In October, my friends and I traveled to Taiwan on vacation. On the fourth day of our trip, we went to Hualien County 花蓮縣 in eastern Taiwan to explore the Taroko Gorge National Park 太魯閣國家公園. My friend Grace booked the services of a local English-speaking guide (NT$ 6850) via MeetMyGuide to get us around the national park.
From our hostel in Nanshijiao, we rode the MRT to Taipei City Hall. There, we bought combo tickets for the one-hour bus ride to Luodong. At Luodong, we got on the local train (NT$ 73) to Hualien. We were about an hour late, so our guide Ivan contacted us and asked us to hop off the nearest station to the national park (Taroko, if I’m not mistaken). From the train station, it was a ten-minute drive to the entrance to the national park.
Our guide drove us around the park the whole day, entertaining us with stories about Taroko’s hiking trails, the people living there, and the place’s history. Our tour ended at around 6 PM. Ivan was kind enough to drive us to Hualien City, where we had dinner at their night market.
What We Saw in Taroko Gorge National Park
Words cannot describe how beautiful Taroko is. I consider my trip to the Taroko Gorge National Park as one of the best memories in my adult life. Everywhere I looked, the majestic walls of solid marble and lush vegetation greeted me.
Eternal Spring Shrine長春祠
Our first stop was the bridge where we could view the picturesque Eternal Spring Shrine. Constructed in 1957, the shrine was erected to commemorate the hundreds of lives lost during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway 中部橫貫公路, which passes through the national park. This lovely temple sits on top of a waterfall that gushes forth all-year round.
Along the way, we saw aborigines on the road, riding their scooters to wherever they’re going. According to our guide, Taroko got its name from the aboriginal Truku tribe, which comprises 90% of its population. In their language, “Taroko” means “the magnificent and splendid.”
What’s interesting about the Truku tribe is that they have a lot in common with indigenous Filipino groups in the mountainous region of Cordillera, particularly the Kalingas. Like the elderly in the north, the aborigines in Hualien like chewing on betel nut and made traditional (hand-tapped) tattoos for cosmetic purposes. Curiously, they used to be headhunters too. I’d like to learn more about this the next time I visit Taroko.
We went up a narrow, steep trail to get to the bell tower on the peak above the Eternal Spring Shrine, which houses a bronze bell. According to locals, the sound of the ringing bell is meant to comfort the spirits of the men who died building the Central Cross-Island Highway.
Swallow Grotto Trail 燕子口步道
The road follows a winding and dangerous tunnel. Beside the curved road is a narrower tunnel for pedestrians and tourists, where visitors could admire the awe-inspiring marble cliffs and the rushing Liwu River below the valley.
What makes these cliffs interesting is that spring swallows use the hollow caves on its surface as their nesting grounds. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch a sight of these birds on our visit.
Wonders of Engineering
The Central Cross-Island Highway of Taiwan has got to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world. From what I’ve read, its construction in the 1950s proved to be a wondrous feat: for 3 years and 9 months, more than 5,000 KMT soldiers worked to build the road using explosives and hand tools. According to Ivan, the chief engineer of the project also died in an earthquake before the highway was even completed. All in all, more than 200 men died during the construction of the highway.
The Pacific Ocean
We capped the day with a short visit to the eastern side of Hualien. Ivan parked in an unassuming spot on the road and led us to an abandoned road where we could view the Pacific Ocean without having to fight our way into a crowd of tourists.
We passed through an old, dank tunnel before we saw this majestic view of the sea:
If you’re planning to go to Taiwan anytime soon, I strongly suggest that you include Taroko Gorge National Park in your itinerary. Hit up the guys at MeetMyGuide.com to hire an English-speaking guide for your trip. (I’m not affiliated with them; I just enjoyed their service.)
This post is part of a series on my Taiwan trip. I visited Taroko in October 2016; if there are any outdated pieces of information, let me know.