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A recreation of mining conditions inside the Benshan Fifth Tunnel. (CF)  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan > Sights & Attractions

Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park

  
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Mining enriched the twin towns of Jiufen (九份) and Jinguashi (金瓜石) in the first half of the 20th century. Gold was the key mineral, but substantial amounts of copper were also extracted. When the mines closed in the 1980s, many inhabitants moved away. Those who remained didn't have the money to renovate their homes, so the settlements retained their old appearance - squat wood and brick bungalows roofed with tarpaper and streaked with mold.

Jiufen's economy began to rebound after Taiwanese movie director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) shot his 1989 film City of Sadness in and around the town. Many of those who saw the movie were enamored by the traditional dwellings and the steep, narrow lanes; they came to see the sights and spend money on snacks. Jiufen is now a tourist town without parallel in Taiwan. It's often very crowded, but remains a charming place.

Jinguashi didn't share in Jiufen's prosperity until the opening a few years ago of Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park (GEP, 黃金博物園區). The GEP comprises several locations around Jinguashi and has a number of must-sees.

The first, the Four-Joined Japanese-style Residence, is just past the Tourist Information Center (where you can borrow an audio-guide for free if you leave some ID as a deposit). Inside the residence, visitors are shown a worthwhile video presentation (English subtitles) about the history of the buildings and how they were not so much renovated as dismantled and rebuilt using a mix of original and new cypress beams and posts. The rooms have been furnished with tatami mats and low tables typical of 1930s Taiwan.

The park has two museums. The Environmental Education Building describes local geology and climate while the Gold Building lists some impressive facts and figures, such as the area having more than 600km of mine shafts and tunnels, one of which was 132m below sea level. The Gold Building also displays tools and documents, and this where you can learn about the mostly British prisoners-of-war who labored and and died in their hundreds in Jinguashi's mines during World War II. For many visitors, the highlight is not the history but the chance to see and touch what's said to be the world's biggest solid gold bar. By spring 2012, soaring bullion prices had pushed the monetary value of this 220.3kg ingot close to US$13 million.

The Crown Prince's Chalet was built in 1922 to accommodate Prince Hirohito, later Japan's emperor, on a state visit, although he never actually slept here. The public are seldom allowed inside, but the bilingual signs outside are a superb introduction to Japanese architectural concepts (as well as plant and tree species). Make sure you go behind the bungalow to see the archery range and miniature golf course.

Benshan Fifth Tunnel is the only underground section open to the public, and one of the few places in the park where admission is charged (NT$50 per adult). Visitors are handed safety helmets and disclaimers before they enter, but if anything the tunnel feels too safe. The depicition of mining conditions is oversanitized; nonetheless, do enter to see the wax figures shovel, drill, eat rice lunchboxes and submit to searches when leaving the mine.

After exiting the tunnel, take the path uphill to the old Shinto Shrine, which some signs call the "Gold Temple." It'll take you less than 20 minutes to get to this platform, 417m above sea level, and it's worth it for the views and the desolate, "fallen civilization" feel of the spot. After rain the steps can be slippery.

If you've the energy and a desire to see even industrial heritage, do walk past Quanji Temple (勸濟堂), which is notable for the 25-tonne gold-faced statue of Guan Gong on its roof. In the next valley there is the long-disused 13-level Shuinandong Smelter and three 2km-long black flues that snake their way up the hillside. These impressive structures are leftovers from highly toxic the gold- and copper-refining processes.

Directions

Jinguashi is well served by regular buses from Taipei, (board near Exit 1, Zhongxiao-Fuxing MRT station), Ruifang (just outside the TRA station) and Keelung (outside Zen Shyang Clinic, very near the TRA station). The quickest option is to take a TRA train to Ruifang and board a bus there. All of these buses also stop at Jiufen before arriving in Jinguashi.

Type: Museum
Costs: free
Location: Taiwan
Street address: 8, Jinguang Road, Ruifang District, New Taipei City
Nearest public transport: Jinguashi Bus Station
Opening hours: Daily 9:30am-5:30pm, closed first Monday each month
Telephone: +886224962800







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