Many travellers of the Asia continent have sampled the delights of Thailand. More and more are discovering the wonders of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. China is also becoming a popular destination for both young and old adventurers. But one place in South East Asia that seems to have avoided the “march of the backpackers” is the island of Taiwan, located just off the East coast of China.
There are several reasons for this lack of visitors, the main one being the fact that Taiwan is an island and is, therefore, not as accessible as the aforementioned countries. By not visiting, people are missing out on a place of great contrasts and fantastic scenery, as I discovered on a week long tour around the island.
Having been a resident of Taiwan for nearly a year, I made the decision it was about time I actually saw what the country had to offer in terms of natural beauty. The weeklong holiday during Chinese New Year provided the opportunity to get in a car (without doubt the most effective way of travelling around the island due to the inefficient public transport system on the East coast) and venture off on a journey of discovery.
This particular road trip began in my hometown of Hsinchu, a small city in the north west of the country, famous for its wind and Science Park. The initial part of the journey took myself and my 3 travelling companions over to Hualien, the largest city on the East coast. On arrival in Hualian we experienced what is a relatively a common event in Taiwan; an earthquake. This, fortunately, was only a minor one. I and two of my fellow travellers had experienced several during our time in Taiwan and were not really phased. Our Canadian friend, on the other hand, had only been in the country a few weeks and was rather shaken up by the whole event (we were, after all, in our 5th floor hotel room when the quake occurred!). It took him a while to regain his composure.
After surviving both the quake and a night celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Horse on the streets of Hualien with the local people, we headed into the famous Taroko Gorge the following day. The gorge is located about 10km north of the city and is a truly wondrous place. The white water river is surrounded by spectacular marble stone cliffs. One can stop off at different points throughout the gorge and go and discover beautiful trials. Breathtaking stuff!!
A further night was spent in Hualien, enjoying the numerous KTV bars (a KTV is a karaoke pub) dotted along the high street. The next morning we motored down the East coast road, towards the town of Taitung. Along the way we stopped for numerous picture opportunities of the tremendous Taiwanese countryside and the mighty Pacific Ocean. Taitung itself proved a pretty non-descript place, which acted simply as a gateway to our next destination, which was Green Island.
Leaving the car on the mainland, we took the 45-minute ferry ride over to one of Taiwan’s most popular holiday destinations. On arrival, accommodation was found (at a very reasonable price), scooters hired and a ride around the island undertaken. One can ride around the island at a leisurely pace in a few hours.
The island reminded me of my time spent up in Scotland during my youth, with it rugged, rolling coastline and various animals grazing in the lush, green fields. One thing you will not find in Scotland are outdoor hot springs. At the southern tip of the island, there is a collection of 5 bathing pools, where one can wallow in the warm waters while looking out towards the ocean and sipping Taiwan piju (beer). A fantastic place to relax and unwind.
After two days of riding scooters and wallowing in warm waters, we took the ferry back to the mainland and then got back on the open road. We drove through the middle of the island on our way back to the West coast, enjoying even more majestic, mountainous views.
It had been a weeklong road trip to remember. Sublime scenery, fantastically friendly people and fabulous food. Taiwan may never rival the other South East Asian “hot spots” but if one wants to try something a bit different and get away from the backpacker or tourist hordes, one could do a lot worse than visit “Ihla Formosa” or “Beautiful Island” (the Portuguese name for Taiwan).