A short twenty-minute ride by train north of Taichung lies the small town of Houli. And, while small in size, Houli plays host to a surprising number of sights and activities.
The Saxophones of Houli
Houli produces some of the best saxophones in the world and they can all be traced back to one man, Lien Chang (1913-1986). The father of Taiwan’s saxophone industry Lien Chang began life as an painter. In 1936, he formed a jazz band with friends who lost their only saxophone in a fire. Using his fine-art skills, Chang was able to draw its 400 individual parts by hand and three years later assembled Taiwan’s first home-produced sax. Though he lost an eye in the process, Lien Chang Saxophones quickly became successful and other saxophone manufacturers soon opened. Until recently Houli produced over half of all amateur saxophones in the world, however, many factories have closed due to competition from China. Today Houli is still home to 15 of Taiwan’s remaining 25 saxophone makers and the area takes a lot of pride in its manufacturing past.
Houli Chang Lien Cheng Saxophone Museum
What strikes you the most when you visit the Lien Chang Saxophone Museum, was the late founder’s life-long obsession with creating quality saxophones. The musuem opened in 2011 and houses some of the world’s earliest saxophone including one made by the inventor of the saxophone Adolfe Sax 160 years ago, as well as originals handcrafted by Lien Chang in the 1960s. The museum features artfully lit exhibits of a variety of saxophone styles. Visitors can learn about the history of the instrument, the different kinds of sax from alto to baritone and their different sound qualities. There are regular performances in the museum and a factory tour too. Recently, Lien Chang’s four grandchildren have become informal ambassadors for the company and often perform at the museum and around Taiwan. The Lien Chang Museum is free to enter.
Saxophone Playhouse (薩克斯風玩家館音樂主題餐廳)
Houli is famous for its saxophones and at the saxophone play house offers the chance to see a sampling of those. The playhouse is essentially a showroom downstairs and restaurant upstairs. Supposedly there are performances on Sundays too from midday to 2pm. For sale saxophones range from $30,000NTD to $250,000NTD though there are many saxophone factories in Houli that may sell cheaper. The location is a little off the beaten track, though provides a nice ambiance if you’re in the mood for food and sax music.
Yuemei Sugar Tourism Factory
Yuemei is a well-preserved candy factory that first opened in 1909. Inside much of the pre-war and post-war manufacturing equipment is still present making the evolution of the factory a prime reason to go. On arrival, you either join a tour or wander through the complex at your own leisure. A small train runs as part of the tour from the entrance to about halfway through the factory where you can see the original prewar brick service tunnels used to operate the old boilers. An interpreter is also available if you don’t speak Chinese. For adults the factory gives a feeling of the scale and development of the place over the years though children may find it boring. An old steam locomotive and sweet shop in the entrance give an oldie-worldy feeling to the place. A designated route then directs visitors through the factory until you emerge into a small market on the other side. Here a small crowd of vendors will then try to tempt you with both local and national delicacies. There’s also a small playground for kids to enjoy. An overall interesting experience for those looking for something different around Taichung.
Houli Horse Ranch
At the time of Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Taiwan was well under the colonial thumb. Railways had been established, cities birthed and yet one thing was missing… a lack of good steeds for its population. In 1937 Houli horse ranch was established as a horse breeding center under the office of Taiwan Governor-General. Following World War Two, the ranch continued as a combined stud farm and home for the island’s military needs until 1997 when the site was bought by Taiwan sugar and opened to the public. Houli is still Taiwan’s foremost horse-riding training center, though today it’s more an attraction than anything else. While there are still 100 horses stabled on site, a plethora of other non-related activities detract from the core focus of horse-riding. Visitors here can meet and greet with the equines, take riding lessons or simply wander the large 10 hectare site. They may also do archery, ride in go-karts, camp, ride a horse & cart or meander the annual flower show held there. The sprawling ranch is clearly divided into public and private areas. Many of the stables are sealed off from the public, though there are still several equines out at pasture for the crowds to enjoy. As with most places in Taiwan, it can get crowded here especially on the weekends. However, the chance to see a piece of Taiwan’s martial history is as good a reason as any to stop by especially for horse lovers.
41 Sishan Rd, Guangfu Village, Houli Township, Taichung County (后里馬場，台中縣后里鄉廣福村寺山路41號)
Call: (04) 2556 2531
Houli Flower Market (中社觀光花市)
While bit of a tourist trap, if you ever fancied playing the grand piano amidst a sea of flowers, there’s no better place to go! Multi-hued flower beds are nicely set out according to varying themes that also vary season to season. Though not a huge place, there are plenty of photo-worthy attractions scattered throughout such as bridges, windmills and giant love hearts. Great place for families, couples and the selfie crowd. Best visited on a sunny day to take advantage of all the photo ops. To get there, take a taxi 4kms (8 mins) from Houli train station. Alternatively take a shuttle bus to Tai’an station and walk back along Anmei Road to Highway 13 to get there. Open 8am-6pm Monday to Sunday. Entrance fee $120NT.
Fields of flora interspersed with drums kids, grand pianos, love hearts and windmills. If flowers are your thing, there’s nowhere else quiet like it.
Don’t see Houli Bike it. There are three bike ways that interconnect through Houli, Yongfeng, Dongfeng and Houfeng bike ways. By far the most famous is the Houfeng trail. Called the ‘iron horse bike way’ in Chinese, hawkers approach you with offers of bike rental as soon as you exit Houli train station. The bike way begins shortly after Houli horse ranch and meanders 5kms along a disused railway line, through an old tunnel, an old iron bridge and passed a winery to Shigang Dam. The ride is extremely picturesque, and while busy, people are spread out enough to have some peace during your ride and escape the city. There are plenty of maps and signposts for those who easily get lost! If you wish to continue cycling, the Dongfeng (12 km) and Yongfeng (22 km) bike ways signposted at both ends of the ride, are certainly well-worth the additional effort – Dongfeng is Taiwan’s first 24-hour night bike ride. Bike hire options begin from 200NT and include tandem, single and electric bikes. Several coffee shops and restaurants along the route make this an excellent choice for couples or a family outing.