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5 Unique Adventures within an hour of Keelung

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Whenever I travel, I’m always on the lookout for things unique to where I am visiting. When I go to a restaurant, the thing on the menu I want is the one I’ve never heard of before; when I see art, I want to see the artists who live here, not the artists they’ve brought in from far away to display. It’s always my goal to learn about the city I’m staying in and why it’s unlike others in the world; and in my opinion, the easiest way to find what’s different about a place to see what they have that nobody else does. Because of its history, Keelung makes this extremely easy.

Unique Culture Brought to Keelung by Travellers and Immigrants

Located on Taiwan’s northernmost major harbour, Keelung has been an important hub for numerous waves of travellers and immigrants from as many different cultures. Each has brought unique culture to Keelung on their way further inland, and because of this, the area around Keelung is full of unusual cultural treasures worth exploring, both old and new. Here are just a few things I found here that I found that can’t be found anywhere else.

1) Win strange prizes in Taiwan’s most unhinged claw machines

Claw machines are a staple of night markets and arcades across northern Taiwan, but nowhere else I’ve seen has so many clustered together, with such creative offerings. In Keelung you’ll find all the usual prizes, like children’s toys, branded merchandise, and pop-culture figurines, but you’ll also find home vacuum cleaners, Himalayan salt, shoes, adult toys, camping supplies, backup cameras for cars, and many other surprises.

It’s a great afternoon of amusement to just wander around these establishments and see what you can find. The nicest cluster I found is on Rener road between Ai 4th and Jijin, but to find the really strange stuff you have to wander further away from the city centre. Happy hunting!

 

2) Explore an abandoned military fortress without staff or safety barriers

fortress scaled e1700215964743
Thanks for modeling Momo!

Many of Keelung’s urban exploration spots have become less accessible over the years, like the iconic Agena Shipyard relic, closed to the public in 2022. However, just across the strait on Heping island, there is an old military installation that remains open and pristine. Sheliao East Fort’s history goes all the way back to the Dutch colonial period in the 1600s, though it has been heavily modified since then. We’ve actually covered its history before, but what that article doesn’t cover is the sense of discover reaching the place; finding the hidden service road, wandering through the half-abandoned old homes to the unmarked path that takes you to the fort. Along the way you’ll see an archery range with boar targets, but don’t worry, there are no boar on the island- the range is where the aboriginal Amis people practise their ancient hunting techniques on weekends. You’ll also find a few historic plaques that are almost too faded to read, but for the most part the fort is as it was when it was abandoned in the early twentieth century. Keelung has many forts but this one is my favourite because it feels so far away from the city and modern life, while actually being very accessible. If you decide you want to explore more local forts and bunks, just make sure you steer clear of the western fort on Heping island. It is an active military site and there is no access for civilians.

 

View from fort scaled e1700216216764
The view is pretty spectacular too

 

 

3) Meet a pufferfish in at a choose-your-own seafood stall

He's a pretty unique fish!

Along the inland coast of Helpling island between Heping bridge and Sheoliao Bride, there is a row of fishing stalls offering live catch for you to browse. You can take your pick of giant prawns and lobsters, horseshoe crabs, shellfish and other bounties of the sea, either cooked in front of you or to be taken home. The real star of the show, however, is at Hailu Chef, near the shipyard. There, swimming with the day’s catch, you’ll see the owner’s enormous pet pufferfish, usually hanging out with him by the front of the tank. 

 

While it is possible to find pufferfish to eat in Taiwan, this one is far too charming to eat. The owner is happy to show him off, and may even feed him clams so you can see how the pufferfish is able to break them open with his gums. The pufferfish is the only fish there that is not for sale, so while you’re there you can pick out something tasty and have the chef prepare you a delicious, fresh seafood meal for a reasonable price.

 

4) Try Italian fine dining in a repurposed bomb shelter

 

Speaking of pufferfish, there is a restaurant called that in Keelung, and it is pretty special. I came for the location, a bomb shelter left behind by some occupying power at some point in the past, but the food was what really impressed me. I had a really nice Spanish risotto, and it wasn’t even that expensive. They’ve got a range of European pasta dishes and pizzas, which were even more reasonable. For a restaurant with a great gimmick nestled among some of Keelung’s better known tourist destinations, I wasn’t expecting so much quality and value. I’ve paid more for much worse meals in humbler restaurants around Taiwan!

We’ve written before about Keelung’s many bomb shelters and all the ways they’re being repurposed. In addition to restaurants, there are bomb shelter temples, bomb shelter and bomb shelter art installations, and a whole bomb shelter art gallery that just opened in November.


5) Discover what is happening in the ruined “village of the future”

The Futuro Village is many things; an architectural relic; a monument to economic hubris, and a likely counterfeit . My colleague already wrote a great history of it here with clear directions to find it, but the situation has continued to evolve since he left. Squatters have taken up residence in many of the homes and squabble with threatening notices posted on their windows- Emerald bay beach is being cleaned and, at time of writing, is pristine up to the midpoint, where work continues. Men in suits with yellow umbrellas are in and out of the site by the dozens; what exactly is going on here is a mystery to me, one which I was ill equipped to explore. Regardless, it is well worth a visit, and I’d love to compare notes with anyone who goes to see its next chapters.

 

 

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