Sun, Jun 13, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Crowded island, deserted beaches

Taiwan may be an island, but there is little in the way of beach culture to be found

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan doesn't have much of a beach culture, which is great for those who enjoy a day by the sea. Shanyuan, shown below, is one of Taiwan's characteristically empty beaches. Pictured above from left to right are beaches at Changbin, Tahsi, Jinzun and Shanyuan.

PHOTO: DAVID MOMPHARD, TAIPEI TIMES

The days are growing longer and the mercury is climbing higher. Time to put on the sunscreen, grab your board and head to the beach? Not necessarily. Despite 1,566km of coastline, a good beach can be a rare find in Taiwan. Geology has denied the island all but a few golden sand beaches and politics and sociology traditionally kept these from being very popular destinations.

Morning rains have cleared in Taitung County's Donghe Township and Luo Ke-chang (羅柯昌) has parked his car on the shoulder of Highway 11, filled a satchel with a few necessities and made his way to a favorite stretch of beach. He steps into a nearby grove of bushes and a moment later reappears like Superman clad in tight red Spandex. Snapping his waistband and sucking in his gut, he romps off into the rolling waves, but never gets more than waist-deep.

This is the East Coast National Scenic Area, where the surf competes with the sky to see which can be a deeper shade of blue, where the smell of jasmine drifts down lush mountains that are crowned with clouds. The sun is rising fast and it's going to be a hot day, but Luo is alone on a beach several kilometers long. It's Tuesday, granted, but where are the retirees taking a morning stroll? Where are the young mothers building sand castles with their toddlers? Where are the kids skipping school to come skip through the surf?

"There's never anyone here," Luo says returning to his bag with a collection of rocks he's pulled from the surf. "I come here maybe two or three days each week during the summer and usually have the place to myself."

A life-long resident of Taitung County, the 50-something Luo says that few locals are interested in beaches. Shanyuan, a beach-side recreation area to the north of Taitung City, can see a crowd on weekends, he says, but rarely is there a spillover onto neighboring beaches like this one that Luo favors -- beaches that are more picturesque but lack restrooms and restaurants.

A call to the Tourism Bureau under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications offers insight into the lack of interest in Taiwan's beaches. Despite plans to double the number of tourists to the island, the bureau has all but left out developing the island's several beautiful beaches. Along with Shanyuan, the bureau offers travelers tips on getting to Fulong Beach in Taipei County, Kenting's Dawan Beach, Jichi Beach in Hualian County and Jinzun in Taitung County.

Topping the list of recommended activities at beaches in the East Coast National Scenic Area are whale watching and sunrise viewing.

"Most of Taiwan's coastline is rocky and many of the best beaches are far from major cities," says the Tourism Bureau's Roger Lu. "So you have a lot of people at places like Fulong and very few people further down the east coast." The west coast, he says, has been developed by industry and doesn't have the clear blue water that's found on the east coast.

Another reason Taiwan lacks widespread beach culture can be seen in the gun turrets and cement barricades put in place after the Chinese Nationalist Army fled to Taiwan in the late 1940s. Meant to deter an attack by the People's Liberation Army, they also deterred anyone from going to the beach. Not that you could have gone anyway; before martial law was lifted in 1987, most beaches were off limits to everyone except soldiers.

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