Taroko National Park (Feb 9-11): Mountains, Hiking Trails, and Stairs

I left Liah’s place at 8:50 on Saturday morning so that I could walk to the Linkou station and catch the MRT at 9:05. The metro took about 40 minutes to get to Taipei Main Station, so I had a half hour to spare before catching my train at 10:25. My train ticket was 411TWD ($18.27AUD), and it would take about two hours. Now, I was completely and totally alone for my first time in Taiwan (other than my train rides), so I didn’t have anyone to translate for me anymore. I was told about lunchboxes by both Mike and Yeh so when I saw a bunch of people eating them, I decided to finally give them a try. The person working didn’t know much English but she said “Pork,” and I went for it.

To get a lunchbox and a coffee drink, it cost me 80TWD ($3.78), so I can see why all of the locals were eating them. The lunchbox included rice, a porkchop, and an egg. I mostly just ate the rice and some of the porkchop, but skipped out on the egg. After eating, I went to find my spot on the train (booking ahead gives a reserved seat – otherwise, you might get stuck having to stand the entire time, especially when it was still the Chinese New Year holiday). I got to Xincheng station just after 12:30 and then I had to figure out how to get to my hostel. My hostel was in a convenient location near the Taroko National Park entrance, in the Fushi Village of Sioulin Township. The people at the train station information booth told me to take the 302 bus and get off at Taroko, so I waited at the stop. Another bus came that was going in the same direction (the 1133A), so I got on and was able to tap my Easycard to pay. I actually ended up missing my stop 10 minutes later because the driver yelled something in Mandarin and no one did anything, so he just kept driving. However, the next stop was at the Taroko Information Booth, which was less than a ten minute walk from my hostel. The main street was breathtaking, with enormous mountains surrounding it – it definitely reminded me of walking down the streets of Banff.

I got to the hostel right after 1pm but to my dismay, the hostel was closed from 11am-3pm for cleaning. There was a girl outside named Yana and she was from the States (but teaching in Vietnam), so we talked for a bit. She said that she was going for dinner with some girls that she had met the day before, and said I could meet them at 7pm to join. There were some lockers outside of the hostel so I paid 30THB ($1.33) to store my backpack and then I went to find some food because I was starving. There isn’t a huge selection of places to eat in this village – there’s a 7-Eleven, a few expensive restaurants aimed at tourists, and a few cheap restaurants aimed at locals. I saw a sausage stand on the street when I was walking to the hostel so I stopped there and got a Taiwanese sausage wrapped in a rice sausage – I love these things! It cost me 60TWD ($2.67) so it didn’t break the bank either. I sat down for a bit and researched what hikes I could do the following day and then I headed back to the hostel at 3pm so that I could check in. The hostel was called Taroko Liwu Hostel and just like all of the other hostels and hotels, the price was greatly increased for the Chinese New Year holiday. Therefore, my first night was 700TWD ($31.88) and my second night was 450TWD ($20.49) in a 4-bed mixed dorm. I’m so glad that Liah’s family allowed me to stay with them for the duration of the holiday, since the hostels cost just as much as an Australian hostel would! I got my stuff settled in my room and then asked what hike I could do in less than two hours (because the sun sets before 6pm). The hostel owner’s mom suggested a hike and said that I could do a round trip in 40 minutes. I walked to the tourist centre to grab a map and then tried to find some signs leading me in the right direction. I saw a sign leading to Dekalun Trail (which I don’t think the hostel owner’s mom was suggesting), but I saw that it was 1.3km one way. The hike started off really nice, with trails just going back and forth up the mountain (which I prefer rather than going straight up). However, all of a sudden, it just changed into stairs. And continued. And continued. Taroko is supposed to be known for being cold, but I had to take off all of my layers, and I still couldn’t stop sweating. I swear I did about 2000 stairs (the trail elevated by 300 metres). I ran into a French guy who was coming back down and was finishing a longer 5-hour hike, and he suggested that I do the hike that he did tomorrow. He also warned me that I still had about 1000 steps to go in order to get to the top. I also met two guys from Kyrgyzstan (never met anyone from there before!) who were going to school in Taiwan and were on holiday. We’d stop and chat for awhile every time there was a rest area on the way up.

The good AND bad thing about the hikes there was that every 100 metres was marked, and I noticed that the 100 metre signs felt like they were getting further and further apart. I must admit that the constant signs with warnings of venomous snakes didn’t really put me at ease either. I finally reached a signed that said I had 200 metres left but then I saw the two guys from Kyrgyzstan heading back down. They said that there was nothing at the top, not even a nice view to take a picture. I felt bad coming all this way and having nothing to look at, so I just decided to head back down. Who knows, maybe they were lying and it was the most spectacular view and I missed it! We headed back down together and they further convinced me that going to the ‘stan’ countries should be my next trip. I was hurting by the time we got back down, and my butt muscles were feeling it for the next few days, plus I think I started getting shin splints. I keep vowing never to do more stairs and then what do I do? More stairs! Anyway, I headed back to the hostel after stopping at 7-Eleven to get a refreshing drink and then I relaxed until dinner. At 7pm, Yana and I met up with two other girls from the States named Caroline and Anna. They work for Peace Corps and had been living in China for the past 1.5 years (their contracts are for two years). They both seemed fluent in Mandarin, and I was amazed when we were in the restaurant and they were easily able to talk to the waitress and read the menu. It made me even more curious about how easy it was to learn Mandarin – I feel guilty for not knowing it because it’s been around me since I was 13 when my sister moved over from China. I might have to buy some children’s activity books while I’m here – I’m sure it would be entertaining for the locals to watch me attempt these books while sitting on the train. Anyway, we went to a restaurant called Truku 的屋頂, which is the name of the Indigenous Tribe in the area so the restaurant was obviously of Indigenous background. I decided to get a salted pork dish, which was served beautifully on a huge leaf as a placemat. The pork came with lots of vegetables, a soup, and some bamboo rice and it cost me 180TWD ($8.00).

It was really good food, and the servers were so friendly! After dinner, we all just got ready for bed because we were completely worn out.

On Sunday morning, I got up and got ready for the day. The hostel owner told me to go for breakfast at one of the restaurants next to the 7-Eleven so I headed over (I’m not actually sure what the name of it was). They luckily had an English menu, so I got some fried noodles along with one of the best milk teas I’ve had. My whole meal only cost me 35TWD ($1.56)! I picked up some water at 7-Eleven and then set off on the hike that was suggested to me by not only the French guy, but also by Caroline and Anna. The trail was called Shakadang Trail and was 4.5km one way (2.5 hours). I was already hurting from the day before so I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to do another hike, but I only had one full day left so I wanted to take advantage of it. In order to get to the trailhead, I had to walk about 15 minutes from the Tourist Information Centre through a car tunnel, which led to the Xiaozhuilu trailhead. The Xiaozhuilu trail was only 600 metres long and had the only stairs that I encountered on my whole walk (thank goodness!).

At the end of the trail, there was a huge bridge which started the Shakadang Trail. As these were the only toilets that I might see for the next possibly 5 hours, I decided to use them. Liah actually pointed out to me that in most cases where there are only squat toilets, there will almost always be a handicapped toilet that has an actual toilet. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before! So yes, now I’m the a****** that uses the handicap toilet, but I just feel so much cleaner – I haven’t fully mastered the squatting technique yet!

The walk was really nice, except for all of the slower people who were literally hiking while on their phones, so they were walking at a snail’s pace. And of these people wouldn’t leave any space for other people to pass because many times, they’d walk two-by-two. About halfway through the trek, there were a bunch of stalls set up by Indigenous groups, who were selling sausage, roasted mochi, and jewellery.

This was also the last place where there was phone service, so the amount of people who continued the rest of the hike greatly diminished (thank goodness!). The water was so blue and it was surrounded by beautifully polished rocks and green mountains – it was such a nice place to be!

The end of the hike was pretty anticlimactic, as it was just a spot where there used to be some houses that were built by the tribes but were no longer there. Therefore, it was just forest. I made it to the end of the trail in 1 hour, so the 2.5 hour suggestion must have been made by someone who was walking while on their phone. I headed back and sat by the river for awhile and then decided to get some food from one of the stalls. I love mochi (which is kind of like a rice cake made with really sticky glutinous rice) but I’ve never had roasted mochi before, so I decided to try it. The lady put it on the grill and then cut it up and added sesame seeds on top, and it only cost 40TWD ($1.78).

It was pretty good – it had a crunchy outside with a soft, sticky inside, and the sesame seeds added a sweetness to it. I went back to the hostel to relax and to do my laundry. The hostel owner said that I was the only person left in the hostel and that he was going to the main city (Hualien, which is about a 40-minute drive away) for dinner and asked if I wanted to go. I said yes and we agreed to leave at 6:30. I finished my laundry and then got ready to go. The hostel owner (Ken) has two kids (a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son), but he told his wife to take them to her family in Taipei for the holiday because he was really busy with the hostel that week. However, we still ended up listening to Disney songs on the drive, which I was okay with. When we got to Hualien, he dropped me off at the night market and we agreed to meet up again an hour later. As much as I love night markets, it’s a lot more difficult to know what everything is when VERY FEW places are written in English. I took the advice of Yeh, who told me that Taiwanese people are very curious and will stand in line for anywhere that’s good. Some people will even go stand in a line and they won’t even know what they’re in line for! The first place that I noticed was really busy was a dumpling place, which was selling my favourite type of dumplings: soup dumplings (or Xiaolongbao, which I was introduced to at their most popular restaurant Din Tai Fung, which is all over the world now). I got a set of of 8 dumplings for 60TWD ($2.67) and they were delicious!

Then, all I wanted was some bubble tea. I searched around until I finally found a stand that had English and recognised a big sign that said taro milk tea – my favourite flavour! Taro is a purple potato and I absolutely love anything taro-flavoured (although some of my Taiwanese friends hate it).

My taro bubble tea was only 35TWD ($1.56) and it hit the spot. I walked around the night market for the rest of the hour and then went back to the meeting spot to find Ken. I was so exhausted by that time, I was ready to just go straight to bed as soon as we got back to the hostel. My train to Taitung wasn’t until 12:30pm the next day from Hualien, so I didn’t have to catch the bus to the Hualien station until about 10:30, which meant I could sleep in for a little bit.

I absolutely loved my time in Taroko National Park! I wanted to stay longer and try more hikes, but I don’t think my body would have let me. I think I started getting whatever Liah had when she was feeling sick, because I wasn’t feeling 100% during my time there. However, I still enjoyed feeling so small in such a massive area – I definitely want to go back again sometime! Love always

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