Travel in Taiwan Scenery

Keelung: Historic Harbor of the North

By Cliff Vost, Photos by Sung Chih-hsiung

Dubbed "rainy harbor" for its many wet days, Keelung is located near the northern tip of the island of Taiwan. Its superb natural harbor cuts southward into rolling mountains, leaving only narrow strips of flatland bordering the water. Its terrain has thus destined it to be a small and confined city, although it is the second largest harbor in Taiwan. It is so small and confined that a visitor cannot get lost in it, for he or she will meet the water of the harbor or run into one of the surrounding hills in a few hundred yards at most no matter what direction is taken.

The visitor's eye can hardly avoid seeing cranes busily loading and unloading trucks and ships with the standard large containers. This harbor thunks, screeches, and drones with activity 24 hours a day. The streets of the town are lined with drab buildings in raw concrete containing shops which extend their business onto the sidewalk and beyond, and fishing wharves dot a long stretch of shoreline--showing that Keelung is a hard-working city and a major port.


The most famous place to eat in Keelung is not a gourment restaurant but a bustling night market at the intersection of Jensan and Aiszu roads, near the entrance of a temple.

The fine harbor at Keelung has invited waves of foreign invaders. In the 16th century, Japanese pirate-traders made it a base for marauding China's coast. Next came the Spanish, who, in the hope of reviving trade between the Philippines and Japan after they had been chased out of Japan by the Dutch, established a post on Peace (Hoping) Island in 1626 and soon after built a fort there named San Salvador. In its heyday, more than three hundred Spaniards and 22 ships congregated there. However, the Dutch occupied the southern part of Taiwan and finally expelled the Spanish from the island in 1642. The Dutch themselves were, in turn, driven out by the Chinese patriot Cheng Cheng-kung, or Koxinga, in 1662.

During the First Opium War, the British tried to take Keelung three times but failed. In 1863, however, it was finally forced open to foreign trade. Ships from all over the world sailed from Keelung loaded with coal, camphor, and tea for overseas markets. From 1887 to 1891, Keelung saw the first railroad in China extend from its wharves southward to Hsinchu. In 1884, during the Sino-French War, Keelung became a battleground when a French admiral named Courbet, commanding three ships, unleashed a relentless bombardment on the town and its fortifications. He landed marines who occupied part of the town for eight months until a peace treaty was signed by the belligerents.

The next enemies Keelung faced were Meiji-era Japanese. Taiwan was ceded to them in 1895 after the Sino-Japanese War, but the islanders formed a republic and resisted occupation. The Japanese first bypassed Keelung, landing further south and moving northward to take the city.

Starting in 1887, under the leadership of the first governor of Taiwan, Liu Ming-chuan, Keelung harbor underwent a major period of development. Again, from 1899 to 1935, the Japanese invested an enormous amount to deepen and expand the harbor in four stages, making it a massive international and modern port. During World War II, it was heavily bombed by the Allies, however, and almost all of its wharves were destroyed.

Historic Sites


In Chungcheng Park, high above Keelung, stands the 22.5-meter statue of Kuanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of mercy; at her base are snack vendors, carnival rides, and other amusements.

Few traces of history remain to remind visitors of this turbulent past. The best preserved of the old fortifications is Seagate Fortress (Haimen Tienhsien), located above Chungcheng Road on a hill overlooking the harbor on the east side. The fortress was built to strengthen Taiwan's defenses in 1840, at the start of the First Opium War. A total of eight cannons were installed on the site. In August 1841 the British made a first strike against the island, but the defenders sank several British battleships and took hundreds of prisoners. After a couple more tries, the British finally gave up. However, in 1884, the fortress was destroyed by the French during the Sino-French War. Only the wall and front gate survived.

Another fortress remnant is the Lion-ball Ridge Battery (Shihchiuling Paotai), built in 1883 by British engineers. This fortress commands an excellent view of the harbor and city from the inland side. During the Sino-French War it stood strong against the French attack, but every cannon was lost during the Japanese occupation. Only the base of the battery and a concrete shelter are left, along with some more modern fortifications. A narrow lane winds uphill to the battery. Midway up is 200-year-old Pingan Temple, dedicated to the Earth God. Local residents attribute the Chinese victory over the French to this god, and the temple is said to be the oldest one in Keelung.

Still another ridge on the west side of the harbor contains remnants of a fortification with three batteries and a huge bunker big enough to shelter hundreds of soldiers. This fortification was built by the Chinese and then reinforced and enlarged by the Japanese. It's also called Dutch Fortress (Holan Cheng), as the Dutch, according to folklore, built a fortress here after they succeeded in routing the Spanish. Controlling the entrance to the harbor, this fortress is nestled on a ridge which provides a fine view of the harbor and the open sea. A series of steep, narrow steps leads to a high peak that offers even better views.

A few hundred meters south of this fortification, beside the road that runs along the west side of the harbor, is the Cave of the Immortals (Hsien Tung). A shrine deep inside the cave sits alongside a narrow tunnel leading to another side of the mountain. Relief sculptures of Buddhist figures decorate the interior of the cave.

Keelung's Diverse Parks


Keelung's physical limitations have destined it ti be a small and confined city, even though it is the second largest harbor in Taiwan.

To find Keelung's beauty the visitor has to either climb high or go to the sea. Keelung has three good parks. Chungcheng Park, atop a hill off Hsierh Road, is a combination Buddhist holy site and amusement park. On the summit stands a white 22.5-meter statue of Kuanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Flights of steps ascend inside the statue so that visitors can climb up and look out portholes to take in views of harbor and city. Behind the statue is a Buddhist temple. Further downhill are several three-story pagodas, a museum, and a martyrs' shrine. Since this park is near downtown, it is popular with city folk as well as tourists. The grounds by the statue are crowded with snack vendors and souvenirs. Toy vehicles for children to ride around on, some musical, are for rent.

On the east side of the harbor lies the 66.32-hectare Peace (Hoping) Island, and near its north shore is Peace Island Park. The seashore is an area of natural stone sculptures made by sea currents and eons of northeast monsoons. Visitors here can enjoy picnicking and fishing, and there is also a large amusement complex inside the park. From the top of the hill, visitors can get good views of the harbor, the city, and the nearby sea. A few kilometers further east is Patoutzu Park, also full of natural wonders. This place offers good views of the open sea as well as fishing harbors and working fishing boats. Immediately east of Peace Island, near Patoutzu Park, are the Pachihmen, Peisha, and Patoutzu fishing harbors. From Peisha fishing harbor the visitor can take to the open sea for fishing and, by ferry, to Keelung Islet.

Keelung Islet lies five kilometers north of the mouth of the harbor and Peace Island. Because of its strategic location, the islet, all 21.24 hectares of it, had long been under strict military jurisdiction before it was partially opened to the public a couple of years ago. To Keelung residents, this islet has been attractive yet mysterious, close yet beyond touch. The city government is in the process of making it the top tourist attraction of Keelung for swimming, boating, diving, and hiking. Ferry service is available on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and holidays. For now, however, perhaps because the only ferry is too small, no ferry service is rendered during the monsoon season.

Snacks and Water Lanterns
Keelung is not a place to look for posh accommodations and elegant restaurants. Of course there are acceptable hotels and eateries, but the most famous eating place in Keelung is Miaokou (temple mouth). This is a section each of Jensan Road and Aiszu Road near Shengwang Temple, where every evening over a hundred food vendors set up their booths on the sidewalks and street and throngs of people, locals and visitors alike, converge to form a night market mainly for 'little eats.' Here you can find tempura, oyster omelets and other kinds of seafood, touchien (shredded bean curd) soup, noodle soup, fermented rice, bean jelly, rice dumplings, and a wide variety of other good things to sample.

Floating a water lantern on the eve of the Ghost Festival (the next one will be August 27, 1996) epitomizes the life of Keelung's inhabitants, for whom shipping and fishing are the major means of livelihood. Huge floats housing rows of lanterns, which can be as large as 10 feet wide and three feet tall, are first gathered near the pagodas in Chungcheng Park. The tength of the parade from the park to Patoutzu is several kilometers long. By 11:00 p.m. on the eve of the festival, the floats are set afire and sent out to sea to appease the water ghosts.

How to Get There
From Taipei, take the train or the Chung Hsing bus from Taipei Train Station's East Station. The trip takes about half an hour.


Travel in Taiwan Scenery
Copyright 1995 Vision International Publishing Co.