We left Taipei from Taipei Main Station by train for the coastal town of Hualien. The train we caught was a High Speed Rail (HSR), it took 5 and a half hours and cost NT$550 each (AUD$27). We booked our seats a few days in advance. The trains are comfortable and punctual – what more do you need! The train basically follows the coastline and you get some pretty good scenic views of both the coast and the mountains.
Taiwan is basically an Island with one very large mountain range throughout the middle. The train line we would take, over the coming week, basically ran a loop around the island hugging the coast. One of the most amazing features are the literally hundreds of riverbeds you will cross by bridge. Many of these riverbeds are extremely wide, but only had fast flowing dirty, grey, water down the middle or sides. Apparently, when the heavy rain and typhoons arrive, these rivers are full and the fierce flowing water is a sight to see. I found it very difficult to read my Kindle during this trip as there was just so much to see.
We were headed to the Taroko National Park which is about 30 minute drive from Hualien. You basically have three options: you can stay in Hualien and catch a bus up to the Taroko; you can travel to the Xiulin township to stay, and walk to catch a bus in the park to travel through the park; or you can stay in the park, but you still need to catch a bus to get around. We chose to stay in the Xiulin township, just outside the park. We stayed at the Liwu Hotel for AUD$65per night. We organised with the hotel to pick us up at the Hualien Train Station for NT$500 (under AUD$25).
By the time we got to the hotel it was after 5.30pm. We still had enough daylight to wander into the park entrance and over to the National Park Office – the office closed at 5pm but we were able to follow some of the shorter trails overlooking the river. This also gave us our bearings, as to where we needed to go the next morning, to catch the bus up the mountain. The walk from the hotel to the park office only takes 15 minutes but the sights are pretty good of the river and the mountains so my anticipation for the next day grew. The good thing is the National Park is free to enter.
The hotel staff spoke very little English but was so obliging – if we could ever make them understand what we wanted. The dinner menu luckily was in English but it was pretty basic and the chicken curry got a workout two days in a row.
Breakfast was included in the price of a room but it was a pretty basic. Di and I are always early and we arrived at the National Park Office at 8.10am. It didn’t open until 8.30am. We had time, though, to get our bus ticket from the Family Mart beforehand, then get maps from the National Park Office and catch the first bus up the mountain at 8.35am. The bus ticket is NT$150 (AUD$7.50) and is the same price in Hualien. It covers the return journey from Hualien and back – and is good value for money. The only real negative is that the buses are rather infrequent and are often 50 minutes apart, so timing your arrival at the bus stop is vital – we obviously screwed it up and sat in the gutter for an hour waiting for the next bus – but that was to come, we caught the 8.35am bus without a hiccup!!!!
We chose to go to the highest point with the bus and then work our way down from there. The highest point is Tiansiang village and takes about forty minutes in the bus and, yes, the scenery is spectacular.
Visiting Tiansiang would turn out to be very bitter-sweet. Di was very excited to go the Baiyang Waterfall and the Water Curtain Tunnel, as these were two of her must see places in Taiwan, and they are located just above Tiansiang. There are very few signs directing you to these two locations in Tiansiang and we joined forces with two French girls to find our way there. From the bus station you walk back out to where the Seven Eleven convenience store is and, as you look at the store, turn to the left, and go up the hill following the river. You are walking on the road and beside the river.
After walking for about a kilometre you come to a partially enclosed tunnel.
There is no walkway in the tunnel so you are still walking on the road and dodging oncoming traffic. About three quarters of the way through the tunnel you will see an opening in the rock wall on the left hand side and this leads you into a dark tunnel.
This tunnel goes for about 150 metres with only the opening at each end providing any light – literally you will see the light at the end of the tunnel. This walk is eerie and the sound of water dripping just adds to the Hitchcock suspense of it all.
Once through the tunnel you follow an easy marked path along the river for about another kilometre. Then despair. We arrived at another tunnel, which led to the waterfall and Water Curtain, but the gate to the tunnel was locked, as the path beyond was blocked due to a rock slide – we could go no further – @#$#@!!
All that way and the last 200 metres was blocked. Google Baiyang waterfall and the Water Curtain Tunnel to see photos of what we had missed.
The walk up to the waterfall though was still pretty special and worth the effort. Tiansiang is a pretty little village and one of only two places up the mountain that serves food, etc. It is located at the junction of two rivers. It also has the most upmarket hotel accommodation on the mountain called Silks Place; if you can afford it!
Di went for ice cream, and I walked across one of the many bridges in the park up to the monastery on the hill. For some reason you always have to climb a bloody mountain of steps to get to a monastery – this was no exception. After climbing all the bloody steps the views are great and there is an enormous golden Buddha to behold.
There were loads of tourists going across the bridge and getting their happy snap photo souvenirs but very few made it past the first few steps, so crowding in the monastery and at the golden Buddha were not an issue.
There is a hiking trail that goes from Tiansiang all the way back to the National Park Office and it is common for hikers to hike one way and then catch the bus the other way in one day.
I then caught up with Di to catch a departing bus down the mountain to our next stop, Swallow Grotto. We had selected three stops for our day, this meant we bypassed three other stops – so two full days in Taroko Park is the preferred time – sadly we only had one full day.
At Swallow Grotto there is a fantastic suspension bridge crossing the river.
Unfortunately, you need to apply for a hiking permit to cross the suspension bridge as it leads to a fairly strenuous mountain hike, and only those attempting the hike are allowed on the bridge – you need a permit to attempt the hike – confusing I know! This feels a little like Christmas where you can see all the presents under the tree and have shook them to see which ones rattle, but you just cannot play with them!!!! I would have loved to cross the suspension bridge!!!
There is a walk along the Swallow Grotto that weaves in and out of the mountain and through tunnels.
You keep walking and weave through some spectacular mountain scenery and the rock walls of the gorge simply just keep rising above you.
The area is very unstable with rock slides\landslides and, because of this, most tours that arrive here, insist that those on the tour wear helmets – this means 85% of those wandering along the walk are wearing helmets; only the westerners travelling alone seem to be without helmets!!!! There are signs which states that in times of heavy rain and typhoons the area is closed – but really in heavy rain it would be a marvellous sight to see the river in its full glory screaming through the canyon!!!
It takes about 40 minutes to walk the length of the walk along the grotto and the only word that comes to mind to describe it is breathtaking – ok, and it is awesome!!!!! Once you reach the end of the walk most of the tour buses are waiting to pick up their helmeted clients – we though had the opportunity to walk back through it all again – and I sincerely mean I felt blessed walking through the gorge a second time. We were though virtually the only ones going back against the grain – but hey we felt special!!!
Once we arrived back at the bus stop, we realised we had a 50 minute wait for the next bus – our timing was crapola! Swallow Grotto is actually the second place you can get food at on the mountain, but those shops were a 15 minute walk away back along the grotto, and we simply could not afford to miss the next bus – Di sat in the gutter as I walked across to the river to covet walking across the suspension bridge.
Our third stop was at the Eternal Springs Shrine. When we were there, there was a lot of road works happening in the car park and, as such, the bus dropped us at the corner and we walked up. To be honest it was all a little confusing here as there were no signs telling us what was open or what was closed.
The actual shrine is on the opposite side of a wide river. The shrine is a temple with several waterfalls flowing through it.
There is obviously a track leading around the river to the temple and we headed for that. This meant going through the road works and past diggers, trucks and numerous workmen who all simply ignored us – no occupational health and safety happening here.
We crossed a bridge and went into a small cave and here was a shrine for those who had perished in the construction of temple – we were confused.
Then we saw the walkway out to the temple was closed.
We then walked through a tunnel in the mountain and came to an uphill walk that led, we surmised, to the temple, but we were not sure. It was now getting late and we decided we would have to catch a bus soon. Having said that we walked on and found the roadway blocked due to a landslide so we had to turn back the way we came, so really other than photographing the temple from across the river we were pretty disappointed and confused with the Eternal Springs Shrine. To make matters worse we now had a twenty odd minute walk back to where the bus dropped us off.
We arrived back at where the bus dropped us off and it was at this moment I see a certain look in my wife’s eyes when she looks at me – it is WTF!!!! You see, at times, I let my sense of adventure outweigh my common sense. I said to Di “I know the way back from here, let’s walk rather than catch the bus” – sounds very logical to me – so why am I getting the WTF look!!!!!!!!
Di is a good sport and, even though everyone else waits for the bus, she will set off following me along a small footpath through a tunnel with tour buses flashing past a few inches away and barely complain, well she keeps her complaints on the lesser side of furious shall we say!!!!
Yes we walked the final 3.6 kilometres back to the National Park exit and we had a hoot of a time doing it; didn’t we dear!!!!!!!
It was a long day and luckily the rain held off. The Taroko National park was one of the highlights of our journey so far. We loved it, and just think how outstanding it would have been to go to Baiyang waterfall and the Water Curtain Tunnel!!!!!
We both ripped into the chicken curry for dinner at the hotel.
We slept like babies that night and after an interesting breakfast the next morning we paid NT$500 to be driven back to Hualien Train station and the next leg of our epic journey around Taiwan was underway.
Let the adventure continue………………