Short on time but still hoping to explore Taiwan’s majestic Taroko Gorge? With the right guide, you can do it in a single day.
Ten PM, Wednesday, and you’re just beginning to wind down from your day, which began sixteen hours ago with a workout in the gym at the Grand Hyatt Hotel followed in rapid succession by a shower, breakfast and limousine ride to Nangang. The rest of the day passed in a blur of meetings and handshakes, presentations and spreadsheets, and…somewhere just before the celebratory banquet, the signing of the memorandum of understanding that was, at heart, the raison d’etre for your trip to Taiwan.
It’s been a short trip, a business trip in every sense, and on Friday you’ll be heading back to New York on a business class flight, your mission in Taiwan accomplished.
But before you do, you’ve got a mission of a different sort planned.
The next day you’re up with the sun. Exchanging business suit for breathable pants and hiking boots, you wolf down breakfast in a taxi on the way to Songshan airport. It’s a domestic flight, so no need to clear customs. Three-quarters of an hour later, you descend into picturesque Hualien.
At Hualien airport, you meet up with the other members of your tour group, a couple from Australia, a German man traveling solo around the world, and a woman from England who’s also looking to get in a bit of adventure between business meetings.
You also meet your guide and driver, Ivan.
Ivan greets the group with a cheerful grin and asks in impeccable English,
“Is everybody ready for adventure?”
Moments later (after a brief stop at a convenience store for coffees) your group is chatting as your car glides northward through beautiful coastal scenery.
Ivan explains that you’ll be heading into Taroko in a bit, but that first, he thought you’d appreciate the chance to stretch your legs beneath the Qingshui Cliffs. It’s a magnificent sight, the azure Pacific meeting the tree covered stone cliffs beneath an endless blue sky.
“A lot of people head right to the Gorge,” says Ivan. “But I like to take my groups to the cliffs to start their day by the ocean.”
You breathe deeply the ocean air. The steel canyons of Taipei seem a million miles away.
After a brief glimpse, the group is back on the road to Taroko Gorge.
Ivan pulls over by the visitor center to offer the group a brief overview of the creation of Taroko National Park. Puffy white clouds creeping over the tree covered hills surrounding the building offering a tantalizing vision of the adventure to come. After this brief introduction, a short drive brings the group to the day’s first hike.
If the Qingshui Cliffs felt a million miles away from Taipei than the landscape surrounding The Shakadang Trail seem like they belong to an entirely different geological era. The group hikes along a narrow trail carved in places through the rock itself, the blue waters of the river below. Ivan explains that this trail is far older than the park itself, and was once used by the local Truku tribe, first as a hunting trail, and later as a way to evade and escape the Japanese.
The hike lasts about an hour, and afterward, the group heads to a small tribal restaurant for a light lunch of rice, vegetables and a dish called mountain pork. Like everything else you’ve eaten in Taiwan, this meal is unique and delicious. The group rests a bit before Ivan announces it’s time for the afternoon’s adventure to begin. (Read more: Gorge Soaring – The Views of Eagles along Taroko Gorge’s Trails)
The afternoon’s hiking brings you to a point called Swallow Grotto. At one point Ivan points out a particular rock formation which, he says, looks a bit like the head of a tribal chieftain. With a bit of squinting, you think you can almost make him out.
In the hours that follow, the group hikes more gorgeous trails winding around the gorge and over some shorter, flat trails offering stunning views of the river below, of green fields filled with beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers bursting with color, and many other places begging to be photographed.
Sometime in the late afternoon, Ivan tells the group it’s time to start heading back.
“But we’ve got one more cool place to hit before I bring you back to the airport,” he promises.
The group drives back down the road through the park, turning north on the coastal road as the sun just starts to set over the mountains to the west, the mountains through which you’ve just barely gotten a taste of this afternoon. (Read more: Ways to Explore Taroko Gorge)
“I’m bringing you to one of my favorite night markets,” Ivan tells the group. “It’s by the ocean, and has a way more relaxed vibe than the other night markets you may have visited in Taipei City.”
With the sea breeze and wide pedestrian street, the Dongdamen Night Market is actually pretty chill, especially compared to the heavy crowds of the Shilin Night Market (which one of your colleagues had brought you to earlier in the week). After a quick meal of grilled octopus, grilled mushrooms, and more of that excellent mountain pork, Ivan tells the group that it’s time to head to the airport.
Simultaneously tired and energized, you board the plane for the short ride back to Taipei.
As the plane descends into the twinkling lights of Taipei City you reflect on your all-too-brief experience in Taiwan. When you return to your office on Monday Morning, your colleagues will no doubt expect to hear all about your successful business negotiations in Taipei, and you’ll surely tell them. But at the moment your business exploits, important as they were, feel like the lesser of your adventures in Taiwan.
Experience the majesty of Taroko Gorge for yourself on MyTaiwanTour’s Taroko Gorge in a Day Tour.