Fri, Feb 23, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Off the Beaten Track: Taipei’s twin ghost towns

Within walking distance of New Taipei City’s popular Jiufen District, Datcukeng and Siaocukeng are abandoned mining villages that are worth exploring

By Richard Saunders  /  Contributing reporter

The stone-paved trail through Datcukeng commands great views of the mountains — at least in good weather.

Photo: Richard Saunders

The great popularity enjoyed by the Gold Ecological Park (黃金博物園區) in New Taipei City’s Jinguashi (金瓜石), which opened in 2004, is proof that Taiwan’s gold fever era continues to exert a strong pull on the public’s imagination.

Countless other long-forgotten miners also risked their lives toiling to dig out a far less romantic, but extremely profitable mineral from beneath the steep, grassy hills of the area. Why else would they call this substance, which we generally call coal, “black gold?”

It seems coal is far less interesting a substance in the minds of the public, and the success of the Houtong Coalmine Ecological Park (猴硐煤礦博物園區), which was created in 2010 around the old village and mining relics of nearby Houtong Village (猴硐) in Ruifang District (瑞芳), has been only moderate, but Houtong still manages to attract large numbers of visitors every weekend. Ninety percent of these come to see its famed “cat village,” a refuge for several hundred stray cats established by animal-loving locals a year or two before the park.

In their heyday, the nearby gold, copper and coal mines supplied work for many: the coal mines of Houtong alone once employed about 6,000 people. With so many workers (plus their families), many were forced to commute in from other villages and settlements in the area.

With the decline of the mining industry, miners began moving out in search of work elsewhere, and by the late 1970s, the old settlements had become ghost towns.

The more conveniently situated villages close to New Taipei City’s Jiufen District (九份), such as the aforementioned Jinguashi and Houtong — the ones connected to the road network — survived until a new source of income came along in the form of tourism. Less fortunate were the twin settlements of Datcukeng (大粗坑) and Siaocukeng (小粗坑), lying high on the ridge dividing Houtong and Jiufen, and well away from any road. Both were abandoned soon after the closure of the last mines, and left, almost forgotten, to be reclaimed by the forest.


The villages can be reached by trails, both starting near Houtong. For Datcukeng, walk out of the village, north along the right bank of the Keelung River, and take a road beside a stream, starting next to Houtong’s former elementary school. Today the school building is a half-abandoned shell, after it was partly destroyed by torrential rains that accompanied Typhoon Xangsane in late October 2000. A huge mudslide swept down the valley, wiping out many houses, killing several residents and severely damaging the school.

Follow the road up beside the stream (which was ducted into a concrete channel following the disaster, to minimize the potential for further mudslides) to the very end, beside which a stone-paved trail continues uphill along the left bank of the cascading stream.

It’s a scenic walk of about 20 minutes to the first houses of the settlement; most have been reclaimed by the thick jungle and are all-but invisible today. It’s hard to believe from the fragmentary remains that can now be seen, but apparently about three hundred families involved in the local mining business once lived here, and it’s said the village had its own elementary school, medical center, shops and even a bar or two.

The village was also the birthplace of Wu Nien-jen (吳念真; born 1952), one of Taiwan’s most famous directors and screenplay writers. He’s perhaps best-known in the West as the scriptwriter for Hou Hsiao-hsien’s (侯孝賢 ) A City of Sadness (悲情城市, 1989), which incidentally was filmed in nearby Jiufen and Jinguashi.

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