In this post, we will continue southward along the Hualien and Taitung County coasts from Hualien to Taitung, including inland highway #9 and coastal #11, as well as a lesser-known alternative route. Then I’ll tell you how to get from Taitung to Kenting, the idyllic national park at the southernmost tip of Taiwan and home to some of the country’s best beaches. Next, you may continue your journey on to the West Coast, Alishan, or Sun Moon Lake.
I’ve done the trip from Hualien to Kenting multiple times by train, car, and scooter, and I’m excited to share all that I’ve learned about how to plan this awesome adventure along Taiwan’s famed East Coast.
Below I’ll make hotel recommendations for various stops along the coast. It’s also worth checking AirBnb, which is becoming increasingly popular in Taiwan. You can save NT1100 on your first Airbnb stay if you use this link to sign up!
If you are looking to join a tour, this four-day east coast tour covers a lot of ground in four days, traveling from Hualien to Taitung on Highway 11 and back on Highway 9 (see below), then north to Jiaoxi and back to Taipei, visiting many spots mentioned in this article.
Time Needed to Travel from Hualien to Kenting
If you visit Taiwan for a week or less, as many travelers do, you are probably going to stick to the Hualien and Taroko Gorge area and Taipei. However, with one-to-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 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 from Kenting to Hualien, but if you add more days, you will be less rushed and be able to enjoy more of the places listed in this guide.
How to Get from Hualien to Taitung and Taitung to Kenting
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 from Hualien to Taitung, Provincial Highways #9 and #11.
The #9 travels through Hualien City then continues south through the East Rift Valley, a vast, fertile plain between two mountain ranges stretching from Hualien to Taitung.
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. From Taitung to Kenting, 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 cycling experts.
Hualien to Kenting by Public Transportation
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.
Hualien to Taitung Route #1: Highway 9 through the East Rift Valley
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.
Shortly after leaving Hualien City, watch for signs for pretty Liyu (Carp) Lake (鯉魚潭) and Chinan Forest Recreation Area (池南國家森林遊樂區). You can also visit Liyu Lake as a part of this cultural tour from Hualien.
Next you will enter Fenglin township, which was chosen as one of the world’s best “slow living” destinations by Cittaslow, and Italy-based organization (2 others are located in Miaoli and one in Chiayi). In Fenglin, you can check out Fenghuang Waterfall (鳳凰瀑布), good 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.
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.
It’s a great experience to spend the night in a hot spring hotel with your own private tub.
Ruisui Sunshine B&B(see reviews / check prices) offers beautiful rooms with a private tub on your own balcony complete with mountain views.
A cheaper choice that also has private tubs in your room plus a big public hot spring is Coco’s Hot Spring Hotel (see reviews / check prices).
Some of the best white rafting in Taiwan can be had at Hsiukuluan River (秀姑巒溪) near Ruisui. This rafting tour offers pickup from either Hualien City or Ruisui.
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 that there weren’t many butterflies at the time of our visit.
I would 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 less 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.
Overnight Option 1: Yuli
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 Spring Hotel (see reviews / check prices), where you can soak after a day of exploration and hiking. There’s one amazing homestay that stands out above the rest in Yuli, which is Wisdom Garden (see reviews / check prices). The owners are super friendly and will pick you up.
A short ride south from Yuli on Highway 9 will also 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. You can hire a chartered car from Hualien to Sixty Stone Mountain in season.
Overnight Option 2: Guanshan
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.
A good budget homestay in Guanshan is Erfen De Homestay (check prices), just down the road from the train station, which has private rooms with mountain views. Tea Tian Villa (check prices) is a good choice for families, and also has balconies with rice paddy views. Blue Style Resort (check prices) is another decent option, overlooking greenery on the edge of (the very small) town.
Overnight Option 3: Luye
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 13, 2018.
Note that the Taitung hot air balloon festival 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. See here to book a spot on a hot air balloon.
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 see reviews) 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 Taiwan also recommends exploring off-the-beaten track Country Road 197 in the Luye vicinity, including the Liji Badlands, by bicycle or scooter.
Hualien to Taitung Route #2: Highway 11 along the Coast
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). Jici Beach has a campground, and is one of the few places on the east coast where swimming is permitted. 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 (Sanxiantai, 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).
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. I enjoyed it so much that I wrote this entire separate article about Dulan surf town.
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.
There’s also decent surf at Dulan. Try the Dulan Surf Shop, or this surfing lesson offered at nearby Donghe.
Dulan does make a convenient overnight stop if you are doing Hualien to Kenting in two days, or if you’d rather stay by the beach then in rather uninteresting Taitung City. That, or you may come just to linger in Dulan and check out the arts and surfing scene. Try the Groundnut Backpacker Hostel (see reviews / check prices) or Travel Bug Bistro (see reviews / check prices) for cheap rooms. Stone Party (see reviews / check prices) is an interesting B&B with modern design, while Pretty Dulan (see reviews / check prices) is great for families.
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, it’s worth checking out Tiehua Village (鐵花村), a community of mostly aboriginal artists which hosts regular music performances. You can also visit Tiehua Village as a part of this Taitung City half day tour.
If you are interested in tea in Taiwan, you can try this day tour from Taitung City that includes cycling through the Wuling Green Tunnel, climbing Luye Tea Hill, and more interesting attractions in the East Rift Valley.
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. You can book your ferry tickets to Green Island here, or book a very convenient and reasonably priced all-inclusive Green Island 2-day or 3-day tour, which includes ferry tickets, accommodation, several meals, scooter rental, and a choice of activities (such as snorkeling or Zhaori Hot Spring entry ticket).
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.
I’m heading to Orchid Island in a few months, so I’ll be updating this section with more details soon! Orchid Island is one of the most remote corners of Taiwan and home to Yami (tao) tribe, the most isolated and removed from Taiwanese mainland culture of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes. They are famous for their beautiful carved canoes and Flying Fish Festival, which takes place for several months in spring.
The easiest way to get to Orchid Island is to take the train or fly from Taipei to Taitung, then take the 3-hour ferry or short flight on DailyAir (you can only buy tickets 2-months in advance and they sell out quickly; site is mostly in Mandarin). To save the hassle or trying to arrange everything, you can take advantage of this convenient and reasonably priced 3-day Orchid Island package deal.
Hualien to Taitung Route #3: A Peaceful Ride on County Road 193
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.
Getting from Taitung to 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, where Cheng-Ping (see reviews / check prices) is an excellent choice for an overnight stay, 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.
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.
Traveling back from Kenting to Hualien (Kenting to Taitung and Taitung to Hualien), all the info is the same but in reverse.
Another Option from Taitung to Kenting: The Slow but More Beautiful Route
This route is definitely a few hours slower, especially since there aren’t many notable stops on the road described above. 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 described below, 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.
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.
Kenting National Park
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the southern tip of Taiwan, Kenting (墾丁), the nation’s premier beach resort and home of legendary Spring Scream Rock Music Festival.
If you arrived on highway 9, then you’ll first pass a beach popular with locals, South Bay, before getting to the main strip of Kenting Village, the party town, night market, and tourist center of Kenting.
If you arrived on the slow route, shortly after Longpan Park, you’ll hit the Eluanbi Lighthouseat the Southern tip of Taiwan. After that, you’ll pass a great beach at Sail Rock before reaching Kenting village.
Kenting is no longer the East Coast, and there’s too much to say about it, so I’ll stop here. I do have a full write-up on Kenting coming though, so please sign up for my newsletter if you want to get notified when it’s published, and make sure to check out my other articles on Taiwan!
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