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Taroko National Park in Eastern Taiwan is famous for its rugged landscapes and canyons. Particularly impressive is Taroko Gorge, a steep canyon that allows you in a single afternoon to travel from rugged coastal cliffs through a maze of forested canyons. In about 37 miles the landscape rises from sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan at over 3400 meters. Fittingly, the name, Taroko, in the local aboriginal Truku language means the “magnificent and splendid”. We believe you will agree with their description of this majestic place once you have the chance to see it.

Although a few visitors to Taiwan will decide to drive here, a typical trip to Taroko Gorge will first start with a train ride. Whether you are coming from Taipei or Kaohsiung, you will most likely board a train to arrive at your destination. Getting from these locations to Hualien, where the gorge is located, is quite easy. Both train rides are roughly 3-4 hours and are scenic and relaxing. Hualien will be your starting point for your trip into Taroko Gorge. If you have been researching Taiwan there is no way to miss how popular this destination is. And if you have visited here at the wrong time, you quickly become painfully aware of how popular this place can be. Being stuck in an endless caravan of tour buses trying to enter the gorge can be frustrating and ruin your plans to see this gorgeous area.

Just a few adjustments to your schedule will make a world of difference in your experience at Taroko Gorge. If you do not have an international drivers license or do not want to drive yourself, I highly recommend hiring a guide/driver for the day. You can use the public buses in the park but they are neither convenient or timely. To get the best of your day here you should plan for a very early start.  Like they say the early bird gets the worm, or in this instance, the early bird avoids the traffic. Each time we have visited the gorge we make sure we enter early and it has always proved to be the best decision of the day. The last time we visited the park,  we were leaving about 4:00 pm and there was a continual back up of traffic. Some people had been sitting there for hours on end trying to get in. But, don’t let the idea of traffic scare you away, Taroko Gorge is a “must see” destination.

If you plan your day right you will never know that there is such a traffic problem here. First, plan on arriving in Hualien the day before you want to visit the park. Then check all calendars, especially Chinese ones, for dates of upcoming holidays. Avoid coming to Taroko on a holiday ( if you know what’s good for you )and plan a weekday visit. If possible try not a visit over the weekend. Then enter early and, as a wise guide showed us, head to the back of the park and work your way to the entrance. This way if hoards of travelers do happen to show up, your day is almost over and you are close to the entrance for an easy exit out of the park.

Two exceptions to this are, you may want to hike Shakadang trail early before you head to the back of the park. This is the easiest and most popular trail and it will be busy later in the day. If you want to visit the visitors center do it early but, remember they are closed on Mondays. We have used this method each time we visit and have never gotten caught up in traffic and the hikes we have done while in the park have been free of masses of people. One side note is to check this link when planning a trip to see which trails have been possibly closed, http://old.taroko.gov.tw/English/?mm=11&sm=0&page=1#up. This is the message board for the national park and will alert you of any trail closures.

Stay an extra night and apply for permits in advance to hike Zhuilu Trail. This is an all-day hike and will take you to dizzying heights. If you don’t have a fear of heights this is one of the top trails in Taiwan to hike. With trails carved directly into the side of the mountain, 700 meters above the canyon floor this historic trail gives you views of the Taroko Gorge as no other. Highlights of the park also include Shakadang and LuShui trails. Bell Tower, Swallow Grotto, and Baiyang Waterfall. Check the national park site for a complete list. If you opt for a guide he will provide you with the best routes and advise you on which trails are open and meet your needs.

Wear comfortable shoes that are good for hiking. Layer your clothes depending on the season and bring an umbrella or rain poncho for the occasional showers. Make your visit to Taiwan complete with a visit to Taroko Gorge but plan according to the local conditions and circumstances. By keeping these suggestions and tips in mind and you will be sure to perfectly time your  perfect day in the Taroko Gorge National Park.

Where Is Taiwan

‘Where is Taiwan’ what a great question! It’s one we are frequently asked. It usually preceded with a barrage of questions like, “Where are you at in Thailand and do you like Thai food”?  This always brings up a little chuckle inside me. After living in Taiwan for almost 2 years now, these reoccurring questions about Taiwan keep popping up. So, where in the world is Taiwan and is it the same as Thailand? And what is Taiwanese? A language, a people or maybe a food? In this post, I would love to help clear up some of the mysteries of this little-known island.

For those of us that come from the other side of the globe, these two places seem like one and the same. I must admit I actually had the same questions about Taiwan before I came here. Taiwan being assimilated into Thailand, in the minds of many, adds to the confusion about where Taiwan is. Taiwan has been and still is an under the radar travel destination, although the word is finally getting out.  But, there is still quite a bit of mystery/confusion about, Taiwan.  So just for any folks out there thinking about making a visit here, I would like to clear up a few misconceptions about this wonderful travel destination.

I am including a map so it will be easy to see Taiwan is not part of mainland Asia. In fact, it is an island located just off of the east coast of China. And Thailand located in South East Asia is nestled between Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. So other than having the first part of their names sound similar these two countries have nothing in common and they are not related to one another in any way. The food, language, and culture are completely different. Another little-known fact, Taiwan is a well-developed nation, with great infrastructure. Thailand, on the other hand, is still a developing nation.

Taiwan is an ideal location for your first trip to Asia. Western travelers experience very little culture shock and adjust quickly here.  Taiwan is a very cultured and educated nation. Having all the conveniences a modern nation would have including Ikea and Costco. Excellent internet, a bullet train, complex subway system, public buses, and great roads make getting around Taiwan a joy. On our first visit here we traveled extensively and were so surprised to see that Taiwan is a gorgeous island not just some industrial wasteland.

What Is Taiwanese?

So now that you are clear about where Taiwan is, (and it’s non-relationship to Thailand) the other particularly interesting question is “What is Taiwanese”? This question is not one that can be easily answered. For the long answer check Wikipedia. For a simple explanation the original Taiwanese would be the aboriginal population that makes up a mere 2.3 % of the population. The predominant group here are Han Chinese from mainland China. Taiwan has a complicated history being dominated by the Dutch, Japanese, and a few others. These varying peoples some of whom have intermarried with the local aboriginals make up the Taiwanese people we know now.

Rather than being a completely different race of peoples, the term Taiwanese is a description. It is used to differentiate Taiwanese people from the from mainland Chinese and help them to hold their national identity.  The term Taiwanese now applies to any Taiwan national as well as the language they speak. Hokkien Taiwanese or “Taiwanese” is spoken by 70% of the population even though Mandarin Chinese is the national language.  The Taiwanese language is Min Chinese based and is from the Fujian area of mainland China. It is quite different from the Mandarin Chinese that is spoken by the mainland Chinese population. To my chagrin, Taiwan still uses the traditional characters of the Chinese language, which Mainland China had simplified about 70 years ago.

Learn Mandarin Chinese or Live in Taiwan

Even though Taiwanese is spoken throughout the island, Taiwan is a great place to come and study Mandarin Chinese. Most Taiwanese speak Mandarin clearly and there are many colleges that offer generous scholarships to foreigners looking to learn Mandarin Chinese. My husband and I have been in Taiwan for almost 2 years now and after learning many years on our own, we are now quite fluent in conversational Chinese. I would highly recommend Taiwan to those interested in learning Mandarin or wanting to improve their spoken Mandarin. Would you like to earn money while you learn? Well paying English teaching jobs are abundant and the low cost of living expenses make Taiwan a perfect place to become an expat even if just for a while.

The Taiwanese people stand apart as being some of the friendliest, and kind people you would ever want to meet. Many that visit this beautiful island are amazed at how polite and helpful the local Taiwanese are to foreigners. We have come to love Taiwan and the unique people who call themselves Taiwanese. With mountains reaching over 3000m high, miles of beaches, and a rolling surf we invite you to come and see for yourself why Taiwan is an up and coming travel destination. Let us help you plan your trip, contact us for travel itineraries and suggested locations to visit. Interested in learning Mandarin Chinese or living here drop me a line. I can guarantee you will love Taiwan and the Taiwanese people as much as we do!

A cultural awareness is hitting Taiwan, much like the recent trend in other large countries, to acknowledge the indigenous peoples. The aboriginal population have long called this island home but they only make up a mere 2.3% of the inhabitants. There are 16 recognised groups and presently there is an island wide revival of their customs, traditions, weaving and singing.

A visit to Taiwan would not be complete without a visit to some of these cultural parks and museums that are popping up around the island. The largest of these is located an easy hour drive outside of Kaohsiung city.  The Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park includes 82.65 hectares of land and is located in a natural parklike setting.

Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park features a grand 360 degree multimedia room, a lifestyle exhibition, a wax figure museum and a room displaying aboriginal handicrafts.

The cultural heritage of nine main aboriginal tribes are displayed.  Walking through the displays and exhibitions allows you to learn about these indigenous people’s history and culture.

Included within this large park are walking paths and natural wooded areas, complete with indigenous housing and communal structures. These have been built in each tribes traditional way with materials they would have used in the past. Some of my favourite included a hut built completely out of tree bark and another built from stacked stones and tree branches. There are quite a few structures to see. You can take your time and stroll into and around these structures. See and feel what it may have been like to live at a time before modern conveniences arrived.

Twice a day (10:30 am and 2:30 pm ) at a beautiful and spacious theatre you can see aboriginal dancing and singing. The gorgeous costumes are full replicas of their tribes traditional clothing. This show completely mesmerised us, it was professionally choreographed and so much fun to watch. The music was a delightful mixture of singing and chants. This was a highlight of our visit to the park and I would suggest you adjust your schedule so you make sure to catch it.

There is one restaurant and lots of small shops selling local specialty handicrafts onsite. I have found that many of the indigenous handicrafts are only available at these types of areas. If you see something you really like you may want to buy it as you may not see it again. My favourite souvenirs have been found at the indigenous areas. Nice benches and public seating areas are scattered around. So we opted to pack a picnic lunch and ate outside enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

There is an additional attraction nearby, a super long suspension bridge you can cross. That leads you to an area where locals are selling boar sausages and a mixture of local fruits and treats.

We did this before the park but in retrospect I would have done it after as it’s a one way journey. And it lets you out quite a ways down the road from the park. You will have to wait a while for a little bus to pick you up and bring you back around to the park again. The park hours are 8:30 am until 5:00 pm and it is open 6 days a week. Keep in mind the park is not open on Mondays.

You can do this by public bus but the buses only run a few times a day and you must first get to Pingtung. Check current bus schedules before you go. Uber or local taxis can also take you from Kaohsiung. Or check out our Kaohsiung Hike trip http://discovertaiwanadventures.com/tour/guided-day-hike/ to add this to a hike to some nearby waterfalls. We were able to complete the park and check out a nice waterfall nearby all in a one day time frame.

Do you like monkeys? How about hiking? If you happen to be in Kaohsiung then you are in luck! Known to foreigners and locals alike Monkey mountain is a great place to get a workout in ( your stair master would be proud of you ) or to get out and have some fresh air. This place is called Caishan Natural Park on trip advisor or Shoushan by locals but it’s all the same place. There are loads of paths that weave around these mountains but if you don’t want to get lost you may want to opt for the stairs. This is the most direct route up to the top where there is a large viewing platform and a hangout for the monkeys. You will be treated to a refreshing cup of barley tea by kind hearted locals. They make trek this journey every morning just to make tea for the visitors who wander up. How’s that for hospitality! And once you make the hike up you can see what a labor of love this.  It requires toting about 50 lbs of water on their backs, up what seems to be a never ending staircase of stairs.

This hike will take you to one of the highest vantage points in Kaohsiung and give you a great view of the city. You can see the 85 SkyTower and and a panoramic view of the entire Kaohsiung area. It’s very popular with the locals and early in the morning this place is buzzing with activity. You will be amazed by the individuals that will pass you up. Don’t be surprised if a 90 year old man outpaces you as you struggle to manage all these stairs. And if you get a chance to see the water bearers jaunting up you will be as shocked as we were, just thinking about their daily ritual made my back hurt. It’s all quite entertaining especially when you throw all the antics of the monkeys in as well.

The monkeys here are Formosan Rock monkeys found only in Taiwan. There are lots of monkeys and they are harmless but just a friendly reminder if you carry food or plastic bags that look like food you could be accosted. It’s better not to carry anything except a bottle of water. You can run across the monkeys all along the paths and they are quite fun to watch. Babies that chase each other around, older ones grooming each other or as you get up to the platform many will be lounging around on the trees. It’s a great place to get a serious workout in and feel as if you just entered a Nat Geo show.

There are also other wildlife that call this place home. We had the are opportunity to see a Formosan barking deer, which is a tiny dog sized deer. Birds and butterflies flit in and out and around the trees. There are some cool caves that some locals have been exploring, for the more adventurous. We ran into an older man that wanted to give us a tour of the cave he had found. It was a fun experience and the cave was quite a bit bigger than I had imagined it would be. He also wanted to show us a shortcut to the top which ended up being a long cut in the end but it took us along some paths we had never seen and gave us some spectacular views that were not available from the stairs.  The locals are friendly and helpful and if you get lost don’t worry someone will always help you along or point you in the right direction.

We like to hike up from the middle trail which is near Wan     Temple. This particular trailhead is located near a 7-11 on Lane 51, Gushan 3rd Road. Lane 51 runs right next to the 7-11. Follow it all the way around, as it turns into Alley 47, until you see the 4 monkey statues. The stairs leading to the trail are about 50 meters behind the statues. Just beside the Chinese Buddha Culture Center, 中華會館, GPS coordinate: 22.655596, 120.272640. There are other tail heads available but this seems to be the direct best route up. Best way is to check bus routes from where you are staying or jump in a cab and give them a look at the map to get you there. And when you come down from your hike make sure you stop along the stairs and get a refreshing cup of Aiju to drink. This is a cubed jellied fig with lemon. It tastes way better than my description sounds. Similar to lemonade. A fun way to spend your morning or your afternoon Monkey mountain does not disappoint!

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