Southern Taiwan Ride 2015: Tainan to Pingtung City

A pink sanheyuan in Alian District

Bicycle touring is one of the best ways to experience Taiwan. I don’t have an opportunity to go touring as much as I’d like but managed to find some time last year, in June of 2015, to embark upon a multi-day bicycle trip around southern Taiwan. My intention was to cover some of the same territory that I had rushed through on my first bicycle trip down south in 2013. I ended up racing a typhoon from Kenting to Taitung City 台東市 that year—so the chance to explore the backroads of Pingtung 屏東 at a more relaxed pace really appealed to me. I started my journey in Tainan 台南, my favourite city in Taiwan, and cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, putting about 70 kilometers behind me. Gathered here are some photos from the first day of this trip, continued here.

Postcards From Pingtung City 屏東市明信片

Mazu Temple in Pingtung City

One of the pleasures of bicycle touring in Taiwan is the freedom to change plans on impulse. On my second day of a trip down south in June 2015, having previously cycled across Kaohsiung from Tainan, I opted to hang out and see more of Pingtung City 屏東市. A dire weather forecast calling for bouts of torrential rain had already introduced some uncertainty, but I was also curious about this city of 200,000, about which almost nothing is written in English. Finding an interesting place to stay sealed the deal—and so I checked out of a grimy hotel near the train station after breakfast, moved my stuff to the new place, and spent the day exploring the administrative center of Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost division of Taiwan.

Southern Taiwan Ride 2015: Pingtung City to Fangliao

Crossing the Linbian River at sunset

After spending a day riding around Pingtung City I was ready to hit the road again. With no specific destination in mind—only an intention to head in the direction of Hengchun 恆春, far to the south—I checked out of the vintage homestay I lodged at the previous night, stopped at Eske Place Coffee House for a delicious and healthy vegetarian breakfast, changed into cycling wear, and exited the city to the east. I knew almost nothing about where I was headed or what I might see on the third day of my southern Taiwan ride in 2015. I only had one stop planned in advance: a hospital in Chaozhou 潮州 rumoured to be abandoned. I didn’t know it at the time but I would spend almost the entire day riding through the historic Hakka belt of Pingtung 屏東.

Chaozhou Liu House 潮州劉厝

Liu House in rural Chaozhou

I noticed this old-fashioned western-style mansion on the outskirts of Chaozhou 潮州 in Pingtung 屏東 while cycling through the deep south of Taiwan in 2015. In a sea of ugly metal shacks and bland concrete apartment blocks it is a rare pleasure to encounter a building like this one. I also enjoy the challenge of trying to learn something of the history of such places. Usually with some knowledge of the local area and the family name on the facade I can piece something together from blogs and government records—but this time I’m stumped, and I’m not the only one. Just about all that is known for certain is the name, Liu House 劉厝, which came up in some real estate records. Based on my growing familiarity with Japanese colonial era architecture I would guess this mansion dates back to the 1930s or so.

Chaozhou Jiukuaicuo Catholic Church 潮州九塊厝天主堂

Inside the abandoned church in Jiukuaicuo

While I was out riding in southern Taiwan last year I chanced upon an abandoned church by the roadside in a small village outside of Chaozhou 潮州, Pingtung 屏東. I only spent about ten minutes there and didn’t shoot many photos but have since realized that the story to tell is interesting enough to devote a full post to it. The formal name of this place is Jiukuaicuo Catholic Church 九塊厝天主堂, though this is commonly prefixed with Chaozhou to distinguish it from the many other villages with the same name in Taiwan. Details are scant but I should be able to provide a broad overview of how this church came to be here—and why it was left to the elements.

Xinpi Machine Gun Fort 新埤反空降機槍碉堡

Sunset in a Japanese fortification in Xinpi

While cycling through Xinpi 新埤, an otherwise ordinary expanse of rural Pingtung 屏東, I was surprised to see a sign indicating that there was a “fort” somewhere in the area. I cut loose from the main road I was following and went to go investigate. After following a bend in the river just outside a small settlement I found it: a Japanese anti-aircraft fortification dating back to the late 1930s or early 1940s. I haven’t found a formal name for this fortification so I’m going to call it the Xinpi Machine Gun Tower 新埤反空降機槍碉堡 until I hear of something better.

Southern Taiwan Ride 2015: Fangliao to Manzhou

Pebble beach vista in Fangshan

Last summer I embarked upon a weeklong bicycle tour in the deep south of Taiwan. I began in Tainan 台南, cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, spent a day hanging out, and then continued on to Fangliao 枋寮, where the coastal plain narrows to a thin wedge between the mountains and the sea. There is only one road leading south from here—which meant I covered a lot of ground I had already seen while riding all around Taiwan in 2013. I didn’t mind repeating that beautiful stretch of coastline and, actually, I was looking forward to checking out some places I had breezed by on that first big tour, particularly in Fangshan 枋山 and Hengchun 恆春.

Peiyuan Industrial Aquaculture Factory 培源殖產工廠

Abandoned chemistry

Bicycle touring is one means by which I discover many abandoned places in Taiwan. Ride in just about any direction long enough, keep your eyes peeled, and you’re bound to encounter the telltale signs of decay and neglect sooner or later. Such was the case one fine morning in June 2015 when I set out to have breakfast in Fangliao 枋寮, a small town along the coast of central Pingtung 屏東, while en route to Hengchun 恆春, at the southern tip of the island. I had barely been awake for half an hour when I noticed this partially overgrown ruin along the roadside.

Jiahe Railway Tunnel 嘉和遮體

A tunnel on the coastal plains of Pingtung

Here is yet another roadside curiosity in the deep south of Taiwan: a false tunnel on the coastal plains of Fangshan 枋山, Pingtung 屏東. It doesn’t cut through any mountainside nor is it built to withstand landslides. It’s just an 1,180 meter tunnel that trains pass through for no discernible reason. I first read about this on Michael Turton’s blog and later saw it on my first round-the-island bicycle tour. More recently I took a spin around the southern loop once more, and spent a little extra time examining this concrete oddity in an attempt to divine its purpose.

Tsai Ing-wen Old House 蔡英文古厝

Tsai Ing-wen’s childhood home

Tsai Ing-wen’s childhood home in the village of Fenggang.

One of the more unexpected finds on my recent bicycle tour through the deep south of Taiwan was the childhood home of Tsai Ing-wen 蔡英文 (pinyin: Cai Yingwen), current chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party and presidential contender in the upcoming 2016 general election. I was vaguely aware that she was born in Fangshan 枋山 in Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost county in the nation, but hadn’t known any more than that prior to taking a short detour through the old fishing village of Fenggang 楓港, founded in 1765 according to Chinese language Wikipedia. Imagine my surprise when I saw a small sign on the main road through town that directed me to Chairman Tsai Ing-wen Historic Home 蔡英文主席古厝!

When I arrived the courtyard was initially littered with trash. Several locals noticed my arrival and one quickly went to fetch a broom and clean up. I made what little conversation…