I must have been a squirrel in my previous life as shiny objects and excitment attract me, that is why it came as a surprise that simple rice paddy fields in Taitung, Taiwan would bring me so much anticipation.
Whenever I pick my travel destinations, I would gravitate towards the unique and exciting; but when I look at my travel bucket list, right near the top of the list is a destination with rice paddies. It may have something to do with a childhood memory, where my family and I strolled through a Taiwan farming village at night. With the insects chirping and bats circling the street lamps hunting the moths, it was a scene that come back to me often. When I visited Taiwan with Renee, I was hoping to revisit a farming village similar to how I remembered.
Chishang (池上) is a small agricultural town in Taitung (台東) famous for their delicious rice. They have recently became famous because the Taiwanese airline EVA filmed a commerical there showing the actor Takeshi Kaneshiro (金城武) biking through the rice paddies and drinking tea under the now famous tree. Ever since then, tourists (mostly Asian moms) have been stopping by the tree to take photos. This proved to be a double-edged sword, it placed Chishang on the map but at the same time the small village’s infrastructure was not built for this influx of tourism.
It was also thanks to this recent tourism explosion that Renee and I heard about Chishang (池上). We were taking the train from Taitung (台東) to Hualien (花蓮) and Chishang was one of the stops inbetween. We decided to take a few hours off the train and explore the famous Brown’s Road (伯朗大道).
After stepping out of the rustic train station, Renee and I each rented a bicycle from a restaurant and stored our luggages there. The store keeper knew exactly where we wanted to go and she handed us an area map with some highlights.
We biked through the budding small town and rode on a wooden trail next to miles upon miles of rice paddies… it was gorgeous! For some reason the scene reminded me of Japan, maybe it was the field and moutain combo, or maybe it was the red and white radio towers.
After 45 minutes of biking through the neighborhood and the side trail, we finally arrived at Brown’s Road.
My photos did not even capture 25% of what the place has to offer in person — it is one of those places that does not translate well into photographs (eg: Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend… etc). Imagine a long straight road on a gradual hill that goes way into the distance, where it seems to lead into the mountains. On either side of this wide road lined with acres upon acres of emerald green rice paddies, and half way down the road stood a lone tree offering shade to tired farmers.
We passed small batches of tourists on the Brown’s Road, mostly cluttered around the now famous Takeshi Kaneshiro Tree. The tree got uprooted recently by a typhoon and the government replanted it with a fence around the tree as it heals. Some of the local farmers actually preferred the tree gone as it led to too many visitors to the area and only the government and tourism companies benefit from this increase, while the infrastructure is overwhelmed. It looks like the tree is here to stay and I hope the local farmers found a way to also capitalize on this opportunity.
We biked from one end of the Brown’s Road to the other and explored some of the smaller paved roads. After about 3 hours of exploration we returned our bike, boarded the train and continued South for Hualian. It was a very relaxing stop and a great change of pace from my typical GO-GO-GO! traveling style.
While exploring, a Chishang local told us that the best time to visit Chishang is during harvest time when the fields would look like a waves and waves of gold waving in the wind.
Looks like another visit may be in order.