The highlight of my three-day trip to Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast was a trip through Taroko National Park. After asking about the weather forecast for Saturday and Sunday, I decided Saturday would be the best day to visit the park (Sunday turned out to be the day with sunny skies). The day started with watching mountains around Hualien disappear behind clouds and continued with light, intermittent rain and brief moments of sunshine.
My plan was to rent a motorbike in town and ride through the park on my own. Unfortunately, when I arrived at my hostel, I was told I needed an international driver’s license so I had to book a group tour instead. Later, as I talked with the owner of the hostel, I was told she could arrange a motorbike without the license, but it was already too late.
While riding a motorbike along the mountain roads would’ve given me a few more hours and fewer crowds, I probably would’ve missed out on some parts of the tour. It was also easier to get dropped off along the road and then meet the van further up as I walked to take pictures.
The only problem with taking a group tour through Taroko is that most of them are geared toward mainland Chinese tourists and follow the same route, which means that every stop is fairly crowded. Although I was on such a tour, my guide spoke fair enough English to point out some things to me–he also spoke to me in Chinese every now and then. Also, unlike other Chinese tours I’ve been on, this one never stopped for any shopping (of course, a few of the scenic stops had vendors, which is to be expected).
The winding roads through Taroko Gorge provide beautiful scenery–the mountain forests and rocky cliffs along the coast are what attract so many tourists to the area.
The roads are carved out of the side of the mountains–there are some tunnels that are concrete, but most are unreinforced caves that look out into the gorge. It’s not easy to find a photo opportunity without tourists around, but I image it’s possible if you arrive early enough.
Along the road into the park, visitors are offered free helmets in case of falling rocks that appear to be rather common. Of course, for more than a small rock, the helmet will not protect you. Signs everywhere advise visitors to keep moving. If those signs weren’t ominous enough, the one before the first tunnel on the way to the Baiyang Trail and water curtain cave should be warning enough for some to not travel alone.
Aside from the caves and stop by the rushing river, there isn’t much along the Baiyang Trail. There was more after the water curtain cave, but it’s been closed for safety reasons (too many rocks falling from above). I managed to bring my camera into the cave underneath the poncho the tour provided, but it was difficult to get any decent photos without getting soaked. This is another reason so many people spend money on a GoPro.
Despite not stopping at more places, like the temples we passed, the tour stopped at a lot of the most photogenic spots in the national park. There were definitely advantages to taking the tour instead of the motorbike, but I’d still like to try riding through the area on my own.
I was warned to bring food along with me as there aren’t many restaurants or food vendors in Taroko National Park. The tour stopped for lunch at one of the few places with enough seating for tours. The food was mediocre and slightly overpriced, but the outdoor seating provided a great view of the mountains. I also had a pleasant time talking with a few members of my tour who happened to be mainland Chinese students studying in Taiwan–it was a great opportunity for me to brush up on my Mandarin.
If I head back to Taroko National Park, I’ll definitely rent a motorbike and head into the park well before the tours arrive. I really should see about getting that international driver’s license to make things a little easier.