Highway #11 splits off from the #9 just south of Hualien City then follows the coast, with the two meeting up again in Taitung City, and then the #9 continues south to Pingtung County, where it crosses to the west coast and meets up with Provincial highway 26 for the final leg down to Kenting. The awesomeness of this is that you can take one highway down, and the other one up. There are also multiple roads connecting the two highways. Some are a straight shot, and others are slow, winding roads that take you through remote aboriginal territory.
To give you an idea of distances by scooter, when we recently traveled from Hualien to Kenting, we broke it up into two days but took some slower alternative routes (see below). We traveled about 8 hours each day, including several short stops. On the way back, we scootered all the way from Kenting to Hualien in one day, staying on the main highways mentioned above, with few stops, and did it in 10 hours. It felt rushed but it was certainly doable, and this wasn't a problem for us since our main goal was to spend several days in Kenting. If you actually want to see more of the stops along the way, I wouldn't recommend this. I would break it up into AT LEAST two days in each direction.
Finally, both highways and the far south are extremely popular for cycling. I'm not a cyclist but if you want more details try here, here, here, here, or here. These are just a few of MANY blogs out there on this topic, so I'll leave it to the experts.
If you are only traveling to Kenting, then it makes more sense to travel down the more developed west coast. The fastest and most expensive option is to take the High Speed Rail (HSR) from Taipei to Zuoying (1.5-2 hours, NTD 1490), then a taxi from the HSR station to Kenting (1 to 1.5 hours, 400-600 per person (barter hard!) assuming 4 people in a taxi). The cheapest option would be a long/overnight bus (4.5-6 hours, NTD 800-900) to Kaohsiung, followed by the local bus from Kaohsiung to Kenting (2.5-3 hours, approx. NTD 300). Generally speaking, if you can afford it, it's worth the extra money for the faster route. HSR tickets don't need to be reserved in advance (even on a long weekend I've showed up and gotten a seat in the non-reserved section), but if you book early you can get an early bird discount. For Taipei to Kaohsiung buses it doesn't hurt to get your ticket a few days in advance.
Part 1 of my Guide to the Stunning East Coast of Taiwan is by far the most shared blog post I have ever written, so it only makes sense that I follow it up with a Part 2, covering the southern half of Taiwan's most scenically dramatic coastline. For a more general introduction to the entire East Coast of Taiwan and why it is so beautiful, refer to Part 1. For those who have asked when I was going to write this, I'm sorry that it has taken me more than six months! Most of my free time is spent with my kids these days.
In this post, I would like to continue our southward journey from Hualien City along the Hualien (花蓮) and Taitung (台東) County coasts, including both of the parallel highways #9 and #11, as well as a lesser-known alternative route, Green and Orchid Islands, and finally terminating in idyllic Kenting National Park, which occupies the southernmost tip of Taiwan.
I fully realize how ambitious it is too cram all this into one post, but this is meant to be a general overview for those planning a trip to this part of Taiwan and wondering how to tackle it. If you are looking for more detailed information about specific places, then there are many blogs out there, but I still hope you'll at least scroll through and see my pictures! I'd strongly recommend the brand new two-part Taiwan 101 by Richard Saunders and the 2014 edition of Bradt Taiwan by Steven Crook for far more detailed descriptions of most of the places described here.
The information and photos in this post are based on multiple trips over the last decade. Most recently I made this entire trip by scooter in spring 2016 with a friend to attend Spring Scream, and my wife, two kids, and sister from Canada tagged along by train.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I often rely on various editions of Lonely Planet Taiwan in my travels, so some of the information I provide inevitably echoes information found in that book. However, whenever possible, I mention new finds, alternative route options, and I also hope that my pictures can provide more inspiration than the general descriptions found in guidebooks.
If you visit Taiwan for a week or less, as many travelers do (but I insist is not long enough!) you are probably going to stick to the Hualien/Taroko Gorge area and Taipei. However, with two weeks, you could easily extend your trip as far as the southern tip of Taiwan, taking in some of the best coastal scenery and beaches the country has to offer.
In theory, you could travel from Hualien to Kenting and back in two days by car, scooter, or even public transportation, but you would be on the road the whole time and basically miss everything. A lot of the most interesting sites are a little ways off the highway or require some time to visit, and the highways themselves are not always so inspiring.
Therefore, if you are visiting Taiwan for a short time, I would recommend allowing as many days as possible to this area or skipping it altogether rather than rushing through. If you live here, you could easily make countless weekend trips to this part of Taiwan, only focusing on one smaller area each time. With new express trains making the journey from Taipei to Taitung in a mere 3.5 hours, weekend trips to the southeast have become all the more feasible.
A reasonable amount of time would be to spend two days traveling from Hualien to Kenting, at least two days to enjoy the beach, and another two days to travel back to Hualien, but even that is a little rushed. So this means that to even do this part of Taiwan justice, you need at least a week, and that's not counting Taroko Gorge and other sights around Hualian.
Guanshan (關山), a second possible overnight option I recommend, is famous for having Taiwan's first dedicated cycling path, the Guanshan Town Circle Bicycle Path, which was built in 1997. This very easy 15.2 kilometer path takes in the bucolic scenery that you've come for and features the aisle of betel palms, a section flanked by areca palms on either side of the path.
Bicycles are on hire everywhere in town, but the best ones are found at the Giant shop, housed in the historic railway station 60 meters to the right after you exit the modern station.
Guanshan is also one of several places in Taiwan that has 'famous' lunchboxes (便當). You won't notice much different about them, except this one's claim to fame is the rice itself, which is supposed to be the best in Taiwan due to the purity of the water in the region. You can find them just in front of the train station on the left side of the road at Yuan Chang Guanshan Lunchboxes.
Buses are not a good option for this area, so here are some rough times and prices (fastest time listed when possible) for the train:
Taipei to Hualien: 2 hours (NTD 440) (this is the fastest train, some take 3-3.5 hours)
Hualien to Yuli/Guanshan (towns I recommend as halfway stops between Hualien and Kenting): 1/2 hours (NTD 189/274)
Yuli/Guanshan to Fangliao: 2/2.5 hours (NTD 377)
Fangliao to Kenting (by bus): 1 hour (NTD 150)
Note that trains only give you access to the sights along highway 9, not 11, and don't go all the way to Kenting. It is also going to be tough for you to see many of the sights described on this page if you are only traveling by public transportation, but renting a scooter or bicycle in individual towns can solve that problem.
For more general information about booking trains in Taiwan, see Part 1 of this guide.
Provincial Highway 9 paves a way through the incredibly scenic East Rift Valley, officially the East Rift or “Huatung” (Hualian-Taitung) Scenic Area (花東縱谷國家風景區). This wide, rice-paddy and plain filled valley was formed by the collision of the Eurasian and Philippine tectonic plates, and is flanked by peaks of the Central Mountain Range and Coastal Range on either side. It stretches 180 kilometers from Hualien to Taitung and is the basin for several rivers spilling down from the highest peaks of Taiwan in the Central Mountain Range to the sea.
The following points of interest are in order from north to south.
Shortly after leaving Hualien City, watch for signs for pretty Liyu (Carp) Lake (鯉魚潭), Chinan Forest Recreation Area (池南國家森林遊樂區), and Fenghuang Waterfall (鳳凰瀑布). All make interesting stops, and the latter is great for a swim in summer.
Just south of the waterfall, Lintianshan Mountain Forestry Center (林田山森林業文化園區), a ghost village of sorts, came highly recommended to me by Bradt Taiwan author Steven Crook, but I still haven't made it there.
A Guide to the Stunning East Coast of Taiwan Part 2: Hualien, Taitung, and Kenting
How Long Do You Need for This Part of Taiwan?
How to Travel Down Taiwan's East Coast
Hualien to Kenting by Public Transportation
Getting from Taipei to Kenting only
Hualien to Taitung Route #1: Highway 9 through the East Rift Valley
Overnight Option 1: Yuli
Luye (鹿野) is the third stop worth considering spending the night in to break up your journey, mainly for it's famous hot air balloon festival, the Taiwan International Balloon Fiesta (台灣熱氣球嘉年華), which will take place from June 30 to August 8, 2017. Note that it doesn't take place right in the town center, but on the Luye Plateau (鹿野高台), with regular shuttle buses from town. Normally there are two 2-hour sessions per day, starting at 5 am and 5 pm, avoiding the heat of the day and catching the best wind currents. The Luye Platform is beautiful anytime of the year, featuring views over tea and fruit plantations, and the region is also popular for paragliding.
On one trip doing research for Travel in Taiwan magazine, I stayed at the Bunun Leisure Farm (布農部落) in Yanping Township, a short drive from Luye. The resort is entirely run by the Bunun tribe and is a true success story of a local initiative bringing employment and empowerment to the local aboriginal people. Over 100 local villagers are employed here, and there are daily song and dance performances, traditional weaving demonstrations, archery, DIY activities for kids, an aboriginal restaurant, gift shop, organic farm, and plenty of produce and food items produced on site for sale. The view from the café patio over the adjacent valley is stunning. Entry is NTD150, 100 of which can go towards any purchase. Cabins on the farm go for 2400 per night (3000 on Saturday) and pickup from Luye Train Station is free.
I haven't been, but the Lonely Planet also recommends exploring off-the-beaten track Country Road 197 in the Luye vicinity, including the Liji Badlands, by bicycle or scooter.
In Yuli, I've only stayed at one of the two cheap hotels found near the train station, with doubles going for about 1000, and found it perfectly adequate. My friends have stayed at Wisdom Garden, which is highly recommended in the Lonely Planet, and they loved it. It's a little out of town but they will pick you up.
There are no hotels that stand out in Guanshan, but I found a simple, decent place for about 1200 that was walking distance from the train station and surrounded by rice paddies by simply looking up hotels from Google maps. I've never stayed in Luye town, so I don't want to comment on that, but the Bunun leisure farm discussed above is an interesting option out of town.
Unfortunately, there is no decent website for searching for hotels in Taiwan in English, and especially in this part of Taiwan, a lot of cheap hotel or guesthouse owners don't speak English and mostly prefer reservations by phone versus online. Usually they will also want you to transfer a deposit by ATM to secure your reservation, so this could be difficult for non-Chinese speaking travelers.
These days, however, a lot of great places are turning up on AirBnB, so I have been increasingly using that to find accommodation in Taiwan, with excellent results so far. Many owners are new to the system and normally use other local Chinese-language booking sites, so I have found that some of them don't really know how the website works, but you just have to be a little patient. Very, very few people in Taiwan will ever try to rip you off.
If you haven't signed up for AirBnB before, please use this link to do so. Not only will you get NTD850 off your first booking, I'll get a credit too, and then you can do the same with your friends to get more free credits. I've already gotten multiple free nights in Airbnb guesthouses by doing this!
In Ji'an Township (吉安鄉), south of Hualien City, highway 11 splits off from highway 9. Just across the Hualien Bridge is the official start of the East Coast National Scenic Area (東部海岸國家風景區) and almost immediately you'll be driving right along the coast.
Around kilometer 12, watch for Yanliao Henan Temple (鹽寮和南寺), which features a 15-meter kuanyin statue. Soon after this, the highway ascends, offering a sweeping view over Jici beach (磯崎) from the Baqi Rest Stop (芭崎休息區).
Several years ago I stayed in an A-frame cabin at the Jici Beach Resort (磯崎海水浴場 03-871-1235), one of only two beaches on this whole stretch of coast where swimming is allowed. On my most recent visit, the water was so high that the beach seemed to have disappeared, and I couldn't see the cabins I'd stayed in before. There was a guard on duty who informed us that under normal conditions there is still a campground here, and entry fee for a swim is NTD100.
Heading south from Jici, the coast is very rocky and several stops feature sea cliffs and rock formations, especially around Shimen (石門) and Shitiping (石梯坪).
The next noteworthy stop, and perhaps the most fascinating along the southeast coast, is the Platform of the Three Immortals (三仙台) at kilometer 111. This 320-meter curving bridge to a small volcanic island is touristy but visually stunning, and you could easily spend an hour or two here admiring it from different angles on the rocky beaches or walking along the bridge itself.
Just south of the Platform of the Three Immortals, Chenggong township (成功鄉) features the daily Xingang Fish Market (新港漁市場) in the afternoon where fisherman auction their catches right on the docks of Xingang Harbor (新港漁港).
If you want to get off the main highways and like to have the road entirely to yourself, or perhaps you don't care about the sights listed above or simply want to try a new route, then county road 193 is for you. This elevated, winding road runs though the lower hills of the Coastal Mountain Range between highways 9 and 11, sticking closer to the former in the southern half.
To find it first follow highway 11 as it branches off from highway 9 in Hualien City. As soon as you cross Hualien Bridge, turn right instead of following the main highway to the left. The road quickly ascends, offering stunning views over Hualien and later the Great Rift Valley.
The road is very winding so it's not for those who get carsick easily. There are no sights per se, but if you love driving through the forest for hours breathing in the fresh air and not seeing another soul, then it's great. The main attraction is spotting all kinds of fruit growing in the roadside plantations; papaya and pineapple were in season when we visited.
You can connect back to highway 11 about a third of the way down by turning left on the slow-moving 11甲, or back to the much closer highway 9 at a few different points, and the 193 will take you as far as Yuli, one of my recommended halfway point stops between Hualien and Kenting on Highway 9.
We spent about 6 hours scootering this route from Hualien to Guanshan, with few stops, to give you a general idea. It's probably about how long you'd spend on the Highway 9 route, if you factor in the longer sightseeing stops. There are pretty much no shops or restaurants along the way, so you'll want to either bring some snacks or reconnect to Highway 9 at some point to find something to eat.
Where to Stay in Kenting
Highway 11 rejoins Highway 9 again just south of Taitung City. This whole area is famous for the custard apple (釋迦), also known as sugar apple or Buddha's head fruit, and you can also look out for the Taiwanese hybrid pineapple custard apple (鳳梨釋迦). The flesh of this ultra sweet, pudding textured fruit literally melts in your mouth. They go for up to NTD100 for a single large one, but are so worth it. You'll see them for sale EVERYWHERE, and you may even see a custard apple mascot or two.
Just south of Taitung City you'll also pass Chihpen/Zhiben Hot Spring (知本溫泉), with the usual assortment of hotels and facilities, then the insanely long stretch of Taimali Beach (太麻里). Somehow I didn't see anybody on the beach, but I also didn't see many spots where one could even get down to it.
Next you'll pass turnoffs for Jinfeng and then Jinlun Hot Springs. We explored up both roads by scooter but only found a few rustic developed hot spring resorts. We asked around about the natural springs mentioned in the Lonely Planet but didn't have much luck finding them, though a comment on this blog indicates they might be destroyed. I would say give this a miss in less you are truly interested and have the time.
Kenting National Park
Well, you've made it to the southern tip of Taiwan, Kenting (墾丁), the nation's premier beach resort. Several of the sights mentioned in both the main and alternative routes above are technically found within Kenting National Park, but when most people in Taiwan talk about going to Kenting, they are referring to the beaches on the far southern coast.
Kenting is extremely popular among locals, especially on weekends, during the summer, or during the long weekend at the beginning of April, when the Spring Scream Rock Music Festival and many other parties take place in the area. Spring Scream has developed a fairly negative reputation in Taiwan, but a lot of that is unfounded as I'll elaborate on in the Spring Scream section below.
There are in fact at least three main beaches in Kenting, which I will describe from west to east. The first one if you are coming from Kaohsiung or on the main route described above, is South Bay (南灣). This is probably the least desirable of the three thanks to the eyesore that is a large nuclear facility right on the coast at the end of the bay, the fact that the beach is packed with gaudy umbrellas in summer, and the people ripping around on jet skis and banana boasts just offshore. Having said that, I have actually stayed in one of the handful of mid-range guesthouses along the highway across from the beach, and it wasn't a terrible option, especially if you want to stay away from the hustle and bustle of Kenting village, but close enough that you can hop into town for dinner. Most importantly, you can order drinks right on the beach :)
The second main beach is Kenting Beach, which is right beside Kenting Village or Kenting “Main Street” (墾丁大街). This tourist village along the highway is what a lot of people are referring to when they say they are going to Kenting. There is a high concentration of hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops here, and in the evenings hundreds of food (and even cocktail) stalls set up on either side of the highway. It can get so crowded here that the mobs of people literally take over the highway and vehicles can barely squeeze through (see pics below). This is the only place in Taiwan where you'll feel like you're at a popular beach resort in Thailand, minus the banana pancakes.
The beach itself here is decent, and more spread out than the other two so it actually doesn't feel as crowded. During the long weekend at the beginning of April, several parties take place in the immediate area and on a small private beach with a bar just east of town called Little Bay (小灣沙灘).
There are a lot of misconceptions in Taiwan about Spring Scream Rock Music Festival, the 17-year running rock and indie music festival. Every year the media continues to perpetuate the myth that all of Kenting is taken over by drug dealers, drunk foreigners, and bikini girls, and that it's all because of this festival. The truth is that these things do exist, barely, and not at the rock music festival itself.
The original rock music festival started out very small, and as it grew more popular over the years, other people did what Taiwanese do best: seeing something getting popular and copying the idea it. So a number of other private music festivals and parties have popped up all over Kenting National Park in recent years on the same long weekend, including Spring Wave, Foam Party, Colorful Spring Party, Moonlight Party (you get the point), and some of those are the ones that are giving Spring Scream a bad rep. Every year something bad happens at one of those parties, it's all over the news, and people's idea that Spring Scream is evil is further enforced. Most people don't even realize there are multiple events, and just lump them all together as “Spring Scream.”
So the first time I attended the Spring Scream Rock Festival, I was surprised to find that it was actually a very laid back festival, not crowded at all (another generalization often made), and there were no bikini girls or drug dealers to be found. In fact, I found that the crowd was made up of mostly Taiwanese, visiting band members from other Asian countries, and only a sprinkling of Western foreigners.
Also, contrary to yet another misconception, it is not a beach party. The festival takes place on a large grassy expanse with views of the sea from higher up near the lighthouse. There are usually 5-7 stages with bands rotating every 1.5 hours throughout the day and evening over the course of 3-4 days. There are always good eats on offer, fun lit-up paths through the forest connecting different areas, and thankfully they've now abandoned the payment system of loaded wristbands that they tried out a few years ago.
I honestly think that the festival is dying out a little, because it seems to be smaller every year that I go, and this is likely due to the rise of so many other parties in the area, and the fact that electronic music is becoming way more popular than rock music these days. Still, while rock is the focus, you can expect a bit of everything, including metal, punk, ska, indie rock, post rock, folk, and more. But don't come expecting insane mosh pits and big name foreign acts. The feeling is more intimate, local, and it is about as low-key as a rock music festival could get.
So when some of my expat friends in Taiwan write off Spring Scream as being too “douchey” to even consider going, I continue to defend Spring Scream as one of the most enjoyable music festivals Taiwan has to offer, and I continually have to inform people that whatever they think they know about it isn't likely true. I can understand people wanting to avoid Kenting Village on a long weekend, and especially THAT long weekend, but you'll only have to bear it for the ten minutes that it takes to drive right through it. The festival doesn't go late and you can enjoy very quiet nights if you stay at any of the campsites or guesthouses I mentioned above.
The 2017 Spring Scream dates are April 1, 2, and 3. Advance tickets, which you can purchase at 7-11 anywhere in Taiwan, are cheaper the earlier you get them, but you can always buy them at the door too. There is reserved camping within the festival, but it is extremely crowded.
This route is definitely a few hours slower, especially since there aren't many notable stops on the main route, so you'd probably just fly right down to Kenting. So if you are in a rush to get to the beach, skip this one, but if you want to enjoy 3-4 hours (after the turnoff, as opposed to 1-2 remaining hours to get to Kenting on the main route) on an incredibly beautiful, traffic-free road, and see some sand dunes (!) and some amazing views on the final approach to Kenting, then I would highly recommend this route.
Follow the main route south from Taitung outlined above, but then about 10-15 minutes up Highway 9 after it veers inland from Daren, watch for the little turnoff to County Road 199, which also happens to be right on the border between Taitung and Pingtung (屏東縣) counties. There is some kind of derelict building right at the turnoff which seemed to be an attraction worth stopping at for local tourists but we couldn't figure out why.
Much like the alternative County Road 193 route in Hualien, this is a very winding, mountainous road where you will likely be the only person driving, even on weekends. Impressively, the tarmac is extremely smooth the whole way through, making it ideal for cycling or motorcycling.
When you reach the turnoff for 199甲, you need to turn left, after which the road winds its way down to the sea, meeting yet another wide open beach with nobody or nothing on it. The road changes into the 26 along the coast, and then the 200 when it veers inland again.
our own private thermal bath in a hot spring hotel in Ruisui
the visually stunning Platform of the Three Immortals, perhaps the most impressive sight on Highway 11
Feb 22, 2017 by Nick Kembel
Like most parts of Taiwan outside of the big cities, having your own transportation here is ideal. Scooters can easily be rented near the Hualien or Xincheng (新城)/Taroko Gorge train stations or in Kenting Village, but be aware that nowadays most shops ask for 2 forms of ID, including a local or international driver's license, and the only way they might be more lenient on this is if you can speak some Chinese and/or hold an ARC.
There are two parallel routes between Hualien and Taitung, Provincial Highways #9 and #11. I'll be covering both routes in detail, plus a slower, quieter alternative route.
The #9 travels through Hualien City then continues south through the East Rift Valley, a vast, fertile plain between two mountain ranges stretching between Hualien and Taitung.
Next up you'll reach Ruisui Hot Spring (瑞穗溫泉), which, like most hot spring towns in Taiwan, is mainly a collection of hotels offering a variety of bathing facilities. The hotels are a good, albeit pricey, place to spend the night. Otherwise, many of them offer public facilities for a short dip.
The Fuyuan Forest Recreation Area (富源國家森林遊樂區), described in an older Lonely Planet as “a valley filled with butterflies, which swarm here from March to August” was one of the things I most looked forward to in this area. However, we were rather disappointed to arrive at the gate of theme-park like Fuyuan Butterfly Resort (蝴蝶谷溫泉渡假村), and decided not to even go in when the guard apologetically informed us that the butterflies were in enclosed nets in the park, and that there weren't even that many at the time. If anybody knows where exactly the “butterfly filled valley” is and how to access it, please let me know.
I would strongly recommend any one of the following three towns (Yuli, Guanshan, Luye) as an overnight stop to break up your journey from Hualien to Kenting if you are doing it in two days. If you are only going as far as Taitung, then I would personally prefer to stay in any of these three towns over sprawling Taitung City, which offers little of interest.
All three of these relaxed towns are surrounded by the stunning scenery of the East Rift Valley and are great bases from which you can explore the greater Taitung region, including Sixty Stone Mountain, the Platform of the Three Immortals, Dulan (all described below), and so on. In each of the towns you can find simple hotels, often overlooking rice paddies, for around 1000-1500 for a double. I would suggest booking in advance, not only because everything fills up in Taiwan on weekends and holidays, but also because the cheapest places are not always so obvious or easy to find if you just show up.
Yuli (玉里), at the southern end of Hualien County, is an excellent place to stay put for a couple days or more if you have the time. In fact, I have friends who have spent multiple years traveling around Taiwan and claim that this quaint little town surrounded by rice paddies is their favorite place in the whole country.
A short drive from town up highway 30 takes you to the spectacular Nan An Waterfall (南安瀑布), and just beyond that is the official entrance to the Yushan National Park (玉山國家公園) and the start of the overnight Walami Trail (瓦拉米古道). You can hike the first few kilometers of the trail without of a permit (we went a good hour or so in and could have gone further), and the scenery on this trail gets very dramatic very quickly, not to mention we encountered a troupe of macaques!
Yuli is also a short drive from Antong Hot Springs (安通溫泉), where you can soak after a day of exploration and hiking. A short ride south from Yuli on Highway 9 will aslo bring you to the entrance to Sixty Stone Mountain (六十石山), a 952-meter peak that is covered with tiger (day) lilies from August to September. The road up the mountain can be clogged with traffic, but it wasn't actually too bad when we visited on a summer weekday, and was definitely worth the detour.
Nan An Waterfall, just outside of Yuli town
the start of the Walami Trail, easily accessed from Yuli town
Overnight Option 2: Guanshan
fields of tiger lilies atop Sixty Stone Mountain
the curious Aisle of Beter Nut Palms on the Guanshan Town Circle Bicycle Path
Overnight Option 3: Luye
organic crops at the Bunun Leisure Farm near Luye in Taitung County
yes, that is me holding a cute little organic pineapple
Where to stay in Yuli, Guanshan or Luye
Get NTD850 ($27) off your first Airbnb stay anywhere in the world if you use this link to sign up! I will get a credit too, so it's a win-win!
Hualien to Taitung Route #2: Highway 11 along the Coast
Colorful fish at the daily Xingang Fish Market in Chenggong
Another recommended stop is the Amis Folk Center in Xinyi Village, Chenggong township, dedicated to Taiwan's largest aboriginal tribe.
Soon after you will reach Dulan (都蘭) a small town known for its vibrant artistic community. There are numerous hostels and cheap hotels (and English will definitely be spoken), making it an obvious choice for a halfway stop between Hualien and Kenting. You'll also find a few foreigner-run restaurants along the highway, a local craft beer company, and regular musical performances and art exhibits on weekends, with the renovated Dulan Sugar Factory being a focal point of the scene.
To be honest I've never really seen what the hype is all about in Dulan. It seems to have all the makings for a Southeast-Asia-style hippie/expat enclave, but both times I dropped in, there really seemed to be nothing going on and not much to differentiate it from other towns along the highway in Taitung, save for a few hungover expats hanging out in the Mexican restaurant. If you are looking to spend some time in the region and connect with artists, Dulan may be for you, but if you are just passing through it may warrant a stop for some decent vegetarian Mexican fare or a quick overnight but that's about it. If you've had a great Dulan experience, please share in the comments!
South of Dulan, you'll find Water Running Up (台東水往上流奇觀), a curious attraction featuring a small stream that appears to run up a hill, Shanyuan Beach (杉原海水浴場), the coast's second swimmable beach, and Xiao Yeliu (小野柳), the south's smaller version of one of the northeast coast's most popular attractions, Yeliu, though the rock formations and scenery here are less impressive, and we found it to be barely worth the stop.
There isn't much reason to stay in Taitung City, but if you do find yourself there for some reason, it's worth checking out Tiehua Village (鐵花村), a community of mostly aboriginal artists which hosts regular music performances.
Hualien to Taitung Route #3: A Peaceful Ride on County Road 193
the only photo I took on county road 193; there are no "sights" here, just pleasant riding
Taitung to Kenting: Main Route
An Alternative Route from Taitung to Kenting
Just after going inland again, you'll come across one of the more unexpected sights on this journey, a region of sand dunes called the Gangzi or Jiupeng Desert (港仔/九棚大沙漠). There are dune buggies for hire, and when we were there, there wasn't a single other tourist to be seen, despite the relative proximity to Kenting's main tourist area and the fact that it was the start of a long weekend.
After that the road seems to go on for some time, with the landscape gradually changing from the dense subtropical rainforest found in most of Taiwan to the somewhat drier, hilly landscape characteristic of Kenting.
You'll need to turn onto 200甲, bringing you to the coast again, where the road once again becomes the 26. 5-10 minutes before reaching the southern tip of Taiwan, you'll pass more sand dunes at Fengchuisha (風吹沙) in Longpan Park (龍磐公園), where sand sometimes blows right onto the highway. The views here of cliffs and sand dunes spilling down to the sea are, in my personal opinion, the most beautiful and dramatic on the entire east coast, along with the Qingshui Cliffs in Hualien (see Part 1 of this article).
The third main beach, and I'd argue most desirable, is the beach just west of Sail Rock (船帆石), about halfway between Kenting Village and Eluanbi Lighthouse, about a 10 minute drive from either end. It's slightly less crowded than the others given that it is past Kenting Village, and just like South Bay it has a handful of shops, guesthouses and a 7-11 on the highway so you can grab whatever drinks you need.
Cape Eluanbi is a beautiful place to visit anytime of the year. The views from the lighthouse are incredible, it's great for watching the sunset, and there are pleasant walks on which you can enjoy grassy flats and rugged coastal scenery. Buses from Kaohsiung train and HSR stations terminate at Eluanbi, so you can get to and between any of the places mentioned above by bus, or by overpriced taxi.
There is no way that I am going to give a comprehensive accommodation guide in this space, but suffice to say that there are loads of options in Kenting, from cheap hostels to five-star resorts. Most hostels are found in Kenting Village. Anywhere else, you should expect to pay at least 2000 for a basic double, and at least 3000 for the cheapest possible room during summer and especially the April long weekend. You MUST book early for the Spring Scream weekend, but I also found that many hotels wouldn't take reservations more than two months in advance.
If you are attending the Spring Scream Rock Festival, or if you want to stay near Sail Rock beach, then I would recommend camping at one of the two campsites located within walking distance of Eluanbi. Both are cheap, quiet, and friendly.
The first is called Qing Liang (清涼露營區) and the second is called Haishan (海山露營區). Don't expect a fantastic outdoor experience or campfires here. These are basic facilities, like many campsites in Taiwan, but they are both very clean and have hot showers. Both also hire out tents so you don't even need to bring camping gear, and both are close enough to walk to Spring Scream, but far enough away that you won't hear the noise.
If you cross the highway from either campsite, you can find little trails down to a rocky beach where it is possible to swim. Qingliang is also right across from a very pretty beach called Shadao (砂島生態保護區) which is visible but inaccessible because it is a protected ecological area.
If you are attending Spring Scream but don't want to camp, then there is a handful of guesthouses near Haishan Campsite, only a few minutes walk from the entrance to the music festival. Here's one, another, and another. We paid 4000 for a room on our last Spring Scream trip that would have been worth 1500 anywhere else in Taiwan.
Where to Eat in Kenting
There are simple eateries at South Bay and Sail Rock, and Kenting Village has hundreds of eating options, mostly touristy. If you are staying at either campsite or the guesthouses I mentioned, there are few restaurants in the area (with one excellent exception, see below), but there are two simple convenience stores among the guesthouses and a breakfast truck parks here in the morning. There is plenty of of food available inside the music festival.
I do want to make one specific recommendation though, which is one of the best seafood restaurants I have ever been to, called Bitou Harbour Seafood (鼻頭魚港海鮮). This humble, no frills ocean-side eatery is located on a very small harbor just before Eluanbi lighthouse and the row of guesthouses I mentioned above. The owners serve what they catch every day, so the food is as fresh as it gets, unlike the touristy fare served on the main beaches. You may be sitting on plastic stools and drinking beer out of little plastic cups, but that is the Taiwanese way, and every single dish we ordered here was done up perfectly!
The Spring Scream Rock Music Festival at Eluanbi Lighthouse
After that the highway ascends quickly, and was also undergoing major construction, with backhoes perched precariously on seaside cliffs and standstill traffic when we visited in spring 2016. On scooters, however, we were able to sneak our way through the traffic, one of the great benefits of riding scooters in Taiwan.
When you reach Daren (達人), Highway 9 veers inland and crosses to the west coast in about 30 minutes, then shoots south to Kenting National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan. This pleasant section on the west coast offers views over small deserted beaches before reaching Hengchun, the southernmost township in Taiwan, which is technically within Kenting National Park. Hengchun features the best preserved old city wall in Taiwan, with four main gates still intact that are just off the main highway, so it's worth a stop if that interests you.
After Hengchun, and as you get closer to Kenting Village you'll see more and more tourist facilities, such as aquariums, mini amusement parks, go-karts, haunted houses, and so on.
Green Island and Orchid Island
I'm not going to go too much into detail on these two islands, since this post is supposed to be focused on the East Coast of Taiwan, but I have to at least mention them because they are both amazing, and absolutely should be included in your southeast Taiwan itinerary if you have the time.
Daily ferries leave from Fugang Harbor (台東富岡漁港) for Green Island (綠島 50 minutes) and Orchid Island (蘭嶼 120 minutes). The ferries sail subject to good weather and are very bumpy, especially for Orchid Island, and you can expect to see many locals barfing into bags. Flying is a decent option, especially for Orchid Island, but flights need to be reserved well in advance and may also be canceled due to weather. Orchid Island is less developed for tourism, so it's not recommended to visit in winter, when most things are closed, and no matter when you go, bring enough cash in case you get stuck there longer than expected. I read about one person getting stuck there for a week and running out of money. See here for more transportation info on both islands.
Green Island is easily one of my favorite places in Taiwan. It's small enough that you can ride a scooter all the way around it in 1-2 hours, but with all the beaches and breathtaking lookout points you could easily spend a whole day doing it. It offers some of the best scuba diving in Taiwan, and the gorgeous seaside Zhaori Hot Spring is one of only three saltwater hot springs in the world, and in my opinion is worth the trip itself. I also must say that the 7-11 on Green Island, with it's seaside balcony offering views of the mountains of mainland Taiwan on the horizon, easily has the best 7-11 view I've ever enjoyed. Like it or not, you'll probably end up patronizing 7-11s multiple times during your Taiwan travels.
Normally I strongly prefer to travel independently, but when visiting Green Island you can get really good all-inclusive deals, which is the way most locals do it when they visit the offshore islands. When I say all-inclusive, I mean that you pay one price that includes your ferry tickets, a scooter waiting for you when you arrive, accomodation, and (usually) some kind of BBQ dinner tickets and a snorkelling trip. It ends up being just as cheap (or cheaper) than if you tried to book all those things on your own, and it saves you A LOT of hassle. An English-speaking company that offers such deals is Green Island Adventures.
I haven't actually been to Orchid Island (Lanyu) yet; it's been on my Taiwan bucket list for years, and I am currently planning a trip there. Therefore, I'm not going to say much about it here, but I'd suggest you pick up a copy of Richard Saunders' The Islands of Taiwan or check out his blog on Orchid Island.
Suffice to say that most people visit Orchid Island not for beaches (which it lacks) or scenery (even though it apparently is very beautiful), but to experience the rich and relatively untouched aboriginal culture of the Yami or Tao, Taiwan's least "Taiwanese" aboriginal tribe. Be aware that the Yami people do not like being photographed or treated as tourist attractions, and while their traditional canoes, annual Flying Fish Festival, and the fish themselves as they are hung on racks to dry are icons of Orchid Island, it is also considered taboo to photograph them.
Personally I am very interested to witness this festival, but it takes places at different times every year, over a long period of time, and on different days in every village. I've basically given up on trying to figure out when I might be able to catch some of the festivities, so my plan is to just show up during the flying fish season and wish for luck! The season is usually in spring, which also happens to be the perfect time to visit weather-wise, and avoids the crowds of Taiwanese visitors who come in the sweltering hot summer.
crystal clear pools of water on Green Island with Mainland Taiwan visible in the background
one of several seaside pools at the spectacular saltwater Zhaori Hot Spring on Green Island