Sun, May 25, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Chichi is for lovers

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Picturesque Chichi is a popular destination for couples.

PHOTO: DAVID MOMPHARD, TAIPEI TIMES

Mention the name Chichi to any native of Taiwan and a smile will likely come to their face. It may be because you've pronounced it incorrectly and sounded like a child referring to male genitalia, but more likely because they're familiar with one of Nantou County's most tourist-trodden townships -- and a favorite destination for young couples.

The reason for the town's popularity is likely because it is the namesake station of the Chichi Small Rail Line (集集小火車線), which, along with Neiwan (內灣) and Pinghsi (平溪), make up the full complement Taiwan's narrow-gauge rail lines. The lines became famous by transporting tourists to Taiwan's mountainous interior via steam locomotives and, in Chichi's case, the terminal station sits just beneath Sun-Moon Lake (日月澤), making it an especially popular destination.

The iron horses were long ago put out to pasture but still dutifully serve as photo fodder at many of the stations on each small line, including Chichi, which also boasts a pair of tanks where couples can straddle the gun turret and flash peace signs. Even the station itself, destroyed in the 921 earthquake, has been rebuilt to Disneyland standards and is the preferred hangout for local teens and college groups on weekend escapes.

Chichi's residents and the Nantou County government realize their role as a tourist destination and much of the money spent rebuilding the area has been used to polish this image; retro-styled street lamps that light the town, roadside pavilions for cyclists, and a marked increase in the number of cafes and tandem-bicycle rental shops.

For all the money the government has spent embellishing the town, though, one of the first things tourists do when arriving is leave town for the several-kilometer stretch of road that laces around the railroad. The "green tunnel" (錄色邃道), as it's called, is a verdant canopy of trees covering the road between Chichi and Lungyuan. The road runs through a bamboo forest with little to no development and several thousand strands of Christmas-tree lights were added last year, turning the green tunnel into a candle-light cruise on weekend nights. Cycling beneath the lights in the early evening gives credence to the area's claim to be a capital of romance.

"There is also a special animal protection area (特有生物保育中心), an arts district and Wuchang temple (武昌宮) -- or actually Wuchang temple's roof," said cycle shop owner Pan Yu-chu (潘玉珠) when asked of the area's highlights. The roof is the only part remaining after the 921 quake, Pan said, and claims that more weekenders have inquired how to get to it since it toppled than ever did when it was standing.

Pan also said that business has dropped by some 30 percent since fear of SARS has gripped the nation, but she's not complaining. "I think as long as young people fall in love, Chichi will always have tourists," she said.

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