As a tourist destination, Hsinchu is vastly underrated. Many outsiders come here for business reasons, knowing nothing of the city's historical and natural attractions. Unfortunately, a substantial number leave without ever seeing the Japanese colonial-era buildings in the downtown, Hsinchu's lively folk shrines, or its windswept coastline. The following six sights can be seen in a single, very full day of touring, but would be best enjoyed over the space of at least two days.
Yingxi Old East Gate
This picturesque 24-column gate - which now serves as an occasional concert venue - dates from 1827 and is the only surviving element of Hsinchu's defensive wall. That barrier measured 2.84km in circumference, was 4.6m high and 4.9m wide. It surrounded 55 hectares of land; modern Hsinchu City sprawls over 10,000 hectares. Mostly soil faced with bricks and stones, the wall was demolished in 1902 to make room for urban development. The landmark's Chinese name means "welcoming the sun east gate." Now located in the middle of a very busy traffic circle (as obvious in the photo here), it can be accessed via a pedestrian tunnel. Nearby, a 600m-long section of the old moat has been turned into a decorative waterway. The trees, flowerbeds and lawns hereabouts are very attractive, especially in the evening.
When Hsinchu's city wall was built, a number of thoroughfares - among them this characterful street - were widened to make transportation more convenient. At the same time, they were remade to better conform to ancient Chinese ideas that certain distances and measurements are more auspicious than others; in this case, the ideal dimension was 1.2 zhang, an archaic unit of measurement equal to about 3.2m. As one of the city's oldest commercial thoroughfares, Beimen Street has several interesting traditional stores, including rice sellers, herbal medicine apothecaries, tailors and even a shop devoted to hand puppets. The oldest house of worship on Beimen Street is Changhe Temple. Like hundreds of other shrines in Taiwan, it's dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of seafarers. The original structure was consecrated in 1742, but has since been rebuilt twice.
At the northern end of Beimen Street stands what was one of Taiwan's finest private residences. Jinshi Mansion is a single-story, five-courtyard abode commissioned in 1838 by Zheng Yong-xi (died 1868). Zheng owes his place in the history books to scholarship. In 1823, he became the first Taiwan-born candidate to attain the highest possible level (pronounced jinshi in Mandarin, hence the name of the building) in China's imperial civil-service examinations, an achievement which brought him islandwide fame. The building is now sadly delapidated and divided among several owners. Nevertheless, a good number of exquisite woodcarvings (like the one pictured above) are still visible to passers-by.
Du Cheng Huang Temple
Every town and city in Taiwan has a city god which is believed to protect the settlement from natural disasters. Hsinchu's is unique in that it was promoted by the Chinese emperor in 1889 to the rank of provincial governor. This exceptionally vibrant shrine is filled with icons and effigies of all types and sizes, so photographer's will have a field day. Among those represented are the city god's wife (note the offerings of combs and cosmetics), his two sons, underworld judges and deified generals. The food court surrounding the temple is an excellent place to sample local delicacies, such as meatball soup and thin rice noodles. The temple is open from 4.30am every day, making it a good place to go if you're jet-lagged.
Eighteen Peaks Mountain
Because Hsinchu's booming economy demands land, since the 1980s this ridge has lost some of its 18 peaks. However, it continues to be the city's largest and most attractive green space, and it's perfect for jogging, short hikes or flower appreciation. Among the plants which grow well here are azaleas (the city's official flower) and camellias, like the one pictured here. 18 Peaks Mountain is on the inland side of Hsinchu's railway station, not far from the zoo and the Glass Arts Museum.
17km Coastline Scenic Area
The bulk of Hsinchu's population lives some distance from the ocean, but the coast appeals to those who like fresh air and birds. Bicycles can be rented at several spots, including the old fishing port of Nanliao, and bike-only trails keep pedaling tourists safe from cars and trucks. Winter is the best season for birdwatching, as migrating Kentish Plovers and Saunders’s Gulls join the resident population of egrets; Jincheng Lake is an especially good spot for twitchers. For a different kind of ecotourism, head to the tiny but educational Mangrove Park.
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