Taiwan: getting out of the city—Taroko Gorge

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Hualien is the largest city on Taiwan’s east coast with a population of about 110,000. That’s pretty small for Taiwan, especially when you consider Taiwan’s big cities have millions of residents. It has a relaxed, less rushed feel than other parts of Taiwan, and it’s a gateway to many beautiful scenic areas on Taiwan’s east coast.

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Last Fall my son and I spent a few days playing in and around Hualien. We booked seats on the Puyuma Express (普悠瑪號 púyōumǎhào) train from Taipei Station for the two hour ride. These trains are very nice and comfortable. It is a special class of tilting train that goes as fast as 150 km per hour (93 mph) that runs exclusively between Taipei and Hualien.

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The night market in Hualien may disappoint a bit because it is rather small, with limited options, but it did have some nice things that I haven’t seen in other markets. But hey, it’s a night market with delicious food, and you don’t find those here in the U.S.

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We spent a day in Taroko Gorge National Park (太魯閣國家公園 tàilǔgě guójiāgōngyuǎn) and another day at an area called Emerald Valley (翡翠谷 fěicùigǔ).  We rented a scooter at one of the many shops near the train station and rode about an hour along a highway with nice wide bike/scooter paths along the side to the mouth of the Gorge. It was an enjoyable ride up the Gorge. We pulled off the road multiple times to check out the outstanding views of the river and gorge. One of the interesting things about Taroko Gorge is that the cliffs and rocks along the rivers are marble, as in beautiful white and gray polished marble, not too unlike the marble you’d see on a kitchen counter top. There is a lot to see in Taroko Gorge and we could have easily spent a couple days up there, but we only had a day, so besides riding around, we stopped at two places, the Tianxiang area (天祥 tiānxiáng) and the Baiyang Waterfall Trail (白楊步道 báiyáng bùdào).

The Tianxiang scenic area is accessed by a bridge crossing the river and consists of the Xiangde Temple (祥德寺 xiángdé sì) and Tianfeng Pagoda (天峰塔 tiānfēng tǎ), as well a numerous paths through garden areas.

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The most entertaining part of this visit was when a giant hornet started buzzing around my son while he was filming. It was pretty hilarious watching him jump and dance around. Probably wouldn’t have been that funny if it was chasing me. We also enjoyed the views up and down the gorge and just relaxing at a peaceful, beautiful area.

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We then headed up to the Baiyang Waterfall Trail (白楊步道 báiyáng bùdào) which ends at the impressive Water Curtain Cave (水簾洞 shuǐliándòng). The trail is accessed across the road and within a tunnel, just a short distance from a parking area. Near the beginning of the trail you can cross a suspension bridge to a nice lookout of the two falls. As far as I know, that’s about as close as you can get to the actual falls, at least legally (without crossing barriers that tell you not to cross). It looks like it would be steep and dangerous to get up there anyway.

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Trial on the upper right

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The trail is pretty mellow, passes through a few tunnels, and follows along a couple rivers. It was a very pleasant outing. When we got to the end of the trail you can enter the Water Curtain Cave. Everyone coming out or going in had all kinds of rain gear on and some people offered to loan us theirs, since we didn’t have rain jackets with us. But since it was a nice day, and we aren’t opposed to getting a little wet, we declined. There are cracks in the ceiling of this short cave where water is pouring down in wide sheets. We clung to the wall, got a bit wet, and emerged on the other side. We hiked a bit further to a nice lookout of the river valley beyond. We had a little picnic, met a couple from Switzerland, and hung out for awhile, before heading back down the trail. It was a nice hike and so refreshing to be out of the noise and chaos of the cities.

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