Monday, September 4, 2017

By bike through the rice fields of Chishang

Chishang in Taitung (臺東縣池上鄉) has been renowned for the quality of its rice since the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). During the period of Japanese control, rice grown here was supplied to the Japanese royal family in Tokyo. It's also an area of exceptional beauty, in part because the power lines and utility poles that pepper much of rural Taiwan don't get between you and the landscape. Farmers believe the shadows cast by cables and pylons interfere with the rice's natural growing cycle, and have been successful in keeping them away from the paddy fields which create Chishang's most memorable scenes.
All things considered, Chishang has to be one of the best places in Taiwan for recreational cycling. There's hardly any traffic and the roads are well maintained.  
In English, the township's bicycle path has the straightforward name, Chishang Bicycle Trail, but it's worth spending a moment understanding its name in Chinese: 池上環圳自行車道 means 'the bikeway that goes around the irrigation ditches.' Even though east Taiwan has less extreme wet-season/dry-season differences than the western half of the island, irrigation is essential if local agriculture is to prosper.  
The bikeway is 17.4km in length, so it presents a bit more of a work-out than other bike trails in the region. As elsewhere, tandem bikes and four-seaters are also available for renting from the businesses near Mr. Brown Avenue, a spot made famous some years back by a TV commercial for Mr. Brown (a range of canned coffees made by the company that also produces Taiwan's world-beating Kavalan Whiskey). Some tourists opt for tandem bicycles or four-seater pedal-powered machines.
EVA Air is one of Taiwan's major airlines. What is its connection with Chishang? Since 2013, the company has been partnering with Chishang's farmers' association and promoting Chishang rice on its planes. If you flew into Taiwan on EVA, there's a very good chance you ate rice that was grown in Chishang.
Chishang isn't the only place in east Taiwan where the authorities have decided public art made from old bicycles enhanced the landscape. I'm not convinced, I have to admit.
Below: Not the aftermath of a road accident, but tourists trying to get some good photographs, and also enjoying the strange sensation of lying down on a public road (something highly inadvisable in other parts of Taiwan).
If you've plenty of time and energy, take a look at this blog for a detailed account of exploring the area by bike. Even if you've no intention of emulating the blogger, do check out his photos and video clips. Dapo Pond (大坡池, below) is certainly worth a detour. A nearby and very popular food business specializing in the production of tofu sheets takes its name from the pond.
Chishang Pastoral Farm Resort (池上牧野渡假村) is just over 3km southwest of Chishang Railway Station; if you’re driving or cycling, follow Highway 9 towards Taitung and follow the signposts. The resort belongs to Taiwan Sugar Company, one of the largest landowners in this region, even though sugar production in Taiwan has dwindled to almost nothing. During the 1980s, the 125 hectares of ex-plantation was converted first to beef production and then to tourism. 

One of the attractions here are the Mongolian-style yurts and banners. Mongolian dishes, such as fried lamb, are available, but younger visitors will probably be more interested in the animals which are kept here, including zebras, gazelles, llamas, camels, and pygmy hippopotamuses. The resort has a breeding program in cooperation with Taipei Zoo.   
As well as a camping area, the resort has 58 guestrooms for two, three or four people. Prices range from NT$2,000 to NT$6,200 depending on room type and whether you're booking for a weekday or a weekend/national holiday. Room rates include breakfast, admission to the resort, and parking fees, according to the resort's Chinese-only website.  
This blog post was sponsored by the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area Administration. Once again, I would like to express thanks to Cheryl Robbins for sharing several photographs with me.

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