When I was told about making a trip to Sanxia, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never heard of the town before — so I was excited about the prospect of exploring somewhere new and less-known. I did my research and found out about the city’s beautiful old street and temple; and also about the nearby town of Yingge that is famous for ceramics. How fun!
I was on a travel assignment to New Taipei City (新北市) — the most populous special municipality in Taiwan, located on the northern part of the country where it completely surrounds the capital of Taipei. I flew into the Taoyuan Internation Airport on EVA Air (more on my flight experience here). The first league of my travels saw me visiting the port city of Tamsui and Christmasland (read about it here); and later to the Wanli and Jinsan districts in the northern coast (more here).
I was traveling with my travel buddy, Wilson from Places and Foods (who is also on assignment), but the second part of our adventures saw us separated to explore different areas of New Taipei City. Mine brought me to Sanxia and Yingge. As my accommodation for the night was in Sanxia’s Fullon Hotel Sanyin, I decided to make a visit to Yingge first.
Yingge in New Taipei City (鶯歌)
I like the stories about how Yingge (鶯歌) got its name. Some people say that it literally means the ‘singing parrot’ — from a parrot shaped boulder on the hill near the town. The local potters however, say that the ‘ying‘ in local dialect means smoky; due to the dust that comes out when they use fire to make their wares. A legend also has it that the name was derived when a traveling army saw two evil birds fighting and shot them down — the evil hawk fell to the east of the river where Sanxia’s Hawk Hill now stands, and the evil parrot fell in the west at the present Yingge Rock. And that’s how the town and rock got its name. Oh how I love legends!
But however Yingge got its name — the town is now known for their high quality ceramics, with a history that dates back almost 200 hundred years. It began when potters and brick makers back then started making tea sets for the locally produced tea (also famous in the area) by the Hakka Chinese immigrants. At present, Yingge is also the largest centre for ceramic production in Taiwan — there are shops everywhere in town!
Getting to Yingge
From Taipei City, I took the local Taiwan Railways from Taipei Station to Yingge Station. Getting a ticket from the ticket booth was easy — but the train schedules were mainly in Chinese so that got me slightly confused. There are only 2 platforms where the trains depart from (one to the south and one to the north); and because many do not stop at Yingge, I was worried about boarding the wrong train! I ended up asking a guard for help, and reconfirmed my train with a helpful stranger on the platform. The trip to Yingge was about half an hour, and cost NT$31 (US$1).
Once arriving in Yingge — it was an easy walk to the main tourist sites, and there were many signs with directions to the shopping street and ceramics museum.
New Taipei City Yingge Ceramics Museum (新北市立鶯歌陶瓷博物館)
The walk to New Taipei City Yingge Ceramics Museum (新北市立鶯歌陶瓷博物館) from the station took about 15 minutes — and I arrived just as the museum opened at 9.30am. It took me more than an hour to browse through the many exhibitions in the museum; and I learned about traditional pottery techniques, the history and development of ceramics in Yingge and Taiwan, the different kinds of ceramics, and even the future of ceramics. It was a pretty interesting and educational visit — and I really liked the temporary exhibit on the works of local ceramic artists. Tickets to enter cost NT$80 (US$2.5); and I got a special discount at the museum’s culture store with my New Taipei City x EVA Air coupon booklet.
Yingge Ceramics Park (鶯歌陶瓷藝術園區)
The Yingge Ceramics Park (鶯歌陶瓷藝術園區) is connected to the museum, but it’s free to enter. Too bad that it was drizzling on the day of my visit (plus it was a pretty cold autumn weekday), so the park was empty. I didn’t stay out too long either — I just walked around some of the sculptures on display in the field, and passed through several workshop areas and an open space (that was closed). The park gets more lively during the weekends and in summer.
Yingge Old Street (鶯歌尖山埔路)
There’s a short cut through a small pathway, up a flight of stairs and a winding pedestrian bridge over the rail tracks, from the museum to Yingge Old Street (鶯歌尖山埔路). Also known as Yingge Ceramics Street, this place was Yingge’s earliest ceramics centre dating back almost 200 years. The paved street is lined with palm trees and rows of ceramic and pottery shops — selling everything from simple kitchenware, tea sets and ceramic trinkets to the expensive high-quality sculptures and vases. The rain got heavier as soon as I arrived at the old street, so I had to dash from one shop to another to avoid the rain!
I really wished I had more time to try my hand at pottery-making — it would have been fun to put my artistic talents to the test! There are tons of workshops along the old street (most of them are conducted in Chinese), but I came across a workshop at Shu’s Pottery that can be done in English. The place must be popular as there were many people during my visit on a weekday, and because they run their workshops at fixed times — it’s best to make a reservation. Prices start from NT$130 (according to their signboard and depending on the products), and shipment is required as it takes at least a month to dry and fire the product after you make it.
Sanxia in New Taipei City (三峽)
And then it was time to head to the next town of Sanxia (三峽). Literally meaning ‘three gorges’ — Sanxia is located in the southwestern part of New Taipei City at the meeting point of the Dahan River, Sanxia River and Horizontal River. The district of Sanxia is surrounded by many mountains (like the Wuliaojian Mountain and Yuan Mountain) that make great hiking opportunities. Due to its mountainous landscape, back in its heyday it was a leading base for tea plantation; in addition to other manufacturing materials and dye. Now, the remnants of the past can only be seen in its most popular attraction — the Sanxia Old Street.
Getting to and from Sanxia
I was traveling around with my luggage — so upon arriving in Yingge, I left them at the lockers in the Yingge Ceramics Museum. After my visit to the Yingge Old Street, I had to walk back to the museum to collect my bags. I asked the lady at the museum counter about taxis around Yingge, and she was so kind as to help me call a taxi to take me to my accommodation in Sanxia — the Fullon Hotel Sanyin. The ride cost about NT$150 (US$5).
Leaving from Sanxia (the next day), I took a taxi to the nearest MRT station to the city — Dingpu Station. The ride took 15 minutes, and cost NT$200 (US$6.5). I noticed that the MRT line is currently being extended (they are building a station in Sanxia – as of 2019), so in a couple of years there will be a train straight to Sanxia!
Fullon Hotel Sanyin
My accommodation in Sanxia was at the Fullon Hotel Sanyin. Located in the new area of the city — the hotel is close to the National Taipei University and is therefore surrounded by tons of shops and restaurants; and is a 20-minute walk or 5-minute drive from the famous Sanxia Old Street. I stayed in the extremely spacious Superior Room — it came with a huge King-sized bed, a separate powder room with a big mirror, a bathroom with all the basic amenities, coffee and tea making facilities, cooling and warming air-conditioner, an LCD tv and free Wi-Fi.
The hotel is pretty huge — it is separate into a few buildings that encloses an indoor event space for weddings, dinners and such. It also comes with ample facilities like a business centre, meeting rooms, children’s playground, a gym, and even a sauna! The sauna features a cold pool, a hot pool, a steam room, and a dry room; and is the perfect place to unwind after a long day exploring Sanxia and Yingge. Oh, and I had their daily buffet breakfast in the morning at the Hibiscus Room, which offered a spread of local and western selections. The hotel also has a couple of restaurants — the Happy Garden Chinese Restaurant near the lobby serves Chinese cuisine and Hong Kong-style dimsum, and the Arcadia Cafe usually serves the buffet breakfasts.
The best part? The director of the Fullon Hotel Sanyin, Mr. Joe, was so gracious as to offer to take me on an exclusive tour around Sanxia. So with the hotel’s tour van as our transport — I spent an afternoon getting to know his hometown.The Fullon Hotel Sanyin makes a great base to explore Sanxia and surrounds. To find out more about the hotel, head on to their website here.
Lunch at Chi Meatball Restaurant (肉圓)
And my tour of Sanxia begins! Mr. Joe suggested that I should have a very local lunch, and brought me to a small street side restaurant called ‘Chi‘. They serve a very unique dish called 肉圓 (rou yuan), which literally translates to meatball — but it is nothing like the kind of meatballs we’re used to! The ‘meatball’ is a fist-sized whitish gelatinous round blob made of rice and sweet potato flour, filled with a generous filling of pork, bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms. It is then topped with a reddish brown-colored sweet chilli sauce. I have to say it was a very interesting eating experience for me — the rou yuan is a little gloppy and chewy on the first bite, but I got used to the texture and really enjoyed the filling and sauce. My meal came with a pretty delicious bowl of pepperry pork intestines soup. It can’t get any more local than this!
Sanxia Zushi Temple (祖師廟)
After lunch at the old town, we made our way along the river towards one of Sanxia’s most iconic landmarks — the Sanxia Zushi Temple (祖師廟). First built in the mid-18th century, the temple was rebuilt several times after being destroyed in earthquakes and wars. The temple that stands now was restored after World War II (1947), and led by Taiwan’s renowned artist Li Mei Shu (who has a memorial in the city). It features his beautiful artworks, as well as those of artists from around the country. Mr.Joe told me that as a young schoolboy, he had seen Master Li at work on the temple — and until today, parts of the temple is still under restoration. The Sanxia Zushi Temple is absolutely gorgeous, and walking around it felt like walking through an art gallery. It showcases exquisite calligraphy works; beautiful hand-crafted pillars; intricate designs on its walls, ceiling and eaves; and rooftops with miniature sculptures that depict ancient myths and legends.
Sitting by the red buildings that line the Sanxia Old Street.
Sanxia Old Street (三峽老街)
Just down the road from the temple is the famous Sanxia Old Street (三峽老街). Though the old town of Sanxia extends to a few beautifully preserved streets — the main Sanxia Old Street refers to the one on Minquan Street that runs about 260 meters. This entire street is lined by over 100 red-bricked western houses that dates back to the 1900’s; complete with beautiful arches and columns, and ancient plaques. Back in the days, the shops along the street used to sell local produce like dyes and tea — and even though they have switch to selling things like souvenirs, drinks and snacks, calligraphy brushes and other old antiques; they still manage to maintain its olden historic look.
Walking along the old street, Mr.Joe told me stories about his jaunts and mischiefs along the old street during his childhood days — which took my imagination back to the days of the town’s past. The Sanxia Old Street was pretty quiet during my visit on a weekday’s afternoon, but I heard that it gets crowded and merry during the weekends (which is the best time to visit).
Oh, and on another note, while you’re walking along Sanxia Old Street, don’t forget to get your hands on their signature Golden Bull Horns Croissant (金牛角). It is exactly what its name implies — a croissant in the shape of bull’s horns.
Sanxia Indigo Dyeing Centre (藍染展示中心)
While walking along the old street and its many side streets, we came across the Sanxia Indigo Dyeing Centre. Back during the Qing Dynasty, Sanxia was a central hub for the clothes dyeing industry of Taiwan. It’s specialty? Indigo (blue) dye, which is a traditional Taiwanese cloth dying technique. Beautiful patterns are made on cloth with these blue-colored dye with the uses of thread and wax. The centre offers dyeing workshops, where you can design your own t-shirts or handkerchiefs from about NT$400 (US$13). The classes usually last about 1.5 hours — and I really wish I had more time to get my hands blue! Instead, I settled on buying an indigo-dye souvenir at their shop.
Zhangfu Bridge (長福橋) over Sanxia River (三峽河)
After our visit along the Sanxia Old Street, Mr.Joe suggested that we walk over the Sanxia River via the Zhangfu Bridge to the other side of town. The Zhangfu Bridge seemed like a newly renovated addition to the olden town of Sanxia, especially with the colorful small pavilions that line the bridge. The bridge offers a nice view of the many mountains around Sanxia district in the distance — but it is a pity that the Sanxia River is a little dried up and undergoing some river restoration during my visit. I can imagine the beautiful scenery once the river is filled up and flowing through the town like it used to.
Upon reaching the end of the bridge, we were picked up by the hotel van and headed off to our next stop in Sanxia — towards the mountains!
Xiong Kong Tea Garden (熊空茶园)
It was a little more than half an hour’s drive from the center of Sanxia into the mountains. Mr.Joe informed me that he wanted to introduce me to one of the main produce of Sanxia back in its heyday — tea. One of the best places to experience the tea culture in the city is at the Taiwan Tea Corporation: Sanxia Branch’s Xiong Kong Tea Garden (熊空茶园). Unfortunately, it started raining heavily as soon as we arrived so I missed the opportunity to climb up the hill for a view of the plantation. I did however, drop by the Daliao Historical Tea House (大寮茶文馆) in the vicinity, a historical building built in 1944 by the Japanese who ran the tea planation back in the day. It is now a small museum that showcases the tea culture of yesteryears.
Sanxia Xing Xiu Temple (三峽行修宮)
And then in the rain and all, we made our way further into the mountains to the location of the Sanxia Xing Xiu Temple (三峽行修宮), located near the Baiji Mountains (白雞山translates to ‘white chicken’ mountain). The area used to be known for its coal mines, and the Xing-Xiu Temple was built here in the early 1960’s by the Hsin Tian Organisation (恩主公) founded by the Master Hsuan Kung (玄空師父), who made his fortune at the coal mines here before turning to religion. There are three temples built by the organisation; and the more famous sister temple, Xing Tian Temple in Taipei is almost a replica of this temple. It is equally as extravagant, but the Xing Xiu Temple is surrounded by gardens and the beautiful mountain range (that is popular for hiking too). Mr.Joe told me that this is the temple that he and his family visits to give thanks and prayers during the Chinese New Year celebrations.
National Taipei University (台北大學)
Our final stop at the day was at the National Taipei University, just down the road from the Fullon Hotel Sanyin where I was staying. The rain had stopped after the 45-minute drive back from the mountains to the city center, so we got to enjoy a nice evening visit around the university. Mr.Joe introduced me to the many buildings within its grounds — and then suggested that we rent a bicycle (from the public bicycle stand) for a ride around the rest of the huge campus.
I think we spent an hour cycling about. It was the best suggestion ever, as it was so fun to get to admire the university views, enjoy the cold autumn breeze, and witness the sun setting over the city’s buildings while whizzing around on my bicycle. We later cycled out of the university, explored the Sanxia new town a little, and then made our way back to the hotel (there is a public bicycle stand just opposite the hotel).
And that was the end of my tour of Sanxia with the Fullon Hotel Sanyin. I have to say that it was a wonderful opportunity to have seen Sanxia through the eyes of a local — especially with all of Mr.Joe’s interesting stories! I had a great time.
Dinner at Kuo-Ma Hotpot (鍋媽火鍋)
Later that night, I walked out of the hotel to look for something local to eat around the new town of Sanxia. Mr.Joe assured me that there are many restaurants around the area, so I wouldn’t have trouble finding something to eat. And he was right. I came across the Kua-Ma Hotpot Restaurant (鍋媽火鍋) along the way, and was instantly drawn to it from the sight of everyone dining on their very own small hot pot. The menu was in Chinese so I had a little difficulty, but the lady owner was so friendly — she gave me suggestions, showed me how to prepare my condiments, guided me on my hotpot cooking, and checked up on me from time to time during my meal. She suggested I order the beef in ‘sha cha’ (沙茶) broth (a sort of herbal tea broth) hot pot, and it was one of the best meals I had during my trip to Taiwan. The meal cost only NT$140 (US$4.5) — and the condiments, rice, and drinks like soda, tea and slushies, were complimentary.
I left Sanxia early the next day for my next adventure around New Taipei City. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed my solo adventures in both Sanxia and Yingge — and learned a little bit more about ceramics, tea, and the history of this district I knew nothing about in the beginning.