If you think Taiwan is all about metropolises and skyscrapers, then you probably haven’t seen its east coast. Cut off from the heavily-populated western side of the island by stunning mountain ranges, the region is known for its temperate climate and laid-back culture – all best experienced from the open road.
Skirt the eastern coastline to explore Taiwan’s incomparable natural beauty, from the vast geological wonders of Taroko National Park and Qingshui’s steep precipices to the expansive rice paddies of the East Rift Valley.
The east coast is all about natural splendor. Start things off in the south by catching the surf on Kenting’s tropical white sand beaches and perhaps even some snorkeling and diving. Then, head up the coast to Hualien, for Taroko Gorge, the best hiking trail in the whole of Taiwan. Yehliu Geopark and Taipei’s Yangminshan National Park round out a tour of Taiwan’s most stunning conservation areas.
For a taste of the culture, travelers can explore 30 hectares of the island’s largest Buddhist monastery, Fo Guang Shan, which is known to close periodically to provide a more cloistered atmosphere. In fact, every stop along the road trip should involve some manner of cultural experience, be it a temple visit or learning about the indigenous peoples of Taiwan.
Travelers should also be reminded that a road trip doesn’t have to be by car; Taiwan is famous for being cycle friendly, and visitors can take their time cycling around the whole of the Republic of China. It’s slower, but a bike will get you places a car can’t.
Where to Stay
On the east coast road trip, travelers will find themselves in the Grand Hi Lai Hotel and Chihpen Century Hotel, but along the way it’s hard to beat Taroko Silks Place. You’ll want to spend at least one full day discovering Taroko Gorge, and this is the only lodging option fit for luxury travelers hiking Taroko. The road trip ends in the very modern city of Taipei where lovers of luxury hotels will be spoiled for choice, but the crème de la crème is Taipei’s timeless Mandarin Oriental. Featuring the largest spa on the island, the Mandarin Oriental’s French Renaissance-style building took eight years for the hotel group to build.
What to Do
MARKETS OF KAOHSIUNG
Kaohsiung is actually on the west coast, but the convenient flights make this an ideal place to begin your road trip. While there, indulge in urban Taiwan by taking a ferry to Chi-Jin for the seafood market and be sure not to miss the local specialty: snails braised in Taiwanese liquor.
HIKE TAROKO GORGE
Around 500 meters above the Liwu River, Zhuilu Old Trail is the favorite hiking trail in Taroko Gorge, a pleasure reserved for only 100 lucky hikers every weekday. The highlight of Taroko Gorge is Qingshui Cliff: sharp green cliffs above the blue waters. It’s said that all three “blues” of the Pacific Ocean can be seen here, making Qingshui a favorite with photographers the world over.
ENJOY URBAN TAIPEI
The road trip ends in Taipei, one of the most dynamic cities in East Asia. Though there will be the obligatory visit to Taipei 101, some say the hike up Elephant Mountain features better views. After savoring the nightlife, travelers can end their journey at Ximending, the pedestrian shopping hub that has been a center for Taiwanese popular culture since the island was under Japanese rule.