Half the Way Counterclockwise
Heading for Kenting (broadly speaking – the Kenting National Park) seems to be a cool decision made by unhappy Taipei young lads, especially endorsed by one of the highest-grossing films in Taiwan, Cape No. 7, more than a dozen years ago. As opposed to the Greater Taipei area, Kenting is the farthest point we can get to at the southernmost end of the island. If you want to travel around Taiwan, you’ll have to find a point to turn to the other side of the island because you couldn’t take to the sea further down south to the Philippines.
On the third day of the award-winning round-the-island tour product 5-Day Best of Taiwan: Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge, Kaohsiung, Taitung, we’ll have a U-turn at Kenting and take on the South Link Highway, traveling anti-clockwise, to cross the tail part of the Central Mountains to the east. So, today we are a bit more than halfway toward completing the grand round-the-island adventure.
Hotel Royal Chihpen
The Taiwanese travel agent Edison Travel Service carefully selects the Hotel Royal Hotel Chihpen as the third night’s accommodation. This local hotel chain has a couple of branch hotels throughout the island and the most popular ones are at famous hot spring resorts, such as Chihpen of Taitung County.
The Chihpen (or sometimes spelled Zhiben in Mandarin romanization method) hot spring has long been listed as one of the best high-quality hot spring resorts since the Japanese era. Its sodium bicarbonate type of hot spring is also known as a “beauty hot spring”, which is believed to have the health benefit of making your skin smoother. That is to say, if you can soak yourself in this type of hot spring as often as possible, you’ll be able to compete in the beauty pageant.
This 5-star hotel is amazingly equipped with a wide range of hot spring facilities. Each hotel room has a deep “pool” for shy guests who don’t want to leave the room. The second floor has an indoor Spa Complex, where hotel guests have to go naked, but, no worries, men and women have separate bathhouses. For those who need some fresh air, there’s an Open-air Spa behind the hotel building and it’s more beautifully decorated with Japanese elements, but without the roof – so, “open-air” as it is called. If you luckily bring swimming costumes with you, you’ll have more than a dozen different types of hot and cold spring pools to kill the time at the Spa Paradise. The onsen culture is beautifully restored here and constant new reports on this highly-acclaimed hotel keep touting avid holidaymakers, domestically and internationally.
The highlight of the stay is the aboriginal dance performance every night at 8:30 p.m. The dance troupe is made up of indigenous people living nearby, mainly from the Puyuma tribe, and the neighboring counterparts. This hotel has a perfect combination of indigenous culture and bubbling hot springs in the mountain valley.
East Coast National Scenic Area
For two reasons, I reckon, this tour bears the name Taitung because Chihpen hot spring resort is the most famous of its type in the county, and the East Coast spans from Hualien County to Taitung County, which is the third biggest county in terms of area on the island and is the county that has the most aboriginal tribes in the meantime.
On top of the freshest air and cleanest water, Taitung County also has the longest coastline, which is parallel to the South Link Highway coast in the south and part of the East Coast National Scenic Area in the north. The most noted attractions along the East Coast, such as Three Immortals Platform (or Sanxiantai in Chinese) and Little Yeliu, are both in the area of Taitung County. The East Coast National Scenic Area stretches from Hualien City to the north and Taitung City to the south for nearly 200 kilometers and is just to the right of the youngest Coastal Mountain Range along the Pacific Ocean coast. This is one of the most remote areas in Taiwan with a geologically diverse landscape.
Fugang Geopark, or Little Yeliu
The first stop of the fourth day’s morning will generally give you pleasant sunshine given that Taitung County is still well below the Tropic of Cancer. This scenic spot has been long known as Xiaoyeliu, or Little Yeliu, for decades because of its similarity with the world-famous Yehliu Geopark (the official romanization of the place name has an extra “h” after “e”) near Taipei City.
The rocks area has dozens of layers of sandstone and shale, which naturally form the indented terrain due to differential erosion. In 2020, the national scenic area authorities decided to rectify the name to Fugang Geopark because they don’t want to be a “little” attraction and don’t like to promote Taipei’s tourism. The geopark has as many peculiar rock formations as the one on the north coast, and on most days the scuba diving paradise Green Island can be seen while you stroll on the path right by the rocks.
Three Immortals Platform, or Sanxiantai
The East Coast National Scenic Area is celebrated as the last unspoiled paradise of Taiwan and also as a long stretch of azure coast with diverse landscapes. As soon as you get to the flagship attraction of the East Coast, you’ll see three massive volcanic agglomerate rocks on a very flat island connected to the mainland of Taiwan by an attractive eight-arch bridge which was constructed in the 80s to echo the origin of the name of this attraction.
The view of the Pacific Ocean from the pebble beach is breathtaking with the lofty Coastal Mountains seemingly pushing visitors into the deep blue. The photogenic seaside has been frequently chosen as the site for photo contests and one of the Windows wallpapers is actually the brilliant sunrise from behind the huge rocks of the “platform-like” island.
On a sunny day, you might want to dip your feet into the ocean if you’re living far away from the Pacific. When the sea is a bit rough, the subsiding waves can produce poetic sounds on tinkling pebbles. This is definitely a place you can leave your worries, or COVID, behind.
Stone Steps, or Shitiping, and Fanshuliao
The tour bus will perhaps drive into Hualien County after noontime. In winter, you might notice sudden changes in the weather because, like Taipei, Hualien is more easily influenced by the colder northeasterly monsoon.
Stone Steps are a couple of different heights of rising wave-cut platforms on finer grayish volcanic detritus dotted with well-developed potholes, and the scenery of steep mountainsides by the ocean resembles the coastal area of Hawaii.
Further north, you’ll shortly visit an attraction known as Fanshuliao, which is the only spot today not right by the sea and is noted for the stark contrast between a gentle river basin and a deep gorge with Bridge No. 18 right in the middle. After driving through the capital of Hualien, the group will take a break at a marble factory and showroom before being amazed by the awe-inspiring marble gorge of Taroko.
All the seaside attractions today along the East Coast don’t charge admission and they’re all out in an open space. No one can stop you if you want to go to the seaside even during the night, can they?
Before going into the Taroko Gorge, the group will visit one of the largest marble processing factories and showrooms with a variety of gemstones and handicrafts. The stone processing and crafting still dominate the economy of the region nearly the only commercial harbor of Hualien. The visit is free of charge but the exquisite souvenirs might charge you some dollars.
How to get there?
I was talking about the packaged tour, so the tour bus and guide will take you to the above attractions without hassle.
Useful Tips While Visiting
Too hot in summer?
The fourth day of the tour will let you have a feeling of having a sauna. In summer, the whole island will be likely evenly scorching hot, but, in winter, you’ll need sunblock in the morning and a jacket in the afternoon. The East Coast National Scenic Area is pretty well organized in a way that they have one of the best public toilets all over Taiwan. Proper shades are easy to find thanks to the green vegetation.
In today’s tour, only Fugang Geopark/Little Yeliu and Three Immortals Platform have some shops and vendors selling snack foods. The tour bus, however, will certainly stop by convenience stores at least once for clients to grab some snacks for lunch. Convenience stores seem to be the most familiar civilization for foreign travelers but most guides of this tour will probably stop at a popular “pork steamed bun” shop for the group to sample some local delicacies when passing by a village named “Donghe”, literally “east river” in Mandarin Chinese.
The weather can get nasty if not on a sunny day. In winter or when there’s a tropical storm approaching in summer, you’ll certainly need a decent jacket or waterproof windstopper to fight against the elements.