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TAIWAN'S UNSPOILED EAST
you want to see Taiwan as nature intended, head east.
and Taitung counties cover 8,143 square kilometers, around
20 percent of Taiwan¡¦s total land area. But with barely
600,000 inhabitants, they have just three percent of the
more space, fewer people, and far fewer factories.
addition to 300 kilometers of coastline, and spectacular
views of the Central Mountain Range, the two counties
share a row of substantial peaks all their own--the
170-kilometer-long Coastal Mountain Range.
104-kilometer-long Hsiukuluan River is a well-known
venue for rafting.
groups in East Taiwan have been able to preserve many
of their traditions: The Paiwan tribe will hold their
quinquennial Bamboo Festival on October 25, 2003.
whether you're a mountain biker, a hiker or a rafter, a
culture vulture or a ¡§windshield tourist,¡¨ you are certain
to find something to your liking in East Taiwan. Most probably,
you'll find a great deal.
especially those with their own transportation, could happily
spend a week or more in the East Rift Valley. But having
a few days only, I decided to make my way by train through
this lush vale in a single day.
got off the train at Wanrung, a small aboriginal town
40 kilometers southwest of Hualien. There are a few
eateries near the train station, some mom-and-pop
stores, but no hotels, and no obvious signs to Lintienshan.
photos I knew what to expect: a hillside village of
quaint Japanese-style wooden bungalows which, during
Lintienshan's heyday, was dubbed ¡§Hualien¡¦s Jiufen."
owes its existence to the surrounding forests, rich
in Chinese juniper and Japanese cypress trees. A logging
railway, now disused and overgrown, penetrated deep
into the mountains. Unfortunately, the area's woodlands
were devastated by a forest fire in 1972.
to the Alishan area, where logging began soon after Japan
took control of Taiwan in 1895, Lintienshan was developed
quite recently. Only in World War II did large-scale exploitation
addition to residential buildings and dormitories, some
of which are still inhabited, there are disused sawmills
full of rusty equipment.
central part of the settlement has been well cared
for. The buildings have been repainted, and signs
indicate their original function: Rice Store, Fish
& Tea Store, Ice Store, and so on. One room has
been turned into a small museum.
is satisfying in that what you see at first is uninspiring,
but more and more is revealed as you wander around
the settlement. It's easy to spend half a day here,
and not far up the Wanlichiao River are hot springs
which can be reached by jeep or on foot.
weekends and holidays, Taroko National Park attracts hordes
of visitors, but getting away from the crowds is not difficult.
consulting a national park worker, I headed to Huitouwan,
several kilometers up the road from the tourist pit-stop
signboard there points the way to three tiny aboriginal
villages. The road is fine for walking or mountain
biking, but is too narrow for cars and SUVs.
one of the busiest weekends of the year, I met just
two other hikers. I soon reached Meiyuan, where half-a-dozen
aboriginal families work large vegetable fields.
village has an enviable setting. It looks down over
a spectacular rocky gorge; at the far end of the valley,
the peaks of Nanhudashan loom.
there is no shop; no school; no police station; and no clinic.
There is, however, a makeshift church.
even more remote settlement can be found beside Lotus Pond,
a small pool surrounded by groves of bamboo and banks of
took me more than an hour of determined uphill walking
to reach this spot, where a sign warns of bears, boars,
snakes, bees, and poisonous plantlife. On the way
I had seen several monkeys and a few squirrels, but
nothing bigger--and nothing that didn¡¦t seem terrified
several hours' hard hiking, my thoughts turned to
soaking. There are dozens in East Taiwan; Wenshan
Hot Springs, 45 minutes' walk from Tienhsiang, are
pleasantly situated beside a clean, cold stream--and
admission is free.
are likely to focus not on the facilities--which are rudimentary
but adequate--but on the number of steps (more than 300)
down which visitors must go. The soak is certainly worth
the descent and the climb back up.
even if you've experienced it before, the marvelous cliffs,
tunnels and twists of Taroko Gorge are worth revisiting.
make time for East Taiwan's other attractions, where
the crowds are smaller--or non-existent--and the views
more than worth a long drive over the Southern Cross-Island
Highway, a relaxing rail journey from Tainan, or a
short flight from Kaohsiung.
THERE FROM TAICHUNG
to the Central Mountain Range, traveling between Taichung
and the East Coast is much more time-consuming than
going even greater distances north or south. However,
there are several options, ranging from longer, scenic
overland routes to a fairly quick flight.
Since the 9-21 quake
in 1999, the most direct route between Taichung and Hualien,
the Central Cross-Island Highway (Route 8), has been severed.
However, there still are several other very scenic roads
that don't take too much longer (about 7-8 hours). One favorite
is to head south from Taichung (usually via the Taichung-Nantou
Expressway) and take Route 14 to Nantou County's Puli. Continue
through the tea plantations of Wushe and up to the Route
14 spur at Renai, which passes Hohuanshan and connects over
to Route 8 at Tayuling (the highest point of the Central
Cross Highway). This continues down to Hualien via the Taroko
Gorge. Another beautiful drive across the mountains (and
Yushan National Park) is the Southern Cross-Island Highway
(Rt. 20), which goes to Taitung County via Tainan and Kaohsiung
There are currently
very few direct buses between Taichung and the East
Coast. The Guo Guang Hao Bus Company has a single
daily 10:40 p.m. bus that goes direct to Taitung from
the company's main terminal next to the train station.
Tickets are currently NT$450 and the overnight trip
takes six hours. Call (04) 2222-2830 for information.
By train, one
can go to Hualien via the northern line, via Taipei.
Non-stop Ju Guang Express trains to Hualien leave
Taichung at 7 a.m. and 5:56 p.m. daily. Tickets cost
NT$632 and the trip is six to seven hours. To get
to Taitung, take the southern line (via Kaohsiung),
with non-stop Ju Guang trains leaving at 6:15 a.m.
and 6:57 a.m. Tickets cost NT$643. Alternately, for
about NT$200 more, take even faster Dz Hsing Express
trains to Taipei or Kaohsiung, where one makes a transfer.
Check http://www.railway.gov.tw for more information.
Mandarin Airlines (MDA)
usually has seven flights per day (7:20 a.m. to 6:40 p.m.)
between Taichung and Hualien, costing around NT$1,975 and
taking about an hour. There are also a couple flights a
day to Taitung (NT$2,161). Frequency, times and prices change
all the time, so call for the latest information (04-2425-2319,