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Luye is a gorgeous, rural town in Taitung county, in the southeast corner of Taiwan. It is famous for the International Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival, which takes place there every summer, but I think it’s a fabulously scenic and laid-back place to stay any time of year, especially if you are looking to get a taste of rural Taiwan.
In my East Coast Taiwan article I recommend Luye as one of the best places to stay in Taitung if you traveling or doing a road trip down Highway 11 through Taiwan’s beautiful East Rift Valley. You can also see my recommended Taiwan itinerary to see how to fit Luye into your trip around Taiwan.
In summer of 2018, I took my kids to the incredible Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival during our father-daughter-son round-Taiwan trip. I was so impressed by the area and festival that I’ve written this whole post to introduce Luye and the Taiwan Hot Air Balloon Festival. Luye is now one of my favorite places in Taiwan and makes it onto my list of Top 50 Taiwan experiences.
The 2019 Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival will take place from June 29 to August 12.
Taiwan has another smaller hot air balloon festival closer to Taipei, called the Shihmen Reservoir Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, in Taoyuan County. The 2019 dates were June 15 – 23.
You’ll need to book well in advance if you want to ride a hot air balloon during the Taiwan Hot Air Balloon Festival in Luye. However, you can use the above link to book a hot air balloon ride any time of the year!
Luye is a rural township north of Taitung City. The town center around Luye train station, a 20-30 minute drive from Taitung City, is a small collection of shops along the highway.
Before arriving, I had studied the grid of streets to the southwest of the train station on Google Maps (called “Longtian Village”), thinking this was the “town”. But when we arrived, I found that these streets were actually gorgeous, leafy countryside lanes between tea fields and pineapple farms.
The whole Luye area is exceptionally beautiful. If you’ve come to Taitung to enjoy what the region is famous for—rural scenery, fresh air, relaxed countryside life—then Luye is an ideal place to enjoy it, especially from the seat of a bicycle or scooter.
If you want to experience Taitung, then I would strongly suggest you stay in Luye rather than uninspiring Taitung City (nearby Chishang or Guanshan are other good options, or Dulan Beach town if you want a beach getaway).
The Luye Highland is also incredibly beautiful and worth the drive up, even if you aren’t in town for the Taitung International Balloon Festival which takes place there in summer. We absolutely loved staying up on the highland; I’ll mention the guesthouse we stayed in and other accommodation options at the end of the article.
Another thing I loved is that Luye is one of the best places to experience Taiwan’s tea culture, something I happen to be in love with, with tea farms everywhere and several farms and shops where you can taste and purchase fine local teas.
Things to Do in Luye (Besides the Hot Air Balloon Festival)
In Luye town, spend time cruising the lovely lanes on a bicycle or scooter. There is a Shinto Shrine (鹿野神社) worth checking out. There’s also a small museum in a Japanese colonial era building called Luye District Office (鹿野區役場).
If you are interested in Japanese-era architecture in Taiwan, also check out my article on Beitou Hot Spring, developed by the Japanese, and the best temples in Taipei (which includes a couple wooden Japanese era ones).
If you’re interested in tea, you can drop into the tea farms and processing facilities at Linwang Tea Garden (林旺製茶廠) or Xinfeng Garden (新峰茶園) to have a look around and purchase or taste teas produced on site.
The Luye Highland is also a great place to explore for tea lovers. There are 3-4 shops selling local teas right beside the Luye Visitor Information Center near the Highland. Among these shops, Yong An Tea Garden (永安茶園) is a great choice. You can try anything before you buy, and they have single bottles of iced Luye teas to go. The local specialties are jinxuan (milk oolong), red oolong (first developed in in Luye), and honey scented red (black) tea.
If you purchase the above or any other teas from Eco-Cha Taiwan, which supports sustainable tea farming in Taiwan, use this discount link, or use the code NKTEA at checkout, and you will get 10% off!
If you are looking to buy tea in Taipei, head to historic Dihua Street and Dadaocheng, where you can find some of the city’s oldest and best tea shops.
At the south end of the Luye Highland, on the ring road around the highland and just south of where the balloons take off, there’s the Luye Plateau Tourist Tea Plantation Visitor Center (逸品茶園) in a two-story brick building, with tea tasting sessions on the second floor. A little north of the highland, you can visit Li Pin Organic Tea Farm (立品有機茶園).
We only found one restaurant around the highland where we could eat in the evening, called Ai Jiao Yi Tea Meals (愛嬌姨茶餐), specializing in tea infused foods. It’s a good idea to reserve in advance during the Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival because many groups stop here. Our set meal included red tea braised pork, deep fried tofu with green tea dipping sauce, mountain greens fried in tea oil, tea oil chicken soup, and red oolong steamed rice (note: I don’t eat meat, but there weren’t any options besides the set meal).
Luye is also one of the best places to go paragliding in Taiwan (similar to hang gliding). We noticed people both landing on the Luye Highland while we were there, and taking off from it to land further below near Luye town.
For bookings, try Soaring Paragliding. Expect to pay around NT2500 for a 10-minute glide, and an extra NT400 to rent a GoPro. Paragliding in Taitung is a great option if you want to get the views, with added adrenaline, and for cheaper than riding in a hot air balloon.
Further out of town, you can drive 15 minutes north along Highway 9 to the Wuling Green Tunnel (武陵綠色隧道), a 4.5km stretch of road where eucalyptus trees form a “tunnel” above the road. If you’ve made it this far, you may want to continue to Guanshan, famous for the Guanshan town-circuit bicycle path, or Chishang, also gaining popularity for its cycling paths and countryside scenery selfie opportunities at Brown Boulevard.
South of town, Chulu Ranch (初鹿牧場) is a popular leisure farm among local families. West of town, technically in Yanping township not Luye, is the Bunun Leisure Farm, a 100% aboriginal-operated cultural & leisure farm that I once visited and wrote about for Travel in Taiwan magazine.
Most visitors come to Luye for the Taiwan Hot Air Balloon Festival, officially the “Taitung Taiwan International Balloon Festival” (the name seems to change every year). The festival, now in its 9th year, usually runs for 38 days starting at the end of June or beginning of July.
In 2018, it was extended by a week, running from June 30 to Aug. 13, to boost tourism to the east coast after a severe earthquake caused serious damage to Hualien earlier in the year. In 2019, the Taitung International Hot Air Balloon Festival dates are June 29 to August 12.
Here’s the official balloon site, and note that certain days, including the opening celebration, may not have balloon rides. Also note (begin rant), the Taiwan Tourism Bureau is a complete shit show. When I was planning our trip to the 2018 festival, I found that the Taitung Tourism Bureau seems to have two different websites (?)
One of them hasn’t updated its balloon festival info since 2014. The other one links to the balloon festival website. However, on the official English balloon festival site, even two weeks after the festival had already begun in 2018, the most important pages (how to buy tickets, what time it starts, etc.) were all blank and said “coming soon.”
When I used the help and contact forms, they never replied to me. When I called in, they had some lousy excuse, and then it still took another week before the English information was finally put up, three weeks into the festival. The funniest thing is that they call this festival “international,” but it seems like they really don’t want to make any effort to help non-Taiwanese people figure how to attend the festival. And yes, I could find the info on the Mandarin site, but was still unimpressed.
Therefore, I hope the information in this article can help if you can’t find it on the shitty government sites in years to come! I’ll try to update this page with the right links and dates in upcoming years.
What to Expect at the Taiwan Hot Air Balloon Festival
If you want to actually ride a hot air balloon at the Taiwan Hot Air Balloon Festival, you should buy your ticket many months in advance. The 30-min to 1-hour ride takes place around sunrise and you need to be there at 4:30 am. Note that you can actually buy tickets and ride balloons at the Luye Highland at other times of the year, but riding during the festival is the most impressive because you can see all the other balloons taking off and flying around you.
A second and much cheaper option is the tethered balloon ride, in which you just go up in a balloon that is roped to the ground for 5-7 minutes for NT500 per person. You can do this from 5:30-7am or 5-7pm, with tickets going on sale on site 30 minutes before opening (expect long lines). Note that children under 10 are not allowed on the regular or tethered rides.
You don’t have to actually ride a balloon to enjoy the festival. Many people, including us, just go to sit on the hill and marvel at the incredible display. The best time to arrive is 5am or 5pm, when they just start blowing all the balloons up.
When we visited, we found that most of the balloons never actually went up to the sky, they just blow up a bunch of them, give viewers lots of time to get up close for selfies, with the tethered rides taking place in the background, and then they deflate them. I wonder if maybe you have to arrive even earlier to see the ones taking off, or maybe there just weren’t so many actual flights taking place when we visited on a weekday. On weekends, you can expect much larger crowds and more balloons.
Some of the balloons are really cute, and one thing the official site does well is that is shows a complete list of all the balloons and which days you can see them.
How to Get to the Luye Highland
We rented a scooter from this shop in town. It was a little ways from the train station but they came to pick us up. Note that you will need a local or international license.
It is a 20-30 minute drive up nearby Gaotai (Highland) Road, and it was a gorgeous rural road with no traffic at all. It seemed like all the cars and buses took Longma Rd. from town, so avoid that road up. Scooter parking at the event is free, but if you come by car, parking is NT100 (weekdays) or NT200 (weekends). Weekends are much more crowded, so try to come on a weekday.
When you arrive, you can park your scooter right beside the hill where most people sit. The road does a full circuit around the plateau before heading back down to Luye. There were a few drink and ice cream stands near the hill, as well as a café with outdoor seating.
For budget travelers, the best place in town is Jamie’s guesthouse (read reviews / see prices), at the southeast corner of town. Friendly hosts Jamie and her mother can pick you up from the train station and they prepare breakfasts with mostly organic fuits and veggies. There are free bicycles to use, and electric scooters (no license required) can be rented. Highly recommended!
Luminous Hot Spring Resort & Spa(read reviews / see prices) is a resort option at the western end of town. There’s a great outdoor pool, and balconies on the upper floors have excellent views, including the chance to see hot air balloons going by.
We LOVED staying up on the highland. The scenery is gorgeous up there, and it’s so quiet.
If you want to stay right on the highland where the balloon festival takes places, there are two options: Bell Cottages (read reviews / see prices) and Lutai Winery (read reviews / see prices). Both are up on the hill overlooking the balloon area. Lutai winery makes Chinese-style liquors, including fruit wines. Don’t expect grape fields or Western style wine! You need to book far, far in advance to get a room at either during the Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Where we stayed:
Since the above two were fully booked, we stayed at Kai Tai B&B (see prices), a five-minute drive from the balloon area. In the end, I think this was a better choice! If you stay right in the balloon area, there will always be a ton of people around. But from the balcony of our super quiet guesthouse, we could see nothing but pineapple farms and an incredible view down on the valley below! It’s also close to the tea shops and restaurant serving tea-infused foods that I mentioned above.