Introduction to Dongshan District
Dongshan is a largely rural district in Tainan that stretches from the Tainan plain in the west eastward to the foothills of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range. This region, part of the Siraya National Scenic Area, is known for its coffee plantations, ponkan tangerines, litchis, longans, plums, and wild turmeric. In the spring, the air is filled with the scent of the fragrant fruit tree blossoms; the fruit is harvested from August to December. During this time of year, visitors to the area can spend the day on farms picking fruit to take home at discounted prices.
Autumn in Dongshan is Coffee Festival time. The area is home to around 150 hectares of coffee plantations whose beans ripen between October and December. Coffee was introduced to Dongshan during the Japanese colonial period more than a hundred years ago, but it really took off as a crop in the last couple of decades, when local interest in gourmet coffee became a thing. These days, a lot of the farms in Dongshan are small landholdings owned by coffee aficionados who are bent on developing gourmet varieties. This interest has begun to pay off, with some local producers earning Q Certificates from the Coffee Quality Institute. All of this makes Coffee Road a great place to come and indulge in the local brew.
One area of Dongshan District that may be of particular interest to backpackers and other visitors looking for a unique experience is the town of Dongyuan. Its location in the hills makes getting there a bit of a challenging bike ride, so visitors may want to consider using a scooter, driving, or taking the bus in from Sinying instead. But if you’re in good enough shape to get up to Dongyuan, it’s a great area to ride around in, with plenty of offbeat places to see and miles of barely-trafficked lanes winding through orchards and stands of trees with the Central Mountain Range forming a backdrop in the distance.
A great place to start a tour of this area is with Dongyuan Old Street, a long, downhill road through the town that springs to life with a local market in the early hours of the morning and then sits nearly empty during the rest of the day.
Nearby on Tainan Route 105, you can satisfy your yen for adventure by exploring the hidden ruins of the abandoned Dapu Sugar Mill…but only if you can find it first! This is one of the few places you can go in Taiwan that practically nobody knows about, at least for the time-being. The ruins aren’t particularly safe, and there is nobody there, so be sure to go with a companion, and leave a word of your plans with Mr. Yu in the Culture and Tourism Office on Old Street.
When you’re done exploring the sugar mill, check out the longan kilns about a kilometer up Route 104 from Old Street. Traditional brick-and-clay kiln platforms such as the ones here are a feature almost unique to this area. During the months of August and September, local longan farmers slow-roast the excess harvest to preserve the fruit in a traditional process brought to Taiwan from China during the Qing Dynasty.
A little farther up the road from the kiln area, bicyclists can head off-road to explore the tiny rural lanes that lace the countryside on either side of the Xinggui Suspension Bridge, then end the day with specialty drinks and a meal at Mama Mia’s, a local organic farm that welcomes backpackers. If you like exploring out-of-the-way places and yearn for a different kind of adventure, Dongyuan is the place to be.
Introduction to Baihe District
Baihe District sits in Tainan’s northeast corner. Travelers to the district will find that a trip here can be divided into two distinct routes. Some of the best spots to see in Baihe’s western plains are very close to the border of Houbi District, and visitors spending a weekend in the area can combine the two itineraries. This part of Baihe includes the Siaonanhai Scenic Area and Wetlands Reserve, Baihe Lotus Park, and Silk Cotton Tree Road. The area is known for its natural beauty and its wildlife, and the excellent bike trails and little traveled country roads make this a perfect place for a weekend bike trip. The silk cotton trees bloom in spring and the lotus in the summer, but the scenery is beautiful no matter what time of year you choose to come.
At the far eastern end of Baihe is Pillow Mountain and the Guanziling Hot Springs area. This part of the district is linked to Dongshan via Route 175 (Coffee Road), and for bicyclists able to handle the ride, these two districts make for a spectacular and very unusual journey into Tainan’s mountainous eastern region. Any tour of the Guanziling area requires a trip around the slopes of Pillow Mountain. It is possible to go either way around, but most travelers prefer to start from Baihe Daxian Temple, the large Buddhist monastery at the foot of the mountain. The temple offers free or low-cost accommodation to travelers, making it a good choice for backpackers on a budget. It’s also a great jumping-off point to begin exploring the area. A steep ride up the mountain from Baihe Daxian Temple will lead you to Huoshan Biyun Temple with its spectacular view over Tainan’s western plain. From this vantage point, you can watch the sun set into the sea in the west and then enjoy great views of the lights in the towns below and the moon overhead at night.
Continuing past the temple will bring you to Fire and Water Grotto, where geothermal activity beneath the mountain has created a natural flaming hot spring. Around and down the other side of the mountain is the town of Guanziling, whose unusual mud hot springs have been a famous tourist attraction since Japanese colonial times. A hike up the tain beyond the hot springs leads to Hongyeh Park, one of only a handful of places in Taiwan where it is possible to enjoy the sight of maple trees in all their fiery glory in the autumn.
Whether you opt for the mountain route or an easier ride through the district’s low-elevation flatlands, Baihe District offers visitors a unique and fascinating travel experience.
∎ Where to visit ∎
∎ Where to Rent Motorbike/Bicycle ∎
∎ Where to eat-drink-buy ∎
∎ Where to stay ∎