When you think of a park, you think of trees, grass, and a few benches; a nice little place where a family could spend an hour or two, but nothing very special. While in most cases that might be a good description, Chiayi Park is a little different.
The first thing to note is that this is no “little place”. The grounds actually cover an area, close to 270,000 square meters in size. With all that land available, it’s only right that there should be a place for everyone. One of the best points about the park is that whoever you are, and however you like to spend your weekend afternoons, you will find something to suit your interests. The park’s greatest achievement though, is that each feature is special in its own right, and could stand alone as the reason for your visit. When you put them all together in one place, you have an area of land so crammed full of interest, variety, and beauty, that to call it “a park” seems to do it a great injustice.
As you walk through the gates, Chiayi Park seems ordinary enough. It has its proper share of benches, trees, grass, and families having a nice time. The large duck pond with its fountains and bridges, and the thick rows of colorful flower beds are very pretty, but even they couldn’t begin to give you an impression of how big the park is, or of what awaits you inside.
Chiayi Park was created more than 60 years ago when Taiwan was under the colonial rule of Japan. It’s no surprise then, that Japanese influences can be seen everywhere in the park’s gardens and many pavilions. Nowhere are they more obvious though, than in a group of old Japanese style buildings that now house a museum chronicling the history of both Chiayi Park, and Chiayi City. All the museum’s exhibits are in Chinese, but foreigners would still be advised to take a look inside as the little buildings are really very pretty.
The park’s age is evident as you walk along its many kilometers of pathways. Some of the concrete pavilions and benches are starting to crack and crumble, and others have plants and trees growing over and around them. Rather than look unpleasant though, these signs of wear and tear just add to the place’s charm and romance. Perhaps the main reason why this should be the case, is that the park is otherwise so clean and well maintained.
Chiayi Park’s greatest asset is the massive Shanzihding Botanical Garden. Shanzihding is so large, and contains such a great wealth of trees and plants, that when you walk around inside you completely forget that you’re still in the city. The tall trees that tower over your head, and the bushes and plants that grow closer to the ground are perfect places for wildlife to thrive. I was lucky enough to see the most unusual bird. It was fully 40cm high, appeared to be flightless, and was hunting for grubs on the ground. The irony is that it’s only here in the city that you’d get to see something like this; the forest recreation areas in the country are just too busy.
The biggest landmark in the park is the 62 meter high Chiayi Tower, also sometimes known as the Sun Shooting Tower. The latter and more colorful of these two names is a reference to an old aboriginal myth, one which is depicted in a huge bronze sculpture in the middle of the tower. For 30元 you can take an elevator to the top of the building. The small fee is well worth it, as the view across the small city of Chiayi is surprisingly good. Another interesting view is the one you get through glass panels set in the floor. If you’re brave enough, you can stand on top of the panels and look straight down to the ground floor 10 stories beneath you.
With other features like a Confucius Temple, an old Alishan steam locomotive, and a children’s play area, coming here can easily turn into an all day experience. Whether or not you’ve got a whole day to spare though, if you live even remotely close to Chiayi, it’s about time you paid a visit to Chiayi Park.