The southwestern coastal region of Taiwan 台灣 is salt country. From Bùdài 布袋 in Chiayi 嘉義 down through Běimén 北門, Jiāngjūn 將軍, and Qīgǔ 七股 in Tainan 台南, an incredible expanse of manmade salt evaporation ponds sprawl across a completely flat and almost featureless landscape, much of it reclaimed from the briny lagoons that line the coast. Salt has been produced here for more than three centuries by controlling the flow of seawater with artificial enclosures and letting the strong tropical sun do the rest. Taiwan’s accession to the WTO in 2002 doomed the industry and all remaining salterns (or salt fields, if you like) were decommissioned that same year. This led to the abandonment of the unique Qingkunshen Fan-Shaped Saltern 青鯤鯓扇形鹽田, now a surreal reminder of the history of salt production in southern Taiwan 台灣.
The western coastline of Tainan 台南 is a desolate place, a manufactured landscape of salt pans and aquaculture ponds stretching as far as the eye can see. It is not conventionally beautiful by any means—but there is something about it that speaks to me on a level beyond language and conscious thought.
I took my first spin through the area while on my round-the-island bicycle tour. It was far too hot to stay and explore—but I vowed to return one day. About a month ago an opportunity arose to undertake a road trip from Tainan 台南, where I was living at the time, up to central Taiwan.
Along the way I stopped to explore the Qingkunshen Fan-Shaped Salt Flats 青鯤鯓扇形鹽田 (pinyin: Qīngkūnshen Shànxíng Yántián) in Jiāngjūn 將軍, a minor attraction that I had previously seen from a distance. Up close the fan-like structure was revealed to be a series of rings connected by crumbling concrete channels like the one pictured above. There wasn’t much to see, as it turns out, but the feeling of being so remote from the rest of civilization in both time and space made the detour worthwhile.
Day seven of my bicycle trip around Taiwan began with deep disappointment and ended in delight. I woke up in my hotel room on the main road leading into Bùdài 布袋 without a working smartphone. I tried to boot up but it was caught in a loop, resetting itself over and over again. Without a clock in the room I had no idea what time it was but figured there was no rush. There were at least three ferries plying the route to Penghu. Surely one of those ferries would sail in the afternoon.