Sanzhi, Taiwan’s Beautiful North Coast City District, written by my friend and travel blogger Joy Harmon, is the second small town expose in the series Small Town Explorer. The villages and towns we visit in our travels are often the hidden gems of a country or region. Readers will be introduced to small centers around the globe, featuring their uniqueness, their history, what to see and do, and where to stay and where to dine. Come along as Joy introduces us to the charms of Sanzhi, Taiwan.
If you missed the first post in the Small Town Explore series you can find it here.
Get on the bus! Come on! Get off the Metro here. This is Danshui the last Metro stop on the north end of this island country. Turn right out the gate, run, run down to the bus line and get on next bus going along the north coast route. Just in time! Now you can relax and enjoy the scenery. As you leave Danshui and head northeast along the coast, entering the Sanzhi district, the landscape becomes gradually more rugged. The town itself is some miles away, but you’ll know you’re in the Sanzhi district when you can see the ocean.
At first, everything looks abandoned, There’s an old American country western bar that just didn’t make the grade on the right, but it’s funny to see that cowboy sign in Taiwan. And just past there is my favorite, a chicken restaurant that has the ducks in the side yard. I’ve never seen a live chicken there!
We’re getting closer to the ocean, it’s just around this last turn and down hill. Why is the traffic so slow? It looks like there is nothing much here. It’s a weekend or a holiday and cars are lined up at least a quarter mile from the first seaside restaurant. What’s so special about this place? It is the first restaurant on the beach side of the highway, Sugar Villa. It’s Italian food and it’s good, but that’s not it. It is the special ambiance. Let’s get off and see! The restaurant, itself spreads out along the beach side with wide glass doors and windows facing the shore. The deck extends out over the sand on both sides and every table, both inside and out has a full view of the sea. There is a nice beach with a launch for the jet skis for rent. So, you can play hard and eat much. Or you can just sit back and enjoy watching the water sports. To top it off, the service is always prompt and friendly.
Taiwan dating tip: This spot is a popular getaway for Taipei residents on weekend afternoons. But it’s equally popular in the evening. One evening when I was here with a Taiwanese friend, we watched while a small group of young guys set up candles on the beach.
It was obviously a setting for a romance. When I asked my friend how the guy could get all his friends to help with such an elaborate greeting, she said, “They have to. If the guy doesn’t do this kind of thing she’ll just find somebody else. That’s how it is in Taiwan.” Pay attention boys!
Easy beach life: Just on the other side of this row of restaurants is Qianshuiwan Park. Let’s take a walk along the beach now. Swimming is not big in Taiwan, but families do enjoy a picnic at the beach. There’s a walkway running north from the park with more restaurants and coffee shops. This is a great place to walk. You can take your choice of cozy restaurants or relax in the shady park on the beach side of the buildings. There is a gazebo for sitting, exercise machines if you want to enjoy the view while working out, and there are even little bikes and cars for the children. Let’s stop here and burn off some energy on those exercise machines.
Coffee and Motorcycles
Time to go in. Here’s my favorite place for coffee is 25 Second Cafe, right next to the pedestrian bridge. They have a large selection of teas and coffees and two levels of seating. It’s so cozy and comfortable to sit in there on a rainy day and look at the water or enjoy the warm and soft lighting in the evening.
Let’s check out one more place cafe. This is the Sand Cafe. It’s all glassed in, and look the floor is sand! Oh, too bad we didn’t come on Sunday morning. This is where the motorcycle enthusiasts, meet up for their first cup of coffee before their club starts their weekend coast motorcycle rally!
My old home: Cross the road using the pedestrian crosswalk.
The road on the opposite side leads up the hill to several layers of apartments hugging the hillside on the south side of the highway. This is a lovely old vintage resort complex build more than twenty years ago. It’s seen better days, but it’s still one of the best beach hideaways on the north coast. There are well-tended gardens between each of the several apartment complexes and a pool near the top. One of my fondest memories is trudging up the hillside after a long day at work and being energized by the time I reached my building almost at the top of the hill. There are still a people who use Flamingo as a weekend getaway, but there are often apartments for rent and if you are planning to stay for a while, you can find nice accommodations here. There is a shuttle bus that takes you straight into Danshui, if you need a shot of urban energy. And city buses run every ten minutes going into the city or out further north along the coast.
There is still a working farm just below the Flamingo Apartment entrance.
Azaleas abound and lead you up to the next level. OK, let’s get back on the bus to the town and see how the real Sanzhi people live. We’re going to continue further northeast into town.
There is one other must-stop place before you reach the town. It is something that is uniquely Taiwanese. A bridge to nowhere. It’s a small pedestrian suspension bridge surrounded by a water garden. Its sole purpose appears to be for taking selfies. I’ve noticed these scenic stops built exclusively for photo opportunities are a popular thing in Taiwan, but I’ve never seen it in any other country. There are several similar spots along the coast. They are special favorites for wedding pictures.
The small town of Sanzhi, Taiwan is just a few minutes up ahead. The highway winds a bit away from the coast, so the town itself is sheltered from constant ocean winds, which can be really strong here. Here we are. Let’s get off here, just across from the high school. Almost everybody is getting off here, so you’ll always know this is the stop. If it’s early morning, the housewives will be getting off with their shopping bags. Follow them and you will find the local produce market where fresh fruits and vegetables are available every morning. There’s even a butcher’s truck with fresh meat right from the farm. Some people have asked me if I wasn’t worried about buying meat from there, but it’s no problem. You would never get meat so fresh from a super market. You will need someone who speaks Chinese, though if you want a specific cut.
Take the chance to talk to the kids! In a small town, everybody has to work together to organize activities. And you may see local fairs and special events set up near the marketplace or out along the highway. If you really like to immerse yourself in the culture, getting involved in community activities is a great way to do it. In Sanzhi there is a great organization that creates activities for teens and young adults. Ipower is focused on empowering kids from this rural district to see opportunities to improve their lives and their community. They are currently doing pop-up shops in a different location each month. Here are some pictures from recent activities. For more information go you can go to the Facebook page.
For a long view of the north coast and the kids at work and play, check out this video.
You never know what will happen in Sanzhi, Taiwan. Although the town is small, there are a couple of interesting places that foreigners usually miss. There is a historic museum with information about Taiwan’s first president, who was from this small town. And if you are lucky enough to find it open, there’s a traditional puppet theatre.
Of course, you never know what surprises you will find along the way. That’s all part of the adventure. The last time I visited the museum, I was this lady with a pig on a leash. Don’t ask. I have no idea why she had a pig on a leash, but it was worth a picture!
Let’s take the bus just 10 minutes north to a large beach park called Qianshuiwan. We get off at the park entrance, but it’s crowded in the park. So, we prefer to walk along the street on the beach side. We stop off at the little restaurant near the entrance to the beach park. It has seating outside and a glassed-in room inside for bad weather days. I had my first taste of a Taiwan favorite her. It’s called One Cup Chicken. I love it. Maybe it was just the hot soup on a cold damp day at the seaside, but I still think their One Cup Chicken is the best! Try it.
It’s a nice day and we’ve spotted some guys out on the water windsurfing and kite-surfing and we want a better look. (The two terms may be a little confusing. Windsurfing uses a sail attached to the surfboard. In kitesurfing, the surfer uses a regular board and is harnessed to a parachute.) So we head down the block to the last restaurant for a better view. This restaurant is the place to go if you want a true beach bum atmosphere. They serve mostly hot dogs, hamburgers, and cokes. But the service is always friendly and the music is just what you want at the beach, not too loud but with the feel of the energy of the waves. The lady behind the counter was born and raised right around this beach and she looks like just kind of woman you’d find in any beach village around the world. Long dark hair, sun-weathered skin, and a smile that could cross an ocean. We sit back, relax watch the windsurfing, and wait. Eventually, the surfers come trooping in to dry off and fill up on a big meal. When the strip off the wetsuits, you’ll see the scars from broken ribs. Kite-surfing takes a lot of strength and a sudden gust can send the equipment slamming into the surfer’s ribs. That’s why you usually don’t see women doing it. That parachute takes a lot of strength to handle in a strong wind. Women do well with windsurfing, though. Obviously, this is their hangout. All the lessons and rentals are arranged from here.
I hope this has given you an idea of how many things there are to do, even in a small town like Sanshi, Taiwan. When you are out traveling, take the time to stop at the ordinary places, see what’s there, and talk to the people.
Have you visited Sanzhi, Taiwan? Let us know in the comments.[box type=”bio”] Joy Harmon: Writer, Traveler, Crafter Bringing you a different view of travel through small places, traditional cultures and crafts, and deep experiences. Available for freelance writing on human interest topics that affect our lives through fun, thoughtful, and adventurous stories and articles. http://www.craftnomad.com https://www.instagram.com/silverfox.grey/ https://www.pinterest.com/joyfisch/ https://twitter.com/JoyHarmon51 https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSg7RM1BjyMAW3PkaY_8p8g[/box]