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Taiwan Panorama / Editors' Choices / Article:Country Travel, New Style
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Editors' Choices
 
 
2001/6/p.gog
Country Travel, New Style
text by Alexandra Liu/photos by Hsueh Chi-kuang /tr. by Robert Taylor, Brian Kennedy and Christopher Findler
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The weekend-two whole days. Too short for a trip abroad, but too long to waste on just a day out in the suburbs which doesn't give a real sense of relaxation. That's why two-day "ecotours" have become a favorite. Catering to this trend, towns and villages in rural southern Taiwan have begun to package their distinctive farming and fishing heritage to give urbanites a chance to escape the clamor of the city and get in touch with their native soil, and to use their senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing-and their emotions too-to discover the secrets of the natural world. Of course, if you have a longer holiday, or are in Taiwan to visit friends or family or just to tour the island, you can dodge the weekend crowds and spend several days savoring the beauty of Taiwan's countryside. In this issue of Taiwan GoGo we begin an in-depth exploration of southern Taiwan.

This issue focuses on Tainan County. We introduce Chiku Rural Township, famed for its natural beauty, its salt pans and its fish farms; Tsochen Rural Township, with its religious activities and its Siraya aboriginal culture; Paiho Township, a lively economic and cultural center; and Kuantien Rural Township, the home of President Chen Shui-bian. These are starting points for in-depth tours that give insights into southern Taiwan's rural economy. A characteristic of this new approach to tourism is interaction, rather than just sightseeing. Various festivals timed according to the farming seasons, such as Paiho's Lotus Festival, Yuching's Mango Festival, Chiku's Melon Festival, Tsochen's Chalk Festival or Kuantien's Water Caltrop Festival, provide focal points for city dwellers to visit and stay in villages and farms, where they can chat with country folk face to face and personally experience farm life, peel lotus seeds, gather water caltrops, climb salt mounds, go birdwatching, and more, for a total immersion experience that is the best way to enjoy and appreciate the countryside.

Are you ready? Let's go!

The President's Hometown, Kuantien

With the election of home-town boy Chen Shui-bian as president last year, the Tainan County township of Kuantien has risen to prominence. Located in central Tainan County at the foot of Mount Wushan on the western end of the Alishan Range, Kuantien largely comprises fertile plains irrigated by the waters of the Wushantou Reservoir, and produces an abundance of agricultural products including rice, sugar cane, oranges and water caltrops. A classic example of a traditional farming community, Kuantien is Taiwan's top producer of water caltrops, with which its name has long been synonymous. Now, Kuantien's Hsichuang Village, where President Chen Shui-bian was born and raised, has begun to lure waves of local tourists.

Kuantien is easily accessible via Provincial Highway 1, Lungtien Railway Station or the Sun Yat-sen Freeway, making travel to and from the town hassle-free. Local tourist attractions include Wushantou Reservoir, the National Tainan Institute for the Arts, artifacts from the prehistoric Black Pottery Culture, the Lungtien Distillery, and the wildlife preserve for the endangered pheasant-tailed jacana. But the most indelible image of a visit is the sight of people rafting through the water caltrop ponds in Tungchuang and Hsichuang villages.

Kuantien produces an average of 4,000 tons of water caltrops annually, with a total area of more than 500 hectares under cultivation. It is Taiwan's largest producer of water caltrops. Harvesting begins in July and continues through fall, peaking around September and October. Water caltrops are divided into two general types: deep-water and shallow water. Deep-water varieties are lighter in color and sweeter in taste, while the shells of shallow-water varieties have a dark color which can stain the hands.

Each October, the Kuantien Farmers Association holds its annual Kuantien Water Caltrop Festival, with activities including explanations of the ecology of the water caltrop, caltrop picking, caltrop peeling competitions and caltrop-shell whistle making. The festival is aimed at giving the public a deeper understanding of the life of a water caltrop farmer and the ecology of the plant. Visitors also have a chance to purchase a variety of caltrop products, including water caltrop wine, cake and jellies, and they can try an elaborate 12-course banquet of dishes centered around the water caltrop. Those interested can contact the association at (06) 579-1221.

Hsichuang: Chen Family Ancestral Home, Hui An Temple

The streets of Hsichuang have recently become a hot tourist attraction since native son Chen Shui-bian's election as president. The house, like those around it, is constructed in traditional Minnan (Southern Fujianese) style. It dates back 130 years and remains remarkably intact, evoking memories of a bygone era. Hui An Temple was built in 1933 and was the scene of Chen's hometown rally following his election as president. Travelers intending to visit either of these places are advised to park outside the village and walk in. Not only will you avoid the headaches of traffic and parking, you'll get a more intimate feel for the traditional Minnan architecture. lWushantou Reservoir

Wushantou Reservoir and the Chianan Channel that flows from it have played a significant historical role in the development of the surrounding region. Prior to the reservoir's construction, the Chianan Plain was an uncultivated wilderness with few farmers. In 1920, engineers from the Japanese colonial government began the planning and construction of the Wushantou Reservoir and the damming of the Kuantien River, a project that would take ten years and eventually entail expenditures equivalent to half of the colonial government's tax revenues for an entire year. The completed Wushantou Reservoir, also known as Coral Lake, irrigated nearly 150,000 hectares of land, thereafter permitting cultivation of three rice crops annually on the Chianan Plain.

Following completion of the reservoir, rising water levels flooded the banks of the Kuantien River. Viewed from above, the river can still be seen meandering through the waters of the reservoir like a reef of blue coral, hence its other moniker. The dam features a unique structure that helps it resist earthquakes and is the only one of its kind in the world. A verdant 1.27 km in length, it's an excellent spot for a springtime walk through the lush growth of flowers and trees. The maximum capacity of Wushantou's sluice gates is 1,500 cubic meters of water per second. At maximum flow, a rainbow is created. The spectacular views from the nearby suspension bridge have earned it the name "Rainbow Bridge."

Wushantou Reservoir Scenic Area

68-2, Chianan Village, Kuantien Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 698-2103

Admission: Adult NT$100, child NT$60

Hours: 7:00-18:00

Coral Lake Chienchiao Hotel

Coral Lake Chienchiao Hotel is located inside the Wushantou Reservoir Scenic Area and offers excellent vistas of the lake and surrounding countryside in a natural, secluded setting. Moonlight views of the lake, to the symphony of crickets and frogs, can bring you closer to nature. The Chienchiao's unique menu focuses on fish taken from the lake and local produce from the surrounding mountains and countryside. Guests staying the night may opt to check out one of the hotel's guided hiking or bicycle tours, which include introductions to the plant life and bird habitats of the lake and surrounding region, and to top scenic spots.

Coral Lake Chienchiao Hotel

92, Chianan Village, Kuantien Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 698-3121

Lungtien Distillery

Lungtien Distillery now mostly produces kaoliang liquor, but that wasn't always the case. It began as an alcohol refinery. In 1982, the company expanded, changed its name and became a noted producer of Yusan Erkuotou and Chinghsiang (labelled "Aroma Kao Liang") varieties of the fiery liquor kaoliang, distilled from sorghum. Lungtien is also known for producing a variety of tonic liquors made by steeping ingredients such as deer antler or bonnet bellflower root in kaoliang to create tonics such as Lung Feng (Dragon-Phoenix) liquor, made with over ten different herbs. Lungtien's visitor center offers an introduction to distilling. Local products flavored with Lung Feng liquor (such as rice cakes, popsicles, and ice cream), Yushan sausages made with kaoliang, and eggs hard-boiled in shaoxing rice wine, are also available.

Lungtien Distillery

277 Lungtien, Lungpen Village, Kuantien Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 579-1311 Hours: 8:30-17:00Tsoumalai Farm

Tsoumalai Farm is located in Tanei Rural Township, close to Provincial Highways 1, 3, 20 and 84, and is promoted by the Tainan County Farmers Association as the central location for tourist farm activities in the county. Travelers setting off from the farm can reach a number of Taiwan's top scenic attractions within a 20-km radius, including the Southern Cross-Island Highway, Yushan National Park, Wushantou Reservoir Scenic Area, Tsengwen Reservoir and Hutoupei. The farm also offers relaxing accommodations.

Tsoumalai has 40 hectares of specially cultivated pastureland, thick with lush grass imported from New Zealand. The farm has recently begun holding the biannual Tsoumalai Pasture Grass Festival in May and December. l

Tsoumalai Farm

61 Chiliwa, Erhsi Village, Tanei Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 576-0121

www.farm.com.tw

Tachung Restaurant: (06) 576-0226

Tsaoyuan Restaurant: (06) 576-0260

Tainan County agro-tourism website: www.agtour.org.tw

The Sights of Paiho Township

Tucked up against mountains on one side and enclosed by fields on the other three, Paiho Township in Tainan County is Taiwan's leading lotus producer. With more than 300 hectares of lotus fields, Paiho, nicknamed "Lotus Country," is overwhelming in its beauty.

The lotus seed harvest lasts from June to September, reaching its peak in July and August. This is also the busiest time of year for local tourism. The fields are drained during December and January and, when the land is dry, the lotus roots are harvested.

Several different lotus varieties can be seen in Paiho. We recommend that visitors to Paiho plan to stay overnight, so that they can watch the lotus blossoms unfold between 5:30 and 8:30 in the morning. The best flower-packed scenery in Paiho can be found in Yufeng, Lientan, and Kuang-an. Pink, bright red, yellow, and white lotuses can be enjoyed all year round in the "Fragrant Lotus" area of Chumen Neighborhood. Lotus Park, located in Yufeng Borough, is a wonderful place for shutterbugs and flower lovers alike.

The Paiho Lotus Festival, held six times since its inception in 1995, has put Paiho on the map. More than two months of activities, including bicycle tours, the Lotus Country Farming Village Experience, lotus seed shucking competitions, lotus flower sketching, photography competitions, and evening get-togethers, are held from June 23 to the end of August. Available for purchase will be lotus flower tea, lotus root powder, lotus seed cakes, lotus stamen tea, as well as other delicacies and postcards. Lotus feasts, available from June to the end of August, consist of twelve local dishes, including such culinary delights as lotus leaf rice and lotus fairy soup. Be sure to take the roads connecting Chumen with Yufeng, and Sheng-an with Chumen, where overhanging mango trees form green "tunnels."

Paiho Lotus Carnival

Tourism Section,Paiho Township

Administration

Tel:(06)685-5120

Tourism Section, Paiho Township Administration

Tel: (06) 685-5102

Lotus Feasts

Paiho Lotus Industrial and Cultural Information Hall

Make the most of your visit to Paiho by making the Lotus Industrial and Cultural Information Hall your first stop. It is a wonderful place to learn about the lotus, with all types of lotus-oriented exhibits on display, including the culture, industry, and ecology of Lotus Country. Exhibits include antiquities, poetry, calligraphy, children's songs, handicrafts, religious items, costumes, and utensils. The Hall also offers a detailed introduction to lotus agronomy, lotus gene research, and pest and disease prevention and treatment. See the "Botanical Studies of the Lotus" exhibit to learn about differences between the lotus and the water lily, as well as their origins, distribution, and various species. Visitors can learn about the life of lotus farmers through exhibits showing lotus seed and root harvesting and processing.

Paiho Lotus Industrial and Cultural Information Hall

22-10, Yufeng Borough, Paiho Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 685-2983

Hours: 8:00-16:00; open to 18:00 June-August. Closed Mondays.

Ama's Scenic Guesthouse

Since the launching of the Lo-tus Carnival, Paiho Township has been developing visitor accommodations in hopes of providing travelers the opportunity to learn more about the local lotus industry. Ama's Scenic Guesthouse, located in Lientan Borough, was one of the first guesthouses in Paiho.

The proprietor, Lai Wu-tong, built the guesthouse in the middle of a sea of lotuses. The enchanting courtyard lotus ponds, firefly conservation areas, and lotus pond mazes are designed to bring guests closer to nature.

Lai also offers early morning bicycle tours that allow guests to take in the splendor of the lotus blossoms as they open. As you meander among the fragrant lotus, listen to Lai's discourses on local culture, industry, birds, dragonflies, bees, and edible wild vegetation. In the evenings, watch as the egrets return to their nests, and marvel at the beauty of the unfolding water lilies. At night, learn about local flora and fauna from Mr. Lai's splendid slide presentation. The delightful country fare at Ama's Scenic Guesthouse will help to round out your Lotus Country experience.l

Ama's Scenic Guesthouse

2-6, Lientan Borough, Paiho Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 687-6899

Rooms: NT$1300-2600

Lotus Meal: NT$250/person

Kuantzuling Scenic Area

Kuantzuling Hot Springs are listed alongside Peitou, Mt. Yangming, the Ssuchong River, and Chihpen as one of Taiwan's top five hot spring areas. (Taiwan's only mud springs can be found there, too.) The springs, averaging 75-80oC in temperature, are naturally effervescent and mildly alkaline. The waters have a strong sulfurous odor, and leave the skin feeling velvety. They are effective in treating skin ailments, rheumatism and arthritis. The head of the springs is located beyond Paochuan Bridge on Mt. Chingkuang.

A variety of scenery can be found in Kuantzuling Scenic Area: the beautiful mirror-like waters of the Paiho Reservoir; Red Leaf Park, a great place for hiking; Lingting Park with its Hot Springs Exhibition Hall; the "Spring of Fire and Water" (Shuihuo Tongyuan), which has both spring waters and natural gas spouting from the same spot inside a cave; and Tahsien and Piyun Temples, both Grade 3 historic sites, which are a must-see for temple lovers. l Land of Chalk-Tsochen Rural Township

Tourists visiting Tsochen Rural Township for the first time are sure to be impressed by the chalk badlands, and by the Bambusa stenostachya bamboo that has grown there since Japanese colonial times. The ground in Tsochen is mainly made up of the Mt. Touke sandstone and shale stratum. This stratum has a very soft, loose structure, and this is why the badlands terrain is especially well developed here. This geological environment has created formations such as cuestas, ravines, meanders and cliffs.

The Mt. Touke stratum was laid down in the Pliocene and early Pleistocene epochs. It is some 1500 meters thick on average, and rich in fossils. The fossil beds of Tsailiao Creek in Tsochen were made famous by the discovery there in 1971 of the skull of "Tsochen man." The Tsailiao Fossil Museum and Tainan County Natural History Museum, both close to Provincial Highway 20, explain the history of the fossils' discovery, and display almost 1000 fossils.

The soil of Tsochen's farmland is chalky, saline, low in organic matter and strongly alkaline (pH 8.5), but because of this the area's red bananas (Musa coccinea), Luzon bananas (M. basjoo), fragrant manjack (Cordia dichotoma), yams, bird's-nest ferns and mangoes are all especially tasty.

On the badlands, however, hardly any plants survive, and only Bambusa stenostachya is able to grow in quantity. Every year in February and March, because of the lack of rain and the high soil salinity, the bamboo leaves all turn to yellow, orange and finally red, in a spectacular show of colors seen nowhere else in Taiwan. At this time Tsochen puts on its "Chalk Festival," to allow visitors to sample the area's fine produce, visit the farms where manjack, dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus), yams and bird's-nest fern are grown, try their hand at bamboo basketry, enjoy a banquet of chalk country produce, see exhibitions of Moon World photographs and aboriginal artifacts, or visit fossil beds. Summer visitors, meanwhile, can admire a sea of flowering mango trees, while autumn and winter are perfect for bicycle rides around Tsochen.

To get there by car from Tainan City, take Provincial Highway 20. If arriving by freeway (National Highway 3 or 8), exit at the Hsinhua Interchange onto Prov. Highway 20. Hsingnan Bus Company services to from Tainan City to Yuching or Nanhsi stop in Tsochen; buses depart about every half hour. Tsochen Farmers Association ((06) 573-1716) provides a minibus service for groups, and also organizes bicycle tours and farm tours. l

For "chalk country banquets," contact Mt. Tsao Moon World

Tsochen's biggest scenic attrac-tion is Moon World, in the Mt. Tsao area at the southern tip of the township.

Moon World is a classic example of a chalk badlands terrain. In geological terms it comprises highly saline limestone with a sandstone and shale structure, so that in an area of several hundred hectares no plants grow and the highly eroded ground is bare, creating a "lunar" landscape. The area is also interspersed with mudstone strata containing large amounts of natural gas that forces mud out of the ground in "mud volcanoes." In winter, moisture evaporating from the chalk leaves behind patches of powdery white salt crystals on the surface. Well known scenic spots in Moon World include Erhliao Pavilion, Hill 308, Mt. Tsao Suspension Bridge, the Crocodile, and the Lion's Head. At Erhliao Pavilion at dawn, when the first rays of sunshine fall upon the chalk, moisture starts to evaporate out of it to form mist which shrouds the hills, creating a scene like a Chinese ink-wash painting. l

Tsailiao Fossil Museum, Natural History Museum

During the Pleistocene epoch the area that is now Tso-chen was repeatedly covered and uncovered by the sea, and the fossilized remains of many organisms were preserved in the sediments that were laid down. Today, after each heavy rain the bed of Tsailiao Creek is left covered with large numbers of fossils. In 1931 (under Japanese rule), Professor Hayasaka Ichiro of Taihoku Imperial University in Taipei made the first recorded fossil discovery at Tsailiao Creek. Later, large numbers of fossils were found there, of many different species. They included both marine and land organisms, and revealed much about the organisms' evolution and the changing geographical environment. Tsailiao Creek became a world-famous fossil site. Many older people in Tsochen still remember how as children they gathered fossils from Tsailiao Creek, to sell to archaeologists and tourists and so eke out their families' meager incomes.

In 1974 some teachers and pupils from Kuangjung Elementary School, and some amateur collectors, put their fossil collections on public display. This eventually led to the building of the Tsailiao Fossil Museum, which was completed in 1981. The museum currently displays nearly 1000 fossils from the Pleistocene (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago), including remains of ancient rhinoceroses, crocodiles, elephants and shellfish. The nearby Natural History Museum has long-term exhibitions on fossils, on the story of "fossil granddad" Chen Chen-mu, and on local history. l

Siraya Thatched Cottages

About a minute's drive from the Tsailiao Fossil Museum is a Siraya home from home: Maolu Holiday Farm. The first sight to greet the eye on entering is a large expanse of lush green grass on which rabbits, piglets, kittens and children play happily. Around it are six huts with grass-thatched roofs and bamboo walls, and a larger thatched cabin, which look like something straight out of an old photograph of plains aboriginal life. These were recreated by Maolu owner Mao Ming-hsu after much experimentation.

If you want to get close to nature and experience living in an old-style aboriginal house, why not choose a hut close to the lotus flower ecological pool. There you can enjoy the sound of frogs calling throughout the night, the smell of the thatch, and get a more relaxing night's sleep than on any spring mattress. And if it starts to rain, you can quietly listen to the patter of the raindrops on the thatched roof.

The farm also serves aboriginal foods, including mai (meat-filled glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in Alpinia leaves), wild vegetables such as Crassocephalum rabens and black nightshade, and Pingpu-style roast chicken. Prices range from NT$1200-1500 per table. Quantities are limited to ten tables a day, so book early. l

Maolu Holiday Farm

83-1, Junghe Village, Tsochen Rural Township, Tainan County

(06) 573-1237 / 573-2056

Prices: Huts NT$300 each, cabin (sleeps 25) NT$1200.

Pama Pingpu Culture Museum, Lo Lai-shou Memorial Hall

Tsochen was once called Pama, and was a settlement of the Hsinkang branch of the Siraya plains (or "Pingpu") aborigines. People of Pingpu ancestry account for around a third of Tsochen Rural Township's population, and they have many distinctive family names. Many traces of the Siraya can still be seen in Tsochen. For instance there are over 20 shrines to Alizu, such as the Tuchia Alizu shrine in Kuanghe Village, or the shrine in Kousheliao. However, most aboriginal religious observances have been simplified over time, and today people of Pingpu descent are largely Christians. Tsochen has three churches over a century old; the oldest, Tsochen Presbyterian Church, was founded in 1869. It still has the tradition of singing hymns to aboriginal tunes. The Pama Pingpu Culture Museum and the Lo Lai-shou Memorial Hall, both next to the church, have exhibits of Pingpu contracts, ritual vessels and other artifacts. l

Lo Lai-shou Memorial Hall and Pama Museum

Contact Tsochen Presbyterian Church,

(06) 573-1076

Experience Nature in Chiku Rural Township

Chiku Rural Township lies at the southwestern tip of Tainan County. Bounded to the west by the Taiwan Strait and to the south by the Tsengwen River, it has an area of 115 sq. km, as large as Tainan City. Many of Chiku's residents are engaged in sea salt production or aquaculture. Chiku is famed for the "three treasures" of its aquaculture industry-oysters, milkfish and saltwater tilapia-and also for black-faced spoonbills, salt mounds and mangroves.

In the part of Chiku to the west of Provincial Highway 17 there are salt pans and several thousand hectares of salt-water fish rearing ponds, while to the east there are mainly fields. But most crops do not thrive in Chiku's saline soil. A rare exception, and the star crop here, is the muskmelon. Many varieties are grown, most of them very sweet.

Every January, when the melons are in season and black-faced spoonbills are circling in the sky, Chiku Farmers Association puts on a "Muskmelon Festival," so that as well as enjoying the sight of the spoonbills, visitors can also take part in activities such as pickling baby melons, painting melons and making oyster-shell art. During the festival, "spoonbill buses" take visitors on guided tours around Chiku's salt mounds, its internationally known black-faced spoonbill refuge, and its 1500-hectare lagoon with its oyster frames and sandbars, and a market sells local produce such as muskmelons, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, garlic, sesame oil and canned milkfish. In Tingshan Village, at the northern edge of Chiku Rural Township, one can see 40-plus rare land-growing mangrove trees at Tingshan Elementary School, and visit the famous Tingshan Salt Pans. But as manual salt harvesting ceased in June 2001, visitors will have to wait for the planned salt industry museum to become a reality to learn about the skills and laborious effort involved in traditional salt making.

A good way to end a visit to Chiku is to follow Provincial Highway 17 south and take in some of the sights of Tainan City, such as Anping Fort, the former premises of tea traders Tait & Co., Fort Provintia (Chihkanlou), or Woozland amusement park (famous for its high water-slides). When in Tainan, don't forget to sample Mr. Chou's shrimp rolls, and Yungtaihsing candied fruit. l

Chiku Farmers Association

272, Tacheng Village, Chiku Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 787-1711Woozland Amusement Park

160, Lane 245, Chengpei Road, Annan District, Tainan City

Tel: (06) 257-3811

Hsi Nan Chun Holiday Fish Farm

Hsi Nan Chun Holiday Fish Farm is in Hsi-nan Village, near the mouth of the Chiku Creek. Fish farming has declined in recent years. Hsi Nan Chun's owner, milkfish farmer Wu Chung-chang, looking for ways to develop tourism, had the idea of a fish farm holiday resort. He has retained the farm's working fish pools, and recreated the traditional tunnel-shaped thatched shelters on platforms over the pools. Before the farms had mechanical pumps, by dawn each day the dissolved oxygen in the pond water would be so depleted that the milkfish might easily suffocate. The fish farmers slept in the shelters, and as soon as they heard the fish coming up to the surface and trying to breathe air, they immediately agitated the water to aerate it. Wu Chung-chang managed to find an old craftsman who still knew how to build the shelters, and so was able to recreate a piece of fish farming history. l

Hsi Nan Chun Holiday Fish Farm

42-1, Hsi-nan Village, Chiku Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 787-4365

Rooms: Thatched shelters NT$600 per night, day rate NT$300; rooms from NT$1500 per night. Restaurant: Pre-booked tables from NT$2500.Chiku Lagoon, Tingtoue Sandbar, Clam Park, Chiku Lighthouse

Chiku Lagoon is prized by con-servationists at home and abroad as Taiwan's last unpolluted wetland. The name refers to the expanse of seawater separated from the Taiwan Strait by the Chingshankang, Wangtsailiao and Tingtoue sandbars. The quality of the water makes it highly suitable for raising oysters to be eaten raw. Chiku Lagoon is home to hundreds of species of fish, shellfish, crabs, and migratory birds, including four endangered bird species. The water is one to two meters deep, and low tide exposes vast, ecologically rich mudflats.

A raft trip around the lagoon is a must, but be sure to choose a time when the tide is coming in, for at low tide the rafts are easily stranded and you may have get into the water and push-though of course this can be half the fun. Before your raft trip, take the opportunity to stroll along the harbor, where tropical fish swim in the clear, green seawater. On a guided raft trip you can learn all about the different kinds of oyster frames, including floating types, hanging line types and horizontal types, and also get a better understanding of the lagoon's ecology.

Wangtsailiao and Tingtoue sandbars reveal shocking evidence of the rapid degradation of Taiwan's coasts. Hsu Hsien-ping, a guide at the Salt Country Culture and History Workshop, says that Tingtoue sandbar used to be home for thousands of egrets and other birds, but noisy tourists frightened the egrets away, leaving only the signs explaining their natural history, erected next to the beefwood forest by the Tainan County Wild Bird Society, as a poignant reminder.

Leading the way through the woods where the egrets once lived, Hsu brings us to a "beefwood graveyard"-many dry tree stumps sticking up out of the yellow sand. Chiku's coastline may recede inland by 20 meters or more in just one summer, and the pace of erosion is accelerating. Hsu surmises that this is due to sand extraction for coastal industrial zones, and to reservoirs preventing river silt from reaching the coast.

Chiku Lighthouse, located on Tingtoue sandbar at about the most westerly point in Taiwan, bears witness to the coastal erosion. Three predecessors of the present structure have been successively swallowed by the sea since 1957, and today large seawalls are being built around the lighthouse in the hope of saving this disappearing land.

In front of the Tainan Branch of the Taiwan Fisheries Research Institute, at the south end of the lagoon, is the Clam Park, where at low tide adults and children alike can dig for various species of clams.

Salt Belt Guided Tours:

Chiku Salt Pans

The offices of Chiku Salt Pans-Taiwan's second largest commercial salt pans-are located at Chungliao Village, Chiku Rural Township, at the end of County Highway 176. Salt production began in 1935, and at their height the salt pans covered an area of more than 2000 hectares. Today, as well as seeing mountains of salt, visitors to the salt pans can bathe in the new brine baths. These contain a 15-cm layer of brine sludge, and brine liquor from the evaporation of seawater, which is rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium. A liberal rub with the brine liquor is claimed to work wonders for both the constitution and the complexion. Besides unique salt-flavored ice lollies, other products on sale at the shop include gourmet salt, bathing salts, salt toothpaste and salt soap.

Chiku Salt Pans

66, Yancheng Village, Chiku Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 780-0133

Hours: 9:00-17:00

Black-faced Spoonbill Refuge, Mangrove Conservation Area

In September or October each year the black-faced spoonbills-nicknamed "black-faced dancers" in Taiwan on account of the distinctive way they flip fish into the air when feeding-fly 2000 km from their breeding grounds around the Korean peninsula to spend the winter at Taiwan's Tsengwen River estuary, or in Hong Kong or Vietnam. They fly north again in April or May.

The undisturbed natural environment of the Tsengwen estuary, and the abundant tilapia and crucian carp of Chiku's vast fish farms, provide the spoonbills with a suitable overwintering habitat. Bird observation cabins have been set up 1000 meters away from the spot in the middle of the estuary where the spoonbills rest. Only 700-plus black-faced spoonbills now survive in the world, but over 500 have been recorded together at this spot. The estuary also has many other regular avian visitors, including great egrets, little egrets, grey-tailed tattlers and green-winged teal. A powerful telescope is needed to view the birds. During the birdwatching season there are full-time guides on hand to explain the migratory birds' natural history.

Another feature of Chiku's rich natural environment not to be missed is the rare single-species forest of grey mangrove (Avicennia marina) in the mangrove conservation area at the mouth of the Chiku Creek. The forest is home to thousands of egrets and black-crowned night herons, which live here throughout the year. Every evening as the egrets return to their nests, the night herons start looking for food, and fiddler crabs and mudskippers show themselves on the soft mudflats. As the glow of the sunset envelopes the Chiku Creek, the curtain is just rising on the stage of life!

Kuotai Raft Tours

Tel: (06) 788-1688 / 0933-274-251

Fare: NT$100 per personSalt Country Culture and History Workshop

Tel: (06) 721-1079

Tainan County Natural History Museum

61-10, Junghe Village, Tsochen Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 573-2385

Hours: 8:30-12:00, 13:30-17:00, Tuesday afternoon to Sunday.Tsailiao Fossil Museum

61-1, Junghe Village, Tsochen

Rural Township, Tainan County

Tel: (06) 573-1174

Hours: 8:13-12:00, 13:30-17:00,

Tuesday afternoon to Sunday.Tachung Canteen (06) 573-2373. Cost: NT$3500 per table.Cost: NT$3500/table

Promotion Section, Paiho Farmers Association

Tel: (06) 683-0122

p.001checkerboard fields of the Chia-nan Plain are the richest assets left to us by our ancestors, and are also the best place for cityllare often cutff from nature, to learn about farming life.1

The simple, straightforward ways of Taiwan's country folk are sure to win your heart.

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Major Scenic Attractions in Tainan County

Paiho

Kuantien

Chiku

Tsochen

Tainan City

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Hsichuang Village in Kuantien Rural Township has become one of southern Taiwan's major tourist attractions since Chen Shui-bian, who hails from here, became president.Getting a photo taken with the life-sized cutout of President Chen outside his old home is a must for many visitors to Kuantien.

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Visitors to Kuantien's Water Caltrop Festival can not only gorge themselves on water caltrops, but also gather the caltrops themselves from rowing boats.

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Dappled by the shadows of areca palms in the glow of the setting sun, the water caltrop fields of Kuantien appear even more charming.

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The release of excess water from Wushantou Reservoir makes for an impressive sight.

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Lungtien Distillery's Yusan Erkuotou and Chinghsiang sorghum liquors have an excellent reputation, and its sideline products such as kaoliang ice lollies and rice cakes steeped in Lung Feng medicinal liquor are also very popular.

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Tsoumalai Farm has 40 hectares of fine grassland. At the farm's annual Pasture Grass Festival, refreshing grass-stem snacks and scarecrow contests quickly dispel the fatigue of city life.

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Don't miss the Lotus Feasts. Available June through August.

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The xiang shui lotus, which blossoms year-round, has become a favorite among serious flower arrangers.

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Make pottery, dye shirts and other clothing, enjoy drinking tea, and partake in an exquisite local meal-all in the secluded and peaceful setting of the White Lotus Pottery.

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Located in the Kuantzuling Scenic Area, the Piyun Temple, a Grade Three historic site, preserves a mixture of Fukienese and Japanese styles.

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Seemingly floating on a sea of lotuses, Ama's Scenic Guesthouse and its witty proprietor will make you feel right at home.

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Spewing forth both water and natural gas, Kuantzuling's "Spring of Fire and Water" is an impressive sight.

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Moisture evaporating from the chalk of Tsochen's Moon World badlands in the warmth of the early morning sun shrouds the hills in mist, like a scene from an ink-wash painting. But to enjoy this sight you have to rise early, and have luck with the weather. (courtesy of Tsochen Farmers Association)

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At Yanshuikeng in Tsochen's Tsaoshan Village, there are many saline mud pools that bubble with flammable natural gas. The pools can be very deep, so visitors should take extra care.

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Karma Kagyu Monastery is Taiwan's largest White Sect Tibetan Buddhist temple. Its buildings are highly distinctive.

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Crops grow slowly in Tsochen's chalky soil, but this makes them all the more flavorsome. Red bananas, mangoes and manjacks are all famous local products.

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The six Siraya aboriginal style thatched huts at Maolu Holiday Farm look like something straight out of an old photograph. Here you can experience something of the life of the plains aborigines in bygone days.

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The Alizu shrine in Kousheliao is one of more than ten aboriginal shrines in Tsochen. The picture shows offerings made to the spirit Alizu.

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On a raft tour of Chiku Lagoon, you can quietly enjoy the sight of egrets in flight, soldier crabs and hermit crabs feeding, and little fish leaping out of the water-just like on the Discovery Channel.

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The clear, clean waters of the lagoon make the oysters harvested here safe to eat raw.

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Soldier crabs-which walk forwards, not sideways-live in large numbers on the soft mudflats of Chiku Lagoon, where they come out to feed at low tide. The crabs are distinguished by their ball-shaped, blue carapaces and their long, white, slender legs and claws.

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The fresh seafood of Chiku's seafood street is a delight to gourmet palates. The popular An Ke Seafood Restaurant (372, Tacheng Village), is the oldest eatery on the street.

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The beefwood stumps sticking up out of the yellow sands of the "beefwood graveyard" on Tingtoue sandbar bravely stand guard on Taiwan's west coast.

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The towering salt mounds of the Chiku Salt Pans are known as the "Snowy Mountains" of Tainan. Novel attractions at the salt pans include healthful brine baths and salty ice lollies.

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A wave of the head, a stretch of the legs-the black-faced guests who have flown so far to be here love the natural, unpolluted environment of Chiku, so follow in their footsteps if you want to feast your eyes on Chiku's natural beauty! (courtesy of Chiku Farmers Association)

 
 
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