Taitung on the east coast of Taiwan has been an absolute gem for me – I absolutely loved the offshore islands of Lyudao and Lanyu, and have fond memories of discovering this area back during the days of my grad trip. This time around on my Career Break I was determined to do a little more exploration, and ended up in Taitung county’s Chishang for a quick day trip.
Chishang is not a big town but absolutely scenic with its flat green fields with the mountains of the Eastern Rift Valley in the distance. It’s also perfect for exploration by bicycle with specially built paths for cyclists. Here is a look at some of the things to do in Chishang and how to get there.
How to get to Chishang
I was based in Taitung city in a hostel called I’m Here really close to the main Taitung train station, so it was easy to just hop on a train to Chishang – it takes about 45 minutes from Taitung City Station to Chishang Station via the Taitung Line, and cost me just 61 NTD (S$2.50) for a one way ticket on the slower train, and 74 NTD (S$3.10) on the faster return train.
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Getting around Chishang
Chishang is not a very big place, and one popular and cheap way to get around is by cycling. Traffic isn’t heavy and some roads are even blocked off from vehicular traffic, so cycling is a nice way to navigate this little city. I rented my bike from a little stand next to Chishang Train Station for 100 NTD (S$4.20)
THINGS TO DO IN CHISHANG
I cycled from the train station towards Dapo Pond, to Mr Brown Road and Heaven’s Road, and slowly pedaled back through the Chishang Pastoral Village and Flower Sea Here’s what I saw along the way and some ideas for you if you are planning to see Chishang.
Here’s a proper Google map that lists where everything in this article is.
Fuel up with a Fanbao at Wu Tao Chishang Lunchbox Museum
Chishang is most famous within Taiwan for its high quality of rice that’s extra QQ (springy is my best translation for that) and a little bit sweet. Rice is such a big deal here that it needs a particular certification and stamp so that it can be marketed as Chishang rice. Naturally, the Taiwanese Biandang or lunch box has also evolved a unique Chishang version called Fanbao, and is traditionally served in a little box held together by 4 wooden panels.
Because rice is such a big deal, there is a dedicated Wu Tau Chishang Lunchbox Museum which is a good place to learn about the history of this lunch box from its beginning in 1939, and sample that traditional meal for yourself. You could take it to go, or eat it in one of the converted train carriages which is quite a nostalgic experience and a throwback to how fanbao became popular in the first place – because people needed something they could take on the train to eat.
I was here around 10am so it was a sort of brunch for me. There was an upper floor with tables and lots of rice related exhibits and dioramas as well though I didn’t spend that much time reading all the information. I’m not that much of a foodie, I liked the rice well enough but I doubt I’d be able to pick it out of a line up or through blind tasting.
Getting here: 259 Zhongxiao Road, Chishang – this is a very short distance from the Chishang train station, you could walk here
Go around Dapo Pond
Dapo Pond is a quite little pond. Not much was happening when I passed by, probably because it was midday and blazingly hot, but it looks nice enough. It’s an inland freshwater swamp with a nice jogging and bike path around it, and incidentally the same pond that gave the town of Chishang – which translates directly into ‘Pond Above’ – its name.
Admire the Rice Fields
Chishang has rice aplenty, and of course lots of farmland where the rice grows. As you cycle along Jinxin Road from Dapo Pond – just look out for the signs directing you towards Bolang Dadao or Mr Brown Avenue and you will find yourself overlooking seas of rice paddies. Stop to enjoy the view – I found a cute little hut with a bench to hide out from the sun for a bit and watched the rice stalks sway like waves below me.
The beauty of the rice fields is that they change colour depending on harvest and season. It was all very green when I was there in May, but as it approaches harvest season in October, the fields turn a beautiful golden yellow. There is usually a harvest festival as well towards the end of October.
Visit the famous Mr Brown Boulevard
The one thing that put Chishang on the international map is this particular stretch of road that cuts across Chishang’s rice fields. A long straight stretch with no ugly barriers and lampposts along it to obstruct the view of the lush green fields and surrounding mountains, it’s picture postcard perfect.
The road is called Mr Brown Boulevard or Mr Brown Avenue because of an ad filmed here back in the day by Taiwanese coffee brand Mr Brown. I found a really retro looking clip of the ad on youtube and you can see some scenes of the train passing through and the fields forming a great backdrop for the ad.
But the more famous ad that happened in recent years was by Taiwanese airline EVA Air who got the actor Takeshi Kaneshiro to cycle carefreely along this road, and stop under a picturesque tree to have some tea. It’s a pretty epic moment, so much so that the tree is now called the Takeshi Kaneshiro tree and where just about everyone is gathered to try and reenact that star moment beneath its branches. Good luck not capturing anyone else in your shot though – it can get pretty crowded
Cycle the other famous road Tiantanglu or Road to Heaven
Bisecting the Mr Brown Boulevard is another road originally known as Wanxin Road, but better known as Tiantang road or the road to heaven. Unlike Mr Brown Road which is lovely and straight, this one has some pleasing curves to it that is said to resemble a dragon’s tail.
At the end of this road is a lookout point of sorts – the Daguanting – built out of wood. I climbed up to the top which is a longish raised boardwalk of sorts for this spectacular view:
Discover a zoo at the Chishang Pastoral Farm Resort
On the way back, instead of taking the main road, I decided to cycle in some of the smaller parallel back roads instead. I found myself entering the Chishang Pastoral Farm Resort, though I wasn’t sure whether if it was kinda empty because it wasn’t tourist season or if it was a tad rundown.
Given that it called itself a Pastoral Farm, I was expecting perhaps a bit of a farm animal petting zoo with your typical livestock, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the ostrich, nor the cassowary birds. According to the Taitung Tourism website, I apparently missed out on seeing the pygmy hippos, man!
This apparently used to be the site of the old Taitang or Taisugar factory until it was converted into a resort in 1994, but perhaps in keeping with the whole pastoral farm theme, they decided to set up lots of little yurt rooms and have a whole Mongolian theme going. It’s a bit bizarre when you’re cycling through this place without any context whatsoever.
Getting here: 110 Xinxing Village, Chishang – see website here
Stop for a break at the Hakka Museum and Flower Sea
I needed a bit of a breather at this point, and ended up stopping at the Taitung County Hakka Museum – it’s a pretty small museum but quite new looking, it’s good for a little walk around but the exhibits aren’t anything to shout about unless you’re really into Hakka history.
What I thought was more interesting are the gardens opposite the museum, which they call the Huahai or Flower Sea, and they make for a nice colourful garden walk, good for a breather before you cycle back into Chishang
Getting here: 1 Xinguan Road, Chishang