Travelling up to Taroko Gorge from Hualien feels a bit like entering Jurassic Park. Or at least, how I would imagine it from its umpteen sequels. Of course, no blood thirsty beasts reside here. Except perhaps for some snack hunting apes.
Taroko Gorge is a National Park set on Taiwan's east coast. A massive marble gorge full of small trails, tall waterfalls and hidden temples. You could spend days exploring, and hiking, the many marvels around the site. Myself, I spend a full day under the rain visiting the park on my TWD250 dollar bus pass. These are the 3 stops I made along the way.
For a break down of visiting the park, have a look at this brilliant post by ThereSheGoesAgain.
Baiyang trail (my favourite)
Almost at the very back of the park (1½hrs on the bus from Hualien), you will find the Baiyang trail. It passes through eight tunnels through the mountains before you reach a gorgeous double waterfall. The trail itself is not too intriguing on a misty day, but once you pass through the final tunnel there it all is: clear blue water, tall waterfalls, suspension bridges and marbled arches created by the river.
The village before the Baiyang trail, and where the bus will stop, is called Tianxiang. Have you not packed lunch you have the chance to pick some up here at the many food stalls or the 7-eleven store. You will also find the Xiande temple site a few hundred metres further down the road. Definitely worth a photo detour with its grand golden Buddah hovering over the area and the beautiful Tianfeng pagoda.
Yanzikou - Swallow's grotto
Yanzikou or "Swallow Grotto" gets its name from the many birds that used to reside on the edges of the cliffs. These days you won't see too many swallows, as most of them have moved on due to the increased noise. Yanzikou is a popular stop for the tour buses. Perhaps as it is so short (a mere 15 minute walk) that it is suitable for all. Just be prepared to end up right behind a hoard of tourists.
This trail is miles down from Baiyang and so the water does not at all have that same vibrant blue colour, but walking under the limestone archways right next to the edges of the cliffs is a pretty neat experience on its own!
Changchun - eternal spring shine
My last stop for the day is at Changchun. This temple is built right on top of a waterfall, hence the name.
Getting around taroko gorge
The easiest mean of transport by far is to take the Tourist Shuttle Bus (1133A). It departs from the bus station which is the bright orange building right outside of the train station. You buy your ticket (1 day pass TWD250, 2 days TWD400) at one of the booths inside. With your ticket purchase you will get a timetable and a map of all the stops.
The bus stops are: Hualien Station --> Qixinghan --> Xincheng --> Taroko --> Taroko Visitor Centre --> Shakadang Trail --> Bulowan --> Yanzikou --> Lushui --> Tianxiang.
Please note that the bus follows a slightly different route on its return from Tianxiang to Hualien Station.
The bus departs from Hualien Station at these hours (correct as of August 2018):
7am, 8.30am, 9.10am, 10am, 11.10am, 12pm, 1:20pm, 2:10pm, 3:10pm.
how to get to hualien
From Taipei Main Station, follow the TRA signs to take a train to Hualien. The two faster trains (Puyuma and Taroko) takes you to Hualien in about 2hrs for TWD440. Then there are two slower trains (Tze-Chiang Lmt Express and Chu-Kuang Express) that takes about 2.5-4hrs. Tze-Chiang is the same price as the fast trains, whereas the older and slower Chu-Kuang is TWD340.
where to stay in hualien
I stayed at Mini Voyage, a hostel located a few minutes walk from the train station. Super clean and a fresh wooden decor. The dorm beds all had curtains for some extra privacy.
Suggested dinner stop for vegans
It was a right delight escaping the wet Hualien night and to step into Farmer's Kitchen (Yes, it was even warm for a while - until they turned on the AC). I had eggplant m*atballs with spaghetti - so happy to have a proper warming meal after a few days of getting by on 7-eleven ready meals (meals like in bananas and crisps i.e.)