What is it about abandoned theme parks that makes them such irresistible place to explore – for some of us at least? Although there are apparently quite a number dotted around Taiwan, Encore Garden (雅哥花園) at Dakeng, just east of Taichung city, became pretty famous a year or so ago, probably after pics of it did the rounds on the Net.
All the best abandoned theme parks have some side story going on that gives the visit an extra thrill. Visiting the long-gone park on the hill above Bitan in Xindian, Taipei was given an extra frission because of rumors that the park had closed suddenly following an accident on the huge big wheel which dominated the park. That most famous of all abandoned theme parks – the one at Prypyat near Kiev in the Ukraine (which I was lucky enough to visit just last summer, before all this terrible violence took over) was just a week or so from its grand opening when Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, 2 kilometres away, blew its top in 1986.
Encore Garden doesn’t seem to have any back story like this. It was apparently the biggest attraction in the Taichung area during the 1990s, and closed down, possibly after the great earthquake of 1999 – I’ve no idea. What does give a visit to this place a little added excitement is the necessity (now it’s been bought up) to dodge the guards that seem to be trying to stop curious visitors from entering. I read warnings of this while researching about the park on the Net, and can happily report it’s true! Where there’s a will there’s a way however, and after some scouting around, and attracting the unwelcome attention of a worker as we pondered an easier way in, we found a place some distance to the left of the entrance and guard’s hut, where we could squeeze through the wide iron rungs of the boundary fence and haul ourselves down the retaining wall onto solid ground below.
Slinking through the undergrowth, trying not to be seen, we made it into the park, kept left, and for the next half hour or so happily explored the abandoned theme park section of the extensive grounds before the scooter-riding guard finally found us and told us to leave. He gruffly escorted us out, following on his machine, and even watched as, after looking in vain for a more dignified way of exit, we finally resorted to breaking our way back out in the same way we’d got in – hauling ourselves up the concrete retaining wall, and squeezing out between the bars of the boundary fence.
Encore was fun – not as stunning perhaps as that marvellous, much missed park at Bitan, and certainly not nearly as compelling as the ghostly Prypyat, but it certainly fits the bill for an hour or two of fun (if mildly illegal) exploring.
Easy if you read Chinese! Head out of Taichung city to Taiping (太平), and get onto county route 129 heading north towards Dongshe (東勢). Turn right just after Central Taiwan University campus and follow the old signs (which haven’t been taken down) to the park.