A traditional home in Alian District

Southern Taiwan Ride 2015: Tainan to Pingtung City

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.

Tainan country roads
Riding through the countryside in southern Tainan 台南. This looks remarkably like the area near where I grew up.

First, a few technical details for anyone curious in cycling around the Taiwanese countryside. For the last several years I’ve been riding with a Giant Roam 2, a mid-level hybrid model, loaded with rear panniers and not much else. I pack clothes, laptop, camera, and other such things and typically stay in budget hotels wherever I end up. I don’t do any excessive route planning, I just consult Google Maps as needed. Network coverage and road quality are great pretty much wherever you go in Taiwan with the exception of some remote mountain areas. All of this makes it easy to just get up and go.

Faint traces of the old sugar rails in tainan
Faint traces of the old sugar railway system in southern Taiwan. Notice the track in the bottom of the photo?

My escape from Tainan 台南 was largely uneventful on this trip. I took few photos while attempting to follow one of the historic sugar railway lines that I had puzzled out from a crude map available from a hobbyist web site by the name of Taiwan Railways. There were, however, many interesting old homes to take pictures of as I crossed the Èrrén River 二仁溪 into Ālián 阿蓮, a rural district on the edge of Kaohsiung 高雄.

Liao 廖 family home in Alian District
A traditional sanheyuan, or three-part courtyard home, in Ālián 阿蓮, Kaohsiung 高雄. The family name over the main entrance is Liào 廖.
An unusual building in a small village in Alian District
An interesting and unusual Lǐ 李 family home in the village of Shí’àntán 石案潭, just across the Èrrén River 二仁溪 from Tainan 台南.
A traditional home in Alian District
Another intriguing home in rural Alian, this time in the village of Qīngqíjiǎ 青旗甲. This family evidently built a western-style home behind their classic sanheyuan, probably at some point during the Japanese colonial era.
A partly overgrown hulong and the western-style house beyond
One wing of the old sanheyuan is starting to look a little overgrown. Beyond you can see the abandoned western-style mansion.
The decrepit entrance to the western-style house
A closer look at the entrance to a western-style mansion in rural Alian.
A pink sanheyuan in Alian District
A gorgeous and well-maintained sanheyuan in the same village. It almost looks pink to my eyes!

I made several stops in two villages on the outskirts of central Alian: Shí’àntán 石案潭 and Qīngqíjiǎ 青旗甲. Both of these had the look of old settlements with a patchwork of traditional sanheyuan and KMT authoritarian era apartment blocks. Always alert for signs of the Japanese colonial era, I also found a few western-style buildings in these old villages but have no idea about their specific histories.

An old temple in Alian
Wandering around a big temple by the name of Jiànshàn Hall 薦善堂 in the northeastern part of Alian.
Inside Jinhua Palace 金華寶殿
Apparently this is a second temple on the site of the first. This one is known as Jīnhuá Palace 金華寶殿.
Rooftop detail at Jinhua Palace 金華寶殿
Rooftop detail at the temple complex in Alian. Those are Buddhist swastikas, in case you had any other idea.

I did not spend too much time in central Ālián 阿蓮, having previously visited at the tail end of a scooter trip to the badlands of southern Taiwan. Here I stopped only to investigate an unusually large temple complex on the northeast side of town. In the heat of the day there weren’t many people around, though a few greeted me warmly as I wandered around.

Exploring an industrial site in Kaohsiung on two wheels
An industrial site of some kind caught my eye as I cycled south through Alian. I didn’t know it at the time but parts of this cement factory are still operational; I just happened to wander into a disused part of the plant.
Inside a vast warehouse space in rural Kaohsiung
A vast empty warehouse space in the Kaohsiung countryside.
Descending into the darkness in rural Kaohsiung
There was a pit at the back of the warehouse with stairs leading down at least three levels. I went to go take a look but didn’t see anything apart from broken machinery, spiders, and a lot of dust.
Nobody home
Pick up the phone… nobody home. (Notice the phone booth in the previous photograph? It’s in the corner.)
Biking around a vast warehouse complex in Kaohsiung
Lousy photo on my Samsung Galaxy Note 1. I’ve kept it so you can see how much stuff I was biking around the country with: not much!

Heading southward from central Ālián 阿蓮 I soon noticed a huge industrial complex in a state of disuse and decided to go take a quick look. It wasn’t hard to gain access to the south end of the complex and soon I was riding my bike around a vast open warehouse space, chuckling to myself. At one point I noticed a deep pit off to one side. Stairs led down into the abyss so I brought out a small flashlight and descended several levels to take a look. Not much down there apart from cobwebs, dust, and broken machinery. Back on the surface I went to check out some of the other buildings but soon realized that the rest of the factory was still in operation to some extent or another. Oops! Later on I looked the place up on Google Maps and it appears to be a cement factory. I suppose I just happened to wander into a disused corner of the sprawling complex.

Apparently the world’s largest green wall
This is apparently the world’s largest green wall. I had no idea when I rode by and snapped a quick photo.
Ji Park Ossuary 吉園大吉座舍利骨塔
A monument to the dead at the base of Dagangshan 大崗山 formally known as Ji Park Ossuary 吉園大吉座舍利骨塔.

I cycled south through a scenic area by the name of Dàgǎngshān 大崗山, passing a military base and many old houses in various states of disrepair. Around a bend in the road I encountered an unusually large green wall. I didn’t think much of it at the time but this is presently the record holder for world’s largest green wall, something I learned when a publisher contacted me to license my photograph. Immediately next door is a shiny new ossuary that looks more like a spaceport than a place to store human remains.

Riding along the edge of Agongdian Reservoir
Riding along the edge of Agongdian Reservoir in Yàncháo 燕巢.
Agongdian Reservoir 阿公店水庫
The control tower near the north end of the levee at Agongdian Reservoir.

I headed back into the hills and soon found myself biking along the levee at Agongdian Reservoir 阿公店水庫 (literally “Grandpa’s Shop Reservoir”). Apparently it is the longest dam in Taiwan—and you can ride along the entire thing. I wrote a little more about it here so follow the link if you’re curious about this scenic spot.

Fixing Qingyun Temple 青雲宮
A team at work fixing or cleaning Qingyun Temple 青雲宮 in Dàshè 大社.

After coming down from the reservoir I saw little of interest until arriving in Dàshè 大社, deeper into Kaohsiung 高雄. Here was a town that intimated a sense of history, though light was fading fast and I did not enjoy many good photo opportunities. The only one I’ve shared here is of a team cleaning or fixing the rooftop of Qīngyún Temple 青雲宮, built in 1697.

Rural Kaohsiung entertainment
This highway leading south through Kaohsiung 高雄 was lined with sleazy businesses like this one.
Caught in a jam in rural Kaohsiung
Caught in a rush hour traffic jam on the edge of the city. I guess I can’t really blame people for wanting something sultry to spice up the bleak industrial wasteland of autopia.

South of Dàshè 大社 I followed highway 186 and then highway 183 through the suburban blight. There was nothing beautiful about this part of the ride apart from the betel nut beauties by the roadside, several of whom were more fancifully dressed than any others I’ve seen over the years. I suppose that in this barren landscape of factories and warehouses a little feminine charm goes a long way toward brightening up some weary worker’s day.

Old abandoned homes in Fengshan
Abandoned homes in Cíhuī New Village 慈暉新村, one of many military dependents’ villages in the area presently undergoing eviction.

I made a short stop in Fèngshān 鳳山 to meet an expat acquaintance there for a quick hello—but not before taking a spin around the nearby military villages in the process of eviction and destruction. I am, by now, used to seeing such urban renewal projects all over Taiwan, but seldom on such a vast scale. Most disturbing was the sight of a bunch of shirtless, tattooed gangster types with a megaphone calling for holdouts to leave their homes. On some level I knew that sort of thing happens—but never have I been an eyewitness to a forced eviction.

Forcibly abandoned and demolished in Fengshan
It was here that I witnessed something most disturbing: a gang of shirtless men shouting on a megaphone demanding that people come out of their homes so that the destruction can proceed.

Most of the rest of the ride to Pingtung City 屏東市 was in darkness so I have no further photographs from that time. There wasn’t much to see anyway as I kept to the highway. Once I arrived in town I began cycling around the train station area in search of acceptable lodging for the night. After finding a place for a decent price (about 800 NT if I recall) I had a shower, dropped my stuff off, and, seeing as how I have become something of a night market aficionado over the years, went to go explore the famous Mínzú Road Night Market 民族路夜市.

A traditional night market in Pingtung City
After dropping my stuff off at a hotel near the central train station I went out to explore one of the most famous night markets in Pingtung City 屏東市.
Awesome chicken rice vendor at Minzu Road Night Market, Pingtung
An amazing turkey and chicken rice vendor in Minzu Road Night Market 民族路夜市.
Crane games in a disused space in Pingtung City
One of the ubiquitous crane operator shops in the night market. These things appear in disused spaces all over Taiwan.
Amazing triangle vendor at Minzu Road Night Market
One of the night market’s famous vendors: Shànghǎo Ròuzòng 上好肉粽.
The best damn triangle thing I have ever eaten
One of the best damn zongzi I’ve ever had in Taiwan (and that’s saying something). This one was dusted with peanuts.

Even though Minzu Road Night Market is small by the standards of southern Taiwan it has a lot to offer. Everything I sampled was definitely a little ahead of its class. Even the turkey rice, which is more commonly associated with Chiayi 嘉義, was better than usual. But the most impressive snack I sampled was the peanut zongzi at Shànghǎo Ròuzòng 上好肉粽. Delicious triangles…

There ends day one of my southern Taiwan ride in 2015. This adventure continues with an exploration of Pingtung City the following day. Stay tuned for more from some of the most remarkable and remote parts of coastal Taiwan!