Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Neiwan Branch Line: Riding Back in Time by Train (Travel in Taiwan)

The first time I experienced the Neiwan Branch Railway was on another assignment for Travel in Taiwan, nearly twenty years ago. I thereafter rode the train to Neiwan once more, but that was long before the line’s closure, renovation and reopening in late 2011. So when the magazine asked me if I’d like to go back, my eagerness to see if the area had changed spurred immediate acceptance.

Even better, the editor wanted me to write something about downtown Hsinchu (新竹), one of my favorite Taiwanese cities. Hsinchu is usually thought of as a citadel of high-tech industry, which it is. But it also has some of the island’s finest traditional architecture, as well as a catalog of tasty local delicacies every bit as good as Tainan’s

On a glorious sunny day, with an unusual spring in my step, I walked from Hsinchu High-Speed Railway Station to the adjacent Liujia Station, which is operated by Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA). The construction of Liujia Station and 3.1km of new tracks was a key reason for overhauling the Neiwan Line. Commuters can now get from the HSR stop to the heart of Hsinchu in just 19 minutes.

Before boarding the dian-che (電車, “electric car”) to Hsinchu, I bought a one-day, jump-on/jump-off ticket valid for both the Neiwan and Liujia lines. These passes (which cost NT$95 for adults, NT$50 for kids and senior citizens) can also be purchased at Hsinchu TRA Station and some other stations, including Taipei. Sightseers heading straight to Neiwan should get off at the next station, Zhuzhong (竹中), and make sure they wait on the right platform. If you’re heading into the city from Liujia, as I was, there’s never any need to change trains.

Assuming you’ve come from Taipei (no more than 35 minutes by HSR) or Taichung (even quicker), and the Neiwan Branch Line is your main objective, you’ll probably not want to spend more than a couple of hours in the city. Fortunately, a bunch of interesting sights are within 15 minutes walk of the TRA station. I made a beeline for the City God Temple (aka Du Chenghuang Temple, 都城隍廟). The obvious route to this perpetually bustling place of worship takes you right past Yingxi Old East Gate (迎曦東門城). The gate is all that remains of the protective wall that once surrounded Hsinchu...

The complete article is in the November-December issue of Travel in Taiwan.