Daytrippers #2 & 3: Taichung

We’ve been crazy busy lately, so the blog has been very quiet, but we’re finally back with a long a post about our adventure in Taichung. For context: Taichung is the third biggest city in Taiwan, and the nearest big city to Changhua (about 15 minutes by train). It’s also an easy place to get around because the BRT (bus rapid transit) is free if you have an Easy Card, and a lot of people speak pretty good English there. For Moon Festival, the celebration of the harvest moon, everyone got a 4-day weekend. We had originally planned to spend one day in Taichung, but we ended up going back the next day just to finish looking at the Natural Science Museum and botanical gardens.

(As a side note, due to camera troubles most of our photos were taken with our phones and will probably look pretty rubbish on a big screen. Apologies in advance!)

Our first day started with our usual Chinese lesson, at Taichung Station at 9am, where our teacher helped us plan our day – which buses to catch and from where, what order to do things in, and where to find a good place to eat. Lunch was our first priority after our lesson, so we headed to Yizhong St, street food central. The whole road is lined with wall-to-wall food and drink stalls of every description, interspersed with things like shoe shops and toy shops. Some food stalls were quite traditional, selling stinky tofu (which we have yet to pluck up the courage to try), fried rice, and dumplings. Others sold toasted sandwiches, hotdogs, ice-cream bread rolls and shrimp balls. After a bit of wandering we decided on jacket potatoes stuffed with broccoli and cheese sauce, and raspberry and lemon tea, and set off for Taichung Park to eat it.

Taichung Park is beautiful. Despite being surrounded by skyscrapers and busy roads, the park grounds are big and green enough that you can almost forget you are in a city. The park was created during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and it’s one of the oldest in Taiwan. It is also famous for the Lake Heart Pavilion, which was built in honour of the Japanese Prince’s visit to Taichung in 1908. The pavilion sits in the middle of a man-made lake filled with ducks, geese, ENORMOUS koi, and dozens of terrapins, all of which will fight over any snacks thrown into the water. The park also has a number of pretty little pagodas and interesting sculptures, like a giant mirrored goat, built in 2014 (a goat year in the Chinese zodiac). There are also squirrels which are fairly tame and will take food out of your hands, despite the signs saying “do not feed the wildlife”. The wildlife clearly has other ideas!

Our next stop was the Natural Science Museum. The museum has constant displays on evolution, dinosaurs, human development and the body, Chinese and Taiwanese culture, and global environments – the standard museum fare. There is a big focus on interactive displays, even if it’s just pressing a button to illuminate points on a map, which makes the museum good fun. For the most part there are English info boards for everything, but some areas, like the Chinese culture hall, have none at all. Even so, the displays are very interesting, and if you know anything at all about other human cultures it’s fairly easy to work out that this is a traditional cutting tool, and that’s some kind of idol. The dinosaur exhibit is a particular highlight because of the excellent animatronics, and the section on Taiwanese aboriginal people is very interesting and contains some beautiful dioramas.

When we were there, the museum had a special exhibit on the human brain. It was excellently put together, with areas explaining the structure of the brain, the function of the brain, how the brain interprets sensory cues to make sense of the world, brain disease, social behaviours, and learning. Again, it was all very interactive, with displays on optical illusions and chambers to test your hearing and eyesight, among other things. The info boards suggest that there is almost always a special display of some kind, but didn’t say how frequently they change over.

The museum is on the same grounds as the Space Centre and the botanical garden, so naturally we went to check those out too. The Space Centre was not quite as impressive as the museum. The first floor probably would have been very interesting if we understood Chinese, but it was all about semiconductors and their use in solar energy. The second floor was dedicated to the celestial bodies: sun, moon, stars and planets. We watched a video about the destruction of Mars’s atmosphere, read about moon cycles, compared relative gravity of the moon, Earth and Jupiter, and learnt about how the stars have changed position since the Greek Zodiac was created. Unfortunately the third and fourth floor exhibits were under construction at the time, so we didn’t get to see what they had to offer. While the Space Centre is dwarfed by the museum next door, it is good fun and has some really interesting facts to offer, and it only adds NT$20 (R10) onto your ticket price.

The botanical garden was our last stop for the day. Contrary to what you’d expect, the major part of the garden is in a massive modern green house. But it isn’t so much a garden, as a well manicured tropical forest, complete with a man-made waterfall, part of which falls from the roof of the building. The whole thing is beautiful and lush and very peaceful as you are shut off from the noise outside. At the bottom of the garden is an aquarium full of the scariest fish I have ever seen, next to a cafe and a very nice gift shop. The garden is not particularly large, but we spent about 15 minutes walking around, stopping to look at flowers or watch the water falling from the roof. There are a few benches where you can stop and rest your feet too. It’s a lovely escape from the city, and if you enjoy nature and greenery, it is also only an extra NT$20.

You could probably do everything we did in one day if you got an early start, but we specifically didn’t want to rush through anything and with the luxury of a long weekend we were under very little pressure. Taichung is a lovely city, with corridors of trees alongside some of the roads, and modern sculptures dotted around. There are also many restaurants and cafes, of multiple nationalities, ranging from Indian and Mexican, through various east Asian cuisines, to McDonald’s and Starbucks if you’re craving something familiar. We even stopped in for some Haagen-Dazs ice-cream while we waited for the bus. It’s also so easy to get to from Changhua, and easy to get around, so you can have the convenience of big city life, without having to live in a big city! Suits me just fine!