While Taiwan’s east coast lacks their bullet train service, the express trains are perfectly pleasant and quick. Kaohsiung emptied out into an endless loop of rice paddies, irrigation systems, and tiny towns. Eclectically vegetated foothills formed a constant backdrop.
Google says that, as of 2018, Chishang had a population of 8,233.
It’s kind of a dream rural destination. At some point, either organically or through concerted effort, the place become a haven for riding bicycles around the vast complex of rice paddies. This attracts enough people that the tourist infrastructure is well in-place: parking lots full of rental bicycles and 4-seaters, plentiful signage, well-maintained bicycling paths, and a number of food options that, while modest, far outstrips what you’d expect for a town of under 10k residents. At the same time, it’s still off-the-beaten-path. Most of the tourists were domestic (Taiwanese).
Basically all the serious destinations were unknown to us beforehand. E.g., there’s a tree that’s famous due to an airline commercial (tree at 1:03). Other stops included a deliciously straight road and a tofu skin factory on the edge of town.
There was also the bizarre Mr. Brown, a ubiquitous canned coffee brand that had somehow secured it’s spot as a bonafide destination. The family next to us made their middle school-aged girl take a photo with him. She looked nonplussed.
We stayed in an inn run by an old but extremely energetic woman who loved to tell us stories through Google Translate. She prepared rusty bicycles for us free-of-charge, ordered us breakfast every morning, and swatted the ceiling-dwelling lizard out of our room using a pole-extended broom with staggering accuracy.
Here’s me making my morning coffee in the hallway:
The inn was accidentally a thirty-minute walk out of town. Getting there from the train station, and returning a few days later, we took a taxi. Both times, the same woman was driving it: also old, wearing a puffy jacket despite pleasant weather. She wouldn’t run the meter but I’m not sure she ever understood me and it wasn’t expensive anyway. On our way out, the innkeeper called her every half hour to make sure she wouldn’t forget to come, which she (innkeeper) said she (driver) does sometimes. I wondered whether she ran the town’s only taxi. On our return trip, she spent the drive engrossed in an animated film playing on her phone.01
Our main supply hub was the most overpowered 7-11 I have ever seen, located on the corner of town nearest our inn’s highway road. It had beer on tap (complete with refrigerated glasses), a wide selection of fresh (ish) prepared food, and a functioning Cold Stone inside of it.
In spite of the hubbub—and instrumental to the charm—the whole area is still actively farmed.
That’s it. Chishang is great. Super refreshing stop for a few days. I think we avoided high season judging by how many lots packed with unused bicycles we passed. If the weather cooperates—which it mostly did—April seems like a great time to visit.
It’s Gonna Be Gorgeous
Our final stop before returning to Taipei was Hualien, springboard from which to visit Taroko Gorge, Taiwan Number One02 tourist attraction.
The film was interesting. It had 3D-rendered characters doing stock animations on top of stock backgrounds set to dramatic voiceovers. Think like first year students at digital art school doing a rendition of dialog-heavy scenes from Crouching Tiger. I remember seeing a similar format of show engross viewers of all ages in Vietnam (though those might have been 2D). ↩︎
For some reason Taiwan Number One is stuck in my head like a trigram I heard a thousand times, but, strangely, I can’t actually remember anyone saying it. ↩︎