Backpacking in Taiwan: Touring Taroko Gorge, Tailuga

Backpacking in Taiwan: Touring Taroko Gorge, Tailuga

It’s a mystery how this place isn’t called “Taroko Gorge” or even “Taroko”, as the signs on the roads clearly say (in English) and as the entrance wall obviously states. But I’m sorry don’t say “Taroko Gorge” to any Taiwanese person. They’ll have a blank look on their faces and they’ll not have a clue what you mean, even though “Taroko Gorge” is the biggest and best attraction in their country. Written and seemingly pronounced “Taroko Gorge”, this is an amazing National Park on the East coast of Taiwan which should be written and pronounced “Tailuga.” For the rest of this post and blog, “Taroko Gorge” now becomes “Tailuga”, and that is actually pronouned “TIE – LOOGA.” Its not the only Taiwanese place name which changes when transpired into boring English. Did you know about these ones:

– Taitung, is actually Taidong
– Kaohsiung is actually Cow Shung
– Kuan Tzu Ling is actually Guan Shill Ing
– Kenting is actually Kenn – Ding
But that all faded into irrelevance, when we boarded a bus into the remote city of Hualien for the final leg of our East Coast tripping all the way to Tailuga. Rain came down at Hualien and REM’s “She Just Wants To Be” came on my iPod as we made our way up isolated hills, through eerie mist and past some breathtaking scenery. The magic of Tailuga was just beginning.
We were already in the mountains and in the village of Tailuga, when our bus (a small mini bus with about 9 passengers) crossed a Bridge and rose up a rain drenched hill into the centre of Tailuga. The tourist bit. This was the central meeting point, bus stop and information centre for the entire park at Tailuga. We got off the bus in this car park and immediately I was impressed by the scenery the spookiness and the weather. It was bucketin, and I had missed the rain quite a lot. Rain, for me is a sign of happiness and tranquility having grown up in Northern Ireland. I don’t really get on well with people who moan about the weather, and I sometimes hate those who moan about the rain. Its only rain! It cleanses your soul. I will never buy an umbrella or a raincoat, even as a present for somebody.
The beating rain made me feel at home, but we had no home. In the madness of it all we didn’t book a hostel for the night, Neil had said there was one close to the bus stop and on my Lonely Planet guide it also listed hostels at Tiansiang, an even higher and more remote setting deep in the middle of Tailuga. We went to the tourist information centre who were closed, even though they were all standing there talking. They were most unhelpful, especially to Eva our Taiwanese friend. All we wanted was directions at least to the NEAREST HOSTEL. After standing there for 15 minutes or so, they finally realised that we didn’t want a stupid hotel or inn, we simply wanted a basic hostel for cheap anywhere within a couple of miles. I’d have been willing to walk the 18km to Tiansiang to find it, the ladies would have freaked if I’d suggested that.
Eventually they even managed to give us a lift to the nearest hostel, which turned out to be only a 5 minute walk, back across the bridge we came and in the remote village of Tailuga, or in the Fushih ruins area. We got to that hostel mid-afternoon after quite a long bit of tripping and so we were a little tired. The girls didn’t want to do any sightseeing that day, but I couldn’t let the moment or the beauty pass. I had to delve into the growing mysterious mist of Tailuga, on my own. After a shower and a quick bite to eat, I went on a dander. Instead of crossing the bridge into the main entrance, I took the scenic route along the side of the river. I had Neil’s excellent guide book with me, which outlined all the trails/walks/hikes. Certainly I wanted to do them all, but realised I wouldn’t have time, and also sadly the weather conditions would prevent so many of the hikes from being done due to closure. Either threat of rockfalls, landslides or just the aftermath from the recent typhoon, meant safety first in the Tailuga area. I wasn’t about to disagree with the experts.

The trip to Tailuga was well planned. We knew we would need to spend a few days there. The preference would be 3 days, but in a busy tight schedule in Taiwan, we settled for 2 days. This also helped accomodate Eva Jun’s working shifts in her shop (she could only have 2 days off in a row, no more) and we didn’t want to leave Neil and Shinying for 3 full days, so we would have almost 2 days in the exciting and mystical national park of Tailuga, Taiwan.

 Previous blog entries will reveal the long trip involved just to get to Tailuga. We had time to spare in the cities of Kaohsiung, Taidong and even Hualien all on route to this special place, nestled deep in Taiwanese mountainside. An unknown gem of a place. Somehow sometimes referred to in English as Taroko Gorge. However the real way to pronounce it is “Tailuga.” Local people will gasp and puzzle themselves if you mutter the words “Taroko Gorge.” Like a murder scene from Jonathan Creek, you end up being the victim of your own attempted cleverness. Just call it “Tailuga”, and for the benefit of myself, readers and international travellers it will be called “Tailuga.” That is pronounced “Tie Looga.” In October 2009 in another mysterious journey in life I ended up there. With Natalja and with Eva.
 On arrival the rain was beating down and we exited the Hualien – Tailuga bus in the headquarters of Tailuga. There we saw an information office, the beginning of some trails, some toilets and views that made you need to stop and slow yourself down. Or at least made me decide to do that. Initially we just wanted to find the nearest cheap hostel for the night. We hadn’t booked anything in advance this time. Millwall Neil had recommended a hostel, “close” to the bus station. In the bucketing rain we couldn’t see it, and for all we knew it could be miles away. We were on the other side of the Liwu River. The Tailuga National Park Headquarters initially was full of unhelpful people. First they said they were closed. Then they made everybody stand outside in the rain (I wasn’t too bothered about the rain – other people were), then they told us the nearest hostel was miles away (which it wasn’t) and they wouldn’t even give any information to Eva Jun, who spoke fluent Chinese Mandarin and also has a high level of English. This upset me a bit. Eventually though they did help us, and a guy even decided to give us a lift to the hostel, which was run by Hostelling International – the large hostel franchise company who I used to try and avoid as they’re dear. Yet ironically I have now become a member of their hostels and often use my card for discount.
 Once at the hostel it was time for a well needed shower, before starting on the treks, of which there are over 50 in the Tailuga National Park area. The Park area is massive, with Tiansiang being the central part (or at least where most people stay). We decided to stay in Tailuga though, as it was handier for the buses in and out. Millwall Neil had lent me his “Trails of Taroko” book, which detailed all the trails. 

 In an ideal world, I would have loved to have stayed 2 weeks there and done all the trails and treks. Some involved climbing mountains and forests full of poisonous snakes and killer bees. But we had two days, and the ladies (especially Natalja) weren’t up for a lot of trekking, especially in the rain(!!). I was up for anything and everything, so after my shower headed out on my own to do 2 of the treks. 


The first one I started was the Shakadang Trail which was all the way along the Shakadang River, past the bridge and a large tunnel. This was on the north side of the Liwu River. It was actually getting dark early that day, and I wanted to fit in a walk along the other side of the river as well, so I didn’t complete the entire trail, but was happy to have done some of it, and walked through puddles and forest and seen many birds, butterflies and random waterfalls.

 The Shakadang Bridge was red. There were numerous points to stop and savour the views and take photos. After this I fitted in the Eternal Spring Shrine Trail, which was very close to the park entrance and was only a 2 km trek. I passed a small temple there, which was off the main road. 

I couldn’t correspond the writing to my map and guide, but assumed (amid the pouring rain) that this was the small Zen Monastery – the Chan Guang Temple. 

 This walk took me along a main road and up to some waterfalls, gaining an excellent view of the rivers, the high mountain peaks and the mysterious misty sky, which I won’t forget. The girls had decided to stay at home which made these treks a bit more lonely, but meant I could walk faster and go at my own pace. After a few hours, and some poor photos in the darkening light, I headed back towards the hostel, along the main road by the Liwu River. On the way back I saw Natalja and Eva in the wee restaurant so stopped by and finished off whatever food they didn’t want.
 It was time for once for an early night, so I checked the internet in the hostel for a while and then headed to bed. We would be up at 7 am to start more trekking, so we could get as much done as possible during day light hours. It was the best night’s sleep I’d had for ages – possibly since leaving my bed in the Charminster area of Bournemouth. Rested and relaxed up I got for the Tailuga experience!

It is brilliant that in Taroko National Park, there are still no ATMs, maintaining that often needed raw element to its beauty. Why would you need money to see free beauty. That fact impressed me. Apart from the accomodation and some food, the Tailuga experience wouldn’t cost a penny.

The Presbyterian Church (yes, believe it) at Tailuga…

Leaving Tailuga, from the train station Xincheng at Taroko.

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