In May 2018 I embarked on a multi-day bicycle trip along the majestic Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Taitung City 台東市. Although I had previously cycled parts of this valley during my full tour of the island in 2013 I did so without really knowing what was there—and after five years I amassed quite a collection of notes about places I was interested in seeing up close. Several themes emerged while preparing for this trip: old standalone movie theaters, of which I had located more than a dozen; derelict railway infrastructure including stations, military checkpoints, and abandoned lines; and relics of the Japanese colonial era, particularly former Shinto shrines. This post documents my first day of riding, which only began in the late afternoon after arriving by rail at Hualien Station. I had shipped my bike ahead so all I had to do was pick it up from the baggage room, throw the panniers on, and start riding.
Field notes and photographs from a week of cycling from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Taitung City 台東市 along the scenic Huādōng Valley 花東縱谷 of eastern Taiwan in the spring of 2018. Several themes emerged while writing about this trip: old standalone movie theaters, of which I visited nearly 20; derelict railway infrastructure including stations, military checkpoints, and abandoned lines; relics of the Japanese colonial era, particularly former Shinto shrines; and Indigenous Taiwanese culture. This series is now complete, totaling approximately 26,000 words and 280 pictures.
Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Hualien City to Fenglin
My second day of riding Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 was not everything I hoped it would be. I didn’t manage a proper night’s rest due to a malfunctioning air condition and woke up feeling weak and dehydrated. With temperatures hitting 35°C on the road, and with fewer convenience store stops along the way, it turned out to be the most difficult day of riding on this particular trip back in May 2018. I originally planned to detour into the mountains to visit the village of Tongmen 銅門 and cruise around Carp Lake 鯉魚潭 on my way south. Instead I elected to head straight down Provincial Highway 9 through Ji’an 吉安 and Shoufeng 壽豐 into Fenglin 鳳林 to make up for lost time. Although I didn’t see nearly as much as planned I am glad to have an excuse to return to this part of Taiwan.
Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Fenglin to Yuli
Day three of cycling down the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 began with a hearty Taiwanese breakfast not far from the train station in Fenglin 鳳林, Hualien 花蓮. I was still recovering from a brush with heatstroke (a story documented in the previous entry in this series) so a traditional breakfast of danbing 蛋餅 (pan-fried egg rolls) and sweet black tea really hit the spot. A glance at the weather forecast indicated another full day of sunny skies and 35°C temperatures on the road—and even fewer opportunities for air-conditioned rest stops. I wasn’t too worried though; my loosely-planned itinerary of former Shinto shrines, industrial ruins, and other historic sites didn’t look all that challenging. Ultimately I ended up putting 60 kilometers of valley behind me, ending the day in Yuli 玉里.
Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Yuli to Guanshan
Day four of riding through the Huadong Valley of eastern Taiwan in 2018 began in Yuli 玉里, the midpoint of this bicycle trip from Hualien City 花蓮市 to Taitung City 台東市. From the weather report I knew I’d have another challenging ride ahead—yet again the mercury was due to exceed 35 degrees. Luckily I was in no great rush, as I had allocated an entire week for a trip that experienced riders could easily manage in two days. I made good use of that extra time, making numerous stops and detours to document some of the many historic and cultural sites along the way, many of them quite obscure. I ended the day in Guanshan 關山, slightly more than 40 kilometers down the valley.
Yuli Shinto Shrine 玉里神社
Yuli Shinto Shrine 玉里神社 is a Japanese colonial era historic site in Yuli 玉里, the largest town in the middle of the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of eastern Taiwan. Formally known as Yuli Shrine 玉里社 (Tamasato-sha in the original Japanese), it was constructed in 1928, the third year of the Showa era. The vast majority of Taiwan’s several hundred Shinto shrines were destroyed in the decades following the Japanese withdrawal—but enough of this shrine remained to justify its official designation as a cultural asset in 2008. Since then some effort has been undertaken to restore the site, which occupies a hilltop at the western edge of town, and it now ranks among the most well-preserved in the remote eastern part of the country.
Chishang Wuzhou Theater 池上五洲戲院
Wuzhou Theater 五洲戲院 is the last remnant of cinema in Chishang 池上, Taitung 台東, a picturesque town located in the fertile Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan. Built in 1965 in the midst of the Taiwan Economic Miracle, it remained in business until 1982. After the final screening the theater was neglected for decades, falling into disrepair but remaining more or less intact until recently. More recently Chishang emerged as a tourist destination, spurning a local community development association to invest in revitalizing the theater in 2013.
Huadong Valley Ride 2018: Guanshan to Taitung City
My fifth day of riding the Huadong Valley in 2018 began in Guanshan 關山 and ended in Taitung City 台東市, approximately 45 kilometers further south. Although there were several uphill segments this was one of the least demanding rides of the entire trip, partly because I had a good night’s rest, but also due to some cloud cover moderating the influence of the tropical sun. After rising I cycled over to Little Star Breakfast shop 小星星早餐店 to try their fluffy handmade danbing 蛋餅 (a crepe-like egg roll with various fillings). Feeling recharged, I set out to catalog more of eastern Taiwan’s historical relics and natural wonders.
Guanshan Zhonghua Theater 中華大戲院
Zhonghua Theater 中華大戲院 is an impressive KMT authoritarian era ruin in Guanshan 關山, a small town of approximately 8,800 in the idyllic Huadong Valley 花東縱谷 of Taiwan. With seating for 1,200 patrons it was the largest theater in Taitung 台東 when it opened in 1965, and it soon earned the title “northern tyrant” (beibatian 北霸天) for dominating the cinema industry at this end of the county. What explains the existence of such a huge theater in this remote, sparsely populated place? As with the more modest and folksy Wuzhou Theater 五洲戲院 in neighbouring Chishang 池上, an examination of regional socioeconomic history provides answers.
Jinxing Theater 金星大戲院
Jinxing Theater 金星大戲院 is located in the small town of Zhiben 知本 on the southern outskirts of Taitung City 台東市, Taitung 台東, in southeastern Taiwan. Zhiben is home to the Katipul group 卡地布部落 of the Puyuma people 卑南族, one of Taiwan’s recognized Indigenous groups, but this theater was constructed in 1967 to cater to the many KMT veterans who settled here after the completion of the Central Cross-Island Highway 中部橫貫公路. Named after Venus (literally “Golden Star” in Chinese), it went out of business shortly after it was sold to a lumber company in 1980 and has been abandoned ever since.
Dongxing Theater 東興大戲院
Dongxing Theater 東興大戲院 is located in a small village in the outskirts of Taitung City 台東市, Taitung 台東, at the southernmost extent of the Huadong Valley 花東縱谷. Not much is known about its history beyond whatever can be deduced by visiting the site, but it was almost certainly built in the late 1960s, around the same time as Jinxing Theater 金星大戲院, located just down the street, and Zhonghua Theater in Guanshan 關山, which has almost the same design. At some point it went out of business, probably in the 1980s, and was converted into a small rural hospital, a repurposing I’ve seen nowhere else in Taiwan.