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[Top Ten Taiwan Tour] Keelung: Seaport City of Deep Character (I)

August 2, 2014 Destination Global No Comments Email Email

Blessed with a deep, natural harbor (which has made it a natural choice for a settlement since Taiwan’s natives moved in, followed by the Spanish and Dutch for brief spells in the 1,600s and the Taiwanese since, Keelung (pronounced “jee-long”), Taiwan’s second – busiest seaport after Kaohsiung, combines frenetic energy, distinctive local color, and great seafood with a long and fascinating history, Taiwan’s most elaborate annual Ghost Month festivities , and a slew of impressive natural and cultural attractions.

Tourists visiting this corner of the island generally make a beeline for the famed seaside rock formations at Yeliu, to the northwest of Keelung, or the historic twin gold – and copper – mining villages of Jiufen and Jinguashi, to the east. Be sure, however, to make time for exploration of a few areas of this vivid and endlessly fascinating city – at just 40 minutes from downtown Taipei by bus or train, it’s an easy day – trip from the capital.

There are a number of contrasting theories as to how the city got its name, which is spelled “jilong” if using Hanyu Pinyin Romanization. One is that it was named by early settlers after pyramidal Mt. Jilong nearby, which was itself originally named for its likeness to a traditional chicken cage (jilong; 雞籠). The Chinese characters for both the mountain and the city were changed in 1875 to those presently used (基隆), which have the same pronunciation but convey the more attractive meaning “prosperous base.” Other are the Keelung was named after the Ketagalan indigenous tribe which once lived in the area – that Han Chinese settlers simply called these natives kelang (“people”) – or that Keelung is a bastardization of “Ketagalan” itself.

Buses and trains from Taipei terminate in the center of town, right before Keelung’s harbor. A minute’s walk from the railway station, and also close to the harbor, is the terminus for local Keelung City buses, with regular service on a network of routes fanning out in all directions, providing easy and convenient access to just about any place in the area that tourists might be interested in. Pick up one of the good English maps of the city available at the Keelung City Tourist Information Center, about 50 meters to the right of the railway station exit, and you’re set to explore!

Keelung Harbor
Keeling Harbor and Keelung Island

The logical place to start a visit is on the waterfront, an area that has received much loving care over the last few years and now makes a fine introduction to any city exploration. Excursion boats depart from directly opposite the train station for Keelung Island, a pristine, rocky pyramid looming out of the ocean about five kilometers off the coast from Badouzi on the eastern edge of Keelung City. Most Keelung Island excursions last about 2 hours, and include enough time for a landing on the island and a stroll along the path around the northern shoreline, but it’s also possible on longer outings to climb to the summit for fabulous 360∘views. It is easier to join an outing on weekends/ holidays, when there’s more demand; at other times it’s often necessary to form a private group.

Heping Island

Heping Island

A favorite place for delicious, fresher-than fresh seafood is the fish market on Heping(“Peace”) Island, reached via bus 101 from the city bus terminus. A parade of eateries stands directly opposite the place where fishing boats unload their catch each morning, located down the road in the right after crossing the little bridge connecting the island with the rest of Keelung.

Head over to far(north) side of Heping Island to find its other great attraction: the Geo Park, and area of sandstone cliffs eroded into a fantastical series of formations that rival Yeliu in beauty, and a curious natural tunnel called the Cave of Foreign Words, which pierces right through a small headland. Inside the cave is some(very faint) graffiti scribbled on the wall by Dutch inhabitants in the 1660s. The Dutch garrisoned the site for a time after driving off the Spanish.

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