Top Taipei Day Trips: Taiwan’s Towns of Gold

JiuFen’s sister town JinGuaShi offers an intriguing historical hike around KeeLung Mountain. Exploring the area’s mining past can be stretched into a whole day of outdoor adventure.

By Stuart Hill

If there was any place in Taiwan deserving the description ghost town, it must have been the twin towns of JiuFen and JinGuaShi in the 1970s. The once prosperous mining towns – bankrupt and abandoned – were now eroding ruins on the side of Keelung Mountain. No doubt also haunted by those poor souls caught in mine accidents and the documented persecution at the hands of the Japanese during World War II. No wonder this bleak and tragic hideaway was such a lure for a nascent artistic community of the time.

Golden Waterfall, JinGuaShi

Seeming to emerge directly from the mountain, the Golden Waterfall gets its name from the iron and copper deposits that are leaching down the mountain and out to the sea below. It’s a beautiful sight close to sunset. The water is highly toxic.

While JiuFen has received all the fame and commercial attention of two films based around the streets of the old town, the JinGuaShi side of KeeLung Mountain today provides a far better historical journey, back to pre-Japanese days and the discovery of gold and then later to the mining of silver and copper in the area.

For a time, JinGuaShi was Asia’s equivalent to the gold rush towns of San Francisco and Australia’s Ballarat. It’s estimated that 80,000 people were living in the area. To put that in context, the number is about double the current population of the entire RuiFang District of which JiuFen and JinGuaShi are just a part.

Night in JinGuaShi

Far less commercial than the sister town of JiuFen, JinGuaShi has a sleepy hamlet like feel, especially at night.

When the Japanese colonized Taiwan, they controlled the mining rights, dividing access between two Japanese businesses. Ultimately JiuFen represented the less profitable side of KeeLung Mountain and was later sold off to various local interests, which goes some way to explain how much of a mess the place is today.

However, the Gold Ecological Park represents the section of KeeLung Mountain that was maintained under the control of the Tanaka Group until 1945, after which it was taken over by the KMT. The grounds surrounding the Japanese-built structures, including a residence for Japan’s Crown Prince, have a feeling of a small and planned town, and well worth exploring.

JinGuaShi Crown Prince Residence

Given the glittering prize that JinGuaShi must have represented to the Japanese throne, the simple yet restful residence was never occupied by the Crown Prince himself. The restored building is not open to the public, only the surrounding garden.

There are places to eat inside the park, so it is possible to spend a morning hiking up past the HuangChin Waterfall then onto Cyuanji Temple, then grab lunch before exploring the park itself.

The Museum of Gold provides a history of mining in the region, placed within the context of gold mining throughout China and other parts of the world. The centerpiece of the museum is a huge gold bar – which you can touch beneath thick glass – whose fluctuating value is indicated on the display. Entry to the museum is free.

Museum of Gold Ingot

A major attraction at the Museum of Gold inside the Gold Ecological Park is this huge gold ingot — apparently the world’s biggest, weighing 220 kg.

Next to the museum is the entrance to a section of one of the original mine shafts, BenShan No. 5 Mine. Inside you’ll quickly appreciate the kinds of conditions the miners worked under, including how wet working in these tunnels must have been. The local area is said to have over 600 km of tunnels — some even reaching below sea level — and if that is the case the whole mountain must be a honeycomb of shafts and tunnels. There is a model in the museum that illustrates these structures.

Above the Gold Ecological Park are the remains of a shinto shrine which requires a steep climb of about 20 minutes to access. It has a good view looking out to sea.

Kinkaseki POW Camp

The extraordinary sight of this war memorial for Japan’s prisoners of war, should on second thoughts come as little surprise, considering the vital role Taiwan played in building the Japanese Eastern Economic Sphere of Prosperity. That Taiwan housed 15 POW camps in places like XinDian, TaiChung and JinGuaShi is a somewhat forgotten piece of World War II history.

Back down the hill, just down from the Cyuanji temple, is a memorial to the World War II POWs that were brought to concentration camps established by the Japanese across Taiwan. The camps housed westerners captured after the fall of Singapore and other places. There were 15 camps spread across Taiwan, with over 4300 prisoners held captive in total. Those in JinGuaShi were put to work mining copper and many died from the severe conditions. The memorial lists all those who were incarcerated in Taiwan by the Japanese.

Ecological Park Cafes

The Gold Ecological Park in JinGuaShi houses a number of places to eat and drink. The food is simple, but you can’t beat the view (except from the Shinto Shrine further up the hill). There is also a tranquil cafe on the level above and behind the post office.

Other areas of the mountain still retain evidence of their industrial past. Of particular note are the long chimneys that stretch from the bottom of the mountain around the ruins of the metal refineries, to the top of the mountain ridge. Many are collapsed, but you can still see how they snake their way up the steep slopes.

More info on Taiwan’s towns of gold:

  • If you are travelling by bus you can catch the 788 from KeeLung or the 1062 from ZhongXiao FuXing MRT station (new Sogo) — the last bus leaves JinGuaShi at 9:30pm on weekdays, 8:40 pm on weekends
  • Check out Richard Saunders book Taipei Escapes 1 on his day hike to the Gold Ecological Park (available in Eslite bookstores)
  • Gold Ecological Park website
  • Taiwan POW Camps Memorial Society
JinGuaShi Refinery

Below and to the left of the Golden Waterfall (assume you are climbing up the mountain) are remains of various buildings from when JinGuaShi was a place for mining copper. These days the buildings are in ruins, but photograph nicely.

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