Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Travel: Taroko National Park (Hualien, Taiwan)

On our first full day in Hualien, we toured the beautiful Taroko National Park with a private, English-speaking taxi driver. There are a lot of sights to see in the park, so I prioritized the following I wanted to see:
  • Baiyang Trail 白楊步道 (Báiyáng bùdào)
  • Swallow Grotto 燕子口 (Yàn zǐ kou)
  • Eternal Spring Shrine 長春祠 (Chǎngchūn cí)
  • Cimu Bridge 慈母橋 (Címǔ qiáo)
  • Qingshui Cliff 清水斷崖 (Qīngshuǐ duàn yá)

I found this site to be very helpful when researching the attractions.

Before you head out, check the road conditions and trail conditions. We learned that there is often road construction going on in the park, especially during and after typhoon season.

Ok, prepare for neverending picspam.

Review: Private Taxi Driver

Our minsu hosts arranged am English-speaking private driver/guide for our first day into Taroko Gorge. CJ picked us up bright and early from our minsu at 8:00am and took us into Taroko National Park. He helped arrange our day’s itinerary based on my list above, and provided commentary in Chinese and English. He was extremely friendly, but not overly chatty, and made us feel very comfortable. He was also extremely knowledgeable about the various sights and knew exactly what was closed, what was opened, where we should enter and exit, etc. He also provided flash lights and ponchos for our excursion on the Baiyang Trail to see the waterfall and Water Curtain.

His taxi is in great condition: comfortable seats and AWESOME air conditioning. Also, his decals “Relax I Drive” on the vehicle made it easy to identify which taxi was ours amongst all the others at the various tourist attractions.

He was a good driver, especially by Western standards (defensive driving), which really put us at ease. He did not smoke or chew anything gross!

He gave us three options for lunch, all within the Gorge. However, I would strongly recommend picking up some food at a 7/11 or Family Mart instead, as the food within the Gorge is truly disgusting. I wanted to buy a packed lunch from Wu-tao lunchbox (which I read about on another blog), but couldn’t find their posted hours (I expect they open closer to 10am than 8 am).

The cost of his service was 3500NT for 8 hours as of Fall 2014 (though we only used 6 hours as we got tired of the heat). As tourism continues to develop in the region, I expect the cost of private day tours to increase.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended guide, but BYO lunch to Taroko Gorge.

Our taxi guide's business card; his website has more information here:

Taroko National Park

So, they say you are supposed to wear these safety helmets within the park, and have free rentals near the entrance. Our driver grabbed two for us, and we wore them for the first area we looked at (Swallow Grotto). They are a bit flimsy, and actually didn't wear them for the rest of the day... I'm assuming if a rock was going to fall down on my head, that helmet isn't going to save me. Anyway.

Recommended helmets for touring the Gorge.

Swallow Grotto

Super popular amongst the tour buses, just a short 15 minute walk through the main area with pretty breathtaking views of the gorge. I'd recommend doing this at the beginning of the day before it gets too busy!

Cory in the dinky helmet

Me taking a picture...

resulting picture :D

I'm full of energy at 9am, when it's still below 30'C! Don't worry, this doesn't last long.

Another picture of Cory

Huge boulders in the river-bed, as they often have landslides during typhoon season.

Look at them boulders!

Guerrilla pic: classic Old-Chinese-Man shooting pose

It's pretty breathtaking here!

Baiyang Waterfall Trail

This extremely FLAT and easy to walk trail was the highlight of my day! It's about 90 minutes roundtrip. Our driver provided us with flashlights and ponchos, but the flashlights are optional, IMO.

Entrance to Baiyang Waterfall Trail

Helpful tips...

There are 7 or 8 tunnels like this along the path. They are blissfully cool!

On the other side of the first tunnel

Actually we did not encounter any wasps! Lucky!

The wide-angle of our Sony RX-100 m3 camera makes me look so tall and skinneh *thumbs up*

But this is more realistic. Started getting way too sunny, so I popped up my umbrella. Then I had a stone in my shoe.

Into the next tunnel!

Hmm... that's dodgy

Small river running along this trail

It's so GREEN here!


Cave Husband

Another pretty picture of the river

Baiyang Waterfall. There's a suspension bridge that brings you closer, but it was closed for some reason.

Another cave/tunnel

Ick ceilings of caves D:

The end of the trail is the Water Curtain. TL;DR.

We donned our flimsy plastic bag ponchos and managed to get this picture of the Water Curtain! I think I'll leave this to the professionals.

Cool cool water outside the Water Curtain cave!

So cool and refreshing!

Ahhh. Sat here for a good long while to cool off. Best part of the day, totes.

Lots and lots of butterflies in Hualien. There's about 50 pictures of this butterfly (from far away to progressively closer). You know how it is.

Xiangde Temple and Tianfeng Pagoda

I hope these are the right names; they were not on my short list, but our driver said we should take a look.

Xiangde Temple entrance

TBH, I kind of ODed on this kind of architecture on our 5 week tour of China in 2009. Temples bore me now.

Stairs on 40'C + humidity weather. Great.

Seriously, who booked these flights to Taiwan in September again?

Tianfeng Pagoda


Well, at least the view at the top is nice

Nice and windy, that is! Booyah!

So much mountainz! (You can click to embiggen)

Other pictures from the day

Cimu Bridge

View from the otherside of Cimu Bridge

A group of young asian girls needed this Random White Dude to take their picture. Epic giggling ensued.

Eternal Spring Shrine

Terrible picture because I am ready to go back to the A/Ced taxi

On the way out of the park, our guide returned our helmets. We also opted to skip taking a commemorative photo at the official gates of the park because a) HOT, b) Tourbuses.

Sweet Kumamon refreshment/water (i.e., packaging win).

Qingshui Cliff
This is outside Taroko National Park, but just 15 minutes drive north from the park entrance, basically. Very pretty views.

Qingshui Cliff

Qingshui Cliff

It's a pebble beach. There's a trail that leads down to the beach, but it was closed (I sense a pattern!)

Guerrilla Photo: Committed to getting The Shot.

It was only around 2PM at this point, but we were exhausted from the heat and humidity, so we asked our driver to take us to a convenience store so we could load up on more bottled water for our next day. Then we went back to our B&B to shower before heading out for our dinner reservation (using the same driver!). That deserves a separate post, though :D

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