Chiayi’s Suantou Sugar Refinery

Suantou Sugar Factory

In early October, my school embarked on a company trip to some of Chiayi County’s lesser-known attractions. It’s impossible to enjoy the scenery pass-by or engage in a pleasant conversation with the person sitting next to you on a bus ride for a company trip.  Every minute on the bus has an activity planned:  Ours included some goofy memory games, an informative speech about the destinations we would be visiting [followed immediately by a Q&A session to make sure we were paying attention], raffles, number guessing games, riddles, and KTV.  For losing one of the games I was forced to tell a joke, I chose the Joker’s final joke from The Killing Joke.  As a reward I won a pack of instant noodles – clearly the highlight of the bus ride.  I was reluctant to take part in the KTV portion of the trip but sang an Wu Bai song to be a good sport.  My portion of the bus was particularly rowdy – I don’t know if that had to do with KTV coupled with room temperature Heinekens or the fact that all my coworkers are overworked and don’t get out enough.

Suantou Sugar Factory
Suantou’s tourist trains: pulled by German-made Diema Locomotives

Our first destination and the topic of this post, was Lioujiao Township’s Suantou Sugar Refinery [蒜頭糖廠].  I’ve been to two of these tourism factories before: The Yue-mei Sugar Refinery in Houli and the Ciaotou Sugar Refinery in Kaohsiung.

Suantou Sugar Factory
Headlights

The first portion of our tour included a ride on one of the refinery’s tourist trains.  The train took us a few kilometers in one direction to enjoy the slowly passing scenery of rural Chiayi County accompanied by our tour guide who was busy giving an impassioned and detailed history of the Taiwan sugar industry over a loudspeaker.  After about twenty minutes or so, the train went back in the direction from which it came and eventually went through a tunnel in the factory that was decorated with a few old lanterns.

Suantou Sugar Factory
Premium Unleaded

There was a small seating area inside the refinery for visitors to listen to more information about the refining process.  I took this opportunity along with the other non-Hoklo Taiwanese speaking people in our group to explore and take photographs up, down, and outside the designated tour path of the refinery.

Suantou Sugar Factory
TaiSugar [台糖]

After that portion of the tour was over.  We had about an hour to ourselves.  Most of the group bought popsicles and other TaiSugar related products while I decided to walk around the train yard a bit and tried my best to finish off a roll of Fujifilm Superia 200 which had been in my FM2 for ages.  For fun, try to guess which shots from this series were shot on Superia without checking the Flickr photo tags.

Suantou Sugar Factory
Feeling Blue

Suantou Sugar Factory
For some reason, this photo reminds of the Oil Ocean Zone in Sonic 2

Sugar cultivation started in Taiwan during the mid-1600s when an influx of Chinese specialized in growing rice and sugar began arriving.  Before long, sugar became Taiwan’s primary export.  Under Japanese occupation, processing was modernized and by 1939 annual production peaked at 1.4 million tons with one-fifth of the island’s arable land being devoted to sugarcane cultivation.  Taiwanese sugar was uncompetitive on the international market but was sold duty-free in Japan.

Suantou Sugar Factory
No Pressure

Suantou Sugar Factory
Shooting Up

Suantou Sugar Factory
Pipe Dream

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 and merged all the existing sugar companies left from the Japanese occupation era.  A sugar boom during the 1950s and 1960s was followed by a rapid decline as Taiwan ceased being an agricultural economy and rose to become an industrial power.  Although it is not uncommon to still see sugar grown in farms large and small throughout Taiwan, most of Taiwan’s sugar refineries have shut down and the national TaiSugar Corp. has since diversified.

Suantou Sugar Factory
The Control Room

Suantou Sugar Factory
Take the Stairs

My suggestion, if you are going to visit any of the several old sugar refineries is to visit the one in Kaohsiung.  I’m pretty sure that’s the only one with any English information.  If you just want to take pictures of an abandoned factory, then any of them will do.

Suantou Sugar Factory
Bolt on Orange on Rust

Sources: The Economic History of Taiwan, Taiwan Sugar Corporation [wikipedia], Locations of Sugarcane Railway Locomotives.

12 thoughts on “Chiayi’s Suantou Sugar Refinery

  1. I have been on many of these trips involving KTV bus rides and I hate it. I mean you are going out then enjoy what is outside, right? The bus is winding down one of those beautiful mountain roads, past lush green rice paddies or down a beautiful rocky sea coast but everybody else is on KTV thinking they are tantalizing other peoples eardrums with their sweet voice. And to add that there is a KTV in practically every house in Taiwan including mine so it sure isn’t something novel or rare thing to be happening. And I hear that they have seen it before and it doesn’t excite them much. It just blows my mind to pieces.
    Anyways grea photos. I like the vintage look of the 4th photo , “Premium Unleaded” one.

    • The ride back was slightly better: After about 30 minutes of riddles that only employees’ children were guessing the answers to for prizes such as packs of gum did they finally cut that garbage out and put Kung Fu Panda in the DVD player.

  2. My wife and went there in October very early on a Sunday morning and had a wonderful time walking around before everyone showed up.

    We enjoyed the rather frank discussions on how the world caught up with the low priced Taiwanese product after we had been the low priced for some time.

    As we are business and engineering professionals it was an interesting reminder how one cannot stay the same in business or science as there is always someone with a lower price or a better idea…

    • Good points Steve. I wouldn’t mind visiting this one again or any of the other TaiSugar refineries on a quiet early morning.

      Maybe in a few generations students will take field trips to visit the ruins of the Hsinchu Science Park, Kaohsiung’s Export Processing Zone, or other relics of the industrial / information age

  3. I’ve only been to the one in Houli. It’s a classic tourist trap, but does have a couple of things in its favor. One is that most visitors seem intent on eating ice cream and other snacks, and pay little attention to the old factory itself, so it can be explored in relative peace and quiet. The other is that there is a small shop with draft beer on tap, courtesy of one of Taiwan’s few microbreweries.

  4. Todd, you missed a very imnportant item on your tip to Swantoe…that is where Wu Bai the rock and roll kind of CHina Blue grew up and went to school. that is Wu Bai’s hometown! Think about that next time you go on a field trip!

    • Wow Rock Roller, I had no idea this was Wu Bai’s hometown! Considering all the silly tidbits and factoids my coworkers tell us over the bus intercom system before visiting somewhere, you’d think they wouldn’t overlook this important piece of information. Just shows how lame my coworkers are!

  5. “Taiwanese sugar was uncompetitive on the international market but was sold duty-free in Japan.” Japan didn’t want her colonies doing anything but working for her, no? Isn’t this the nature of imperialism?

  6. I went to Taiwan last month. Before our trip, I google around to check if there local attraction and I found a website. It provides a lot of travel discount information in Taiwan. I purchased a package and the package is good. After I arrived local SPA, I found we save 50%. The only bad thing is the website is cool but it only offer in Chinese. If you understand Chinese, you might found good deal there.

    Here is website:http://www.mytravel168.com

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