Sunday, August 1, 2010
Yongzhen Beach 永鎮海濱
Even though almost no one ever swims here, this is probably the best swimming beach in north Taiwan.
The beach extends all the way along the coast of Yilan township, from the Yunyu River on the north to the Lanyang River on the south. The beach stretches a total of about 13 kilometers. For most of the way it is completely undeveloped. The beach has extremely fine gray sand. Because the sand is dark, it heats up in summer, so bring a towel and flip flops. The beach is usually pretty clean - because it faces the open Pacific, there isn't much garbage floating in, and the typhoons scour the beach clean a few times a year. There are some concrete seawalls to keep the beach from eroding in several places, but most of the way it's still natural.
The coastal road runs parallel to the beach the entire way. There is a large earthen embankment between the road and the beach. I'm not sure if this was built for military defense or as a barrier against storm surges and tsunamis. Along the embankment is a wonderful bike trail which runs the length of the beach.
The amazing thing about this beach is that almost no one swims here. Compared to the famous beach at Waiao, which has a strong current, this beach is much safer. The water near the shore is quite shallow, there isn't a noticeable undertow in the places I've been swimming, and the waves are small.
Even so, most Taiwanese are have an irrational terror of the ocean and would never dream of swimming here. Taiwanese tourists who come near the ocean always put one foot in and scream like the water is killing them - they expect to be grabbed by a giant squid, mauled by a shark, and shocked by electric eels within seconds of entering the water.
There are a couple of places where tourists go to walk on the beach. But for most of the length of this beach, there is only the occasional old guy fishing. In most places the beach is completely deserted, even on weekends. The fact that there is an almost infinite empty perfect beach in north Taiwnan, just an hour drive from Taipei, is truly amazing. If you forget your swim suit, just find and isolated spot and go swimming in your underwear ... or less.
In any Western country this beach would be prime real estate and packed full of people. It's great that Taiwanese people are terrified of the ocean, because this means that any foreigner who comes here will have a 13 kilometer long private beach.
Since the famous surfing beach at Waiao has become so crowded with kooks, the real surfers have started looking for new surfing spots. Recently I've noticed surfers on this beach at two spots north of the town of Dafu 大福. When the surf is decent, this beach seems to be as good for surfing as Waiao. And this beach is so long, surfers haven't even begun to explore most of it. I'm sure that the best surfing spots have yet to be discovered.
To get to this beach, just go to the coastal road in Jiaoxi township. Every so often you will notice a narrow paved road or walking trail which will take you up from the coastal road, over the tsunami barrier, across the bike path, and down to the beach. If you poke around it isn't hard to find a way to get down to the beach.
There is one spot with a parking lot and running water to wash off. This is the Zhuangwei Coastal Park 壯圍海濱公園. To get there, head down the coastal road until you reach Zhuangbin Road Section 4 壯濱路四段. You will come to a large temple called Kaizhang Shengwang Temple 開漳聖王廟. To the left of the temple is a little road which leads up to a parking lot.
This park area has a great boardwalk which is perfect for walking above the beach and enjoying the view, complete with covered places to sit. This is a good place to get a view of Guishan Island.
If you like you can go down to the beach here and swim. Afterwards you can wash off at the taps near the parking lot. Unfortunately, these aren't showers - they're meant for people to wash their feet after walking on the beach. (Surely no one would be crazy enough to swim in the ocean!) But you can bend over and splash water around to wash off after a swim.