Taiwan: The Enticing East

Taitung was supposed to be the most scenic region in Taiwan — not that any of us could tell in the dark.

Where were the famed cliffs? The great blue sea? (picture from Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau)

Le hubby was swearing more than Gordon Ramsey in a shitty restaurant.

We were in a car, traveling at 15 km / hour up a WOODED HILL AT NIGHT, where the occasional bump that sent us flying off our seats and sound of twigs scratching at the windscreen gave me the heebie jeebies. It didn’t help that I was super paranoid and kept thinking we may have run over a corpse or were being pursued by a zombie (I swear it’s all Hollywood’s fault).

We were about to turn back when we spotted a light in the distance. There it was, a dodgy-looking building that’s part of Juhu Villa. It was not at all ‘luxurious’ as the reviews on TripAdvisor had described, or even remotely villa-like. WTF were they smoking?! This place was a shack.

My heart dropped.

Two elderly folks and their dog stood out front to welcome us. I silently prayed they weren’t psychopaths who lure unsuspecting tourists out into the middle of nowhere to butcher them with the help of a bloodthirsty hound. Fortunately for us, it turned out that Mr and Mrs Lai just loved showing people a good time, and Mr Lai especially had a soft spot for wee bubs. Xiao Hei their playful dog was equally precious.

That’s them.

Anyway, the ‘shack’, we were told in mostly sign language, were a place to have our meals. Dinner was simple but delicious and plentiful. Juhu Villa didn’t mention there was free babysitting services thrown in — Mr Lai would happily whisk Mika away to play with the dog while we got down to the business of eating — if we had known, we would’ve stayed here longer!

Dinner. See Mr. Lai in the background? That guy is gold!

We were shown to our real room, which was huge and beautifully furnished, when we were done. It had the charm of a country manor…

Mika had a ball on the bed.

…and also a huge balcony out back to admire nature — a pristine subtropical forest — in its rawest form.

Will you look at that! (and I ain’t referring to the pipe)
The road up to our villa.

It was as if someone pulled the invisibility cloak away the next morning, and we woke up to birdsong, with Mother Nature’s crotch pressed right up against our noses shouting “HERE GUYS! Get a load of this!” We were stunned by her beauty and grandiosity. But the distant shoreline, which was visible all the way from these villas on clear days and not while we were there, was beckoning and we stuffed ur faces with copious amounts of aesthetically-pleasing Taiwanese breakfast…

Eat your heart out, Le Cordon Bleu!

…and made our way downhill, where the sea lay. That’s the East for you: emerald mountains on the right, cobalt-colored ocean on the left and you, just cruising along on the winding Hualien-Taitung Coastal Highway with the kids and feeling all, heyyyy, life’s alright.

That’s the highway in the distance.

We made our way to the East Rift Valley, the real agricultural heart of Taiwan where different shades of green, red and yellows coalesced like an oil canvas.

We stopped by a homestead to buy one of the farmer’s bentos that are so popular around here…

Just what the doctor ordered.

…and continued our way to the Walami Trail, where we walked a bit till we reached a rickety suspension bridge.

Feeling like Dora the Explorer.

At this point, the wind picked up and the clouds looked angry AF, so we ditched our plans and headed back to our comfortable bastion atop the hill (we were also wiser this time and headed up before sundown), and were plied with lots of food (but no wine) upon return.

The next day, we made ur way north to Hualien, but not before stopping at Shihtiping, a scenic stretch of wild coast dotted with fishing villages. Camera-toting Chinese tourists poured out from buses and congregated at the spot where the rocky, volcanic shoreline meet the tides, giving zero fucks about whether they live or die in the process.

I’ll just stay here where it’s safe, thankyouverymuch.
Not this guy, though.

We did manage to find a place to camwhore to our heart’s content — without the running the risk of being swallowed up by a wave.

No tsunamis in sight.

The Sanxiantai, or short for Dragon Bridge to the Island of The Three Immortals, was great fun, and perfectly safe. The highlight was a crazy-looking bridge that extended all the way to an island where three massive rocks stood #likeaboss.

Needless to say, we didn’t get very far.

And then it was onto Hualien, where we spent one night in a cutesy little place outside of town. Our room overlooked a pretty farmland dotted with palm trees and paddy fields.

I mean, will you look at it?!

Cai Feng Homestay provided free bikes, so we spent the rest of the evening getting happily lost on the quiet roads that criss-crossed the countryside.

Picture ruined by power lines.

As fun as that was, nothing beats the Taroko Gorge. It was THE reason we came to Taiwan, the Big Kahuna of Ilha Formosa’s tourist sights, and I was determined to save the best for last.

The Grand daddy of all tourist attractions in Taiwan.

And so we ventured — excitedly with our hearts pounding in our chests, and stupidly without hard hats — into Taiwan’s most breathtaking sight. I’ve been to many gorges but that didn’t diminish my awe of Taroko and its many tunnels and waterfalls.

We spent two unforgettable nights at Taroko Silks Place, in a room with one of those huge panoramic windows that allowed us to gaze 24/7 at the steeply-rising marble mountains, and it made all the difference.

Even Mika was impressed.

Hey, any hotel that has a heated pool with HUNDREDS OF RUBBER DUCKIES were a surefire winner in my book.

#winliao

All our meals were taken care of, so days were spent worrying about where to go. Here are some snapshots of what we saw…

Yeah, tough life.

Evenings are even more special. The hotel hosts free daily performances on its rooftop and, as busloads of tourists left for the day, we sit huddled in wool blankets by the fireplace and under the star-filled sky — the deep stillness enveloping us occasionally punctuated by the strange, haunting melodies of a lone guitar.

Us and an indigenous performer.

And it was in this manner that our trip culminated in a grand finale. I’d even go back — but only when stinky tofus are banned for life.

THE END.

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