The Pingxi Valley is one of the most scenic areas in North Taiwan. Its steep sides are home to excellent ridge hiking and there are abundant waterfalls and streams. It's been popular for a long time and often features in Taiwan’s promotional materials. Most of this focus is on the sky lanterns, Shifen Waterfall, and the old train line that connects the villages. From my home in south Taipei this is one of the more accessible parts of north Taiwan so I have covered a lot of ground here and visited a lot of lesser known sites. Starting with Jingtong I'm going to try and organize these. Most are reachable either by the train or the faster 795 bus that leaves from Muzha MRT.
I've written a lot of Pingxi Valley posts already, including many on hiking and the old mining industry. Check out these entries as I won't be repeating that information in these newer posts:
Heading into the Valley: The Old Mine Entrance
This old mine sits at the upper border of the valley. I see Sandiaoling or perhaps Houtong as the valleys other end. There's not much to see here; just an old unmarked entrance into a long abandoned shaft. Prosperity throughout the 20th century in the valley was linked to coal mining and there are mines in and around all the settlements downriver. Some of the largest in Taiwan can be found at Houtong. Jingtong, the first settlement after this old mine, has another of Taiwan’s largest mining complexes.
Jingtong (菁桐) is one of the smaller and quieter villages in the valley. The name comes from the abundant tung trees in the area. Most of the tourist crowds are concentrated in Shifen, though this village can also get busy at the weekends. It was a small farming settlement until the 20th century when it thrived then declined on the fortunes of the coal industry. In recent years it has become a tourist destination. Entering from the Muzha road the first major building is the eye-catching police station. The lantern part of this building has around 200'000 LED lights inside and apparently holds light shows in the evenings. However my visits have never coincided with one.
In front of the wooden train station, built in 1929, two large coal sorting facilities dominate the railway tracks. There are only a few wooden train stations remaining in north Taiwan and this is the only one left on this line. The former Qidu and Shanjia Stations, and the recently restored Xinbeitou Station, are the others that are easily reached from Taipei. The station is photogenic and though recently restored this has been done tastefully. The railway is now mainly for tourists but originally it was mostly used to carry coal down to the ports and power stations around Keelung and Taipei. The last mine in operation, the one that is now the Shifen Coal Mine Museum, closed in the mid 2000's.
Inside a simple concrete railway workers dormitory nearby is an exhibition on the towns mines. There are some nice scale models and good maps and photos. The extent of the mining area was a lot larger than I had previously thought.
I went off to see if I could locate some of the smaller mines and tunnels I saw in the aerial photos in the museum. However they were either on private, dog guarded property, or too lost in dense forest. Later I found the ever excellent Wolf Shepherd blog made it to a bricked up tunnel entrance that was behind a locked gate. This was the large Qingtong mine. Some surviving mine buildings have now been converted into a restaurant called White Rock (白石). This shaft closed a bit later than the other mines in the village and was the site of an explosion that killed 11 miners. The remains of a more northern pit (seemingly called First Pit) consist of a concrete platform and some brick houses and don't look worth much investigation.
The Old Street
The old street here is fairly small. Though there are some more tourism-orientated businesses a lot of more local restaurants and village shops remain. Most of the buildings are simple un-ornamented miners homes and shophouses from the first half of the 20th century. It only takes a couple of minutes to walk the entire street. On the fences near the tracks people have tied wishes written on bamboo. I've looked for a definitive time when this tradition started or historical reason for it and haven't found anything reliable. Just a slightly woolly story about a railway worker and Valentine’s day on a nearby sign that mixes up Shifen and Jingtong. Therefore, I'm going to assume it was something invented for tourists. One of my other blog posts is super popular with fans of the show Meteor Garden, which was filmed in that location. On researching this entry I came across this blog. Apparently parts of the show were filmed in Jingtong too. Since I can't escape this show I'm gonna have to actually watch it sometime!
On the hillside on the other side of the tracks is the main village mine. It was one of the largest in Taiwan and produced some of the highest quality coal. The mining company entered the area in 1918 and built several small pits over the next twenty years. By 1937 technological advances made the smaller pits obsolete and that year they were linked into a large slanting shaft with deeper tunnels. The austere art deco style entrance of this shaft still remains. Around the pit entrance are the ruins of warehouses and auxiliary buildings. Most are just concrete and brick shells now. From Wiki and some Chinese language blogs it seems the mine closed in 1975, which is relatively early compared to others in the valley. I should note I have seen closure dates in the 80's from other sources so I'm not totally sure which is correct. The opening of more efficient mines elsewhere in the valley hastened the decline of this one. By the 70's the shafts had been excavated to a great depth (almost 1000 meters) and high temperatures and difficulty of extraction had become problems. Some hiking trails lead up to some ridges and peaks from here though I'm yet to explore them. This blog has some extensive pics of the mine and old street.
The Guesthouse and a Few Minor Sites
Jingtong guesthouse is a large Japanese era wooden house that was built in 1939. Every time I visit it's closed. According to a restaurant owner I asked it's only open Monday afternoons. On Monday afternoons pretty much every other government run site is closed and so I don't tend to sight-see much on that day. A few other wooden buildings from the same era stand around the village.
Down a steep trail near the mining exhibition hall Zhongpu Iron Bridge is a pretty but fairly unimpressive bridge. It was built in the 1940's and was the main river crossing connecting the main village and an area called Zhongpu. After the road bridge opened it fell out of use. Following a recent restoration it's now part of a short and peaceful nature walk. The path winds up and behind an old industrial area and miners dormitories. Apparently some of these were built with US aid in the 1950's. This area is now mostly in ruins and quite overgrown. The old factory looked like the sort of place with guard dogs so I didn't venture far inside.
Hidden between a couple of houses opposite is a memorial to the Zhou family. It's just a small shrine in a peaceful hollow but if you're over here then you may as well take a look. The Zhou’s became rich after entering the mining industry and in the early 20th century they discovered a gold seam. They thrived during the Japanese era and this perhaps explains the presence of Japanese style stone lanterns here. From what I can make out their closeness to the Japanese regime caused trouble for them when the Kuomintang took over in the 1940's and the family fortunes thereafter declined. The small shrine nearby is to a land god who as you can imagine was quite important to miners.
The locations of each site are as ever on the Hidden Taiwan Map. The adventures that make up these entries are often posted as Instagram stories at tomrookart first. So give that a follow too if you like as it can sometimes be a year or more before stuff turns up here!