Keelung, Taiwan

by Gethin Thomas October. 30, 2020 315 views

In 2014 our Far East Cruise took in one stop in Taiwan, the main object of that stop being intended to take in trips to Taipei the capitol city. As much as I wanted to see Taipei it was quite a long coach trip to get there and back in a day from Keelung, leaving limited time in the country as a whole.

Having researched all of the ports on the cruise I decided that this was one that looked interesting in it's own right. Although not a tourist destination, that to me was an attraction in itself. It seemed to me that where the ship docked you were right in the centre of the city. Some ports can be miles from the city they serve, this one just has one road to cross at the port gate and there you were, in town.

I had identified two points of interest, a temple on top of the hill overlooking the port and the street where the night market was, which also had a temple.

Keelung, officially known as Keelung City, is a major port city situated in the north-eastern part of Taiwan. Nicknamed the Rainy Port for its frequent rain and maritime role, the city is Taiwan's second largest seaport.

Keelung has quite a tumultuous history. Keelung was first inhabited by the Ketagalan, a tribe of Taiwanese aborigine. By 1624 the Spanish had built San Salvador de Quelung, a fort in Keelung serving as an outpost of the Manila-based Spanish East Indies. The Spanish ruled it as a part of Spanish Formosa. From 1642 to 1661 and 1663–1668, Keelung was under Dutch control. However, trade with Qing China through Keelung was not what they hoped it would be and, in 1668, they left after getting harassed by aboriginals.

In 1863, the Qing Empire opened up Keelung as a trading port and the city enjoyed rapid development due to the abundant commodities such as placer gold and high quality coal found in the drainage area of Keelung River.

During the Sino-French War (1884–85), the French attempted an invasion of Taiwan during the Keelung Campaign. The French were defeated at the Battle of Tamsui and the Qing forces pinned the French down at Keelung in an eight-month-long campaign before the French withdrew.

A systematic city development started during the Japanese Era, after the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, which handed all Taiwan over to Japan. A five-phase construction of Keelung Harbor was initiated, and in by 1916 trade volume had exceeded even those of Tamsui and Kaohsiung Harbors to become one of the major commercial harbors of Taiwan.

After the handover of Taiwan from Japan to the Republic of China in October 1945, Keelung was established as a provincial city of Taiwan Province. The Keelung City Government worked with the harbour bureau to rebuild the city and the harbour and in 1984, the harbour became the 7th largest container port in the world

The temple on the hill features a huge white statue of a sea Goddess standing guard over the port. Having guessed that the people in the city which is not a destination for tourists would in all likelihood not speak much or any English, I went forearmed with photos of the places printed off at home that I could show to a taxi driver. I had decided we would attempt to get a taxi to take us to the giant statue so I had my photo of the sea Goddess ready in hand. I wasn't sure how successful this would be. I had thought if we get a taxi to the top in what I had expected to be a very humid climate we might then judge whether to walk back into town, based on the journey up.

We came out of the main gate of the port and there were three or four taxis waiting. Almost every one of the three thousand passengers had already vanished on coaches off to Taipei. We got into the taxi without local currency as we had been advised US dollars were widely accepted. Having shown the driver the dollars to be sure, he nodded, so I then showed him the sea goddess photo. He put his foot down and what seemed like three minutes later after winding hairpin bends at breakneck speed we were at the gate of the temple. That was a lot easier than we had expected.

The Chung Cheng Park is a park located in Xinyi District and Zhongzheng District of Keelung City, Taiwan. The 25-meter statue of the goddess Guanyin on top of Chung Cheng park is the biggest goddess statue in Southeast Asia and is one of the most scenic spots in Keelung city. (wikipedia)

Guanyin, is the most commonly used Chinese translation of the bodhisattva known as Avalokiteśvara. Guanyin is the Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion. In the East Asian world, Guanyin is the equivalent term for Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. She was first given the appellation of "Goddess of Mercy" or the Mercy Goddess by Jesuit missionaries in China. She is also known as Mistress of the Southern Sea and patroness of fishermen.

The temple that serves the statue is in Zhongzheng Park and was constructed in 1967.

In Buddhism, the swastika is considered to symbolize the auspicious footprints of the Buddha. It is an aniconic symbol for the Buddha in many parts of Asia and homologous with the dharma wheel. The shape symbolizes eternal cycling, a theme found in samsara doctrine of Buddhism.

The swastika symbol is common in esoteric tantric traditions of Buddhism, along with Hinduism, where it is found with Chakra theories and other meditative aids.

The Swastika is common throughout Europe and evident in ancient artefacts of most European cultural groups and was commonly used throughout history even up to the early twentieth century before being adopted by the Nazi Party in Germany prior to World War 2, when it then became overwhelmingly associated with a single ideology.

This is our ship, The Diamond Princess, which more recently became infamous as the quarantine ship of Yokohama harbour in early 2020.

Much of the older architecture has a colonial feel to it.

I've put this photo in because although I took it on impulse just walking along the busy street because it made a nice photo I never really got around to doing anything with it and it got all but forgotten. I don't photograph people as a rule, they are usually incidental to the photos I take.

Having looked more closely at this photo when I came to do this post I decided to add it. There is something remarkable in it in my opinion. It speaks so much about humanity.

Here we have a busy dirty noisy street with vehicles and people streaming past and in the midst of all the chaos this small child inhabits his own little world. Everything is perfectly laid out. He sits on an opened out cardboard box just like my little brother used to do fifty years ago, sitting in his box for hours imagining it to be any number of different things.

The cardboard here is perfectly aligned with the paving, his small shoes neatly removed and placed at the side. His little scooter parked at the back. His bag of treasures on the floor in front of him. Some books already taken out and placed behind him. The most intriguing element is the part of the box that has been folded up to make a small enclosure. It is held in place by a thin dressmaking tape measure (supplied by Mum?). By his right knee a small wooden object that appears to have a face. A small doll? Then his perfectly kept haircut and clothes that indicate he is cherished by someone. His shirt has little cartoon animal faces on it. On the little animal faces the words in English, Magical Powers.

I saw none of this the day I took the photo and yet something made me memorialise this scene, which I am so glad I did. And what does it have to do with Keelung? Nothing really. Change the child, the clothes, the toys and this is a scene you could witness anywhere in the world. Maybe that is the point.

Dianji Temple.

Sadly we were not in Keelung overnight but the temple is well worth a visit.

Keelung Night Market is located in the center of Keelung City. The rise of the night market has much to do with the Dianji Temple. In the early days, pilgrims to the temple would gather at the temple; sometimes outdoor performers and other entertainers would perform near the temple as well. Street vendors selling food and drink were in turn attracted to the area by the large amount of foot traffic, and all of these factors contributed to the rise and prosperity of Keelung Night Market.

This is the famous Keelung Night Market, the prime tourist attraction of Keelung. The characteristic of Keelung Night Market's snacks is that vendors present all of their dishes clearly in front of customers. Every individual dish served in the night market has its own flavour and history. Keelung Night Market's exhibition hall of delicious food and snacks is open year-round, displaying a wide variety of dishes made from rice, flour and beans, as well as seafood, meats, desserts and frozen treats. Many food experts praise Keelung Night Market as having "the largest variety of dishes in the whole of Taiwan". Some famous dishes include tempura, dingbiancuo (potside scrapings), sandwiches, chicken rolls, butter crab, thick bean-sprout soup, fresh seafood, pork knuckle, braised eel soup, bubble ice, etc.

The temple that sits within the heart of the night market is named Dianji Temple and is separated from the hustle and bustle only by a giant ornate open temple gate that automatically gives the impression that the temple inside is a sight to be seen. The temple is the largest of the 'big three temples' of Keelung all of which are Taoist, a short walking distance from each other as well as a short distance from the harbour showing the significance of the harbour to the early settlers of the city.

The temple was established in 1875 after a generous land donation by a wealthy local merchant and was built on the site of an older shrine to the Water God . In 1923 the main shrine was completed and is dedicated to the Sage King Kaizhang otherwise known as Duke Chen a Hoklo folklore hero from Fujian province in China who died in 722 and who is worshipped today by the Hoklo people for his loyalty and also for his role in developing a Fujian province in southern China (where most of Taiwan's early immigrations came from). (

Mopeds or scooters are everywhere, like a lot of Asian countries, they are the vehicle of choice.

Taiwan, a country of 23 million people, has the highest scooter density in the world by far and, as I suspected, is a bit unusual in that it has a higher per capita GDP than its peers at the top of the scooter density list:

I was surprised to learn from my scootering co-workers that the cost of the gasoline they use to get to work is less than what it would cost to use public transportation like MRT or bus. The scooter itself will set you back $2,000–3,000 and you can use it over 7–10 years. All in all, a pretty good deal for quick, door-to-door commuting. (

In simple numbers about 600 per 10,000 people. I thought Viet Nam had a lot but they only have about 350 per 10,000 people. What I never really figured out in Keelung though was where are all the people that own these scooters, the scooters were everywhere, every street, alley, open space was packed with them, but there was little evidence of that many people either living or working nearby.

The petrol/gas station in this photo below, gives a clue to Taiwan's colonial past too. The island was formerly known by Europeans as Formosa. (Good quiz question).

The name Formosa dates from 1542 when Portuguese sailors sighted an uncharted island and noted it on their maps as Ilha Formosa ("beautiful island"). The name Formosa eventually "replaced all others in European literature" and remained in common use among English speakers into the 20th century.

As the sun was setting our ship left port and I was not at all sad that we had decided to spend the day in Keelung instead of travelling further afield.

The political status of Taiwan remains uncertain. It is no longer a member of the UN, having been replaced by the People's Republic of China in 1971. Taiwan is claimed by the PRC, which refuses diplomatic relations with countries that recognise the ROC. Taiwan maintains official ties with 14 out of 193 UN member states and the Holy See. International organisations in which the PRC participates either refuse to grant membership to Taiwan or allow it to participate only on a non-state basis. Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Asian Development Bank under various names.

Notably, Taiwan was the first country in the world to successfully tackle and control Covid 19 at it's earliest stages when very little was known about the virus. Taiwan in fact wrote to the World Health Organisation informing the organisation (which it is prevented from joining by the PRC), that Taiwanese scientists believed the virus was transmissible between humans. This was in advance of that information being supplied by the PRC for which it has been widely criticised.

The World Health Organisation did not acknowledge receipt of that communication or act on it.

The Secret of success

One of the main reasons for Taiwan's success in containing the virus is speed. The island's leaders were quick to act as rumours spread online of an unidentified virus in the Chinese city of Wuhan and unconfirmed reports of patients having to isolate. Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told CNN the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 had taught them a lot. "At the time Taiwan was hit very hard and then we started building up our capacity dealing with a pandemic like this," said Wu.

"So, when we heard that there were some secret pneumonia cases in China where patients were treated in isolation, we knew it was something similar."

Even before Beijing publicly acknowledged the gravity of the virus, Wu said Taiwan health officials began screening passengers arriving from Wuhan and additional early travel restrictions were put in place. As much of the world waited for more information, Taiwan activated its Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which coordinates different ministries in an emergency, and the military was brought in to boost mask and PPE production.

Those initial, early responses to the outbreak in China -- and the willingness to take action -- were critical in preventing the spread of the virus in Taiwan, potentially saving thousands of lives. And in Taiwan as a whole, an island with a population of approximately 23 million people, there have been around 500 confirmed cases and just 7 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

And that's despite it being located just 130 kilometres (81 miles) from China, the country where the virus was first detected. (

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There are 4 comments , add yours!
Tsao T-F 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Glad you had a briefly stay in Keelung by The Diamond Princess in 2014 (rather than 2020). This is an interesting reading: learn about my own country and city from a foreign traveler. Your post contains very rich information with good photos and text. Besides, I am sure you are a very dedicated person because you set your goals (e.g., temple and street) before you arrive. 100

You are right! Due to convenience and cheapness, Taiwan does have too many scooters. Fortunately, some things are changing. For example, if the distance does not exceed 10 kilo meters, people can take the bus for free in some cities (such as my city, Taichung. So, I take the bus to work every weekday).smile

Because Taiwan suffered from SARS (346 confirmed cases and 73 deaths, including young doctors and nurses) in 2003. And Taiwan is still excluded from WHO today. (We usually get second-hand health information through the US or Japan. Thank you!) So, this time, we are all very serious (and nervous) about the new virus (COVID-19), especially this one comes from China again. Maybe the most important reason of the low prevalence here is: We Taiwanese do not trust China.pray

Anyway, thanks for sharing the post. grinning
P.S. I like what you said about #15.

5 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Gethin Thomas Replied to Tsao T-F 5 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm glad you appreciated the post. Yours is not a country many Western tourists visit but I found it very interesting and impressive. I would definitely go again if I get the opportunity. Good luck with keeping the virus away. We go into lockdown again on Thursday. Hopefully a vaccine soon.+1

5 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Tsao T-F Replied to Gethin Thomas 5 months, 2 weeks ago

It's sad to hear the lockdown again. The pandemic seems to be getting worse in UK. I believe that the vaccine will be available soon. And welcome to visit Taiwan. "Bravo! Taiwan"(10min)

5 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Camellia Staab 5 months, 2 weeks ago

You captured the feel of the area very well. I am sure Tsao would enjoy reading this post. smile

5 months, 2 weeks ago Edited