Taitung, the spirit of Taiwan

Rolling green mountains, tropical beaches, aboriginal villages, Taitung is what I pictured when I bought a one way ticket to Taiwan three years ago. It is the east coast that gives much of Taiwan its sense of spirit, a clear sense of identity that seems to permeate through the culture here much more than anywhere else on the island. In contrast to last week in Taipei, it feels like another country entirely.

We had two full days to spend and an entire coast to explore. It is a bit difficult to do without transportation, the city buses run infrequently and points of interest are far apart. So, from our hotel near the train station, we rented bicycles for the day and took them around the city bike trail.

The 21k trail goes through and around Taitung city. In the 90-plus degree (32 C) heat we made it as far as Taitung Forest Park. A series of bicycle only paths in a small forested area just outside the city center. We enjoyed the slow relaxed traffic, the beautiful view of the mountains and the fresh roadside fruit. The total trip took us a few hours but the blazing sun drained us for the rest of the day. Later we made our way into the city center where we visited Tiehua Culture Center and the Railway Art Park.

In order to make the most of our time, and get a proper coastal adventure we rented a car for a day. Somehow, with my elementary level of Chinese I graduated from renting us bikes one day and a car the next. It was a lot of nodding and “ok’s” and pretty much blindly signing a contract after the poor hotel attendant pulled out a thick packet of paper and I just laughed at him and said “I can’t read” to which he said “no problem, I will just tell you the important stuff” out of the “important stuff” the only thing I was absolutely sure about was what type of gas to put in the car.

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So we set out on highway 11, which, luckily, was pretty desolate despite it being a beautiful summer Sunday. Our first stop was Xiaoyeliu, a geological site kin to Yeliou on the northern coast. Its main feature is a dramatically shaped coastline formed by lava rocks.

From there we headed north to Dulan. Where we caught a glimpse of the small art community and had a refreshing break on the beach.

Each time I have been to the east coast, one way or another, I make it to the famous Baozi shop in Donghe. Not the one on the main Highway 11 but the one tucked away across from the police station in the small town. The best baozi I’ve ever had has been from this small shop, I knew I couldn’t leave the island without one “last time”.

We stopped at Donghe bridge to enjoy the view and have our baozi lunch. From there we followed highway 23 to Taiyun glen, and to see the “wild” monkeys. I say “wild” because every time I have seen them someone has given them human food to attract them for tourist photos, irregardless of the huge multi-lingual sign that pleads visitors not to feed the animals.

Our last stop of the day was the Ami folk center where we caught the tail end of a festival. The last performers of the day were on stage and there were still a few groups of young kids in their aboriginal costumes, and an archery contest wrapping up. If only we started our day here it would have been the perfect one day introduction to the east coast, the spirit of Taiwan.

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