Fields of Jade

Quiet roads stretching through rice fields.

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The idyllic countryside of the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, located between the fluvial plains of Hualien City and Taitung City, is filled with waterfalls, rice paddies, small agricultural villages, cafes, family-run bed and breakfasts, and numerous hot springs. One of Eastern Taiwan’s most popular recreational cycling trails runs alongside Chishang Township’s endless rice fields.

Chishang Township is the crown jewel of Taiwanese organic rice production. This agricultural town is tucked away in the East Rift Valley, far from crowds and factories, and shielded from industrial pollution by central and coastal mountain ranges. Blessed with a clean runoff distributed by the Xinwulu River, Chishang Rice is regarded as the best domestic rice for its exceptional sweetness, flavor and texture. During Japanese rule, advances in agricultural technology paved the way for the success that Chishang’s rice enjoys today.; in 2019, 87-year-old local farmer Mei-Kuo Hsieh became the first non-Japanese entrant  to win the Gold Prize at the 21st International Contest on Rice Taste Evaluation in Japan. As a further testament to his achievement, Mr. Hsieh’s award-winning rice is now served onboard EVA Air flights.

Mr. Brown Avenue, a 1.5-mile cycling path, is Chishang’s most iconic attraction. The name of the path references a Mr. Brown Coffee commercial that was shot there. Soon afterwards, another commercial for EVA Air Commercial, starring famed actor Takeshi Kaneshiro, further cemented the iconic bicycle path’s status in domestic tourism. Unlike most of Taiwan, here there are no utility poles or high-voltage wires, just sweeping fields of rice paddies as far as the eye can see to the North and South. The view is complemented by the rising peaks of the Central Mountain Range to the West and the Coastal Mountain Range to the East. Regardless of the weather, this rice-paddy-filled valley, sandwiched between two towering mountain ranges, feels like something out of an oil painting, perhaps that’s why it’s often called the “green road of paradise.” 

The east rift valley is an ideal place to escape light pollution.
The east rift valley is an ideal place to escape light pollution.

Twice a year, right before summer and at the beginning of winter, when the rice spouts, the color of the fields transforms from a vibrant emerald green to a shimmering gold (think of Sting’s “Fields of Gold”). At this time one can observe the main boulevard—which is off-limits to regular vehicles—spotted with groups of families and friends taking photos at different picturesque spots. What most people don’t know is that the neighboring agricultural roads, which spring from the main road and cut through rice paddies in every direction, are as beautiful as the main boulevard if not more.

Chishang rice products on display.
Chishang rice products on display.

Winter time is when the fields rest and the colors of summer fade. However, most farmers in the valley will plant Rapeseed as a cover crop (also known as “green manure”) in January, creating another beautiful landscape which lasts for 1-2 months in Winter. In any case, don’t forget to try the Chishang Bento for a taste of locally grown treasures; rice lover or not, your opinion of rice might never be the same!

While in the area, be sure to check out Chishang’s art and cafe scene, and perhaps even consider continuing your slow journey through East Rift Valley by rail.

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