When we think of Taiwan, the thoughts that come to our mind would be the wonderful city of Taipei and Kaohsiung, the beautiful landscapes such as Alishan, Hehuanshan and Hualien, the night markets of Fengjia and Shilin, and old streets of Jiufen and Shifen, just to name some of the few notable places.
It was only when I chanced upon an advert that I came to know of this place called Taitung, located at the southeastern corner of Taiwan. Hence, during a trip to Taiwan for an event, my partner and I decided to give this place a visit. We only had two days to spend there and in this article we will share our experience in the lesser known parts of the country.
The charm of Taitung is that it gives a very laid back, peaceful and quiet vibe. Despite having an area of 3515 square kilometers, the city only has an area of 109 square kilometers, which could easily be explored on bicycles. Due of the small size of the city, do not expect the bustling city life of night markets, shopping and entertainment that Taiwan is famous for. Most of Taitung’s best attraction is located outside of the city. The TRA trains are a convenient way to get to those attractions.
Getting to Taitung
By plane: Take domestic flight from Taipei or Kaohsiung aiport to Taitung airport.
By train: From Taipei, take the TRA train via East Coast line to Taitung. Duration takes about 3.5 -7.5 hours depending on the type of train.
From Kaohsiung: Take the TRA train to Taitung. Duration takes about 2.5 – 3.5 hours depending on the type of train.
link to book train tickets: https://www.railway.gov.tw/tra-tip-web/tip
The Taitung train station is actually quite a distance from the city. You can either choose to take a taxi or a bus to the city area. Upon exiting the station, turn right and walk until you see the taxi or the bus station. Taxi would cost about 200NT and bus 25NT. Although being more expensive, I would recommend taking the taxi as it only takes a 12 minutes drive to the city compared to the 1 hour bus ride and the frequency is equally bad.
We stayed at the Railway Hostel (鐵道村民宿) which provide free bicycles which is a plus point. It is located within a few minutes cycle to the Taitung Night Market or the main bus terminal.
Day 1, Eastern Coastline trip
The first day we decided to explore the coastal area of Taitung. with our main destination being Sanxiantai and Xiaoyeliu.
If you are within the city, it is recommended to board the bus at the main bus terminal as you will have better chances to get seats. The journey from Taitung city to Sanxiantai is a long 2 hour journey. Look for bus 8101A which is the bus that brings you to the east coast. The bus would make several stops at attractions along the east coast before terminating at Sanxiantai. Bus fare is 200NT for a day pass. If you have a season transport pass, the price would be cheaper by 50%. There is a tourist information center beside the bus terminal if you require more information.
There are 5 trips a day where the bus departs from the bus terminal and an additional trip included during weekends. Do check the timing and plan accordingly as the intervals are very far apart. Also do check on the last bus back to Taitung city or else it would be difficult to get a transport back. There are no train services along the east coast, and it would be an expensive taxi ride back depending on your distance from the city.
Location of bus terminal: https://goo.gl/maps/dY2wHJ1nqPKewY4m8
After a 2 hours ride, we arrived at the entrance of Sanxiantai. Due to our previous experience travelling, we were expecting that there would be an entrance fee. But to our delight, its totally free! After passing through dense vegetation, we were greeted with a beautiful scenery of the coastline.
Walking along the pebble beach, we walked towards the unique pedestrian bridge that links the mainland to a small offshore island. The view from the bridge was wonderful as we get a elevated view of the sea and enjoyed the sound of the waves crashing onto the rocks.
Upon reaching the island, we walked along the boardwalk of the island before heading off into the natural rocky trails. We explored the rocky cliff side of the island before slight rain and time constraint forced us to turn back and head back out as we had to catch the last bus.
On the way back to the city, we were seriously contemplating on visiting Xiaoyeliu. We were on the last bus back and alighting would mean that we have to find an alternative transport back.
After some consideration, we decided to go ahead with it. It was pretty late by the time we visited and the sun was already setting, which is actually a perfect time for landscape photography.
Xiaoyeliu is a unique geological landscape resulted from inverted sandstone and mudstone layers. We went off trail and onto the rocky formation towards the sea where we found a nice spot for photography.
By the time we headed back out to the main entrance, it was already dark and there were no public transport. As Xiaoyeliu is not far from the city, we called our hostel to get a taxi to fetch us back.
Donutes Cafe & Tiehua Music Village
After dinner we were looking for a place we could relax and chill. We decided to check out Tiehua Music Village which was just beside the bus terminal. But en-route to the music village, we came across a nice looking two storey cafe called Donutes. We decided to get a drink and enjoy the ambiance of the cafe before heading to the music village. The cafe is open 24hours and with its big glass windows is a great place to hang out with your family and friends.
Location of Donutes: https://goo.gl/maps/QduQ7ZyaHwjvwouu8
After spending time at Donutes we proceeded to the music village. It was a lovely environment with several bars and restaurants within the surroundings. We found ourselves an outdoor seat and shared a mojito while listening to live music.
Day 2, Chishang, Luye Highlands
We set off to the train station for Chishang the next morning. We were lucky to hail a cab as we were running late to catch the train or else we had to wait another hour for the next one.
The journey from Taitung City to Chishang took slightly less than an hour, where the train passes through the scenic countryside. The station at Chishang was beautifully built up with wooden touches. Upon exiting the station, there are many bike rentals shops to choose from. Due to the scorching weather, we chose the sheltered 2 seater 4-wheeled electric bike where we can explore the area without getting ourselves roasted.
Life slows down as we breezed past the beautiful countryside of Chishang, which consist of green rice fields with mountainous backdrop. We eventually reached the most picturesque spot at Mr Brown Ave, famous for its long bike path passing through the rice field. There is a resting spot along the path where you can buy Taiwan’s famous Mr Brown coffee and other food and drinks. The area is famous for its Takeshi Kaneshiro Tree, where the famous celebrity posed for an advertisement for EVA Air. It is recommended to be there early in the day or during off peak periods to avoid the crowds.
We spent time taking self portraits along the path, when it was cleared of bikes. There are also smaller paths that interlinked the main path and it is worth exploring these areas as they are devoid of crowds. There are many places around the countryside where you can stop by and visit if you wish.
After spending 3 hours or so at the countryside, we drove back to the city area of Chishang, where we visited Wutao Chishang Fanbao Museum, a tourist area to buy souvenirs and food. The highlight is there is an old train carriage where you can bring your food in to have a meal inside. https://goo.gl/maps/PHDZWtE24gK4APrx9
Our tummy were complaining to us by then and we found a nice little vegetarian restaurant called Wu Luo Pie Pie, opened by a Taiwanese lady and her french husband. They serve a mixture of western and asian food. https://goo.gl/maps/qJzgFFKC8UanhcG78
After we had our lunch, it was already about 3pm. We were deciding our next location. There wasn’t much time left as sunset is at 530pm. Eventually, we decided to visit Luye Highland, an place famous for its hot air balloon, paragliding activity. When we reach Luye Station, we walked to a 7 eleven to call for a taxi to bring us up to the highland. Its about a 10 to 15mins ride.
When we arrived at the highland, we got to know that the hot air balloon festival had ended a couple of weeks ago. The highland is now an empty field with the only activity available was the grass sliding via a board with wheels. Although the balloon festival was over, it is still a nice place to enjoy nature and the cool mountain air. We found a lookout area to relax and enjoy the view of the highland.
As the sun began to set, we headed back to the train station and traveled back to the city. We got back to our hostel, drop our stuff and took the bike and cycled out to the night market. Taitung Night Market is located right in front of Sheraton Hotel. Although it does not have the size and appeal of the more famous night markets of Taipei or Taichung, it does have its own charm, drawing similarities to Singapore’s own Pasar Malam.
One word to sum up Taitung, is simplicity. We love how Taitung is simple but yet sufficient enough not to feel underwhelmed. It is a perfect place to get away from the big cities of Taiwan, slow life down and relax. There are more places we could have wanted to visit, such as Green Island, hot springs (not a good idea during hot summer), the beautiful Chiaming Lake which require a few days trek to reach. But this would give a good reason to come back and explore Taitung again!