Top 10 alternative places to visit on Taiwan's east coast

Top 10 alternative places to visit in Taitung and Hualien

Walami Trail. (Image by Hualien Tourist Service Network)

Walami Trail. (Image by Hualien Tourist Service Network)

Kaohsiung (Taiwan News) -- The East Coast of Taiwan really is the jewel of the island. While visitors to the west coast would be justified to question whether the name of "Formosa" (Beautiful Island) is really justified, once they make it to the east, the answer quickly becomes apparent.

The region is largely (but not entirely) unspoiled by the industrialization and pollution of the west and boasts a mix of spectacular scenery, fascinating cultural history, and a warm and friendly local population. But its relative geographic isolation is both a blessing and a curse. Sadly, for many visitors from overseas, it often means the area is either overlooked completely or only enjoyed from an organized tour to those places which make it into the tour guides.

Often that tends to mean Taroko Gorge, with perhaps one night spent in Hualien. Those that do make it to Taitung will often drive direct and not stop to enjoy the scenery on the way. I have written before about some of the spots that Taroko has to offer beyond the usual tourist fare. In this article I am going to consider the east coast between Hualien and Taitung and pick out my Top 10 Alternative places to visit.

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  1. Xinse Rice Terraces (新社梯田)

(Photo by David Spencer)

As you drive down the East Coast coastal road between Baqi (芭崎) and Shitiping (石梯坪), it is quite easy to miss the Xinse Rice Terraces (新社梯田). But keep an eye out for the small sign and accompanying straw figures as it marks a spectacular little spot. This small collection of rice paddies occupies a spectacular spot with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and is perhaps the most spectacular rice paddy in Taiwan.

The terraces drop down from the road towards the coast and visitors are free to wander between the paddies. In summer, the rice turns a stunning golden color providing a spectacular sight. In winter, the paddies are used to grow sunflowers which provides a very different, but no less impressive spectacle. As a way of breaking the journey between Hualien and Taitung, the Xinse Rice Terraces offer a perfect stopping point and are even a great place to enjoy a picnic.

  1. Chenggong Fishing Harbour (成功漁港)

(Wikimedia Commons Image)

The fishing industry has been the life-blood of the East Coast for generations and there is no better place to experience this than the Chenggong Fishing Harbor. Most people here still make their living from the sea and as well as seeing the fishing boats coming in and out, the harbor is home to a big fish market. Here you can watch the skilled fisherman scaling and boning the fish they have caught. You can also buy fresh fish which small restaurants in the market will then cook for you to enjoy.

Once you have eaten some fish, why not go see some in the local aquarium? The Chenggong Aquarium is dedicated to clownfish (think Finding Nemo) and there are hundreds to see. If kids are not happy enough with that, there is also a great touch pool there too. It is also possible to take a boat trip from Chenggong to try and catch a glimpse of the whales and dolphins that frequent this part of the Pacific.

  1. Baqi Rest Stop (芭崎休息區)

(Photo by David Spencer)

The Baqi viewing point is mentioned in passing in some of the guidebooks, but nonetheless easily missed. It is situated on a tight hairpin bend as Highway 11 winds its way between Hualien and Jiqi (磯崎) and visitors frequently miss it, especially when there is lots of traffic. But it is well worth a stop. It is usually a calm and serene spot and offers a spectacular view looking southwards down the coast over Jiqi Beach(磯崎海灘) (also worth a visit, especially if you like surfing) and the mountains beyond.

It is a great place to break the journey, not least because there is also a neat little shop that offers decent ice cream, cold drinks, the local delicacy bamboo rice too. They also offer some lovely local aboriginal handicrafts.

  1. Dashibishan Trail (大石鼻山步道)

(Wikimedia Commons Image)

Also located close to Jiqi Beach is the Dashibishan Trail, a pleasant walk up and around the mountain close to the beach. It is an easy trail, suitable for all ages and abilities. There are two car parks from which walkers can start and the route will take them in a loop around this small mountain.

On the way are several gazeboes where you can stop and enjoy the views along the coast and out into the Pacific Ocean. Despite it’s proximity to the number 11 Highway, the walk is peaceful and there is plenty of flora and fauna to enjoy in addition to the sea air and lovely views.

  1. Chiaming Lake (嘉明湖)

(Wikimedia Commons image)

To describe Chiaming Lake as the second highest lake in Taiwan does not really do justice to this spectacular spot. Chiaming lake is a relatively small, deep blue, oval-shaped lake located off the Southern Cross-Island Highway on the edge of Yushan National Park (玉山國家公園).

It sits in a stunning, isolated spot surrounded by forest plantations and offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Its name means "Mirror of the Moon" but it is more commonly referred to as the "Angels Teardrop." It fits both names well and is the type of tranquil spot that is increasingly hard to find in Taiwan these days.

  1. Hualien Lintienshan Forestry Area (林田山文物展示館)

(Image by Flickr user Chia Chieh Fan)

The Lintienshan Forestry Area is the location of one of the largest logging operations on the eastern coast of Taiwan and was known as "Little Shanghai." But today, logging has long been banned and it has been transformed into a picturesque large park and recreation area.

Visitors can enjoy various hiking trails as well as take in a fascinating little museum into the logging industry in this part of the country. Quite a bit of the original logging machinery has survived and is on display along with the old buildings which now house exhibitions on the industry as well as other cultural artifacts from the area. The trains which used to carry workers around the area have also been restored. There is plenty to explore and it’s a great place to see how Formosa was damaged by mankind, but also how quickly it can bounce back.

  1. Walami Trail (瓦拉米步道)

(Image by Hualien Tourist Service Network)

For inexperienced hikers who still want to enjoy the best of Taiwan’s stunning mountain scenery, the Walami Trail is perhaps the best trail in this part of the country. Starting from the trailhead, visitors will walk across spectacular suspension bridges en route to the picturesque Shanfeng Waterfall (山風瀑布).

With a permit, it is possible to continue your walk on a two-day hike, staying overnight at the solar-powered Walami Cabin (瓦拉米山屋). But this is a long and steep journey and only for those with a bit more experience. This part of the trail takes no more than two hours and is accessible to all ages.

The basic part of the trail takes no more than two hours and is accessible to all ages. If that seems too long, there is another even more accessible waterfall you can enjoy nearby, the Nanan Falls (南安瀑布)

  1. Fengtian (豐田)

(Image by Flickr user - James St. John)

Fengtian is a small village famous for its jade. Between 1962 and 1986, more than half of the world’s Nephrite, known as Fengtian Jade (豐田玉) came from the nearby mines. While the mines are now closed down, it is still possible for visitors to find some jade in the Baibow Stream (白鮑溪), which runs downstream of the mine.

If exploring the mountains and finding your own precious stones isn’t enough, you can then take it back to the village, where in one of the factories, visitors can now (for a small fee) learn how to polish the stone and make your own jade souvenir with it. Fentian offers a great insight into a very Taiwanese trade as well as an enjoyable experience for adults and children alike.

  1. Mataian Wetland(馬太鞍濕地)

(YouTube screen capture of video posted by user Pulat)

The 12-hectare Mataian Wetland is located right in the heart of Amis country. On the various trails around the wetland, visitors can see all manner of different types of wildlife, from fish and shrimps to big, frogs and insects. In the summer months, there is also a spectacular display of lotus flowers across the site.

As well as the wildlife, visitors can learn about the unique way the Amis people caught water creatures using a special layered cage, which catches different-sized creatures on different layers. In the nearby communities, there are also plentiful opportunities to enjoy traditional Amis cuisine too, which even without the wetland is good enough to make a stop.

  1. Cross-mountain roads

(Wikimedia Commons image)

If you are traveling by car, or even by bike if you are feeling energetic, a great way to enjoy the unspoilt mountain scenery in this part of the world is to take one of the roads which connects Highway 9 (the East Coast road) with Highway 11 (The East Rift Valley road). They all provide an opportunity to enjoy the surroundings while getting away from the two busiest roads in the area.

Highway 30 is also known as Yuchang Highway (玉長公路) and is the longest and straightest. It includes a 2.6-km-long tunnel in which travelers can sometimes find themselves moving from one localized weather system to another. Highway 23 runs from Fuli (富里) to Donghe (東河) and is much longer and more winding, but much more spectacular for it.

But my personal favorite is Road 197 which will take you from Highway 9 to the small village of Fugang (富岡). This route is shorter, but quieter and also particularly scenic. But all three are well worth a detour.