Rest of Taroko

If rugged cliff, marble canyons, towering mountains, and cascading rivers are your thing, then the Taroko National Park will surely enchant.

Hungry for more after our morning’s meanderings, we decided to book a tour to cover more grounds.  A must if pressed for time, actually.  A taxi came for us after lunch, turns out that he is both taxi driver and English-speaking guide.  He said the need for an independent tour guide (and an English-speaking one to boot) has declined now that more Chinese tourists arrive by the busloads providing their own tour guides, hence the dual occupation.

One can spend the day exploring the breathtaking scenery on foot and not cover half the park, which by the way, is the 2nd largest national park in Taiwan. The gorge itself spans 19km long and is spectacular whichever angle you see it from.  With a car, we managed to cover a lot.  Besides, wandering on foot requires a bit of stamina, stamina that has substantially diminished after our morning walk.

Swallow Grotto

The trail we walked earlier apparently does not end at the highway, if we crossed it and walked north, we would have hit a tunnel that splits into two.  We earlier thought about walking along the highway but worried about getting hit by the buses or be charged with jay walking.

Anyhow, traffic and tourist buses are heavy near the tunnel.  The right side of the tunnel is off-limits to vehicles and one gets to explore the tunnel and its surrounding by foot.  Long-term erosion by the river resulted in holes and hollows on the cliffs.  Swifts and swallows took up residence here giving the place its name.

Gorgeous valleys and splendid views awaits as one walk further into the tunnel.  A part of the trail was closed due to falling rocks when we visited and so we turned back.  Normally, our guide said he’d wait at the end of the tunnel while his guests walk the entire stretch.

Cihmu Bridge

The scenery from the Swallow Grotto to our next destination is quite spectacular where the highway runs mostly through tunnels, narrow gorges and marble sceneries.

At the confluence of the laoxi and the liwu river stands Cihmu Bridge, an H-shape hanging bridge where marble stone lions stand on each side.  The rock beneath is of schist and white marble, resembling a frog with a crown (can you see it?   🙂 ).  The crown is actually a pavilion built on top of the frog-like rock.

Lushui Trail

Our driver/guide recommended that we walk this trail.  He dropped us off where the trail started and he’ll meet us at the end, he said.

The trail climbs gently uphill and crosses a short suspension bridge before making its way onto a spectacular cliff-side section.

It was a fairly easy and very scenic trail that is suitable for people of all ages.  The trail follows the road cutting through the mountain and passing through a short tunnel.

The views of the Liwu River and the gorge are impressive.

A kilometer of rough downhill road signals almost the end of the trail bringing us back to the main road along the rim, our taxi in sight.

Tianxiang

Tienfieng Pagoda

Like Buluowan, Tianxiang is an old Atayal aboriginal village sitting near the confluence of the Daxi Jili and Dasha rivers that eventually becomes the Liwu River.  Its name commemorates Wen Tianxiang, the last prime minister of the Song Dynasty.

This charming town has a large parking space for tourists, a recreational plaza garden and the only 5-star hotel in Taroko – Silks Place.

Eternal Spring Shrine

From the road, driving to our next destination, we stopped only to take photos (as many have done) of the Eternal Spring Shrine, a landmark and a memorial shrine complex paying tribute to the 212 veterans who passed away during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway.  The shrine surrounded by lush greenery and the long steep gorge beneath was built above the Chang Chun falls offering picturesque view of the mountain and the waterfalls.  The Chang Chun falls runs year-round.

Shakadang Trail

Bridge near the Shakadang Trail entrance.  Each lion has a different face.

5pm, hot and hungry and we still had one more to go.  We were thinking to perhaps skip it but our guide insisted that we walk even just a portion of the trail.  Glad we did.

It was an easy hike, which started just below the bridge, along the Shakadang creek valley, a tributary of the Liwi River.

The trail is a flat 4.4km following the crystal clear blue water of the Shakadang River which winds through dramatic marble canyons surrounded by lush green vegetation.

The mineral deposits in the rocks produces such beautiful turquoise water and is a major part of the charm.

And with that, we were driven back to our hotel just in time for my aboriginal dinner.

The Sincheng Station

We headed back the next day to Taipei the same way we arrived, impressed with what Taiwan had to offer, realizing that we perhaps scratched only a small surface of this beautiful island once aptly called Formosa.  Another visit is definitely likely to happen in the (near or far) future.

Buluowan, the Lower Terrace

Taroko Gorge.  Travel buddy Art, a globe wanderer for more than 3 decades, largely influenced our trip to the national park.  He’s gone to so many places, he inspire me to never stop travelling.  Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Iran, Bhutan, Antarctica – name it he’s been there.  And to give a thumbs-up on Taroko Gorge?  I knew we chose a winner and wasted no time booking our flights.  With tips from Art, we planned the trip as efficiently as we could.

We had to make good use of our limited time hence the 2 nights stay at the Leader Village Hotel.  Perfectly located within the park with its headquarters just a short walk down.

From the lobby, following the wooden walkway that borders the road leading to the park’s headquarters, I was rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the lower terrace.

Lush green trees surrounds the lower terrace

A beautiful sight that had me thanking Art for his recommendation.

The Traveler’s Center from E-das Hall

What used to be the home of the Taroko tribes more than 3,000 years ago is now the Park’s headquarter, which includes a recreational area (also called the Traveler’s Center)

featuring aboriginal cultures, a multimedia presentation at the E-das Hall, and a souvenir shop.  Also found here are the Swallow Grotto trail and the Meander Core Trail.

While aimlessly walking around, a guy called out prodding us to enter the E-das Hall as “the show’s about to start”, he said.  Happy to be away from the heat even for just a while, we comfortably seated ourselves and watched the entire show… in Chinese with no sub-titles to boot.  Who cares when we can cool ourselves on a hot summer’s day?  The show briefs about the different attractions to be seen and experienced at the park and the visual presentation had us eager to explore the park.  So right after the show, we went on our first trail.

Swallow Grotto Trail

Behind E-das Hall is the Swallow Grotto Trail.

Looks promising, don’t you think?

On the map though, it ends on the highway and A was hesitant to walk this trail because we might end up backtracking.  I insisted and of course he was right.

The steep steps down seemed never ending, and when we reached the end of the road, we were rewarded with this.

An obstructed view of the Liwu River.  

I cringed because I insisted and was wrong, and we had to go back up those steep steps.

Next time I will listen.

Meander Core Trail

Now this trail is a breeze with beautiful scenery and lush flora along the way.

It’s a shorter trail that starts near the traveler’s center.

The pretty wooden walkway leads all the way to a viewing deck at the end. There, we were rewarded with these views.

The Taroko Gorge (left) and the Sipan Dam (right)

After these two trails, a hearty lunch was the only way to go.

We walked back to the hotel through a more scenic and shorter route,

A rooftop picnic area at the Traveler’s Center

which passes the back of the Traveler’s center.

All these stunning scenery left us awed by the beauty of Taroko and we have not technically left our hotel grounds yet.

Taroko: An Edgy Start

Our journey to the east coast of Taiwan began when we got off the cab at the Taipei Train Station with our backpacks in tow.

The station is a large building housing several rail services with an array of shops and restaurants on the 2nd floor.

Getting ourselves acquainted with the station the day before we thought would prepare us for a stress-free travel.   Not quite!

Taroko Gorge, one of the most fascinating areas of Taiwan, is accessible by plane or train.  Unless pressed for time, we like traveling by land, in this case by train.  While we are able to see more of the place, it is likewise a cheaper way to travel.  Sincheng (Hsin-Cheng) station is the closest station to the Taroko Gorge National Park and because our hotel is located within the park, we took Lonely Planet’s advice and bought our tickets to Sincheng,

which we soon realized, is a small station in a small town.  The more common route to Taroko is through the Hualien station (a different train passes that station).  That however is still an hour’s drive to the National Park.

To make matters worse, on the B2 level where we were to board, there are 2 lines going on opposite directions.  The ticket didn’t give much information — it was written in Chinese save for the word “Sincheng”.  It didn’t specify which train/line to take, at least not in English.  All we had were the platform number and the time of departure.  None of those we approached (young or old) could help us because they either did not speak much English or they didn’t know where the hell Sincheng is.  A and I looked at each other and without speaking burst out laughing reminiscing about our bus mishap years ago, very aware that what happened in Uganda might just repeat itself in Taiwan. It really wasn’t something to laugh about but…

We eventually found (and I assume was) a customer service booth.  And with the little mandarin I know and a lot of pointing, we boarded our train hoping for the best.

Three hours later we found a cab parked outside the Sincheng station and in 10 minutes, we were unloading our backpacks at the Leader Village Hotel, our home for the next 2 nights.

Winding through a zigzag road, the drive to the front of the lobby melted away the tensions of the day.

A welcome party greeting guests at the driveway.  Fun sculptures are found around the hotel grounds.  

Spectacularly situated on the Buluowan plateau, the Leader Village Hotel, surrounded by green mountains, was a sight to behold.

Set in fabulous scenery, native aboriginal themed wooden cabins were built in clusters all over the hotel grounds.

Known too for their restaurant, meals were a combination of western and aboriginal dishes.

Aboriginal dishes came as a set meal (middle pic): an order of grilled tilapia with different vegetables including sweet potatoes.  It also came with sticky rice on a bamboo.  Steaks were tender, superb when sprinkled with a dry spice mixture.

The staffs are mostly Taroko aborigines and after dinner, we were treated to a cultural show performed by the children of the Truku tribe.

The cabins are spacious, clean and rustic complete with modern amenities such as rain showers and TV.  Although the beds set on the floor is quite charming, getting out of bed was an effort… a sign that age is creeping up on us!

The best part though is to wake up to this.  I could sit on our porch the whole day and I’ll be a happy camper.

Just in front our cabin.  The grounds so green, butterflies abound.

But laze around we didn’t do of course as the beautiful grounds invites to be explored.

Dramatically set above the gorge proper with fabulous scenery everywhere, Buluowan was where the Taroko aborigines once lived and held festivals and celebrations.  Divided into the upper and the lower terrace, the hotel is on the upper while several trails, a recreation area including an exhibition hall are found on the lower terrace.

After breakfast, we explored the upper terrace.  Behind the hotel is a short nature trail aptly called Bamboo Grove Trail.  It was a cool walk through a bamboo grove.

It wasn’t so bad after all.  All is well that ends well.

More of the lower terrace up next.