KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) -- Tourism is big business in Taiwan, and there is no shortage of people here who make a good living from it, despite the hype of a decline in Chinese tourists hitting the industry hard. Sometimes, though, the incentives of attracting visitors can lead attractions to try a little bit too hard to pull in the crowds.
As a result, while there are lots of tourist attractions that have plenty to offer, there are also a few which turn out to be rather different from what they claim. Everyone is looking for different things when they travel, and most places may not leave tourists feeling tricked. However, there are certainly a few places in Taiwan which have been a little disingenuous in the push to drive up visitor numbers.
Let's have a look at three popular tourist attractions in Taiwan which are not quite what they seem. You may be able to think of other examples, too. If so, why not share them with our readers on our Facebook and Twitter pages:
- Jiufen - 九份
Image Credit: Reddit
If you run a Google search on Jiufen, you don’t have to look too hard before you find the first reference to Spirited Away, arguably the most successful film to come out of the Studio Ghibli film studio in Japan. It grossed over US$290 million worldwide and won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2003. The story goes that Jiufen’s winding alleys and tea-houses clinging to the mountainside were the inspiration behind the movie’s ‘downtown’ scenes after Hayao Miyazaki visited shortly before making the film. This tale has drawn countless tourists from Japan and around the world to Jiufen to see ‘the inspiration behind Spirited Away (神隱少女）’.
There is one small problem: It’s not true. Miyazaki himself has confirmed as much in several interviews stating that he has never visited Jiufen and Spirited Away is not inspired by any one place, but rather a product of his imagination. Of course, that has not stopped locals in Jiufen, and even the local tourism boards, from promoting the myth and inviting people to ‘get spirited away in Jiufen’. It is slightly ironic, as the initial tourism boom in Jiufen did stem from another movie that was actually filmed there. A City of Sadness (悲情城市), made in 1989 and directed by Hou Hsiao-hsie (侯孝賢), was the first film to reference the February 28thIncident, and it also won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. It was set primarily in Jiufen and its success sparked a renewed interest in the town.
While its link to a classic Japanese animated movie may be nothing more than a myth, Jiufen is still a magical, if sometimes overcrowded, place to visit. The winding alleyways, unique street food, historic tea houses, and spectacular view over Taiwan’s northern coast mean Jiufen remains a must-visit destination for tourists to this part of the country.
- Sicao Green Tunnel, Tainan - 四草綠色隧道
Image Credit: Wikimedia
At first glance, the Sicao Green Tunnel in Tainan is a stunning natural phenomenon. All the images you will see in tourism guides and online show a picturesque former salt canal with overhanging trees and an abundance of wildlife. Located right in the heart of the Sicao wetlands, many visitors expect to explore an unspoilt natural wilderness and guides also mention various historic sites that can be viewed during a boat trip too.
The problem here is that the Sicao Green Tunnel is not quite the natural wonder it is portrayed to be. Firstly, it is not surrounded by unspoilt wetlands but rather a mixture of light industry and fish farms. It is also not actually a former salt canal. As this well-researched blog post explains, research has shown that it is, in fact, a Japanese era drainage ditch. Needless to say, that description would be far less appealing to tourists. It is also obvious when you visit, that there is little natural beauty on display either. The canal is lined by sandbags and there is also evidence of the overhanging trees having been deliberately cut and shaped to hang as they do.
Equally, there are also some question marks about the historical sites at Sicao Green Tunnel. The site of the Dutch-era Fort Zeeburg is probably accurate, but aside from a sign and a single rock, there is nothing left to be seen of it. Perhaps at some point they will excavate it properly. At the point where the boat turns around is the supposed site of a Qing Dynasty tax bureau where merchant ships were taxed before passing up the canal. But, as we mentioned earlier, Sicao Green Tunnel isn’t an old canal, and this isn’t the site of a tax bureau. That was actually located nearby at No. 150, Bentian Road Sec. 1 (本田路一段150號) but has long since been torn down.
Despite this misleading information, Sicao Green Tunnel is still very pretty and while the boat trip is rather pricy at NT$200 per person, it is still well worth doing. The flora, fauna, and wildlife that is on display is impressive. And much of the money goes to the upkeep of Dazhong Temple (大衆廟) where trips start and finish. That temple is most likely 200 years old (not 300 years old as the guides will tell you) and, although it has been renovated, remains a sizable and impressive place of worship.
- High-Heel Wedding Church, Budai Township, Chiayi County - 高跟鞋教堂
Image Credit: Wikimedia
The high-heeled wedding church in Budai Township, Chiayi County, attracted headlines around the world when it opened in January 2016. It is undoubtedly a unique and interesting structure. At 17.76 meters high, it holds the Guinness World Record for the world's largest high-heel shoe-shaped structure. Ever since it opened two-and-a-half years ago, visitors have been flocking to this part of rural Chiayi to have their photos taken in front of it.
And that's the whole point. As we mentioned at the top of this article, tourism is big business in Taiwan right now and everyone wants in. Due to Taiwan having already destroyed much of its history and culture, more and more places are looking to construct new tourist attractions to bring people in. When they do, they often try to manufacture some sort of deeper meaning and reason for building them.
The high-heel wedding church was supposedly built to commemorate the serious outbreak of blackfoot disease in Taiwan in the 1950’s. If that sounds tenuous, there is more. The inspiration supposedly comes from the story of a girl who was affected by the disease and therefore couldn’t wear high-heeled shoes to her wedding. Tourists are advised that we should feel sorry for the disease which denied this girl her dream, and that a giant shoe-shaped church is a fitting tribute to her and everyone else affected.
As expected, there are a few problems with this story. Firstly, blackfoot disease didn’t just affect girls, but boys too. Secondly, the story in question appears to have little basis in reality and there are many who suggest those behind the high-heel shoe church came up with it fairly late in the development to justify building a church shaped like a shoe in a National Scenic Area.
Taiwan has seen a rash of such construction projects in recent years. Churches seem to be popular, with quirky projects such as the Paper Church (紙教堂) in Puli and Crystal Church（水晶教堂) in Beimen all fairly shamelessly seeking to attract tourists. Far from being places of worship, they are in reality little more than architecturally interesting cash-cows seeking to profit from the huge number of Taiwanese (and international) tourists who want a photo of themselves in front of the latest cool attraction. If that’s what you are after, then these places will certainly deliver. However, interest in them is always short-lived and in Budai Township, tourism chiefs are already looking at developing new facilities and running new promotions to counter the significant drop in tourists visiting the high-heel church over the past 18-months.