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More than meets the eye

Unlike many other major cities in Taiwan, Chiayi City hasn't exactly been a top tourist draw, but most of them don't know what they're missing.

Thanks to the country's High Speed Rail (HSR), the city is now conveniently connected with the other major destinations on Taiwan's west coast, and visitors can whiz down south within an hour and a half from the Taipei Main Station, making visits to Chiayi City a snap.

Discover Some Amusement at Chiayi Park

It is no surprise to see a 270,000 square meter park crowded with trees. It is astonishing, however, to find the place with features interesting enough to attract visitors on their own.

At first glance, 60-year-old Chiayi Park looks like an ordinary park with its share of benches, trees, bushes and grass, as well as ponds with fountains and small decorative bridges. Like London's Hyde Park, Chiayi Park is clean and well maintained. The greatest differences lie in the existence of Chinese and Japanese elements left behind from the Japanese Colonial period at the turn of the century.

Thoughtful aspects can be found everywhere in the park, even under your feet — outlined images of people walking and cycling carved onto pavement bricks differentiate the walkways from the bike tracks.

The park's age is evident as some of the concrete pavilions and benches are starting to crack and crumble, while others have plants growing over them. But instead of looking rundown, these signs of wear and tear add to the place's characteristic charm.

Venture farther up hill in the park, and visitors will find themselves in a fantasy world straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Instead of stumbling upon the Mad Hatter's tea party, however, one will discover a grand Confucius Temple located in the heart of the park – a “little” surprise thrown at visitors.

Diagonally uphill from here rests some steps leading up to a heavy archway, in a distance appears a tower resembling Isengard Tower from Lord of the Rings. Prior to reaching the tower, look to the right for a Japanese style edifice that is now a Historical Relic Museum housing the history of Chiayi Park and the city. Visitors can poke around the museum for free from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except Mondays.

Note: Two guided tours are available every day, starting at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Carry on trekking towards the park's biggest landmark, the Sun Shooting Tower. The 62-meter-tall tower got its name from an old aboriginal myth, which is depicted in a huge bronze sculpture in the middle of the structure.

An indoor tour with an elevator that takes you to the top of the building costs NT$30. Visitors can take in a startling 360-degree view of the city through glass panels placed ten stories high.

After maybe a picnic or breather at the park, stroll back down along the footpath to the bus stop. Gather yourself, and go to jail.

Note: To get to the next stop, walk straight down Zhongshan Road until you meet Weishin Road, then turn right and walk for two blocks.

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More than meets the eye
The grand Chiayi Tower is also known as the Sun Shooting Tower. (By James Topley, the China Post)

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