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travelogue
 PAST ISSUES

INT. TRAVEL ARCHIVE:
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
665: Okayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
661: Agamachi
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district. Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures, cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the ride.
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawak’s Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos’ ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ it’s summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
Japan's microbrewers
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
403: Santa's lap
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
399: Shanghaied
Seeking the past in China's megacity
395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.
391: The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
387: Prague
World heritage site
383: South Africa
Land of hope
381: Hawaii
Pearl Harbor
377: Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
374: China
Suzhou and Hangzhou
370: The Nile
The river mild
367: Tibet
Top of the world
363: Laos
Memo from the Lower Mekong
360: Cuzco, Peru
Lost cities
357: Namibia
Call of the wild
354: Southern India
Mad about Madurai

ISSUES 349-   
ISSUES 299-

Slow Motion

Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.

Of the reasons to visit Taiwan, few would choose the island’s architectural heritage. Despite its rich and textured history, many of Taiwan’s streets have little to show for it. Put it down to earthquake, civil strife, or fire and flood, but most of its historic buildings and neighborhoods have passed to dust much quicker than their age or structure would normally suggest. Unfortunately, once gone, they were replaced with concrete identikit housing that, though stable and quick to erect, is gray and square.

But halfway down Taiwan’s west coast, one city has been spared such ravages.

Lukang was once a bustling port, ideally positioned for trade with China. But silt choked the harbor and eventually stranded the seafaring town on a dry, flat plain. At first sight, this once-wealthy gateway to Taiwan is as nondescript as the surrounding farmland. After a walk along the main drag, Chungshan Road, however, it looks far from being disappointingly ordinary—the shuffle of early 20th-century shop houses are in fact home to a wealth of craftsmen, artisans and furniture makers that draw interest from across the island.

Further delights reward the stroller, because behind this street of busy little stores are narrow winding lanes, aged temples and a couple of worthwhile museums. In many ways, these lanes are reminiscent of Beijing’s hutongs, those wonderful but fast-disappearing alleys and backstreets that once encircled the Forbidden City, and which in some districts still offer warren-like escapes from the huge highways that plow through the increasingly faceless heart of the Chinese capital.

 

Traditional values
In little Lukang there is no rush to demolish the attractive lanes. For decades interest in revitalizing the town has ebbed and flowed like the long-gone tides, yet Lukang is now enjoying a serious push to regenerate its inheritance.

Bright bundles of incense, and a renovated merchant’s house on Old Market Street

Nine-turns Lane (Chinsheng Lane) will probably remain untouched, as it has been long cherished by residents and visitors alike. The alley bends and winds past a jostle of dwellings—old and new, small and tall—that in turn crouch next to or loom over the alley. Halfway along, the lane stumbles across the melee of Mintsu Road Market and then all becomes quiet again, except for a snooty dog sniffing the air or an old woman who cannot rid her doorstep of dust. At the north end, a bridge crosses the lane connecting two houses reputedly constructed to allow artists and writers to meet quickly, with their creative thoughts uninterrupted, and a few steps away the Half-sided Well attests to a generous gentleman’s gift to the local poor of water from his own supply. One story goes that this and other lanes were constructed along tortuous routes so as to discourage the wind from picking up speed as it whistled in off the sea, and which still seems to blow a gale on straight and open Sanmin Road.

 

A time of prayer
Most Taiwanese come to pay their respects at Lukang’s many temples. Longshan Temple, which nestles just behind Sanmin Road, boasts an intricate ceiling and fragile decoration, some of which is 350 years old. Other impressive examples, along with Longshan, are Chenghuang and Matsu Temples on Chungshan Road. Matsu, the Goddess of the Sea, is the most dearly loved deity in Taiwan, and here (as throughout the island) her birthday celebrations on the 23rd day of the third month are spectacularly popular. (For calendar conversions, see link at the end of article.)

A street or two beyond the Longshan Temple, Moju Lane cannot decide if it is a passage or the gap between two buildings grown apart—in places it is not much wider than a ribcage as pedestrians turn sideways to squeeze along. It is this “inbetweenness” that draws countless teenagers to shuffle along the lane and spray graffiti on now increasingly rare bare patches of wall.

Around the temples, a busy market sets up most days. At its southern end, it pampers to tourists with a selection of snacks and knickknacks. But as the market heads into the dusty outskirts, it supplies locals with fruit, vegetables, meats and—most importantly—seafood. Throughout Lukang, hawkers and pastry shops sell a variety of local specialities. One of the most popular is cow tongue cake (niu she bing) which is a satisfying, flat pastry filled with one of two varieties of sweetmeat and topped with sesame seeds (hence its resemblance to a cow’s licking equipment). Other local treats include an oyster omelette that is sold at stalls close to Matsu Temple or at a handful of restaurants throughout the older half of town.

Old Market Street also offers a couple of eateries and is the focus of much rebuilding and expansion. Though squarely aimed at the tourist, it is not overly brash and makes for a pleasant stroll in the early evening with lamplight offering tantalizing glimpses inside small shops, cafés and courtyard homes. As money returns to Lukang, more is spent on the refurbishment of the siheyuan (courtyard homes) and other buildings: delicately chiseled fretwork is copied, patterned glass is retraced, joists and gables are repainted with the motifs and colors that impress today as they did 100 years ago when visitors and cash flooded across from Fujian and Shanghai ports.

Lungshan Temple, one of Lukang’s foremost places of worship

 

After dark
Chungshan Road quietens down about 9pm. Sometimes, outside a hole-in-the-wall temple close to Remembrance Hall, an old 16mm projector is cranked up and a screen tied to the building on the opposite side of the street. A handful of people slowly gather to watch a dusty movie as the shadows of passing traffic cross the screen and the tinny boom from the speakers echoes from shop house to shop house. The popular A-Chen steamed bun store, just a few doors away, has long closed—its peak hours are 3 to 5pm—but other shops are still open. The lantern maker looks up to his handiwork, gently swaying with the breeze; the fan seller turns on the TV and wafts his face with his hand; a home-shrine painter touches up the moustache on the face of a glowering god; a cyclist turns into a narrow alley and is gone.



Getting there
Air Nippon, Northwest, United, EVA Air, China Airlines and Japan Asia Airways all make scheduled flights between Narita and Taipei. Changhua is reached by train from Taipei in three or four hours. Fares vary, depending on service, and are approx ¥1,300. The Changhua Bus Co. operates a service to Lukang, which departs every 20-30 minutes. Its depot is opposite Changhua Train Station (near McDonald’s). The bus journey takes about 35 minutes.

 

Where to stay
Few visitors stay overnight, meaning that rooms are not hard to find. The exceptions are Matsu’s birthday (third month) and Dragon Boat racing (fifth month). The best (and newest) rooms in town are available at the Tienhou (Matsu) Temple Hotel (tel: 04-775-2508), conveniently situated opposite the temple and day market at the north end of Chungshan Road. Doubles or twin rooms start at ¥2,250 per night. Three other hotels—Meihua, Peace and Quanzhong—are all located on the same road, but are smaller and less well-maintained despite a similar nightly charge. A motel is situated on the northeastern outskirts of Lukang.

 

More information
Dining options include A-Chen Steamed Buns (71 Chungshan Road) and Yu Chen Chai Bakery (168 Mintsu Road), which serves superb pastries and cakes and sells cow tongue cake along with many traditional Chinese sweetmeats and closes at 10:30pm. Others include Mintsu Road (Number One) Market, with food available until around 11pm; Chungshan Road Market, a day market popular for pastries; and Minchuan Road, where several restaurants offer local dishes using oyster or mud shrimp.
The official Lukang website is www.lukang.gov.tw/index-english.htm, and, though limited, is a useful introduction. The Sydney Office of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau operates an excellent website (www.taiwantourism. org). The Tokyo office of the Taiwan Visitors Association is at 3F, Kawate Bldg, 1-5-8 Nishi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3501-3591. Email: tbroctyo@abelia.ocn.ne.jp. For conversions of the lunar/solar calendars, see http:// umunhum.stanford.edu/~lee/chicomp/lunar.html

Photos by Mark Parren Taylor

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