People’s Park In The Sky is a peculiar attraction located about 60 kilometers south of Manila in Tagaytay, a popular leisure destination in the province of Cavite in the Philippines. Perched on top of Mount Sungay at an elevation of 709 meters, the highest point on the northern rim of the immense Taal Caldera, it was originally planned to be a palace suitable for state visits during the kleptocratic reign of Ferdinand Marcos. Construction began in 1979 with a drastic leveling of the mountaintop, which previously reached 759 meters, but ground to a halt with increasing civic unrest and the cancellation of Ronald Reagan’s state visit in 1983. Following the People Power Revolution of 1986 the unfinished mansion was transformed into a public park and monument to the greed, corruption, and excess of the Marcos era.
Near the end of my first summer in Taiwan 台灣 I visited Bādǒuzi 八斗子, a rocky headland, coastal park, and major fishing port at the far eastern edge of Zhōngzhèng District 中正區, Keelung 基隆. I went there on impulse, not knowing what to expect, just to see what was out there. Google Maps and Taiwan’s excellent public transit system make random explorations like this almost effortless: pick a point of interest and follow the directions—the digital equivalent of throwing a dart at a map. This post features a selection of retouched photos from this expedition alongside the sort of explanatory text I wouldn’t have been able to write back in 2013. Fair warning for arachnophobes: this post contains several gratuitous photos of giant spiders and other creepy crawlies!
Quán’ān Hall 全安堂 is a century-old building on Taiwan Boulevard 臺灣大道 not far from the old train station in Taichung 台中. Built in 1909 with red brick, reinforced concrete, and a Neo-Baroque style commonly attributed to Japanese architect Tatsuno Kingo 辰野金吾 (中文), it was a pharmacy for many decades, and more recently a bakery. A few years ago it was rebranded as the Taiwan Sun Cake Museum 台灣太陽餅博物館, which now operates a gift store on the ground floor and, beneath the exposed wooden beams of the restored rooftop on the second level, a cafe, event space, and interactive museum.
Kànzǐdǐng Fish Market 崁仔頂漁市場 is supposedly the longest-running operation of its kind in northern Taiwan 台灣. Back in the Japanese colonial era the market was located along the banks of the Xùchuān River 旭川河 in Keelung 基隆, formerly a navigable channel running through the downtown core into the harbour. The Japanese built a pier in the late 1920s, making it easy for fishermen to offload their catch next to the market, and convenient access to the railway network encouraged its growth.
One of the most unique attractions in Taiwan 台灣 is the historic Changhua Roundhouse 彰化扇形車庫, originally built in 1922 during Japanese colonial rule and still in operation today. Although information is hard to come by it seems that it might be the only roundhouse still operating in Asia—and certainly one of the oldest still in regular use anywhere in the world. Every other roundhouse I researched for this article has been abandoned, demolished, repurposed, or converted into a museum, and those rare few that are still operational have been mighty hard to date. As such, the Changhua Roundhouse is a dream to visit for a railway enthusiast like myself, particularly since the ambiance hasn’t been ruined by the sort of tacky treatment you’ll often find at Taiwanese tourist attractions. After signing in with the guard at the gate I had free run of the place—and as you can see from some of the following photos, nobody minded me getting dangerously close to moving trains as the mechanics went about their daily routines.
The Shuili Snake Kiln 水里蛇窯 is a wood-fired pottery kiln on the way to the popular Sun Moon Lake 日月潭 on the outskirts of Shuǐlǐ 水里, Nántóu 南投. The name is derived from the kiln’s serpentine shape, though to my eyes it looks more like a slug than a snake. Founded in 1927 by master potter Lín Jiāngsōng 林江松, it remained a family business for generations before being opened to the public as a “ceramics park” in 1993.
The tiny mountain town of Jiǔfèn 九份 is one of Taiwan’s most iconic attractions. It prospered under Japanese colonial rule but slipped into steep decline after the closure of the nearby gold mine in the 1970s. In 1989 it was featured in A City of Sadness, the first Taiwanese film to openly address 228 Incident, which prompted a modest reversal in fortunes as it became a local tourist destination. The trickle of visitors became a flood in the 2000s with the release of Studio Ghibli’s beloved Spirited Away, an animated film featuring a supernatural town inspired by Jiufen’s unique history and appearance.
Lotus Pond 蓮池潭 is a manmade lake in Zuǒyíng 左營, Kaohsiung 高雄, widely known for its quirky assortment of pagodas, pavilions, and temples. Earlier this year I made a short stop at Lotus Pond on the way to the old walled city of Zuoying a little further south. I like exploring temples in Taiwan 台灣 but was mildly concerned Lotus Pond would be a bit too touristy for my liking. Turns out I had nothing to worry about—and my brief tour of the southwest side of the lake was memorable and fun.
I finally got around to visiting Sun Moon Lake 日月潭, the largest lake in Taiwan 台灣1 and one of its most popular tourist attractions. Previously I knew it only by reputation as a scenic spot overrun by Chinese tourists. Now having seen it first-hand I can attest to the accuracy of that description—but I’d also add flashy temples and aboriginal-themed street food to the list. I enjoyed what food and tea I sampled and didn’t mind the Monday afternoon traffic so much, though the tour buses certainly pile up on the many turns as the highway winds around the lake.
Taiwan 台灣 loves Totoro, the iconic star of Miyazaki’s animated classic My Neighbor Totoro. Known locally to Chinese speakers as Duōduōlóng 多多龍 (or 豆豆龍) and—my favourite—Lóngmāo 龍貓 (literally “dragon cat”), Totoro recently appeared on the streets of Taichung 台中 alongside Chibi and Chu Totoro, numerous makkuro kurosuke (soot sprites) and No-Face (who appeared in Spirited Away). These life-sized, fan-made sculptures have drawn so much interest that the site even appears on Google Maps as Dàlǐ Totoro Bus Stop 大里龍貓公車站.