Photos by Taiwan Tourism Bureau
Hidden amidst green valleys and sleepy towns are some of Taiwan’s brightest tourism gems: the scenic railways. Built during the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945), these railway lines used to transport tons of timber and coal, and masses of workers, every day. Today, the big mines and factories are gone, and quirky, charming attractions – perfect for day trips – have taken their place. For ticketing, visit www.railway.gov.tw.
Location: New Taipei City
Price: Day Pass NT$52
While Pingxi’s night skies come alive with thousands of sky lanterns (kongming deng) every year during the Lantern Festival, there’s so much more to the area that can be explored throughout the year.
Grab a day pass for the Pingxi Line, and start your journey at Jingtong Station. At Jingtong Old Street, you’ll find the Railway Story House, a wooden 1960s building filled with vintage railway paraphernalia, and souvenirs. It’s a short walk to the bright red Zhongpu Bridge; a local tradition involves writing a wish on a bamboo tube, which is then hung up on a tree near the bridge. It’s probably wise to wish for good weather because most of the other attractions along the Pingxi Line are outdoors.
Nearby is the Coal Mining Memorial Park, where little has changed since the heyday of Jingtong’s mining industry. There are plenty of hiking trails branching off from the railroad tracks. Just be sure to bring a map because the signage on these trails can be somewhat inconsistent.
Afterwards, make a quick stop at Pingxi station for a selfie with Taiwan’s last remaining Japanese mailbox, and then head to Shihfen station where you’ll find the spectacular Shihfen waterfall – a great place to watch the sunset.
Price: Day Pass NT$82
Hop onto the Neiwan Line at North Hsinchu station, to immerse yourself in the unique history and Hakka culture of the region. You’ll pass timeless-looking fields and valleys, and catch a glimpse of the famous suspension bridge over Youluo River. Look out for Hexing station along the journey – it is the only wooden station along the Neiwan Line.
In the springtime, you’ll be treated to the sight of cherry trees in bloom, as well as the firefly festival in April and May.
Step back in time at the Neiwan Theater, built in 1950 for the town’s miners. It now contains a Hakka restaurant, decked out in nostalgic mid-century decor (complete with a traditional provision shop), where you can enjoy retro Taiwanese movies while you sip some lei cha.
For more Hakka delicacies, head to Neiwan’s bustling Old Street. One must-try local speciality is the rice dumpling (zongzi) wrapped in ginger leaves. Also, be sure to stop at the Mudan Heitanggao (black sugar cake) stand, which produces some of the best handmade black sugar cakes in the country.
Location: Changhua & Nantou
Price: Day Pass NT$78
Jiji Line is the longest of the scenic railways. It begins at Ershui Station in Changhua County and ends in Checheng, near Sun Moon Lake. Between Longquan and Jiji stations, you’ll pass the amazing Green Tunnel – a tree-lined road where the hundred-year-old camphor trees have intertwined their branches to form a beautiful canopy.
Alight at Jiji town (which is known for its bananas) to explore this Green Tunnel, as well as nearby Wuchang Temple which has been left untouched ever since it was damaged during the 1999 earthquake. The beautiful tiled roof and ornate decorations on its eaves are still largely intact, but the temple’s columns have completely collapsed.
At Shuili, you’ll find the 30m long Snake Kiln. Here, you’ll find museum exhibits on traditional pottery techniques, as well as the world’s largest pot – it’s over 6m tall. From Shuili, you can take a Green Transit bus to Sun Moon Lake. This is Taiwan’s largest lake, and it’s surrounded by temples and great bike trails.
ALISHAN FOREST RAILWAY
Price: Round-trip NT$150 (Zhushan Line); NT$80 (Shenmu Line)
Originally built to transport logs down the mountain, the railway opened in 1911. The main Alishan Line starts from Chiayi and climbs over 2,000m within 14km to reach Alishan station (these days it’s only to Fenqihu, as the rest of the tracks are still under construction from damage by typhoons), crossing many bridges and passing many tunnels. Most visitors take the bus from Chiayi to Alishan instead.
From Alishan station, you can take sub-branches to fully explore the mountains. The Zhushan Line takes passengers a short distance to Zhushan station (2,450m) to watch the sunrise (be prepared for the crowds).
Another sub-branch is the Shenmu Line (Sacred Tree) which stops at Shenmu Station, the access point for the Shenmu Trail where you can view the 20 gigantic Formosan red cypress trees.
There are two “Giant Tree Boardwalks” through the forest; one begins from the Thousand-Year-Old Cypress and the other from Xianglin Giant Tree, which is about 2,000 years old and soars at over 40m tall. The air in this forest is filled with phytoncides derived from the trees, making it ideal for forest bathing, and is a quiet area away from the bustling train station.