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: Yuli (Hualien County)

Yuli is the next town heading south down Highway 9 from Ruisui (see my post about Ruisui here).  To be completely honest, there’s not much to do in Yuli township itself, however Yuli makes a fantastic base to explore the East Rift Valley.  Again, your own transportation is vital for travelling through this area. Here’s a list of some of the places you can go that are quite close to Yuli township:

  • Sixty Stone Mountain
    (I plan to go later this year, so there’ll be a post then 🙂 )
  • Walami Trail
    (You have the option of doing the trail in one, or two – staying in a cabin overnight – days)
  • Antong Hot Springs

I only spent 2 days in Yuli, and unfortunately it rained in the afternoon on both days.  That said, on the one full day I had there, I again hired a bike, and spent another day riding through the great countryside & up into the Eastern Mountains.  Again I hired the bike from the Giant bike shop in town.  The prices were the same as in Ruisui.

There is a bike path from right next to Yuli station, towards the Antong old train station.  The path continued further, though I’m not sure how much further it went.  The path is very flat, smooth, and actually runs along the old railway line between Yuli & Antong.  At the old Antong station, I turned off the track, and headed up along County Rd 30.  You can take this route over the mountains, and go down to the East Coast, however, my plan was simply to see how far I could get before the weather closed in or it got too late.  The path over the mountains is a challenge for a casual cyclist, so pack plenty of refreshments, and take plenty of stops on the way up.  There’s also a 2.6km tunnel that you pass through at the top.  On the way back down the mountain to Yuli, a stop at Antong Hot Springs is a must, to relieve your tired bones (or in my case, to simply get out of the rain!)

Some fellow cyclists riding off towards the Eastern Mountains.

Some fellow cyclists riding off towards the Eastern Mountains.

Where to Stay

There’s only one place I could possibly recommend to stay in Yuli.  Wisdom Garden Homestay.  This family run homestay (you’ll find it in the Lonely Planet too) is just outside of Yuli township itself, but is a beautiful, peaceful place to relax & refresh after a day of exploring.  The Hsu family, who run the homestay, will treat you to some of the best Taiwanese hospitality you will experience, and will fill you with the most delicious breakfasts you will have in your time in Taiwan.  The homestay is family friendly, and your kids will love running around in the lovely front garden & playing with the family dog, while you put your feet up & enjoy the scenery with a cup of tea.  Of a morning you can also watch Mrs Hsu create some amazing Chinese paintings in the main area of the house.  It’s really interesting to see the way she wields the brush and creates an artwork from an empty canvas.

Prices vary depending on the time of year you visit, but you can contact the family, and find more information about Wisdom Garden at this link.

And for a tip for something to eat in Yuli Township, here’s a good post about Yuli Noodles (makes me want to go back just to eat this!).

There's no place I'd rather be - the tranquil front garden at Wisdom Garden Homestay

There’s no place I’d rather be – the tranquil front garden at Wisdom Garden Homestay

Places: Ruisui (Cycling)

Ruisui (also spelt Rueisuei), is a town in Hualien County, Eastern Taiwan.  It sits on Highway 9, and is a popular stop for cyclists who are making the trip from Hualien to Taitung.  However, if you don’t plan on making the whole trip from Hualien to Taitung, you can easily take the train to Ruisui, and rent a bicycle for a day.

There’s plenty of places around Ruisui that you can ride to – Ruisui Pastures, hot springs (at Ruisui, or even Antong if you’re up for a longer ride), or a ride to the Tropic of Capricorn marker.

For me, however, I decided to ride through the countryside, along County Road 193.  My intention was to ride to Fuyuan Butterfly Valley (entry NT$100) but I never ended up making it that far.  That said, I didn’t mind.  Riding out of Ruisui you have two options, taking the major Highway 9 (which has a dedicated bike/scooter lane, but does have a steady stream of traffic) or take one of the County Roads.  If you opt to take the County Roads, be sure to come well supplied, as there’s not many places where you can stop & pick up refreshments along the way.  The roads have very slight undulations, and aren’t a challenge for even a casual bicyclist.

Riding along the County Roads is an excellent way to see the true beauty of the Hualien countryside, and you’ll be sure to have folks along the way lean out of their cars, or houses & shout out “加油!” (jia you!  Come on!!).

If you do want to ride along Highway 9, a better option (which can take you to Fuyuan too!) is to take the Ruisui bike path.  The path starts close to the station, and for the most part runs parallel to Highway 9, and the train line.  It’s a very nice, flat path, and a good option if you just want a casual ride without straying too far into the unknown.

Extra Info:

  • Bike Rental: NT$350/day (Giant Bicycle shop – closes @ 5pm)
  • The Giant Bicycle shop doesn’t have a map.  You can pick one up from the Tourist Information next door.
  • Train from Hualien to Ruisui, frequent, travel time ~1hour 20minutes.