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[Small Town Charms] The Taiwan Small Town Ramble

Date:2019-06-17 Number of Visitors:2436

Small and “Slow” Towns in Taoyuan and Hsinchu

TEXT / RICK CHARETTE
PHOTOS / VISION

Come with us for a little quality time in selected Taiwan Small Town Ramble tourist-popular destinations in the island’s northwest.
 Daxi Old Street

For the foreigner looking in at Taiwan with the thought of travel here, the general impression is quite likely of busy cities and a coterie of iconic natural attractions of international repute such as the deep, marble-veined Taroko Gorge and the high-mountain, mist-streaked Alishan National Scenic Area. Yet for travelers who have spent significant time in Taiwan, and expatriates who have lived here for awhile, something additional is seen. These individuals also come to see this as a land of eclectic small towns, not of cities. And as with locals, a cherished weekend/holiday pursuit is a quick getaway to a town of unique personality, with destinations selected much as you decide on a tasty dish from a restaurant menu.
The Taiwan Tourism Bureau is happily lauding this magical small-town world with a full-year tourism-promotion celebration dubbed the 2019 Taiwan Small Town Ramble (feversocial.com/2019town/Home-6459; Chinese). The goal is the creation of a clear “local town” tourism brand for Taiwan by showcasing the rich and diverse cultural landscapes, ecological landscapes, and recreational resources of specially-selected towns. These include “classic towns of various counties and cities in Taiwan, as well as theme towns recommended by various ministries in Taiwan, such as Hakka towns, indigenous tribal villages, and towns certified as slow-paced cities by Cittaslow International.” Significant weighting in the destination selection was given to online public polling.
Through the coming pages we catwalk three destinations picked from the Taoyuan/Hsinchu region in Taiwan’s hilly northwest. Note that the definition of “town” is expansive. Some are administratively independent towns, some are former towns now absorbed as districts in cities, and some are neighborhoods or “old streets” long part of a larger town or city district.

Daxi, Taoyuan City

Old Riverside Trading Town, a Generalissimo’s Resting Place, Tea Factory, and Mountain-Backed Reservoir Recreation

  • Daxi Old Street

    Daxi Old Street

  • Cihu Sculpture Memorial Park

    Cihu Sculpture Memorial Park

Daxi is a rural town within sprawling Taoyuan City, incorporated when the city absorbed Taoyuan County in 2014. Together with the surrounding Daxi Township, it is today part of what is officially called the Daxi District.
The town arose as a riverport centuries ago, its goods reaching markets as far away as mainland China. Its original main street, Daxi Old Street (Heping Street), is located on a plateau overlooking the Dahan River. During the 1895~1945 Japanese colonial era, following the example of Japanese trading merchants, the shophouses lining this street were beautified with intricate façades in neo-Baroque style, with traditional south Fujianese decorative elements added. Look for the auspicious carvings of birds, bats, etc. Many of the buildings have been restored to their original glory, and today many house tourist-oriented enterprises, notably eateries. Daxi is renowned for its specialty dried beancurd, called “black dried beancurd,” which is firmer than the regular variety.
Among the various Daxi attractions outside the town is Cihu, site of the Cihu Mausoleum and Cihu Sculpture Memorial Park. This is where Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek lays at rest. The area, like numerous others around Taiwan, reminded him of his hilly hometown area in mainland China, and here as elsewhere he appropriated land and built a villa, said villa now his mausoleum. A key Cihu tourist draw is the changing-of-the-guard ceremony carried out at regular intervals each day. In the streamside park visitors stroll amongst hundreds of busts and full-sized statues of Chiang Kai-shek (and a few of Dr. Sun Yat-sen) that once adorned public sites all around Taiwan.

  • Shimen Reservoir

    Shimen Reservoir

  • Daxi Tea Factory

    Daxi Tea Factory

The Daxi Tea Factory (www.daxitea.com), a calm tea-plantation oasis encompassing an attractive retail/production center surrounded by neat lines of hillside tea bushes, was established in 1926. The original complex of buildings was largely devastated by fire in 1956, but in a fortuitous turn of events Chiang Ka-shek soon thereafter passed by on his way to another of his villa complexes and decided to issue a decree ordering its rebuilding. Visitors will especially enjoy the award-winning restoration of an original 1925 warehouse, in which the tea factory’s museum is located, original machinery and other equipment is on display, and visitors are taught all about tea cultivation and processing.
The Shimen Reservoir is on the Dahan River’s upper reaches a few kilometers above Daxi town. The Dahan is the main source of the Tamsui River, which flows north past Taipei and out to sea. The reservoir lies behind a tall dam – the Shimen (“Stone Gate”) Dam, completed in 1964 with American aid – built at the mouth of a long, narrow gorge that is now mostly water-filled. The area is rugged and dramatically scenic. Visitors come to the dam area for lake cruises, eco-tours (with Chinese-language guide) that launch from the visitor center, walks along the reservoir, hikes in the nearby mountains, bicycling (rentals available), and meals at waterside eateries featuring reservoir fish cooked in multiple ways, notably the large deep-water carp. In spring, peach blossoms, cherry blossoms, and azaleas compete in a florid beauty contest, and in autumn maples planted to prevent erosion turn golden.

Guanxi, Hsinchu County

Hakka Traditions and Family-Friendly Theme Parks

  • Guanxi Old Street

    Guanxi Old Street

  • Dong'an Bridge

    Dong'an Bridge

Guanxi is a Hakka town in the hills east of coastal Hsinchu City. The Hakka, a Han Chinese subgroup, constitute between 15 and 20 percent of Taiwan’s population. The cultural epicenter of this slow-moving, time-resistant town is Guanxi Old Street (Zhongzheng Road). This short, narrow artery is densely packed with heritage buildings, most with a walk-in commercial enterprise at street level, many targeted at the tourist trade. In recent years the old-time businesses have been joined by an energetic group of cultural-creative ventures run by younger folk.
The north section is home to many two-floor edifices with façades done in the neo-Baroque style, a practice imported by the Japanese when they ruled Taiwan. A unique feature is the artwork-adorned porcelain tiles embedded in a number of the façades, identifying each as a business or residence erected by Hakka of means. Most of the vibrant cultural-creative attractions are located on the southern section of the street, which is defined by heritage single-story Chinese-style shophouses (with a shop in front and family quarters in the back).
Two special recommendations are Dream Theatre 52, a self-described “theatre café” with a café, art gallery, and performance space (piano recitals, Chinese opera and puppetry shows, and more), and Shidianzi Ye Tea 49, where the bohemian artist-owner sells self-grown/processed organic teas and self-crafted ceramic works.
The wonderfully photo-friendly Dong’an Bridge spans the small river that wends through the town’s east side. The stone-arch architectural beauty was erected by the Japanese in 1933, replacing a wood bridge torn down just six years after birth due to severe weakening by Taiwan’s typhoons, earthquakes, and powerful humidity. The indomitable new stone bridge greatly expedited the hauling of timber and other resources out of the mountains to the east. The bridge is the visual core of peaceful Niulanhe Riverside Park, through which a steady stream of exercisers, picnicking families, and photo buffs courses. Area historical photographs are prominently displayed along the park’s walls.
Say “I’m off to Guanxi today” and many Taiwan locals will think not of the town but of the Leofoo Village and/or Window On China theme parks, located close by and close together in Guanxi Township. Leofoo Village is Taiwan’s largest theme park. Sprawled over 100-plus hectares, its attractions include a waterpark, an amusement park with more than 60 rides that is divided into different themed areas (Wild West, South Pacific, Arabian Kingdom, African Safari), a safari area, and a safari-themed luxury resort.
Window On China is Taiwan’s oldest theme park. As you walk the grounds you walk by its signature draw, hundreds of well-wrought large-scale miniatures of scenic landmarks from around Taiwan, mainland China, and the wide world beyond, including Taiwan’s Alishan Forest Railway, Beijing’s Forbidden City, the Acropolis, and Mount Rushmore. Kids also love the youngster-oriented rides, waterpark, games, and live entertainment.

Old Hsinchu City

A Central Park, Temple, Moat, and Market Dating to Imperial Days

  • Hsinchu Moat

    Hsinchu Moat

  • Hsinchu City God Temple

    Hsinchu City God Temple

The old city of Hsinchu is on the northwest coast by the Taiwan Strait. In days gone by, this was a “walled” city. The city’s Chinese characters translate as “new bamboo,” perhaps a reference to an early perimeter wall built with bamboo. This wall and a subsequent stone version stand no more, but the old walled-city core is filled with historical character, and many Qing Dynasty and Japanese-era architectural works remain from Taiwan.
The 18ha Hsinchu Park, opened in the early 1900s, is a short walk from Hsinchu’s main railway station. Its landscaped grounds are a congenial city-center oasis of pine and cypress trees and classical Chinese-style flourishes such as pond-side pavilions. Its main attractions, however, are the Hsinchu Zoo and the Glass Museum of Hsinchu City. Glass production was long a key Hsinchu industry. The highlight exhibit in the museum building, built in 1936 and once a military police station, is the Jail of Glass, with glass walls and bars and even a glass toilet.
The visually cacophonous Hsinchu City God Temple is the old core’s social and religious heart. Founded in 1748, it has been rebuilt on a grander scale many times, the last in 1924. Each urban area in old China had a City God temple. Like an old-time mandarin official, the god watches over and records human activity in his mortal realm, ending with judgment and proclamation on each resident’s afterlife fate upon death. The steady stream of locals and tourists is thickened by the equally renowned, dense thicket of food stalls and eateries around the temple. Signature Hsinchu treats are stir-fried rice noodles and pork meatballs in soup.
The Hsinchu Moat is a 600-meter-long preserved section of the moat constructed around the walled city in the 1830s. This long strip did double-duty, as it was also used as part of a transportation canal. Today transformed into a landscaped stream, it is lined with wide swathes of greenery along both sides, collectively forming a flower-festooned riverside park. Restaurants and cafés line the outside of both sides.
The renovated Dongmen (“East Gate”) Market is named for the landmark East Gate, erected in 1829 and the sole remnant of the old city-wall perimeter. Once Taiwan’s largest market, the city government is now working with private enterprises to make this a market-cum-youth hub. The Youth Base was opened on the third floor last year, enticing visitors with metalcraft works, regeneration-art creations, indigo-dye operations, music, dance, and other forms of cultural-creative expression.

More Information

For more information on the places presented above, including transportation and other practical information, there’s no better “home base” start-point than the Taiwan Tourism Bureau website, at taiwan.net.tw (Attractions section).

English and Chinese

black dried beancurd 烏(黑)豆干
Cihu 慈湖
Cihu Mausoleum 慈湖陵寢
Cihu Memorial Sculpture Park 慈湖紀念雕塑公園
Dajia River大甲溪
Daxi 大溪
Daxi Old Street 大溪老街
Daxi Tea Factory 大溪茶廠
Dong’an Bridge 東安古橋
Dongmen Market 東門市場
Glass Museum of Hsinchu City 新竹市玻璃工藝博物館
Guanxi 關西
Guanxi Old Street 關西老街
Hsinchu City God Temple 新竹城隍廟
Hsinchu Park 新竹公園
Hsinchu Moat 護城河
Leofoo Village 六福村
Niulanhe Riverside Park 牛欄河親水公園
Shidianzi Ye Tea 49 石店子冶茶49
Shimen Reservoir石門水庫
Window On China 小人國

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    Last update time: 2019-06-17
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