Places: Ershui & The Jiji Branch Line (二水 + 集集線)

It’s been a very, very, very, very (I could add a few more, but I’ll spare you) long time between posts.  In the time since, I’ve learnt a whole lot more Chinese (not enough to start blogging using it though), been back home to Australia briefly (which I might post about once I get a chance to go through the photos), finally made it down to Kenting (definitely posting), and got really involved with playing Touch Rugby here in Taipei.

Anyway, with all that said, today’s post is about a trip I made in the middle of the year.  I spent a couple of days in Taichung, and explored the area around Taichung-Changhua.  During this time, I spent a rain interrupted afternoon around Ershui, Shuili & Checheng – otherwise known as The Jiji Branch Line.

This is a really nice part of Changhua county, with farmlands giving way to mountains & woodlands as you make your way along the Jiji Branch Line.  While the branch line starts at Ershui & goes to Checheng, you can actually catch trains bound for Checheng from both Taichung & Changua.  There is a train approximately every 2 hours.  I didn’t go all the way in one go, instead catching a train from Taichung to Ershui (1 hour, NT$72).  At Ershui, I rented a bicycle (NT$100/day) from a small shop outside the station exit (on the right hand side).  There are a couple of routes available around Ershui, most of which go through farmlands & are very flat & easy to handle.  Unfortunately for me, my ride only last 1 hour before some heavy afternoon rain forced me to stop & then ride back to Ershui (in the breaks between the rain).

Heavy enough to make me head back.

Heavy enough to make me head back.

There’s also a very friendly Visitor Information spot next to Ershui station, where you can pick up information not just about the Jiji Branch Line, but also the region in general.  English is spoken, and you might also get tips on how to meet “nice Taiwanese girls” (go to Church in Taipei I was told – yep, that type of “nice Taiwanese girl”).  From Ershui I boarded the train & started along the Jiji Branch Line.  As my time was limited to one day, I decided to go all the way to Checheng (50 minutes, $NT78 – all day).  There are several stops along the Line, one of which is Jiji itself, which was damaged by a massive earthquake in 1999, and has some interesting sights to see, so I’m advised.

I didn’t end up taking the train all the way to Checheng.  Rather, I alighted one stop before, at a town called Shuili.  From there, you can bike or walk to Checheng, first alongside a river, then by the rail line itself.  For the walking/biking route, leave Shuili station, walk to the first intersection & turn left.  Keep going until you reach a T-intersection & from there follow the signs to Checheng 🙂

Left to Checheng.

Checheng itself is a very interesting place to look around.  It’s pretty dead during the week (when I was there), but I can imagine it would be teaming with people during the summer months.  There are plenty of places to buy food, snacks, souvenirs & learn a little more about Taiwan’s rail history.  Kids & photographers would love it!

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Places: Changhua (彰化)

I made a half-day trip to Changhua last week, during my school holidays.  I was staying in Taichung for a few days, and was keen to see places outside of Taiwan’s 3rd largest city.

Changhua is located about 30 minutes by train from Taichung city.  The train ticket costs only NT$26 (one way), and trains are very frequent.  Once you’re in Taichung, either rent a bike, or make sure you have your walking boots on.  There isn’t a lot to do in the city, but there are a couple of interesting sights which you can see, and as with anywhere in Taiwan, plenty of places to eat – so Changhua is a city that can easily be seen in a few hours.

The tourist information desk, located inside the train station, can help you with a map, and directions on how to get to various sights.  One of the staff there spoke good English and, though they only had a Chinese map,  they were able to explain the different sights to me, and how to get there on foot.

The first place I visited was the Fan-Shaped Train Depot, just a 5 minute walk away from the station.  This is a fantastic place to spend some time walking around. It would be a fantastic place to take kids (especially if you have a young boy/s), and also for photographers.  When you get to the train yard, you will just need to sign-in (despite being told my Passport would be required, I simply signed my name, dated, and was let in).  The best part about the train yard is that you can walk on the tracks, right up to the trains!  The main draw of the depot is the rotating section of track in the middle, which rotates to allow trains in-and-out of the train garages.  Though most of the trains there are being serviced, and are modern, there are two older engines there which are very cool to look at.

Trains parked at the fan-shaped depot in Changhua

Trains parked at the fan-shaped depot in Changhua

Next, I made my way to the other main sight in Changhua City, the Bagushan Buddha.  From the train depot, it is about a half-hour walk.  Along the way, I made a quick trip around the city’s Confucius Temple, partly because it looked cool, and partly because it was just about to rain, and I wanted a place to take refuge in.  Once the rain stopped, I kept walking to the park in which the Buddha is located.  It is a little bit of a hike up to the Buddha, though it is marked fairly well – if you have a scooter, or take a taxi, then you can save yourself the effort and take the road up.  As I went on a weekday, and just after some heavy rain, there were very few people in the grounds around the Buddha.  From the top of the hill, on which the statue sits, there are very good views of Changhua City (which was much bigger than I expected), all the way out to the West coast & the sea.  The Buddha statue itself is very big, though not all that impressive.  The surrounding grounds offer a few places to wander around, before heading back down the hill.  If you’re looking for some food to eat, there is plenty in the streets at the entrance to Bagushan park.  I didn’t venture there, as it was late and I was keen to get back to Taichung for dinner.

The Bagushan Buddha at Changhua

The Bagushan Buddha at Changhua

Changhua can be done as a stop on the way to/from Lukang – which is famous for its temple & old streets.  If you plan to do both, then I would definitely leave much earlier in the morning than I did (I left Taichung at 12pm).  It is about 40 minutes, I’m told, from Changhua to Lukang.  Changhua City can also be used as a base to explore the surrounding countryside of Changhua County, if you would like to spend more than a day in the area.