Many like to compare Taitung with Hawaii. With its pristine beaches, clear blue skies, year-round sunshine and great surf, it certainly has more of an “Aloha” than a “Ni Hao” vibe. However, unlike Hawaii with its vast open plains and rugged terrain, Taitung is a gentler (not to mention far more accessible) destination.
Backed by lush mountains and facing the Pacific Ocean, Taitung has emerged from Taiwan’s modernization virtually unscathed due to its shortage of flat open space. During the early days of modern Taiwan, it was also considered a poor location strategically, given that it is on the side of the island facing away from mainland China. However, this disadvantage, as it turns out, has become something of a boon as Taiwan starts to develop alternative industries in cultural tourism and organic agriculture. Today, apart from its awe-inspiring beauty, Taitung is home to some of the best rice fields and dairy farms in Taiwan, and is one of the few remaining places where you can still experience authentic aboriginal culture.
Taitung is a place where you could easily spend days, even weeks, just stargazing and wave watching. However, for the busy Singaporean wishing to extend a trip to Taipei and eager to explore the area on a weekend, why not begin your journey in the city of Taitung itself?
Arrive early in the morning at Zhengqi Road’s Breakfast King (Zhengqi Rd., Taitung City, +886-89-320605) in time for some shaobing (baked flatcakes), fried dough and fresh soya milk. Some claim this to be the best of its kind in Taiwan, and its long queues at six in the morning will go far to prove that point. Next, have your second helping of breakfast at Take a Walk Sometimes (113 Nanjing Rd., Taitung City, +886-89-341891), a cute little cafe opened by three girlfriends based on the simple concept: that “we all love breakfast.” The homemade baked apple is a must-try.
Finish off the morning by taking a stroll around Eslite Bookstore (478 Bo Ai Rd., Taitung City, +886-89-330388) and pick up a book or CD on the local aboriginal culture. Next, pop by Tiehua Village (26, Alley 135, Xinsheng Rd., Taitung City +886-89-347830) and check out the performance schedule for the night. Opened just this summer, Tiehua Village used to be an abandoned rail workers’ dormitory. Now, with the support of Lovely Taiwan Foundation, an entourage of aboriginal singers and a group of Taitung lovers, Tiehua Village has reopened in style and hosts regular music performances and weekend markets.
Stop for lunch at Cheela (395-1, Xinsheng Rd., Taitung City, +886-89-325096, www.cheelapension.com). The décor is simple and rustic, with a leafy back terrace opening up to the old rail tracks, now a lively pedestrian path. The salty pork bun is a local favorite.
Head up Route 11 north towards Dulan Village, home to the Amis tribe. On route, stop at Little Yeliu, Jialulan or Jiamuzi Rest Area for some postcard-perfect scenery.
About fifteen minutes from Taitung city is a small, nondescript village called Dulan. During the month of August, Dulan, along with a handful of other aboriginal tribes along the coast, celebrates the Harvest Festival, which also serves as a coming of age ritual for the Amis youth. Every year, a new generation of Amis youngsters undertake strenuous physical tests such as climbing, swimming and ceremonial dancing, in order to satisfy the village elders and pass the coming-of-age test—in full Amis traditional dress, of course. If you come during this time, be sure to book early as guesthouses fill up quickly with spectators from the cities. One highly recommended place to stay is Come Feel the Breeze Again (see Essentials)
If Tiehua Village’s performance is not enough to entice you back to the city for the night, visit Sugar Factory (61, Dulan Village, Donghe Township, Taitung County). Converted from an old (you guessed it) sugar factory, this bar-cum-café is packed every weekend with performances from local celebrity Uncle Long, who sings aboriginal folk music in his husky voice.
Come again to Sugar Factory in the morning for breakfast, and the mood is completely different. Little House (61, Dulan Village, Donghe Township, Taitung County, +886-92-8007978) is a small shack just outside of the Sugar Factory. It has a long communal bench, ocean views and bossa nova music playing in the background. It serves a full English breakfast laid out on a shell ginger leaf. After breakfast, visit Good Buy, a character-filled shop selling a selection of local arts and crafts on the other side of the factory.
Finally, choose between a drive further up the coast to Hualian, or venture into the mountains to visit the dairy farms. Either way, be sure to expect more breathtaking views and exceptional quality food on the way.
Halfway between Taitung and Hualian, stop at Shitiping to marvel at the wondrous works of nature. Here, jetting out of the clear blue waters along the coast of Hualian, are natural rock formations made up of thousands of undulating steppes. Listen to the waves lapping against the rocks and let the world around you disappear for just a few minutes.
For lunch, walk a short distance across the road to “Urn, Lily, Spring” (117-2 Shitiping Bay, Dagangkou, Fengbin Township, Hualian County, +886-98-3167268). Make sure you call ahead as it’s easy to miss the entrance. Many mistake the place for a derelict factory of some sort. But with aboriginal smoked bacon beautifully presented with a twig of flowered garlic, sea salt-encrusted fish, baked jackfruit, and many more aboriginal-inspired surprises, appearances don’t really matter that much. We later learn 2,260 that the name of this restaurant, “Urn, Lily, Spring” comes from the names of the chef’s two daughters, Atomo (meaning “Urn”) and Arifowang (“Lily”), and the chef himself, Canglah (“Spring”).
If going up to the mountains, visit Na Jie Hai (563 Guangrong Rd., Longtian Village, Luye Township, Taitung County, +886-91-5105775) right before turning off to Luye Highlands Tea Plantation. Here, at Shi Hui’s cottage-cum-private kitchen, hearty fare such as Hainan Chicken Rice and tomato and aubergine pasta make up part of a six-course meal—all at just US$10 per person. When asked why she doesn’t charge more for her meals, Shi Hui says, “I’m here to live a life, not to make a killing. If I charge less, people will be grateful and come back. If I charge more, however, they will find something to complain about.” Ah, what wisdom. Only in Taitung.
The best place for surfing is Donghe Village, a 15-minute drive north from Dulan. Visit Tropical Surf, a surf shop-cum-guesthouse-cum café run by Japanese surfer Shimizu Jun. www.easttaiwan-surf.com
There are no direct flights from Bangkok to Taitung. Just book a ticket to Taipei and take Uni Air (www.uniair.com.tw) for a domestic flight tranfer to Taitung airport.
Public transportation is limited outside of Taitung City, so it is best to rent a car from the airport, or hire a local taxi to take you around. The official Taitung Government Tourism Board website offers some information on places to visit. tour.taitung.gov.tw
Where to Sleep
Come Feel the Breeze Again (call for directions: +886-93-5987937 / 091 2145562), an eco-lodge consisting of a handful of individual villas constructed on the principles of modest simplicity and respect for the environment. What the place lacks in luxury and style, with its bare concrete walls, stainless steel roof and raw wood interiors, it makes up for with dramatic ocean views, natural breezes and the hospitality of its owner and limping dog, Little Black.
When To Go
Taitung is blessed with sunshine and moderate temperatures year round, but summers tend to be very hot. Nonetheless, August is a good time to visit to see the Harvest Festivals.