Since its opening 10 years ago, the Taiwan High-Speed Rail (HSR) line has become an essential conduit, linking all the major cities on the country’s western lowlands. Last year saw a network expansion, with the northern terminus moved from Taipei Main Station to Nangang (南港), while three new stations along the route, Miaoli (苗栗), Changhua(彰化), and Yunlin (雲林), brought the total number to twelve.
But despite this, the overwhelming majority use the line to commute between major urban cities. Most will seek out fast trains which skip these smaller new stations and when they get off a train, they will jump straight into a taxi or on the MRT and head into the city centre. Most of the stations are dismissed as being in the middle of nowhere rather than places of interest in themselves. But in actual fact, almost all of the twelve HSR stations have sights of interest in close proximity and in this article I have picked out my top ten, travelling from north to south.
- Nangang - Hushan Hiking Trail - 虎山親山步道
Hushan Hiking Trail. (Travel.Taipei image)
Despite the recent extension to Nangang, most people still tend to start and finish their journey at Taipei Main Station. But Nangang has its own points of interest. It is home to the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center (台北南港展覽館) and the Academia Sinica (中央研究院). But the biggest reason to stay on the train for me is the local hiking trails.
A short taxi ride from the HSR station is the Hushan Hiking Trail, which offers a pleasant, easy-to-walk trail of between 2.5km and 4km up to the summit, which is not too high. There are numerous different plant and animal species to see and the peak is marked by a sundial and some beautiful the city. Other trails including the more popular Xiangshan Hiking Trail (象山親山步道) are located a little further away but also easily accessible.
Distance from HSR Station – 10-15 minute taxi ride.
- Taipei Main Station - Dr Sun Yat-Sen Memorial House - 逸仙公園 (國父史蹟紀念館)
Sun Yat-sen Memorial House. (Wikimedia Commons image)
Taipei Main Station is right in the city centre in an area well-trodden by tourists and locals alike. But one site located within walking distance of the station is often overlooked by tourists. The Dr Sun Yat-Sen Memorial House (not to be confused with the much better known Dr Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館) is a pretty Japanese era house situated in Yixian Park (逸仙公園).
It is dedicated to the founder of the Republic of China and he is believed to have stayed there for a short time during one of his visits to Taiwan shortly after the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) of 1911. It was built in 1900 and although it has subsequently been moved, the house remains a fascinating place to explore, while the Japanese gardens offer an oasis of calm amidst the hubbub of Taipei City Centre
Distance from HSR Station – 3-4 minute walk from the East Exit down Civic Boulevard (市民大道).
- Banqiao - The Lin Family Mansion and Garden- 林本源園邸
Lin Family Mansion. (Wikimedia Commons image)
Banqiao (板橋) is often thought of as a commuter station rather than one for visitors to get off at, but actually, there is plenty to explore. A real highlight is the Lin Family Mansion and Garden. This beautiful family mansion is set in extensive gardens, which are prized as part of the Four Great Gardens of Taiwan (台灣四大名園).
A tour is needed to explore inside the buildings, but with the oldest sections dating back to 1847 and the slightly later Three-Courtyard Mansion (三落大厝), complete with defensive features in great condition, it is well worth making the effort.
Distance from HSR Station – a ten-minute walk or a five-minute taxi ride.
- Banqiao – Taiwan Toy Museum - 臺灣玩具博物館
Taiwan Toy Museum. (Image by Pinterest user Grace O'Malley)
Located slightly further afield, the Taiwan Toy Museum, which is located in the Banqiao 435 Art Zone (板橋435藝文特區) is a great place for families to visit. It boasts a collection of more than 3,000 historic toys and games covering more than a century of Taiwanese history. There are various toy-related artefacts to view too, but the highlight is undoubtedly the chance to play with some of the historic toys. This is something enjoyed by both kids and adults alike and offers a great insight into Taiwanese childhoods past.
While there, the 435 Art Zone is also worth exploring for its various exhibitions and the New Taipei City Wetland Story House offers the opportunity to learn more about the nearby that run alongside the nearby Tamsui River too.
Distance from HSR Station – ten-minute taxi ride.
- Hsinchu - New Tile House Hakka Cultural District - 新瓦屋客家文化保存區
New Tile House Hakka Cultural District. (Image from blog.xuite.net)
The New Tile House (Xinwawu) Hakka Cultural District was the first Hakka Cultural Reserved District in Taiwan. It was created by Sun-Tan Lin (林孫檀) who travelled to the area from Guangdong province, China, in the early 1800’s. They settled and built a closed village surrounded by almost three kilometres of walls. The centrepiece of this village was Zhongxiao Hall (忠孝堂), which was the Lin family home.
The village has now been turned into and cultural hub hosting everything from markets and outdoor cinemas to a Hakka Tea Festival (in May) and a Hakka Drumming Festival (October). Most of the old buildings can now be visited, including Zhongxiao Hall(忠孝堂), although this has been rebuilt several times, most recently in the 1970’s.
Distance from HSR Station – five-minute taxi ride.
- Miaoli – Academy of Excellence – 英才書院 / Haka Roundhouse - 客家圓樓 / Haka Cultural Development Centre臺灣客家文化館
Miaoli Roundhouse. (Wikimedia Commons)
The big selling point of Miaoli is its natural beauty, but to access this you will need to travel beyond the immediate vicinity of the station. Within itself, the main tourist attractions are mostly faux Hakka cultural buildings created by profligate former county commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) during his recent 9-year tenure. The Miaoli Academy of Excellence is also sometimes referred to as the Yingcai Academy (英才書院) and is a faux Chinese style attraction which is modelled on the old Confucian academies
Closer to the HSR station is the Haka Roundhouse, which is a modern reconstruction of a traditional (土樓) earth-brick building from Fujian (福建) province. It has nothing much of interest inside. The best bet for visitors is to head to the Haka Cultural Development Centre, an insightful museum into Hakka culture. But this is located around a 20-minute drive from the station, so will require a little longer in a taxi.
Distance from HSR Station – a ten-minute walk or a three-minute taxi ride.
- Taichung - Rainbow Village (彩虹眷村)
Rainbow Village. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Rainbow Village has been growing in fame and popularity of but is often dismissed by visitors without their own transport for being too far out of the city centre. But it is actually just a short taxi ride from the HSR Station and well within reach for those keen to visit.
Those that do will be greeted by the old houses of a veteran’s village, which were saved from the developer’s bulldozers by one man, Mr Huang, who painted them in bright vibrant colours. Today, the village has been saved and visitors can enjoy the fruits of this one man’s labours.There still just a few house remaining, but it is nonetheless a remarkable spectacle and Mr Huang still lives there, so you may even get to meet the man himself.
Distance from HSR Station – eight-minute taxi ride.
- Changhua - Qing Shui Yan (清水岩)
Qing Shui Yan. (Trip Advisor image)
Some visitors are often surprised that Changhua Station (彰化高鐵站) is located so far from Changhua City. It will take you around 45 minutes by car to reach the main sites of the city, but there are some points of interest closer to the station. Beidou Old Street (北斗老街) in Beidou Township offers some architectural heritage as well as some great local street food.
But my favourite is Qing Shui Yan (清水岩), which is home to a temple, a beautiful old Buddhist Monastery, and some beautiful walking trails which can be explored. The trails wind their way around the hill offering several impressive viewing points without being too difficult. It is a great place to escape for young and old.
Distance from HSR Station – fifteen-minute taxi ride.
- Yunlin – Yunlin Story House and Puppet Theatre Museum – 雲林故事館 &雲林布袋戲館
Yunlin Story House. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Yunlin Story House (雲林故事館)is a spectacular building which dates back to the Japanese era. It was an official residence for many years and has now been transformed into a heritage attraction and cultural centre. Today it plays hosts to workshops and story-telling events which are popular with parents and kids alike. And you can also sign up for a guided tour of the building to learn more about its architecture and history.
Located just down the road is the Yunlin Puppet Theatre Museum (雲林布袋戲館), which boasts a large collection of traditional Taiwanese glove puppets as well as a chance to learn about the development of the artform. There are regular shows and also a chance to have a go yourself. The building housing the museum is an old police station and still retains many of the original features, including the cells, which can also be explored.
Distance from HSR Station – ten-minute taxi ride.
- Zouying - Banpingshan - 半屏山
Mount Banpingshan. (Wikimedia Commons)
The southern terminus of the Rail line is at Zuoying Station in the north of Kaohsiung. For most tourists disembarking, the first stop will be the MRT station or a taxi rank to head into the city centre, but Banpingshan (半屏山) offers a good reason to linger a while. This small mountain, which is officially part of the city’s Shoushan National Park (壽山國家公園) offers two main hiking trails and dozens of smaller routes too.
It was extensively quarried for cement in the past, but this has now stopped and the mountain has started the process of regrowth. Walkers will see plenty of interesting flora and fauna, but perhaps the most noticeable are the Strangler Figs, which tangle around rocks to make stunning patterns.
There are different viewing points on Banpingshan (半屏山). To the north, you will see nothing but Kaohsiung’s grim industrial hinterland, whose pollution continues to blight the city. But to the west is a great view of the World Games Stadium(世運館), the nearby Lotus Pond (蓮池潭), and over the naval base to the sea beyond, while to the south you can see over the whole city.