<A>Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s gems

Written by Oct 26, 2006 08:10
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If I say “Taiwan”, what first comes to your mind? “Made in Taiwan”, cheap toys, electronic components… Sadly, Taiwan tends to be only considered as a big factory which inundates (or used to inundate) the world with inexpensive goods –and often of quite poor quality. Yet, the island has much more to offer and is definitely worth a trip. The Taroko Gorge, on the eastern coast, should convince any traveler that Taiwan still fully deserves its name of “Ilha Formosa” (“Beautiful Island”), given by the Portuguese explorers several centuries ago.

First, from Taibei to Hualien

Actually, I ended up in Hualien more or less by chance: after one month in Taibei, a friend and I had decided to leave the city for a “discovery” week-end, but we didn’t know where to go. So I just picked a destination at random, at the train station… It happened to be Hualien. This city was presented in our travel guide as a major harbor and a “transport hub”, which didn’t sound really attractive. But we rapidly found out that near Hualien was the Taroko National Park, one of Taiwan’s most famous places, often described as one of the World’s wonders.
As the train was leaving Taibei’s high buildings and deafening traffic, and entering Taiwan’s countryside, I felt like in a different country, in a different time. We passed by smaller towns and paddy fields, where people in Asian-style conic hats where working, bare hands, bent over the saplings, sometimes with buffaloes. Then, for a while, the train followed the coastline, offering an amazing view on the seashore and the Pacific Ocean. We arrived in Hualien, in the evening, after a four-hour train ride.

From Hualien to Tianxiang, an unforgettable bus drive along the Taroko Gorge

We stayed in Hualien only for the night and took a bus the next morning to the village of Tianxiang. The bus journey was absolutely beautiful. After leaving Hualien, we plunged into the mountains. The road curved along impressive steep marble cliffs, and, from the bus, we had a breathtaking view over the precipice. The white rock, partially covered with vegetation, had long green and blue streaks. Time and water had curved many natural grottoes. Lower down, a little narrow stream was running between those two sheer walls. The water was light blue, slightly green, probably because of the marble. At times would emerge waterfalls, or, as if gently laid on a rock, a temple or a little pavilion, in a pure Chinese style…


After an hour and a half, we arrived at Tianxiang: a few houses, a Buddhist temple, nestled on a cliff, several restaurants and a souvenir shop, next to the bus stop… The hotel choice was rather limited, and as we couldn’t afford the very expensive Hotel Formosa, we decided in favor of the Catholic Youth Hostel. The staff was nice and the rooms were fine, but the best part of it was the garden, overlooking the sheer drop. Everything was so quiet and peaceful. We could hear the nature live and breathe: around us, just the wind, birds and insects. And this lush vegetation: palm trees and other tropical plants, with large bright green leaves and colorful flowers.
There were plenty of hiking trails around Tianxiang. We chose a short, but pretty stiff one. On each side of the track were splendid views of the mountains, some summits disappearing behind a curtain of clouds. We were alone in the middle of nature, palm trees, bamboos, and so many incredible insects I had never seen before, among whose, dragonflies and butterflies of any color you can possibly imagine -from the more common brown to the most extraordinary purple ones-, some of them as big as my hand. We also saw -and carefully avoided- some far less pretty creatures, such as enormous brown wasps, and even more enormous hairy spiders.
At the end of the path, as we were resting on the top of the mountain, a friendly guy engaged a conversation with us and then offered to drive us back. On the way, he stopped in front of a brand new building, which seemed lost in the middle of nowhere. He proudly explained to us that it was a new primary school for the children living in the neighboring villages. Behind this modern, freshly built school, the “street” was lined with derelict houses, which looked more like old tool sheds or big kennels… but with satellite dishes. The kids playing on the road curiously stared at us, laughing, probably not used to seeing “laowai”.
We finally got back to Tianxiang just before the sunset. At night, we wandered a while around the small town. We could only vaguely distinguish the imposing mountains’ outlines, and the sound of the river lower down added to the rather chilling atmosphere. The sky was gorgeous. The countless stars were gently sparkling and the moon, almost full, gave a very peculiar light to the scenery. An appreciable getaway from Taibei’s multicolor, flashing billboards…

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Comments (3)


Apr 7, 2019 22:08 Reply


Hey! Great article. Taroko gorge is really a good place to visit. Named after the local Truku aboriginal tribe, Taroko National Park is one of Taiwan’s most beautiful sights. Created by the continual rising of the mountains combined with the erosive power of the Liwu River, Taroko Gorge with its tall, almost flat walls are a true marvel to view. Besides the gorge, other attractions include aboriginal settlements, temples, museums, and numerous hiking trails for visitors to experience the true beauty of mountainous Hualien County and eastern Taiwan.
Around 4 million years ago, the Philippine Oceanic Plate and Eurasian Continental Plate collided, rising thick layers of limestone rock from the ocean high up into the sky to heights over 3,000 metres. This phenomenon, combined with high pressures from the reactions, caused the original limestone rock to turn into marble through the process of metamorphism, with the erosive power of the Liwu River (立霧溪) forming the gorge valley. To this day, the walls of gorge are still rising at the rate of about 0.5CM per year, while the river basin has become deeper and deeper.


Oct 29, 2006 02:22 Reply

XIALEI said:

Yes, Taiwan truly is a beautiful island, and I do also highly recommend, if you can get a car, the Cross Island Highway... As for the tea, I know that Taiwan's tea is very famous, but, personnally, I am not really a "tea-person", so I can't really tell. Yet, it is still very nice to relax with some friends in one of the tea-houses up in the mountains...


Oct 28, 2006 21:35 Reply


What a wonderful article about Taiwan's mountains! Your article reminded me of the time i went to Taiwan in 2004. We drove down the east coast and through Taroko Gorge as well. It made dizzy as heck doing all the hairpin mountain road. Isn't Taiwan's tea the best?

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