嘉 義 2020-08-08
Chiayi is more than just a gateway to Alishan. The quaint town has a history and culture all its own from the Hinoki Village to delicious curries, and the fact that most of its lovely attractions are free make it a perfect place to spend a day trip.
The attractions can be tough to get to when you don’t know where you’re going but there is definitely a cultural center of sorts. In this cultural center, you will find most of the museums, as well as a few Japanese relics, charming old buildings and quaint restaurants hidden in plain sight.
Chiayi Railroad and Garage Park
Chiayi’s Railroad and Garage Park is located near Showtime Plaza. The park is filled with old timey trains that make for great photo taking opportunities. The park is a quiet place with families and young children exploring the old trains and railroad tracks. It’s free to enter the park, so it makes a great place to explore on a sunny afternoon with the family. Once inside feel free to recreate melancholic photos of loved ones leaving as you hop on the metal giant and wave at imagined passerby’s.
There are bathrooms located at either end of the park and a small restaurant located at the front, so you can spend as much time here as you like. The trains were once part of the main train line that passed through Chiayi, but this track has been disconnected and a new one was made for the more modern trains in Chiayi station.
Song of the Forest
Nearby to the Railroad and Garage Park is the Song of the Forest Sculpture. This is another nice park with a unique city landmark. Walk inside the Song of the Forest and observe the unique architecture before heading over to the Koji Pottery Museum. Across the road from the Song of the Forest are several bubble tea shops, so you can buy yourself a tea and sit down in the Song of the Forest park if you have some spare time and watch the tourists and families exploring the unique sculpture and playing in the grass.
Koji Pottery Museum
The Koji Pottery Museum is another free Chiayi attraction. You can learn all about Koji Pottery and its history in Taiwan. The signs in the museum are in both Chinese and English, so foreigners can enjoy the museum even they don’t know Chinese. There is a very cute DIY section for children, so this museum would be a great place to bring your family. I found the Koji pottery to be very intricate and beautiful. The museum also has an exhibition on delicate paper art, which has been meticulously cut and designed into beautiful works of art. The museum is located underneath the Chiayi public library, so if you live in Chiayi, it’d be worth going upstairs after exploring the museum and looking into the stacks. There are English books in the public library as well as Chinese books.
Chiayi Municipal Museum
The Municipal Museum is located next to the Koji Pottery Museum and public library. Go inside and you can learn a lot about everything to do with Chiayi. There are fossils on one floor and explanations of the different animals that once lived in Chiayi. There are special exhibitions about artists on another floor, including the famous Jame-Long, who is known as the stone monkey carving expert. You can see his art and other artists stone monkey carvings as well in these exhibitions. There is also information about the geology of Taiwan, including an earthquake simulation chair for children and signs explaining the various earthquakes that have hit Taiwan. There is English signage throughout the museum, so foreigners can learn about Chiayi easily. This is especially interesting as the museum guides you through the most memorable and destructive earthquakes in the Chiayi area and pictures and models of the wreckage can be seen.
Also within this museum is a cute cookie and crackers snack shop which sells traditional Taiwanese sweets and crackers. You can buy bags here to take home as souvenirs or you can buy individual cookies and sit down in the cute café atmosphere to snack away on some traditional Taiwanese eats. The café also sells reasonably priced teas and coffees to wash down their cookies.
The Hinoki Village
The Hinoki Village is not far at all from the Chiayi Municipal Museum. The village is an old Japanese village that was used by residents of the Forestry Bureau. Chiayi has preserved and restored these old buildings and now the beautiful old architecture is being used as cute shops and restaurants. You could easily spend a whole afternoon wandering around the village. This is a great place to pick up souvenirs from key chains, to mochi balls, to tea, to silver jewelry. You can buy just about anything you can think of which is related to Taiwan in these little shops and restaurants. There are also lovely lotus ponds and funny statues, so be sure to bring your phone or camera and take lots of funny and beautiful selfies. You will also catch sight of a few enthusiastic tourists wearing full Japanese attire, while at the same time, making everybody jealous of their cool look.
My favorite shop in the Hinoki Village is the Pineapple Hill shop. Pineapple Hill factory and farm is located in Minxiong County, but they have a small branch shop here at the Hinoki Village. You can get free pineapple cakes, pineapple vinegar and pineapple wine samples, as well as Oolong Tea. A set of ten pineapple cakes, if you decide to buy them, will cost 380 NTD. These cakes are by far my favorite Taiwanese desert and they taste the absolute best of any pineapple cake that I have tried in Taiwan so far.
Chiayi Old Prison
The Old Prison is the only tourist destination we went to that required hopping on our bikes and going for a ride, as it is located a bit further from many of the other tourist spots. You cannot explore the Old Prison without a tour, so it’s necessary to arrive between Tuesday and Sunday at either 9:30 ,10:30, 13:30, or 14:30. We arrived at 14:30. The tour takes about an hour. The tour is only in Chinese, although possibly if we had called ahead we could have arranged and English tour (I’m not entirely sure on this point). However, much of the architecture speaks for itself, so you don’t have to understand Chinese to enjoy the tour. The prison is built in a unique Panopticon-like pattern, with the guard station at the centre and the prisoners’ cells located in long hallways off of the centre. The tour leads you through the prisons guards, cells, bathhouses and other areas of interest. It’s a unique site and perfect if you enjoy rather morbid, unusual attractions.
There are lots of delicious places to eat in Chiayi. On this particular tour, we discovered two more unique delectable options.
For lunch, we ate at Chuhefeng Curry. We were greeted at the door by the owner’s twelve-year-old beautiful yellow lab. From the outside the restaurant is very non-descript, but the inside is a lovely Japanese design. Take your shoes off, slide on some slippers, and make yourself at home on the warm, inviting, wooden platform, where the tables are located. There is an English menu, so we were able to order without any difficulty. I can highly recommend the fried shrimp curry, which comes with three giant fried prawns, rice, curry sauce, bamboo shoots, soup, and a few vegetables. I can also recommend the beef and mushroom curry rice, absolutely amazing. All the dishes are less than 200 NTD, which makes this place a delicious, affordable, and filling option.
Japanese Ramen (No. 76, Beirong St, West District, Chiayi City, 600)
For dinner, we ate at a delightful ramen restaurant. This is another affordable option, with all meals being under 200 NTD. The menu is only in Chinese, but I can highly recommend option one, which is ramen with a thick slice of pork, onions, and bean sprouts, YUM! The broth at this restaurant is excellent and it makes the dish definitely worth coming back for time and again. They also serve nice cold apple juice in glass bottles, which I recommend. The employees were friendly and helpful and they were polite enough to guide us through some questions we had about the completely Chinese menu.
With so many good places to eat and so many free attractions, Chiayi makes the perfect day trip. Whether you live in Kaohsiung and need a break from the big city or whether you live in Chiayi and just haven’t explored all the great sights in the city, it’s worth taking a day and checking out all that Chiayi has to offer. So, bring a few NTD bills to buy some pineapple cake and ramen as you prepare to learn about Chiayi’s unique history, experience lovely architecture, and snack the day away in this surprising town that is more than just the gateway to Alishan.