It’s impossible to keep abandoned places a secret when the structure itself is akin to an archaic fortress, sits precariously on a mountain face that overlooks the ocean, and also happens to be in close proximity to a number of major tourist attractions. I came across it almost like everyone else did; by accident, while on the way to other destinations, and because it really is that glaringly obvious.
So I won’t bore previous explorers with too much detail, but for the visiting folks who don’t know better, there once existed a massive metal refinery and smelter in Jinguashi (金瓜石), a region that was exploited for its mineral riches and became a major mining hub under Japanese colonial rule. The Shuinandong Smelter (水湳洞精鍊廠) was built in 1933 but after Japan’s surrender, the state-run Taiwan Metal Mining Company took over. Around 1973 though, the gold and copper in these hills eventually ran out, and the Company went out of business. Along with Jinguashi’s mining industry, the smelter, now affectionately coined The Remains of the Thirteen Levels (十三層遺址), also ceased to exist. Why it was given this name though, no-one knows for sure. Because there is apparently 18 levels.
Whether the progressing structures following the face of the mountain was just too expensive to destruct, or plans for repurposing fell through, the entire complex was simply left to ruins. There’s now a somewhat dystopian beauty to it all, and despite attempts to gate it off, exploring The Thirteen Levels seems to be a growing trend.
In broad daylight, my partners in crime and I crept through a hole in the fence, thanks to a previously curious someone who had made good use of a wire cutter. In spite of its popularity, Thirteen Levels is huge and glorious… leaving room for three curious intruders to lurch around dark places and discover more than what first meets the eye…
Before hitting the main refinery, we searched surrounding areas and came across this smaller but completely derelict building
Into the Thirteen levels we go
Down some dark staircases and you’ll find a big surprise
The signs read that these vats contain poisonous materials and should not be touched. Funny they just leave dangerous contaminants out in the open like this.
Nearby the smelter, in the hills of Jinguashi, you’ll come across giant flues striated against the mountain face. These flues were used to carry fumes away from the smelter up to the mountain where at the time there were no residents. They are said to be the longest in the world, and make a worthy trip to explore. Be careful that due to smoke deposits, some are deemed toxic and are unsafe to enter.
Visit my fellow partners in crime websites for more photos and their own story:
Exploring the Thirteen Levels is indeed alot of fun, and some of you after reading my post may want to go see it for yourself. By all means try, but please be mindful of your safety! Many areas of this ruin is in fact quite dangerous – you’ve seen the collapsed roof, broken glass shards everywhere, vats of poison and fallen rusty iron poles etc, not to mention pitch-black stairwells and weakened, uneven floors. I only recommend that you enter if you’re confident, wearing the right gear and exercising extra precaution. Intrusion has been so common that authorities are getting serious with prohibiting access. I’ve been told there is now a new gate intact and security guards standing watch. I don’t blame them…exploring abandoned places is dangerous and you’re doing it at your own risk, so please be careful!
Taipei is covered in a blanket of grey, making it seem chillier than it really is. Despite it being three in the afternoon, the day seemed to be over as we scootered down the quiet back streets of Xinyi. Today I’m not venturing too far, which is uncommon when I have my mind set on some urban exploration. But the ease of getting to this place only makes me more perplexed that I haven’t come across this place earlier.
I am heading to the Stanton Club. A luxury pool and gym that has been left abandoned only a few minutes away from the usual bustle of Taipei’s 101 district. Despite the short distance and being in a suburban area, there’s been little information found on the place. A quick Google search, even in Chinese shows that it has only been previously explored once a couple of years ago. Thanks to a tip from a friend and some co-ordinates from fellow explorers, I found my own way there with my partner in crime.
From the outside, the Stanton Club looked as though it is relatively in good shape. Apart from the smeared graffiti and small signs of neglect, it doesn’t look like it’s been left abandoned for too long. Before I could venture inside though, I again encountered a pack of fiercely territorial dogs, which forced me to leave and think of another way in. (If you haven’t realised by reading my previous posts by now, exploring abandoned places in Taiwan goes hand in hand with encountering angry strays. I’ve had a 100% hit rate and am beginning to think I should invest in some dog repellent).
We went into stealth mode. Taking the long way around, we treaded carefully and kept our voices soft if we needed to talk. From the back of the pool, we climbed over a gate and clambered down an artificial cliff which lined the length of the pool. Clumsy as I was, I of course encountered more issues as I clambered down the rocks. My pants got caught on an upturned nail and it ripped nicely in an unfortunate area. But what is exploration without some dings and holes? After confirming there were no bleeding on my buttocks, we soldiered on into the blue-tiled pool below.
If this place was still in operation, it would be a pretty decent sight. A hefty size for a pool which measures up to 1.6m deep and includes a swim-up bar, I can imagine it being quite good place to chill in during the summer in its prime. Access to see the inside of the gym which include hot tubs proved difficult, however. Windows and doors were either boarded up or padlocked, and unless you’re willing to go through the air-conditioning chute or climb the stairwell to the rooftop and experience possible sludge-related falls, then your movement would be restricted to the swimming area and the undercover leading to the gym. We always make do with what we’ve got and spent a good amount of time photographing and taking in our surroundings. If you’re ever in Xinyi and have grown tired of the flashy lights and crowd, a little walk around an abandoned pool might just be that refresher you need.
Remember how I went to find an abandoned place in Keelung and failed miserably? Well it didn’t end at all badly as I thought because my little misadventure actually led me to a new opportunity to explore.
After posting the blog piece, I came into contact with a fellow explorer who kindly offered to take me along on his next adventure to an abandoned site. Seeing the last attempt didn’t go so well, I needed all the guidance I could get. So last weekend we set out on a little scooter ride to explore Neihu’s Green Mansion (內湖區). Who says you can’t make friends through blogs?
There’s nothing quite like scootering up a mountain through rain and mist to add more mystery to our already foggy adventure. Both Caden and I have never been to the Green Mansion before, and did not know what to expect. But with coordinates in hand, we were sure we’ll be able to find it. I again felt that rush of excitement knowing that I’ll be able to discover yet another place!
I don’t know what it is with my attempts to explore and stray dogs though, as fate has it that I had another run in with them. We were enjoying our brisk ride when out of no where I saw a flash of white and then heard a loud yelp. Before you jump to the conclusion that we ran over an innocent animal, let me explain that strays attacking scooters whilst on the road is quite commonplace here. This one jumped out at us as we were entering a corner. We were completely blindsided and didn’t see it coming. Thankfully it was a side-swiped and the dog was ok. We knew this for sure because despite the seemingly serious collision, it chased after us, barking and snapping at our heels. With the extra weight (me) on a 50cc scooter and going up a hill, the acceleration was no where near quick enough as I would like. I have never seen a dog this angry, nor have I felt this scared of one before. Thankfully, the incline wasn’t too steep. After awhile the road flattened, and we were able to leave it behind…though not without it continually staring at me with menace in its eyes. I still think about that image.
So that was the grand start to our adventure. We finally made it to the Green Mansion and found that there was very little left to what the previous explorer had discovered two years ago. The Green Mansion turned out to be two separate buildings, though one looks more like an industrial building rather than a mansion. Each floor including the roof, had been almost completely pilfered or destroyed. Much of the space was left ignored for so long that nature is sprouting here and there.
I still found the place interesting because there were obvious signs that squatters have also made the most of what’s left here. I could form a picture of how they lived…albeit the vision I got was an alcoholic, squatting his or her woes away. A little depressing but nonetheless a perspective to reflect on. Surrounded by lush hills and open scenery, I imagine this place would’ve been very picturesque to live and hold functions in. It is hard to fathom why the owner had left it to rot. Though I would’ve liked to see more, this is the life of an abandoned building – if you wait too long, you would be sure to miss out.
I find this idea rather fitting in the context of exploration as well. As my new friend has so eloquently put it:
Adventure is certainly living in the moment
Special thanks to Caden for the feature photo in this blog and for giving me an opportunity to explore more of Taiwan!
I love Taipei. Its city lights, the hoards of scooters zipping in and out of lanes, the constant chatter I hear around local markets, and even when I’m fighting through the hustle and bustle of peak hour traffic, I enjoy most of it. I love it because it makes me feel abuzz with vitality. All my senses come alive and I am a part of this vibrant city.
With living in any major city however, it can get a little too hectic at times. Coming from slow and steady Adelaide, Taipei can be overly stimulating. A couple of weeks into the routine of studying and busying myself with social activities within this concrete jungle will surely render me in need of open space, and that’s when I head out to the outskirts and look for quiet places to relax.
One Tuesday night after a couple of weeks of said activities above, I’d hit a wall and needed to escape. So I called up my friend Andy, who conveniently has all modes of transport at his disposal.
“Let’s get out of this place. Let’s explore.”
The first place that came to mind was Keelung (基隆). But why would I want to go there? Most people associate Keelung with its not-so-quiet harbour and its bustling seafood and night markets. And rightly so. This place is famous for some great eats and bright lights along the Keelung river. And for being a convenient 40 minute train ride away, it deserves the patronage. Afterall, the giant Rubber Duck by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman wasn’t placed at this site in 2013 for nothing.
The reason why I wanted to go here was because I have long heard of a building that has been left abandoned in Keelung’s quieter streets. Left derelict for so long, that it has become one with its natural surroundings. Trees have grown amongst the building’s concrete frame. I’ve seen it on Imgur, those Buzzfeed lists of top abandoned places to visit. I’ve pinned it on my Pinterest board (probably multiple times). Feeling inspired after reading some excellent blogs like Synapticism‘s take on abandoned places in Taiwan, I was revving to do some serious exploring myself. So we geared up and packed ourselves into the car.
Thanks to a couple of previous explorers who blogged exact location coordinates, it was pretty easy to find the site. I noticed there were plenty of new urban development going on as we drove closer. Albeit that this was strange, I shrugged it off as we pulled over a short distance away. We grabbed our cameras and headed to the hills towards our final destination.
The first sign that something was clearly not right was the fact that the street leading to that place was blocked off and a night guard was on full alert. Do that many foreigners break into these abandoned buildings? We decided not to draw attention to ourselves and went back around in search of another route to get uphill.
Along the way we walked past trails, and I mean quite a long distance full… of dog poop. It was as though this footpath lead all dogs to their haven. Whilst being careful on where to tread in the darkness, my friend pointed out that the locals have aptly coined it as gold nuggets. I don’t exactly agree that accidentally stomping into crap meant my luck would turn for the better, but drawing similarities from the Yellow Brick Road leading to Oz (only much less pleasing), we continued along the Golden Nuggets Trail to our destination. Halfway up the hill, and there was no derelict old buildings to be seen. We decided to check the location co-ordinates on our phones again, this time looking at local blogs in Chinese.
Horror slowly dawned on us as we scanned our eyes to the end of a blog. The abandoned buildings have been demolished in 2012 to make way for new apartments.
You could imagine my disappointment and self-blame for being so careless. I trudged back down the same trail we came from, wondering why anyone would want to destroy such a unique place.
Thankfully, travelling with a local meant he knew of other places to go, and we set off for Plan B. This time I took the wheel to take my mind off the sore loss I was feeling, and Andy led us to Zhongzheng Park (中正). Which in its own way, made the night exciting.
Here stands a giant statue of the buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. With all due respect, we weren’t here for her. We wanted to hike further up the mountain to a scenic area that overlooks the Keelung Harbour. Perhaps to compensate for the loss of anticipated exploration, we decided to take the dirt path instead of going through the temple grounds to get there. Too busy chit-chatting to notice until we were too close, a pack of stray dogs clearly unhappy with our night-time visit started howling and barking in our direction. We both froze. Neither of us spoke for awhile and I’m sure Andy was thinking of turning back too. But I got here so far, and it must have been that defiance of not letting another plan slip up that I made the bold (and could easily be stupid) move to continue. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We can keep walking…just don’t look into their eyes.”
As though I knew all dogs because I have had the privilege of keeping two very tame ones as beloved pets.
Feigning confidence is easy when people believe you. But as we slowly walked towards the growling animals, I realised that Andy had fallen behind and I was in the more vulnerable position of leading. He didn’t believe me and I was to be the sacrificial lamb in the case of an attack.
Rabies crossed my mind. And then all I could think of was that these strays must be the culprits of the dog-shit trail we walked on earlier. Perhaps it was the lingering scent of that stinking footpath, or my ability in faking confidence has reached new heights that even dogs get fooled, but the dogs quietened down as I got closer. We walked past them with surprising ease and as soon as he was clear of the danger zone, Andy once again fell into step with me.
“So you made me be the shield, huh. Are you a man or not?”
“We Taiwanese learn to protect ourselves first.”
Casting aside notions of self-preservation and who should protect who, we made it to the top and sat there watching the harbour lights. Every now and again our conversation would be interrupted by the sounds of heavy cargo coming into the port. It was like crashing thunder and there was something rather contrasting about the serene imagery that was to be so harshly interrupted by the thunderous noise.
With our butts sore from sitting too long, we decided to head back downhill for a very late dinner. At 11pm on a Tuesday night, the Keelung Night Market was almost unrecognisable from the usual hustle and bustle it has personified so well. Most of the stalls have closed. Street vendors were washing dishes and packing away their trolleys. Only a handful of places stayed open, but I quite enjoyed the fact that there were no lines to cue up to. No one else was rubbing shoulders with me as I made my way down the street. We scoffed down pork cutlets and squid ball soup, then ventured around taking in the rare ambiance of a night market at closing time.
Walking the alleyways in Keelung
One of the more busy parts of the Keelung Night Market
Barely two Australian dollars can get you this delicious squid ball soup.
Though the night market was ready to retire for the night, Keelung’s seafood market was just getting started.
As we headed back to Andy’s car, homeward bound, there was no disappointment left in me despite the upsetting start to the night. No exploration of abandoned places was called to action. No fascinating photos to document my first break in. Our Golden Nuggets Trail gave us no pleasant surprises. And in place of lions, tigers and bears, we faced a pack of stray dogs of which I was happy to not befriend.
We never made it to Oz, but it was the outlying adventure I needed nonetheless.