Ruin Explorations in Taiwan (廢墟)
Sanzhi’s abandoned holiday resort was truly an oddity, a space-age inspired complex that earned the nickname ‘UFO village’. An eccentric architect known only as “Old Taro” is believed to man behind the design, although it owes an obvious debt to the pod houses of Finnish architect Matti Suuronen, made in the 1960’s. With construction on the site beginning way back in 1978, millions of Taiwanese dollars were poured into the project but design problems and construction conflicts left the village in limbo in 1980. After failed attempts to revive construction years later the site was abandoned for good in 1989. Since then the area had been a curiosity for photographers & travellers and has been used in the occasional feature film.
It was by a margin of only a few months that I was denied seeing the Pod Village for myself. A disappointment that still lingers with me today. Even though I’d read the site had been completely demolished I wanted to see what small traces of the village still remained. Seeing my friend Sky was my main reason for visiting Taiwan … and her help was much needed in tracking down the ruin site.
2 hours of travel by bus, train and by foot and we arrived at the site on a blazing hot day. The demolition of the village was apparently ordered to make way for a new, attractive holiday resort for tourists. Such plans may be far off in the future, or may not materialise at all … as there was were no signs of re-development. Just an enormous flattened area of wasteland.
The colourful pods had all been destroyed on site. Pieces of them were scattered all around the landscape … hiding under rocks, and floating in the sea. The only sizable piece remaining was underneath the only remaining platform.
Sky could recall seeing the ruin from the road some years back but had no other lasting impressions other than “it looked weak”. We did a full circle of the site before moving on. It was a frustrating start to the day. Video of the site can be seen here and photographer Craig Ferguson’s original post can be found here. I had no information on other ruins to see in Taiwan whilst I was there. Travelling through the city and the countryside there weren’t many leads. Taiwan doesn’t share Japan’s architectural extravavagance or wackiness, and there were scarce traces of bubble economy businesses in decline.
Relatively close to Sanzhi though I spotted a sizeable abandoned hotel apartment block with no name. Determined to change our luck for the better we headed up the hill to have a look. Then things got a bit weird. I was disturbed to see what I thought was a large black animal carcass as we approached the centre of the hotel. Seconds later the carcass jumped to life … a guard dog coming out to attack us, quickly followed by another. The dogs weren’t messing around, so we immediately backed off. Sky said she could see someones bed and belongings in the front room, and started to get cold feet. (I couldn’t see these things myself.) As we moved to the far right of the hotel the dogs mirrored our movements step by step. They’d been well trained to keep intruders away from the area.
So, that was it? We’d found a large interesting ruin and couldn’t get inside to take even one photo. The owner of the dogs was in one of the rooms somewhere, and the dogs would make a move on us if we came any closer. I had wanted to share the experience with Sky, but for her own safety it was best for her to stay on the perimeter. We moved round the back and shielded by a loud gust of wind I managed to jumped through the undergrowth into a side entrance. I didn’t know where the dogs were by now, and was fully expecting them to race around the corner to attack me. I made it up the first set of stairs safely.
The rooms were all trashed. Thankfully though they hadn’t been cleared out, with plenty of leftover curios to photograph. With a thin metal pole to protect myself in one hand and my camera in the other I nervously made my way around. Most of the rooms had no windows left. The wind bashed cables, curtains and wreckage all around me as I explored, convincing me there was someone nearby.
Amongst the rubble was this photo of a hotel back in its glory days. At first I thought it was this building, but it has no apparent connection. It does gives you some idea of the time period this place was abandoned, as do the scattered cassette tapes and cracked books that were lying around.
I made it up to the top safely. All of the rooms in the apartment block had their doors completely removed or barely hanging on except one. It was a surprise to see this lone room with its double-strength purple door still safely secured. It seemed to have been sealed with concrete, someone really didn’t want outsiders to access that room. The roof was also off limits, a dead end with no way of reaching the other parts of the building. I’d seen more than perhaps I should have considering the circumstances, so I decided to leave the rest of the apartments and explore the three smaller ruined buildings I could see just behind the hotel.
As you can see there was some thick undergrowth to get through. I entered what I thought was the best path, making the time-honoured mistake of not checking the whole area for an easier entrance. The undergrowth became thicker and denser and was a real struggle to get through. The payoff in the end was very little. All three houses had been cleared out, with no clues as to what the buildings were used for. Insects attacked me, scary unknown creatures hissed at me at deafening pitches and creepy lizards darted around the buildings. Dirty, sweaty and cut up I emerged over the far side through an easy exit … which (had I entered it) would’ve spared me all of my cuts and scrapes.