Hear about travel to Eastern Taiwan as the Amateur Traveler talks to freelance travel writer Robert Kelly about a destination he literally wrote the book on.
Robert has been the author of the Taiwan Lonely Planet guidebook for the last 10 years and he takes us, in this episode, to the side of the island country with few people and a dramatic landscape.
“The area we are going to cover today is Eastern Taiwan. Most people when they think of Taiwan they think of the west, they think of Taipei. Basically from Taipei all the way down on the west side it is like Hong Kong, it’s dense, it’s crowded, it’s urban, it’s extremely interesting. There’s tons of great stuff to see.”
“You have 5 mountain ranges [in Taiwan]. The central mountain range goes through the center of the island and it reaches almost 4,000 meters which is over 12,000 feet. It just rises up very very fast. So you have these western plains where most people live and then you have this huge mountain range in the center which essentially acted as a barrier for most of Taiwan’s history to keep people from moving to the east coast. So the east coast is what the Chinese would call the ‘Land Across the Mountains’. Up until the end of the 19th century, it was pretty much only aboriginal. When the Japanese came in 1895 they began to open up that area.”
“Going to Taiwan you have to choose. Am I going to stay in these urban areas? Am I going to explore temple culture and the night markets or am I going to go to this big beautiful east coast playground that has a population density like Costa Rica? It’s an incredibly stunning area. It has some of the highest sea cliffs in the world. It has gorges that are literally made out of marble. It has blue-green rivers. It has this very old [20,000+ years] aboriginal culture with, in the summertime, lots of festivals, lots of music activities happening. You have gorgeous coastline. You have what they call a rift valley, which is this beautiful farming area. It is literally where the Philippines and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It has this really frontier feel to it which you don’t expect from Taiwan.”
Robert lays out a 10-day to 2-week itinerary that includes river tracing (hiking a river), sightseeing, cultural activities, visiting national parks, and a bike trip. Come hear about a very different Taiwan than you thought you knew.
Robert Scott Kelly
East Rift Valley
Central Cross-Island Highway
Shei-pa National Park
Taroko National Park
Cave of Water Curtain
East Coast National Scenic Area
East Rift Valley National Scenic Area
Taiwan Open of Surfing
The Golden Canyon
Marino’s Kitchen / Dulan Diner
Aboriginal Tours of Taiwanese
Just back from the rice terraces that we mentioned in Travel to the Philippines – Episode 475
Amateur Traveler Trip – Japan – June 2017 – 9 Days
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Chris: Amateur Traveler, Episode 533. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about rift valleys, aboriginal culture, and river tracing in gorges literally made out of marble as we go to the wilder side, the eastern side of the island of Taiwan. Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. Just back from the Philippines. More about that on the blog, not necessarily in the podcast because we’ve covered the area I went to before. But for now, let’s talk about Taiwan. I’d like to welcome on the show Robert Kelly. Robert is a freelance travel writer including the author for the last about 10 years, Robert, of the Taiwan Lonely Planet guidebook. Oddly enough, he’s come to talk to us about Taiwan, especially Eastern Taiwan. Robert, welcome to the show.
Robert: Thank you so much for having me, Chris.
Chris: First of all, why did you go to Taiwan 10 years ago or so? Was it just because you were asked to go, or did you volunteer for the Taiwan guidebook?
Robert: No, I originally went to Taiwan to teach English. I was back in Canada this was, kind of the mid-1990s when Canada was in a huge recession. And I graduated from the university and there was 20% unemployment rate for new graduates kind of like it has been in the U.S. and Europe for the last few years. And I just thought, “I can’t stay here any longer.” And this opportunity came up to teach in Taiwan and I went and just really loved the place and ended up staying there. And then eventually, I started moving into writing and I worked for local magazines. And then one day this opportunity came up to apply for writing for the Taiwan guide. They were looking for new authors and I went out to this new area that I knew about, spent a couple of day researching. Wrote up 3,000 words and they liked it and that’s how I got hired.
Chris: Excellent. And why should we come to Taiwan?
Robert: First of all I wanna say, the area we’re gonna cover today is eastern Taiwan. So most people when they think of Taiwan, they think of the west. They think of Taipei. And basically from Taipei all the way down on the west side, it’s like Hong Kong. I mean, it’s dense, it’s crowded, it’s urban. It’s extremely interesting. There’s tonnes of great stuff to see.
Chris: You left on very mountainous which is the thing that really surprised me about Taiwan.
Robert: Sure, you’ve got, there’s literally this mountain range, actually you’ve got five mountain ranges but the main, the central range goes through the center of the island. And it reaches almost 4,000 meters which is, I guess, over 12,000 feet. It just rises up very, very fast. So you have these western plains which is where most people live and then you have this huge mountain range in the center which essentially acts as a barrier for most of Taiwan’s history, to keep people from really moving to the east coast. So the east coast is what they used to call, the Chinese would call, “The land across the mountains.” So it just gives you the sense of a frontier.
And up until the end of the 19th century, it was pretty much only aboriginal in that area. And then when the Japanese came in 1885, they began to open up the area, to exploit the minerals and the logging and all sorts of resources that were there. So it’s an area that was primitive for thousands of years. It was very little contact. I’ll probably tell you a story later, there was some contact with ships coming down. But generally, there wasn’t much settlement except for the aboriginals who had been there at least 20,000 years according to the archaeological records.
So going to Taiwan, you have to sort of chose, “Am I gonna stay in these urban areas? Am I gonna explore temple culture and the night markets and these things, or am I going to go to essentially this big beautiful east coast playground,” which has a population density like Costa Rica as opposed to the west coast which is like one long Hong Kong as I said. So very, very different. So if you wanna talk why do you want to go to Taiwan? Well, I wanna tell you why you wanna go to the east coast because it’s an incredibly stunning area. It has some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, it has this marble, literally, gorges that are made out of marble. It has blue-green rivers. It has really interesting old aboriginal culture with a lot of summertime, lots of festivals, lots of music activities happening. You have gorgeous coastline. And then just over the short, sort of mountain range, you have what they call rift valley which is this beautiful farming area.
And the reason they call it the rift valley because it’s literally where they Philippine and the Eurasian plate, the tectonic plates, they can meet. There’s actually places where you can see the plates slipping over each other. It has this really frontier feel to it, which you don’t expect from Taiwan. Not many people understand this part of Taiwan that there is this mountainous in this coastal region, which offers a lot of activities, which people don’t really associate with Taiwan.
Chris: What kind of itinerary would you recommend if we are gonna tackle the eastern coast?
Robert: Ten days to two weeks. So if you have a shorter time, I would suggest, taking the train from Taipei. It’s like two hours if you take the tilting train. If you have a literally longer time, I would really, really highly recommend that you rent a car at the airport. So you arrive at Taoyuan airport, you get a car, and then you basically start driving. And within half an hour, you’ll actually be starting to get in to the mountains. If you’re on this, on highway seven, then you’ll enter what is called the north cross-island. And for basically about a day, you’ll be going on this high mountain road, very windy, in Lalashan which probably should be one of your first stops, maybe four hours, five hours from the airport. So you can do it on the first day. There’s a cypress forest where the trees get to be like 2500 years old. And you can drive up there and then you get this place to stay, you park your car, you walk around for a couple of hours and just immensely beautiful ancient forest. It’s pretty amazing.
Chris: When you say rent a car and drive, there aren’t a lot of places in Asia that a lot of travelers feel comfortable driving. And I did not drive in Taiwan. So what is the driving like?
Robert: I wouldn’t drive in the city. I wouldn’t drive down south. The traffic conditions are a little bit crazy. Because the people just kind of say pass you when they are not supposed to and you learn a lot of reasons why for example in North America and Europe, we have the rules we have because if you don’t have these rules, people break them and it’s actually very dangerous. I would say, going out to the east coast, it’s not that much of a problem. You should have to be careful on the mountain roads because of the hazards and a lot of landslides. But generally, I wouldn’t say is that much of a problem. If you’ll drive on the left side of the road, yes the left side of the road.
So I’ve been in Malaysia now. I went from Taiwan to Malaysia, now I have to drive on the right side of the road like in England. Generally it’s the same as in North America. And then the east coast traffic, especially during the week, traffic is quite light. But the other good thing is that the speed limits between the two major cities or towns on the east coast, it’s 70 kilometers an hour. So less than 50 like 45 miles an hour. And then generally it’s between 40 to 70 for most of the roads. So you’re not going at high speeds. They’re good roads. The one good thing about Taiwan is, the roads are good.
Chris: I suspect that’s more than the one good thing about Taiwan otherwise you wouldn’t have spent so much time there.
Robert: True, true.
Chris: Let’s get back to your itinerary and what you’re recommending that we see.
Robert: Okay, the first thing you wanna see is Lalashan, beautiful sort of a lucrative name and this great forest that you can see. There’s a lot of villages along the way that you can stop in. Fuxing is an interesting one. If you’re arriving a little late, I would suggest you stay there because there’s old… what they now call a youth activity center. There essentially hostels but usually they have dorm rooms for students and then they have also private rooms. But a lot of them were built on these old villas that Chiang Kai-shek used to have. So this is just like a perfect. It’s on a little bluff, overlooking the river and the mountains.
So that’s a good place to stay if you have to stay first night. Otherwise I suggest sort of in the Lalashan area in Baling, this colleague upper Baling and middle Baling and lower Baling and these are just little villages on these 18 kilometer road up to the old trees. So the one good thing about, not one good thing, one of the many good things about Taiwan is that in the last 10 years there’s just an explosion of B&Bs;. This is two simple characters like Minsu, which means guest house or B and B. And you’ll see this everywhere. You think you’re in the middle of nowhere and then you’ll just see one of these signs and you’ll go, “Oh great.” You’re never very far from food or usually like really good accommodation.
And then a lot of these areas, you just get…like when my wife came on this trip with me once in upper Baling, we had this room, this immense balcony overlooking the mountains. And it was about, I think, $60 a night midweek. Absolutely glorious place. And these things are really all over the place because their cost of living in the countryside is really low and people often like own the land in this places and they build this guesthouses. And you just can stay in these areas that you would never expect this level of comfort. So that’s the great thing about this trip that I’m recommending.
Years ago, it was not like this. If there was anywhere to stay it’d be like this really dingy hostels, concrete hostels. And the food would be canned food that was driven in from the cities. So that’s one of the things about the east side. It was always beautiful but in the last 10 years, it’s also become incredibly well appointed with guesthouses and restaurants and cafés. So it’s a great combination. So it’s a really good time to be visiting. So to continue on the itinerary, then you would start heading up. You finish essentially the north cross, it kind of goes up and then it goes down and you’re pretty much at the coast but you’re further north in the coast. You’re in what’s called Yiland County. You can drive…
Chris: Because Taipei is way at the northern end of the island.
Robert: Taipei is kind of at the middle northern end. So Yiland is essentially east of Taipei. And so you could drive the coastal highway all the way down to what we’re calling the east coast, the Houli and then Taitung County. But the road has been under construction for many years. So what I would suggest instead is that, you go up the number seven towards what they call Shei-Pa National Park. There’s no mountain national park. Again, it’s just like another four, five hours up. It’s windy mountain road. There’s small aboriginal villages all along the way.
Chris: And is this the rift valley you were talking about?
Robert: This is the second day. We haven’t got to the east coast. You’re going up the, essentially the snow mountain range. So you have a central range and then just east of that is a snow mountain range. So you’re kind of like winding your way up that. One of the reasons I like to send people up this is because you’ll pass probably the biggest cabbage patch in the world. What they do, you know, it’s actually quite a sight. In the winter months, the rivers of Taiwan dry up. The rivers that are flooded annually by typhoon. So they are big. They’re sometimes a kilometer, kilometer and a half wide, the actual river valley. But in the winter months, it just becomes a trickle, maybe 50 meters wide. So there’s all these land. In this area, they plant cabbages.
So you have just kilometer after kilometer of this river valley filled with these green cabbages. It’s a wonderful photographic opportunity because you really won’t see that everywhere. So you continue along that and then you pass these little hot springs villages and you slop in a hot spring if you want. And then you get to snow mountain national park which has good accommodation and you can do some hiking in the area. If you’re interested in high mountains, this is a great place. These mountains get up to 3,800 meters. They have great cabin system. This is a beautiful place to stay and you start to get a feel for the mountains, for pines, cypress.
You can stay there and you can continue to drive up. You’re gonna reach the highest road pass in Northeast Asia, 3275 meters. The vegetation now is all of those kind of scrubby, kind of what they call like dwarf bamboo. So there’s no trees. You’re just now like in the sort of almost an alpine region. This is one of the beauties of Taiwan, is this diversity of terrain in a very small area. We’d have to travel in North America up to the Yukon or the Alaska to see this kind of change, right? Whereas in Taiwan, you basically just drive one day and you’re going from tropical to alpine. It’s quite beautiful. One of the things I would always suggest is that, this stuff doesn’t look very comfortable. It’s like it’s kind of a dwarf bamboo. It kind of looks very scrubby, but it is really a beautiful to lie on. Get off the road, just wind up a few meters and just lie on this cane. It’s actually like soft grass when you actually lie on it.
Continue in there, it’s like you’d been about two days now, and now you’re gonna start going down. You’re going down to the east coast. And what you’re gonna be doing is you’re gonna be going down through what’s called Taroko Gorge. It’s basically, everybody would consider this Taiwan’s top natural site. The very end of the gorge is this 18 kilometers of marble. Literally it’s a marble in chestiness formation and it’s narrow. I mean there are places where it’s 100 of meters deep. But if somebody was on the other side, you could basically play catch with them. You could throw a ball stats sort of steep and there’s all these like swirling pattern from the marble and they’re just…And you’ll drive down through this. And there’s always beautiful hiking trails to go on. You’ve probably seen like in China some of those trails that just kind of hack into the side of the cliff. And this is like that. I mean, you’ve got about a meter of space and then this is sheer cliff on your left and there’s a shear of 400 meter drop on your right.
Chris: And no handrail that I’m saying on the pictures I’m looking at.
Robert: Most of these ones do now. They have kind of the chains on the left. But there are some sections where you kind of go around the bend and there’s no…Everybody always gets his picture on this one spot where you come around a bend and you can’t see the handrails. All you can see is just immense gorge in front of you, below you and it’s very traumatic. Probably the 1930s when the Japanese built this trails, essentially from the coast all the way up to sort of the center of Taiwan. That history, this moves they have all police outpost that were there to patrol the aboriginals in the area.
In addition to the beauty like you’re actually getting a sense of what Taiwan used to be like. It used to be, like it was kind of a log in in a mineral frontier. If you have the time, spend at least a couple of days in Taroko Gorge. There are multiple trails, deep pulls in the rivers, you can swim in. One most famous trail is the Baiyang Trail. It goes up to this waterfall and if you just continue past the waterfall you enter what they call water curtain cave which is literally a cave where water sips through the rock above you like a shower and it just pours down on you. Go in there with an umbrella. Most people do otherwise you just come out just completely soaked. So there’s a lot of gorgeous trails. You’ll see wildlife, you’ll see monkeys, you’ll see barking deer.
Chris: Barking deer is what it sounds like, a deer that makes a barking sound?
Robert: Yes. It’s a tiny deer, foot and a half high. Yeah, it barks like a dog. And you will see that. And sometimes even, like in the higher mountains you might see like the sika deer. And that time is also very surprising about Taiwan. You wouldn’t expect to see a lot of wildlife. But because these areas are self-contained because of the mountains and now the environmental protection is much better. And one of the things I would really recommend for Taroko Gorge is that you rent a bike.
There’s a couple of places where they will take you up like in a van up the gorge and then drop you off. And sometimes what they will do is they’ll drop you off the trail head and then they’ll put your bike at the other end so that you can basically walk on this four, five hour trail and then at the end of that you’ll have a bike waiting for you and then you can ride that bike down through the gorge. Really, one of the best ones that I like is the Wenshan Trail. The beginning of the trail, there’s also the Wenshan hot springs which just closed right now. If there’s one thing about Taiwan is that things open and close. It’s like kind of like a whac-a-mole, kind of like game. This road closes because of the landslides but then this one opens. And then this one closes. It’s an incredibly active tectonic area. Georges literally call it the landslide capital of the world.
Chris: A dubious title.
Robert: So you do need to be careful. But it’s one of the appeals of the area is that sort of naturally rugged area. So you have to be kind of careful. But at the same time it is, like the great thing about now is that it is well appointed with all these sort of facilities. But the natural environment is rough.
Chris: When we are doing something like the background you were talking about, do you have an outfit you recommend or…?
Robert: Yeah, there’s a guy at, place, Taroko Lodge. He speaks English. You can write him on his website, email him. I’ve done with him a few times. He basically has bikes sticks up in his van. You just tell him what kind of itinerary you want. Usually he schedules that because he knows Taroko gorge is very popular to tour groups. So he knows when the tour groups go up. You’re gonna be in a place before the tour groups. And then you’ll be on the trail while the tour groups are examining things and by the time you finish that trail, they are all heading back home. So I’d always recommend that actually that you stay around until about 6:00 because all the passes have left and you’re cruising down this beautiful deep marble gorge and it’s really purely magical things. So, the Taroko Lodge, he’s about the best one that I know because he’s been doing it for a long time and he speaks English. There are outfitters but the language barrier would be probably too much for most people. So after a couple of days in Taroko gorge, then basically you’d reach Hualien city.
Chris: So that’s the main city in the east?
Robert: That’s the main city. It’s about 200,000, 250,000 people.
Chris: Only that large? Okay.
Robert: Yeah, the population is very low. I think the whole east coast, the two counties is 600,000 I think. It’s such a contrast to the rest of Taiwan. So now we’re coming down through the gorge and we enter Hualien city which is not a bad place to stay. So if you want to base, it’s a pretty good place. Essentially there’s a lot of hostels there now. Also because they will be able to set you up for surfing, for river terracing, for bicycle rental, for all those sort of things.
Chris: River tracing, I’m getting that is not an artistic project.
Robert: No, it’s not. It’s one of the finest things you can do in the world. It’s something that’s big in Japan and that’s why it came to Taiwan. Essentially it’s walking up rivers. At its highest level is rock climbing up waterfalls. The east coast basically is narrow. The whole area was maybe few millions years ago was kind of lifted up from the sea. So it’s all this sort of volcanic arcs that should have been under water but kind of were pushed up and that sort of forms like this coastal range. And then you’ve got this very narrow flat area between those mountains and the seas and sometimes like literally only like few hundred meters. So it’s coastal highways literally hugging the coast. The ocean is like right there to the left of view and then the mountains are right there to the right.
So one of the places that people go is the Golden Canyon. We have to go to this aboriginal village called Sanzhi, which is probably like it’s about two hours from Hualien. Most of the hotels are hostels kind of arrange this as a tour. And then you put on your wet suit and your…They have this little booties that you have you to put on and they have a felt sole. This is something that people like often from kayakers or canoes will come to Taiwan and they’ll bring their near print shoes and they don’t work. They don’t work on Taiwan rocks because there’s so much algae, they are so slippery, these rocks. But these felt soles. This is what…fishermen used to use this all the time and the river tricksters adopted them, it’s a near print boot with a felt sole and you don’t slip. You can be on like an incline, 40 degree incline, on a rock that’s all slippery and you won’t slip. And so basically you let up this canyon. You start up where it’s really wide and then you start getting into these like deep mountains and you’re going over waterfalls and you’re jumping into this huge pools of crystal clear water which is actually often times…it’s kind of the water on the east coast is often times kind of a bluish green color.
Chris: I’ve seen that on the pictures I’ve been looking at. It’s quite beautiful.
Robert: There are places like I’ve been to where I thought, “Is this pollution?” Because it was so green. But it’s not. it’s the minerals from the limestone. So the Golden Canyon basically was a day trip, 48 hours return. I mean it’s rightfully one of the best river tracing venues. It’s pretty crowded now, especially on weekends and summer. So there’s an outfit…
Chris: Are you possibly talking about Matt from Hualien Outdoors.
Robert: Yes, yes.
Chris: Okay, I could Google with the best.
Robert: Okay, Hualien Outdoors yes. He’s a good guy to go with very safety conscious. And you can also just tell him, like, “Okay, some people in our group who never really done this kind of thing, they are not very adventurous.” And he’ll take you to a beautiful spot where you just walk along the river bank but then you’ll get to this gorgeous pool. It’s like a waterfall in the background. He’ll customize it to whatever you want because he knows where all these places are on the east coast. And there are a lot. And that’s one of the things I love about the east coast is that it seems like a small area when you look it in the map, but because of the ruggedness of the terrain and how mountainous it is, there’s just like always like something new. There’s always a new valley that…There’s just so much in a small area to explore.
Chris: Well, and what you’re describing sounds like something that I have done in a couple of different places just not in Taiwan, not in the nine hours I’ve been Taiwan, but it sounds like going up the Virgin River in Zion National park or going up Wadi Mujib in the Jordan. In there, you’re literally sometimes pulling yourself up on ropes through the waterfall. This sounds like sometimes it’s that, and sometimes it’s much more sedate.
Robert: Yeah, it depends on…the Golden Canyon I mean, it’s a variation of course because the rivers re wider and narrow. You can chose because there are so many rivers in this area, so many valleys that you can chose whatever adventurous level you want. Summertime is a good time to go and do this, not just because it’s hot but also because the rainfall is very low during the summer so you don’t have too much worry about flash flooding which is an issue in a lot of areas. One of the advantages of Taiwan for river tracing is that, you have a very mountainous terrain which means…even in Taipei, I mean like, if you go to Wulai, I don’t know if you ever went there when you were visiting.
Chris: No, I literally was there for nine hours. I did a layover tour because I was on my way to Thailand, then I had nine hours in Taiwan. But you’re close to Taipei, so you don’t have to just wait in an airport for nine hours. So I went out and did with via tour a 8-hour layover tour where we went to UNESCO world heritage temples and the night market and the presidential palace at least on the outside and went up Taipei 101 and ate dumplings and then they rushed me back to the airport. So it’s a pretty darn good way to spend a layover but that’s how much I’ve seen of Taiwan.
Robert: Right, right, right, yeah. And then that’s all the urban part. But literally I mean from Taipei, Wulai, is this mountainous township about 20 kilometers, something 40 minutes driving. And then again, you just go out to your car and you can start river tracing. And then you can go hours up this river and there’s this massive pools, 20-30 meters across, 10 ft. deep, because it’s coming from the higher mountains. There’s nothing between it. It’s a strange country that way and you can be in this crowded urban area but then because of the way the mountains come down, you can be in pristine wilderness very, very quickly.
We talked about river tracing, that’s one of the premier activities on the east coast. Another one is cycling. Hardcore cyclers have been doing the east coast for decades. And I met, I think a few years ago in this guesthouse and I met this whale and dolphin researcher, who was telling me that back in the 1980s and 1990s, she would get friends coming from Germany and Austria just to study dissertations with her. And they would be like, “I wanna do a cycling tour. It’s so beautiful here.” And then they would go out for a couple of days and they’d come back. And they would say like, “Yeah, it’s really beautiful but there’s just no food and nowhere to stay.” That’s the most miserable part of their trip. They are eating like canned beans. And I said that all started to change about 10 years ago. And it’s become like the best venue for cycling in Taiwan. So the first days route would be, usually from Hualien and then people would go up Taroko gorge, and then come down. If you’re gonna a tour of this, so you’re going from Hualien city to Taitung city, and that’s about 183 kilometers. So 140 miles I guess.
Chris: Along the coast or in that…?
Robert: Along the coast. Basically, I’m gonna talk about doing a loop because you go along the coast and then you come up through the rift valley. So it’s 140 miles from the two cities. Most people do it two or three days. Between those two cities, there are some smaller towns, maybe few thousands of people. But largely, you’re just driving along this coast and there’s no barriers on the left side. So you have an uninterrupted view of the ocean and then you have few hundred meters of fields and then the mountains just start to rise up. So it’s really, really beautiful country side. And the thing about now is that…
Chris: So those of us who have fear of heights should drive north to south, rather than south to north so that we are on the inside?
Robert: Exactly. But it’s pretty flat. There’s like one pass which takes maybe like 20 minutes to climb up to. I think it’s a few hundred meters. But generally, the coastal roads was flat which is another reason I think it’s probably so popular, it was fun, depending on the season. So I guess this time of the year, the winds are blowing north to south. So you’d wanna be going north to south. In the spring, they’re blowing the opposite way. You don’t wanna spend three days fighting like a strong headwind. It’s not a pleasure.
Chris: Not so much.
Robert: But then you have all these little B&Bs; along the way. A lot of them will have a café. Sometimes there’s just a little truck. These are great in Taiwan, these little café trucks. You go there and they grind the beans right there. They make it for you. So you don’t really need to carry supplies with you. You don’t need to carry a tent. I mean if you want to carry a tent, there’s great camp grounds to go to but you don’t need to carry a tent. You carry a little bit of water with you. It’s always good to carry some water, maybe a few snacks. But generally, you just, every hour, every couple of hours, you’re gonna hit somewhere that’s gonna have proper food, and generally good food now. These are actually good meals that you’re getting.
Chris: And when you say good food, is the food different over here in the east coast which has more of the aboriginal influence than it would in Taipei 101 and dumplings or what are we talking about?
Robert: Well, I mean you’ll have those things as well. They’ve got these standard dumplings and noodles. The main aboriginal groups are the Ami and the Bunun in this area and then the Taroko and these various other smaller groups. So the Ami have the most influence. And you’ll find a lot of their cooking influenced a lot of sea food and also in the Bunun area, you’ll find more barbecue and wild boar, sticky rice steamed in bamboo tubes, salads made out of beetle nut, that kind of thing. And then the fruit, you’ll have a lot of pomelos and what they call like custard apples and pineapples. These things are all grown in the area. There’s different smaller villages more on the rift coast, actually on the rift valley, where you can get more purely sort of aboriginal ran cafés and restaurants. They’re serving like a lot of very traditional foods. So you’ll get salads that are made out of, literally, weeds,I shouldn’t say weeds but what you may think of as weeds, are just growing out in the garden.
I had this one hot pot in this one café where they…the hotpot is basically, everything is put in to a tightly woven basket. And then they pour the water and all the food in there and then they get these hot stones from the fire and they drop it in to the water and that causes the water to boil and that’s your hot pot. And it was good. It was excellent. But also a lot of sea food in these areas.
So the first day, most people will go to this place called Shritiping [SP]. It’s just a little tiny fishing village basically has a couple of hotels on the right side. But if you go on to the…what they’d call like a little spin going into the ocean, there’s a few beautiful guesthouses that you can stay in as well. And so that’s usually the first day. Then the next day, you would continue down, heading towards Taitung. There’s also, what a lot of people would do, there’s this crossroads that basically connect the rift valley…
Chris: With the coast.
Robert: With the coastal heights. And they’re like really, really beautiful because you might get one village on this 30-40 kilometer road. And you’re just kind of, you’re going up and then you’re going down. You’re getting like these views back towards the coast and then when you are coming down you’re getting these views of the rift valley from up high. So most people would do this. One is like county road 64 and that’s one of the most popular ones to do because they’re coming down through this valley where it’s really popular for river rafting. Pretty much this is you and this gorge, like the whole say three hours that it takes to do the road. And also [inaudible 00:28:38] as I mention to, in Shartiping always trying to get some fresh sea food because there’s a fishing port and in season, which is essentially summer fall, you’ll get fresh flying fish.
Robert: And it makes actually great sushini because…that, it was surprised but it’s kind of one of the staple of the aboriginals on this islands. You’ll get a big plate of sushini will probably cost you like $5 or $6.
Robert: So continuing down, so if you’re cycling, you can make it all the way to Taitung in the next day. But a lot of people will stay in this town called Dulan. Now, Dulan is something that pretty much, it’s been inhabited for thousands of years, the area. But 10 years ago, nobody knew about this place and you wouldn’t even…you would just pass by. Just another tiny town off the highway, a couple of buildings on either side of the highway. And then what happened is the employment in the area was a sugar factory. And it closed down.
Chris: Sugarcane I assume.
Robert: Yeah, sugarcane yeah. And then it closed down and essentially in the area, the local artist suddenly discovered, “Wow, there’s all these like warehouse space. There’s like a platform for music.” And he turned this sugar factory into an art center for live music and also for wood carving. The
Ami and the Bunun very, very big on wood carving. And you’ll often see these little studios just off the side of the road. You can usually just pop in and just watch people at work. It’s a pretty laid back place. I think your other guest talked about this last time you talked about Taiwan, you know, it’s extremely friendly. People especially on the east coast, nobody’s really gonna…even if you just walked down somebody’s driveway, nobody’s gonna like come out and yell at you. They might just come out and ask you, “Hi, what are you doing here.” Maybe they’ll offer you tea and then after an hour tell you, “By the way, this is my land.” So you don’t have to worry about your safety in terms of like the trespassing or things like that. It’s very, very laid back.
Chris: Although to be fair, somebody was giving us a hard time on one of the recent episodes that every time we have a guest on they say, and it’s surprisingly friendly. And I don’t know why we keep being surprised by how friendly people are all over the world. But we did have one episode where a guest said, “And they are really rude there”, but we won’t pick on Malta.
Robert: That’s actually something that drives me a little bit crazy in Taiwan because the Tourism Bureau tries to push that angle a little bit too much. I’ll give you one example though. I think they’re a Dutch couple, and they’ve been driving their land rover around the world for the last, I think 20 years and they’ve visited 200 countries.
And they came to Taiwan and they basically, they said to me and even before they said this to me, they’d wrote this on their blog where they’ve said, We may have found the most friendly country on earth.” So it’s a pretty good endorsement…
Chris: That’s a pretty good endorsement.
Robert: Yeah. Even that it’s friendly but it’s safe. It’s a safe to approach people, it’ safe to wander off somewhere, but that’s something that most cyclers that I’ve talked to have come to Taiwan. They get that impression right away. They’re like, I saw the side road and I was kind of like, should I go down in this, and I thought, it seems so easy going here. And then they do and then they discover, yeah, there’s not really much of a problem there. So Dulan, I said literally was off the radar up until about maybe like say eight years ago, when the sugar factory, they started reviving this kind of like this little art center. And on weekends, every weekends, on Saturday nights, they have live music. The sugar factory café, and it’s great. That’s mostly aboriginal musicians from the east coast but they do get people coming here from Taipei, sometimes get people coming in from other countries. And it’s just yes, it’s just a live jam like every Saturday night. And it’s a lot of fun. It’s a way to really to get to know like some of the local people and also some of the people who have come to this area.
It’s interesting because there’s a lot of people from the big cities in Taiwan who’ve moved there like young people who’ve just decided, I’m dropping out of the rat race and I’m gonna open up a café or a hostel. So you’ll meet a lot of interesting characters and you’ll meet a lot of foreign artists and musicians who’ve settled in the town as well because it’s extremely cheap to live in this area and you’ve got this great sort of community there. There’s this Italian restaurant. I think they’re still there. Maybe it’s just the bakery that they have now but this guy just opened up like a great Italian bakery right off the side of the highway. There’s enough traffic coming down through these areas that sort of specialized restaurants and then guest houses can open up.
Chris: So are there any other really main highlights you wanna make sure that we talk about before we finish this off.
Robert: Dulan will basically be a highlight for sure but only go there in the weekends because the rest of the time it’s more like a local scene. Unless you’re a surfer, because that area is one of the prime areas for surfing. They call it Taiwan open surfing. It’s like an ASC certified surf competition happens every November. So there’s professional surf scene in the area. You pass Dulan, you can go to Taitung. But I suggest that you head back up the rift valley because it’s completely different environment. It’s wider. Now you’re basically between two mountain ranges. So you’re on this flat farming belly, and you have central mountains and you just like all these like little, tiny little towns that were like old logging towns. They can explore these hot springs villages.
There’s a few good side routes that you can take. One of them I suggest is the Walami trail. So beginning of a five-day trail that crosses right over the mountains but you can just do a few hours of this. And again, like there’s a gorgeous side, deep steep canyon. And if you’re there in the spring time, go there in the evening when it’s just getting dark because it’s just lit up with fireflies at the beginning of the trail. Just magical. Yeah, I mean then you would spend about, I guess, two days heading back up through the rift valley. Again, it’s just like on the coast, you have cafés, you have restaurants, you have B&Bs; all along the way. You’ve never heading for a place to stay or place to eat.
Chris: Before I get to my last say five questions, anything else you wanna make sure we talk about the east coast of Taiwan.
Robert: If you have time, and essentially if you’re doing like say a two week tour, I would highly recommend that you take a trip over to Lanyu island. You need to fly there from Taitung or you can take the boat. This is sort of volcanic island where the Yami aboriginals live. And one of the fascinating about the aboriginal culture on Taiwan in general, is that one of the theories is that, all of the Austronesians, like Polynesia and new Zealand, Philippines, come from Taiwan. Like the culture and the language actually originate in Taiwan and then spread to Oceania and New Zealand and the Philippines. The Yami basically are very similar to the aboriginal people in the northern Philippines. So it’s a very maritime culture. It’s just an interesting place to visit if you wanted to just get absolutely off the beating track.
You’re already off the beating track but you know the east coast. And if you wanna get off the beating track, this is the place to go. Mesmerizing landscape, interesting culture. This is where…have you ever seen like those very colorful wooden canoes, you might have seen a picture of one. That’s where they come from. It’s where the flying fish comes from and so they have their flying fish festivals. And generally all summer long you have a number of aboriginal festivals along the east coast. Generally what’s good about them is that they are not really commercial. They are genuine festivals. So they change every year according to the lunar calendar. They’re not terribly advertised even though you know the general time. So you would ask at your guesthouse, your hostel like where to go. So this is something about the east coast that it appeals to a lot of people, this distinct culture. But it’s not commercial for the most part. People are doing it for themselves and you’re welcomed to attend.
Chris: Excellent. You’re standing in the prettiest spot in Rastern Taiwan, where are you standing? What are you looking at?
Robert: That would be a really hard thing but might be in Lute, this a plateau and this is where they do parasailing and they do balloon here. And these long slopes have like this perfect natural then, you know, for parasailing and just standing there and you’re looking across the rift valley and you’ve got balloons rising up from the valley and you’ve got people parasailing and you’ve got pineapple field all around and tea fields all around you. It’s just gorgeous.
Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say only in Eastern Taiwan.
Robert: That was in Taitung waiting for this family to cross the road at the crosswalk. And the police on their scooters just came by and they just go straight through them. That’s the sort of thing that makes laugh. And the family took, they’re gonna strike because they were Taiwanese and they’re actually a little suspicious stop to let you cross the crosswalk because you always know the person behind the car who stops may not stop. So they were prepared for this but it was funny just to watch the police actually do it.
Chris: Finish this on, you know for sure you’re in Eastern Taiwan when what?
Robert: When you’re swimming in this green blue pool of water. The floor of the pool is marble and basically you’re about 20 minutes from a road and a major city.
Chris: Excellent. And if you had to summarize the region in three words.
Robert: Dramatic, vibrant, and beautiful.
Chris: Excellent. Our guest again has been Robert Kelly. Robert, where can we either read more about your travels or listen to more about your travels?
Robert: You can check on my website which is www.robertscottkelly.com and also you can listen to what I’ve been doing on my podcast which is called travel tape. So that’s traveltapethepodcast.com
Chris: Excellent. Are those podcasts I understand they’re just a fed though.
Robert: Exactly. Never gonna work.
Chris: Never gonna work. Never gonna work. Robert, thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love for Taiwan.
Robert: All right, thanks so much for having me.
Chris: In news in community, I did just get back because I mentioned from the Philippines where I was hiking the rise terraces of Banaue in which I definitely recommend. We did episode of Amateur Traveler on that recently combine that with a trip to the island of Palawan which I did not get to in this trip. I was there for a conference for the TBEX conference. Highly recommend it. Manila impressed me a little less although I did enjoy the old city of Intramuros and I’ll be writing more about that and putting up some videos on the blog.
Also I did put up on the website, the trip to Japan. You can find that under the book, travel tab if you’re interested in joining us in Japan in June of 2017. Looking forward to seeing you there.
With that, we’re gonna end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any question, send an email to email@example.com or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can follow me on twitter, Pinterest or Instagram as Chris2X and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.