If you just drive through, the short stretch of shops on either side of the highway looks like just every other town you pass through in Taiwan. But spend a bit of time here, get off the highway, and you'll soon notice that the town is beautifully situated between a stretch of beaches, coastal bluffs and towering peaks of Dulan Forest, considered sacred to the local Ami and Taibalang aboriginal tribes.
Taitung county was one of the last regions of Taiwan to be colonized; even today it retains a remote, rural feel and is the breadbasket of Taiwan. Dulan has an industrial past, and while many original inhabitants left long ago to find work in the city, the town is now a magnet for artists, hippies and increasingly these days, backpackers, with the main meeting places being a repurposed sugar factory, now a miniature arts village called the Sintung Sugar Factory Culture Park.
The vibe here is more like what you would expect in a Southeast Asian backpacker beach community, but to say it is an exact copy of that would be to deny its strongly Taiwanese, aboriginal, and Taitung flavor. You really won't find anything like this anywhere else in Taiwan. Currently, there are about 40 expats living in Dulan, and the area will most likely continue to become more popular in years to come.
Dulan is also one of Taiwan's top surfing spots, and expansive, black-sand Dulan Beach seldom has more than a couple dozen beachgoers. Even if you aren't into surfing or the arts, they are more budget hostels in town than anywhere else between Hualien and Taitung, or many tasteful, secluded B&Bs in and around Dulan for those looking for a quiet escape, many with sweeping Pacific views. I'll introduce the best places to stay in Dulan, including where we stayed, at the end of the article.