus to Cingjing Farm, which covers more than 700 hectares and features rolling meadows dotted with docile sheep and cows, rows of tea bushes, and fruit orchards. Six walking trails have been designed to take visitors to different parts of the farm, with each trail requiring between 40 and 60 minutes to complete. Other favorite activities include sampling the local produce and grass skiing.

The farm is located at an elevation of 1,700 meters, framed by the peaks of Mt. Hehuan in the distance. If you have your own transportation this mountain can be reached by driving further east along the same highway. Mt. Hehuan receives crowds of spectators in the winter whenever there is the promise of snow. But, all year round it is an important and beautiful point along this branch of the Central Cross-Island Highway.

It is highly recommended that you visit Cingjing Farm during the week if you want to experience tranquil pastoral life, as huge crowds descend on it during weekends and holidays.

Hot Springs - the Ultimate Pampering Experience

From Cingjing Farm head back to Wushe and transfer to another Nantou Bus Co. bus to make the trip to Lushan Hot Springs (about 15 minutes from Wushe).

Lushan's hot springs were discovered and developed during the Japanese colonial era. The large and small resort facilities which dot the landscape offer the opportunity to soak in outdoor hot-springs pools while enjoying the beauty of the surrounding mountain vistas. Some facilities provide private bathhouses that can be rented by the hour, or you can enjoy the hot-springs water in your room if you stay overnight. The bicarbonate spring water is strongly alkaline, with properties beneficial to the alleviation of arthritis and nerve pain. Once treated it can be ingested and is said to be very helpful for neutralizing stomach acid and relieving gastritis. The natural temperature of the water reaches 78 degrees Celsius, and there are extremely hot pools set aside for boiling eggs and noodles.

Wrapping up your tour of Nantou, head back to Puli and take a Kuo Kuang bus to Taipei, a Nantou Bus Co. bus to Taichung, or an All-Da bus to Kaohsiung.

Getting There

Bus Companies
BUS COMPANYTEL NO
All-Da Bus Co.(04)2211-0001
Green Transit Co.(049)277-4609 or (02)2752-2988
Kuo Kuang Motor Transport Co.(02)2311-9893
Nantou Bus Co. (049)298-4031
Yuanlin Bus Co.(04)832-0101

If you have your own transportation and would like to follow this tour, take Freeway 3 to the Mingjian exit and connect to Provincial Highway 16 towards Jiji. After passing Mingjian take County Road 152, which takes you through the Green Tunnel and to other attractions of Jiji. From Jiji, take Provincial Highway 16 to reach Shueili and from there connect to Provincial Highway 21 to visit Sun Moon Lake and Puli. From Puli, take Provincial Highway 14 east all the way up to Lushan Hot Springs. Before you reach Lushan, you can take Provincial Highway 14A to reach Cingjing Farm and Mt. Hehuan.

pic