Our weekend in Kaohsiung began with a trip on the KMRT to The Ciaotou Sugar Refinery [橋頭糖廠]. The area is characterized by its sugar refinery which has been made into a museum of Taiwan’s sugar industry. There are plenty of old buildings, narrow gauge trains, cafes, bike paths, and artwork by local artists on display for visitors to enjoy.
We followed signs to a tourist train that runs from Xingtang Station [興糖站] to Jingnong Station [精農站].
It wasn’t long before our ride pulled up, the German-manufactured Diema diesel locomotive: The workhorse of Taiwan’s sugar railways since the late 1970s till the decline of the industry.
The locomotive’s interior:
The brief ride brought us past farms and along a bike path. We were dropped off at an area that didn’t have much to explore except for a duck pond…
…and a lotus pond. I wasn’t upset we only had about 20 minutes to explore the area before the train went back, because after 15 minutes it started pouring.
After taking the train back, we stopped for lunch and waited for the rain to let up a bit. After lunch we grabbed popsicles at the former Kaohsiung headquarters of the Taiwan Sugar Corporation. Now tourists can buy frozen desserts and souvenirs there:
Next up was The Ciaotou Sugar Refinery. The refinery’s different buildings are well preserved and open to the public. There are plenty of retired Diema Locomotives around:
Many of the buildings include informative displays about Taiwan’s sugar industry. The sugar industry in Taiwan began after the Dutch took control over much of Taiwan. In the mid-1600s, an influx of Chinese to the island specialized in growing rice and sugar. Soon sugar became Taiwan’s primary export.
In the early eighteenth century, Taiwan prospered during a sugar boom. Taiwan’s sugar mills were mostly small-scale operations until the Japanese occupation in 1895.
Under the Japanese, sugar processing was modernized. Although Taiwanese sugar was uncompetitive on the international market, it was sold duty-free in Japan.
The Taiwan Sugar Corporation [台灣糖業公司] or Taisugar [台糖] was created in 1946 after Taiwan’s handover to Nationalist rule. The corporation merged all the existing sugar companies left from the Japanese occupation era. The sugar industry boomed during the 1950s and 1960s, but has since declined as Taiwan ceased being an agricultural economy. Taisugar has diversified into tourism, floriculture, biotechnology, and retailing. They also operate a chain of gas stations.
Sources: The Economic History of Taiwan, Taiwan Sugar Corporation [wikipedia], Locations of Sugarcane Railway Locomotives.