Taroko Gorge (太魯閣 aka Tàilǔgé) is by far the most beautiful place I have seen in Taiwan, and if you don’t stop by during a Tai-Visit, you are missing out on untold amounts of gorgeous scenery and awe inspiring exploration. Like this…
When I hear that travellers have visited the gorge, I excitedly ask what their opinion was – favourite moments, hike details etc – then have on some occasions been crushed by negative or indifferent responses, such as ”I thought it was pretty over-rated” or “There were too many tourists”. Then, the tale unfolds a little further and I discover that they went on a tour bus.
My response to that is, how dare you. How DARE you disrespect this stunning paradise of incredible natural beauty by going on a tour bus! What did you expect? You’re on a bus full of people! Of course there will be crowds! Bus drivers will stop where they have been told to, not where you want them to stop. So surprise surprise, every other tour bus will stop at the same place.
When organising a trip, there is always a balance to strike. I can be lazy at times, but I always try to think ahead about transport, accomodation, the route i’ll take, and costs. You can pay more money, and a tour bus will sort all of that out for you; get you a nice little guesthouse, give you some food, and wipe your cute iddle-widdle mouth with a bib afterwards. What luxury. However, you sacrifice freedom to go where you want, and without a doubt, serenity.
With a little planning and courage, you can arrange yourself a legendary trip to Taroko Gorge, with few crowds, peace, no tour schedule, and unbeatable views from your free accomodation. Yup, you heard me. Pay attention, as I’m going to pass on some tips to ensure that you do Taroko right.
1. CAMP – Backpackers. Thrifty holidaymakers. Outdoorsy types. Do this, because there are at least two campsites that I know of to pitch up a tent, and one of them is free! Both are located in Lushui (綠水) and are merely a few minutes drive from each other. One costs a couple of bucks but you can use some basic facilities like a shower, the other is free but only has a water source. Your call. The view from either camp is spectacular.
2. USE YOUR OWN TRANSPORT – I’m talkin’ ’bout hiring a scooter, rental car, or taxi for a day. If you’re superhuman, by all means you can cycle it, but honestly I wouldn’t recommend it. For the love of Steve, DON’T get public transport or a tour bus. Using your own transport means you can stop anywhere you damn like, take pictures, hang out at a sweet looking pavillion or pagoda… in other words, do what you feel, when you want to, just the way it should be. Plus, cruising through/next to ‘the tunnel of nine turns’ on a scooter is a memory that will stay with me forever. If you have road experience, scootin’ is by far the best option. The traffic is pretty light (compared the the cities) but the winding roads can sometimes require focus.
Look closely… yeah, that’s a road. And you’ll be driving along it. Excited yet?
3. PLAN YOUR HIKES – Don’t just rock up with your boots on and expect to be able to walk up any mountain that takes your fancy, this is Taiwan not Thailand. Most, if not all of the best routes require a permit (which has to be submitted at least 3 days in advance of the first day of your hike), and most importantly the leader of your group has to be Taiwanese, in case of any emergencies. I am lucky enough to have Taiwanese friends accompany me with any hikes that required a permit in the past. However, if you don’t know any, maybe you can contact local hostels to check if they have any local tour guides as contacts, or you can use the trusty old internet.
I am by no means an expert on the permit side of things, so I would suggest you visit http://www.taroko.gov.tw/english for more information.
4. POST HIKE RELAXATION – Hot springs? You betcha. The single greatest thing after a long day’s hiking is to soak like a teabag in a muscle soothing, sulphur-infused brew. The most renowned is the Wenshan (文山) hot spring, but sadly most of it was destroyed in a typhoon, so it has remained closed for a while. Now, all that remains is a small cave with a hot spring pool inside. To access it, you would have to climb over/around an iron gate, and be careful of broken stairs on the way down.
Also, as with most rocky areas with steep gradients, loose stones and rocks have been known to fall down. It can be tricky to find in the dark, so if it’s your first time you should visit in the daylight. But, it is officially closed, so I officially would not recommend that you go there. Wink.
5. GETTING THERE – Let it be known that the drive along the number 9 road from Taipei all the way to Taroko is unforgettable. Along the way you see hills, rice paddies, fisheries, tea plantations, mountains, rivers, beaches and obviously, the sea. So if you heed my previous advice about riding a scooter, you will be handsomely rewarded. The train or bus is more convenient, granted, but there’s no feeling like booting down the 9 on your mechanical horse while the scenery constantly changes. There is one exception; my rule for all long distance travel in Taiwan is “If there’s rain, get the train”.
Hopefully that will get you off to a good start. I’ll leave the rest up to you. There are numerous hiking options, from easy to advanced, so what you choose depends on your desire and skill level. If you just want to experience the beauty of the gorge and not hike, you can head to Chishingtan Beach (七星潭風) for a cocktail of imposing mountains and sea views. A little further down the road is Hualien.
Enjoy Taiwan’s treasure!