Exploring Some of the Lesser Known Attractions of Eastern Taiwan
By Richard Saunders

If you want to get a deeper feel for Taiwan, it really pays to dig a bit deeper into the almost inexhaustible range of sights, activities, and experiences the island has to offer. And where better to explore Taiwan a little more in-depth than its least visited, least well-known part: the east.


Historically, the east coast of Taiwan has always been the remotest part of the main island, cut off from the far more densely populated western plains by the great wall of the Central Mountain and Snow Mountain range. Until not so long ago, the main mode of access to the east coast of the island was by sea. The building of the three cross-island highways during the 1960s and '70s, the Su-Hua Highway, and the east-coast railway line have done much to speed the development of the area, but even today Taiwan's east coast has a laid-back vibe and prominent aboriginal culture that sets it quite apart from the rest of the island, making a visit here a "must" on any trip to Taiwan.

Getting to the east coast is, thankfully, much easier these days than a few decades ago. Take one of the early express trains heading down from Taipei to the city of Hualien and it's possible to see the great Taroko Gorge on a day trip from the capital, although it would be a great shame to rush such a memorable trip. Trains whiz on further south to the city of Taitung, and while those with limited time might consider flying down, if you have a few extra days, driving to Taitung over the Southern Cross-Island Highway from either Kaohsiung or Tainan, or up the coast from Kenting National Park, are wonderful ways to see two enchantingly scenic corners of Taiwan that most visitors (and even many locals) never get to visit.

Yilan County, on Taiwan's northeast coast, has always been the most accessible part of the east, although not so long ago a trip there would still probably have included a journey by boat from Keelung (i.e., right up to the Japanese colonial period, 1895-1945). Nowadays, thanks to the Xueshan Tunnel (the fifth-longest road tunnel in the world at 12.9 kilometers), many sights in Yilan lie within easy day-trip reach of Taipei. Draws such as the luxurious hot-spring resort complexes at Jiaoxi are favorite destinations among city dwellers for weekend jaunts, yet much of the county remains a peaceful backwater with a way of life that's noticeably slower and more traditional than on the west side of the island.

Jiaoxi may have Yilan's best-known hot springs, but several other locations offer an altogether more back-to-nature hot-spring experience. The Fan-Fan Hot Springs bubble to the surface in a scenic and completely undeveloped gorge near the eastern terminus of the Northern Cross-Island Highway, and can be enjoyed as a day trip from Taipei, while the much more remote Nanao Hot Springs, which lies hidden in a gorge cutting deep into the Central Mountain Range, rewards visitors who take the trouble to get there with especially magnificent scenery.
Hot springs are as numerous along the east coast as elsewhere around Taiwan. However, while a few such as Ruisui and Zhiben have been developed into extremely popular resorts, the majority remain blissfully untouched by the hand of man. Taitung County, especially, has some breathtakingly beautiful hot-spring locations; a personal favorite is Lisong Hot Springs, reached by hiking off the Southern Cross-Island Highway. The springs (considered by many to be the most beautiful in Taiwan) aren't too far from the road, but it's a breathlessly steep climb down, which ensures they remain quiet, even on weekends.


Lisong Hot Springs are considered by many to be the most beautiful in Taiwan

Taiwan's hot springs were first developed by the Japanese during their occupation of the island, but long before their arrival, these natural sources of boundless hot water were enjoyed by the island's aboriginal peoples. Members of nine of Taiwan's fourteen indigenous tribes live in the east of the island, and learning about their fascinating cultures is a popular part of any trip to the east coast. The Truku village at Buluowan in Taroko Gorge and the Amis Cultural Village near Hualien are especially popular, although visitors with a little more time (and energy) can enjoy a quieter, less touristy experience by hiking out to aboriginal settlements such as Datong, above Taroko Gorge, and Meiyuan, a little further inland, several hours' walk off the Central Cross-Island Highway. A hike to either village is a great way to combine a visit to a real, untouristy aboriginal settlement with a hike into the exceptionally scenic hinterland of Taroko, an area missed by most visitors to the gorge.

Taiwan's indigenous peoples have lived on the main and offshore islands for thousands of years, testified to by the extraordinary stone pillars of Wuhe near the hot-spring resort of Ruisui in Hualien County. The megaliths stand almost right on the Tropic of Cancer; a large monument nearby, beside Provincial Highway No. 9, the main inland route between the cities of Hualien and Taitung, marks the exact spot at which it passes through. Taiwan is better known for its food, intact traditional culture and, increasingly, its magnificent countryside than for historic monuments, yet in recent times surprisingly rich evidence of the island's occupation during prehistoric times has been uncovered in numerous places on the island, from Taipei to Taitung.

The greatest discovery of all (made in 1980) are the remains of a settlement on the outskirts of Taitung thought to be up to 5,000 years old. The find is regarded as the largest and most intact Neolithic village of its kind in the Pacific Basin. The National Museum of Prehistory, which stands nearby, is the place to catch an introduction to what is known about the people who lived on the island several thousand years ago (along with the peoples of more recent times). While in town be sure to take a look at the beautiful, mysterious Beinan Moon Stones, which stand in a quiet spot not far from the old Taitung (city-center) train station.

The twin megaliths of Wuhe, however, are perhaps the most atmospheric prehistoric relic on the island. Standing in a grassy field, commanding a fine view of the gentle, undulating countryside of this part of Hualien County, this is a thought-provoking and mysterious place well worth a stopover while passing through.

A few kilometers south of Xiuguluan River, a popular place for white-water rafting, the Caves of the Eight Immortals, caverns naturally carved by the elements out of the coastal cliff, are bizarre natural landforms. Several of the cave mouths are visually striking for their strange, pointed shapes; evidence that they were inhabited during prehistoric times has been unearthed, and is presented at the on-site visitor center.

Continue on the coastal highway south of the Caves of the Eight Immortals and follow the many kilometers of scenic and occasionally dramatically rugged coast towards Taitung. Passing close to an extraordinary optical illusion en route, Water Running Up. Lying just a few meters off the main coastal highway and marked by a large engraved rock, the fast flowing water in a ditch beside the road at one point looks for all the world as if it is defying gravity and running swiftly uphill!
Just a few kilometers before reaching Taitung, the only city in southeast Taiwan, a minor road heads inland up the wide, silted estuary of the Beinan River to the extraordinary landscape known as the Liji Badlands, a mini-wilderness of soft, barren earth cut by erosive forces into a maze of ravines, pinnacles, gullies, and sharp-edged ridges. While this peculiar and unique landform can be seen in several places in Tainan and Kaohsiung counties, Liji is the only example on the east coast, and like the better-known Badlands landscapes to the west, is a mecca for keen photographers.

The Liji Badlands guarantee some unique photo opportunities

While Liji Badlands is guaranteed to provide some unique photo opportunities, continue inland a few more kilometers and the road up the valley of the Beinan River connects with Provincial Highway No. 9, the main inland highway between Hualien and Taitung, which runs through one of eastern Taiwan's most pastoral and photogenic landscapes. For all the attractions of the coastal route between eastern Taiwan's two main cities, this enchanting journey is not to be missed, passing through the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, which for Taiwan features a remarkably bucolic landscape for Taiwan. The wide valley bottom is flat but little-populated, and laid out with rice paddies of deep emerald-green that are the home of Taitung County's famous (and delicious!) Chishang rice.

The distant, purplish wall of the Central Mountain Range rises to the west, a reminder of the magnificence of Taiwan's mountainous interior, yet this is an area apart. It's quite unlike anywhere else on the island, but then the same could also be said about the rest of eastern Taiwan. With its bewitching combination of traditional cultures, awesome countryside scenery, relics from a distant past and several bizarre natural oddities, a visit to Taiwan's eastern seaboard is bound to be a richly memorable one.

Yilan: www.e-land.gov.tw
Taroko Gorge: www.taroko.gov.tw
East Coast: www.eastcoast-nsa.gov.tw
East Rift Valley: www.erv-nsa.gov.tw



Lovely Lotus Flower Fields

Little Streets and Small Alleys

Noodles, Buns, and Dumplings

Shin Kong Chao Feng Resort Ranch

Hao Bu Hao Chi?

Taitung by the sea

Sleep, Eat, and Buy Options in Alishan’s North Sector

Mt. Guanyin

A Night at the Market

Alishan North

Green and Sleepy

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Taiwan and Hotpot

Jinyue Indigenous Village

Seven Stars Mountain

DaMorLee Leisure Farm

Quick Trip to Taipei

Up into the High Mountains

Romantic Evenings in Kaohsiung

Railways to Bikeways

Xiang Luo Lei Restaurant

Land Ho! Penghu – Beckoning You

The Guanshan Town Circle Bicycle Path

The Heart of Hualien

Dageeli Tribe Restaurant

Coastal Hualien

Ximending (West Gate District)

Bunun Hunters Restaurant

Hello Hualien!

The Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area

Tianwei Highway Garden

Prowlin’ in Maolin

Strawberry Town

The Maolin National Scenic Area

Stairways to the Sky

Pedaling Along

Daluan Restaurant

Around the Northern Tip

Hats and Mats

Orange Country

Travel Taiwan, Film Taiwan!

A Place to Relax

Through the Grapevine

The Tatami of Dongshi


Lion’s Head Mountain and Beipu

Exploring the Valley of the Glowing Sky

Fruit of the Angels

Its Cake Culture

The Amazing Bamboo

Yilan’s Kumquats

Lovely Nanzhuang

The Sea of Flowers in Xinshe Festival

Healthful Eating and Delicious Flavors

The Black King Kong of Yuanchang

From Art Brush to Beauty Brush

A Strange Fruit

The Sound of Drums

Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival

The Hot Springs of Beitou

Simakusi (Smangus)


Water Frolics

Overnighting on the Northeast Coast

Giant Buddha, Old Temples, and Glass Art

Mt. Beidawu

The Most Joyous Thing in the World is Music

Taiwan Fun on the Tropic of Cancer

FUN WITH CHINESE - Men in the Fields during Rain

NK 101 Tea @ Style

Taitung Backpack Bus Trip

The Life of Pi

Taipei’s East District Where the Art of Shopping Is Serious Business

Spring Onion Country Yilan's Sanxing Township Offers Ideal Conditions for Cultivating Scallions

Sandy Beaches, Rocky Coastline, Quiet Country A Whirlwind Tour Round Hengchun Peninsula

What Happened at Wushe

Confucius Day

Keeping It in the Family: I Wan Jan Puppet Theater

Taiwan Has a Unique Culture

Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit and the ROC's 100 Years

All the Flowers You Can Dream Of

Music from the Marshland

Pristine Scenes

Fierce Faces

Following the Tide

A Wonderful World Out There

Off to the Beach and the Rocks

Taiwan’s Easy Rider Goes Into the Wild


Taipei Int'l Flora Expo




Taiwan's Ultra Man Going Beyond Extreme

Rice by Any Other Name

Taiwan is Beautiful!


Slate Houses and Mud Rivers

From Fir Formosa

Touring Kaohsiung by KMART


Taoyuan HSR Station

Taking Taiwan's Slow Train

Bus Trip to Central Taiwan

Establishing a Beautiful Taiwan

High Mountain Ecology

Exploring High Mountain HighsTaiwan at Her Peaks

Cultural Tourism in Taiwan:What's in It for You?

Getting to Know Taiwan's Indigenous Cultures

Leaving Stress Behind

Taiwan! "Feel Good" Country

Exploring Taiwan's Rural Side

Aboriginal Tribes & Festivals

The Famous Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Night Markets in Taiwan

Great Arts, Culinary Exhibitions and Events in Taiwan's National Palace Museum and Other Places

Mountains in Taiwan

Water Fun in Taiwan

Taiwanese Arts, Arts Festivals and Interesting Artifacts

"Taiwan's Ghost Festival and Other Religious Events"

Dragon Boat Festival

City: The Tallest Building Taipei 101 & Kaohsiung's Love River

National Scenic Area (IV)-Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area, Penghu National Scenic Area, Matsu National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (III)-East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, East Coast National Scenic Area, Maolin National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (II)-Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area, Alishan National Scenic Area, Southwest Coast National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (I)-North Coast & Guanyinshan National Scenic Area, Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area

Offshore Islands- Penghu、Kinmen National Park、Matzu、Green Island(Lyudao)、Orchid Island(Lanyu)

Eastern Taiwan- Taroko National Park、East Rift Valley、Rueisuei & Hongye、Jhihben

Southern Taiwan- Alishan、Tainan、Kaohsiung、Dapeng Bay & Little Liouciou、Kenting National Park

Central Taiwan- Miaoli、Taichung、Changhua、Nantou、Yushan National Park

Northern Taiwan -Taipei City、Yangmingshan & Beitou、Danshuei、Wulai、Jioufen & Jinguashih、Yilan、Taoyuan & Hsinchu