Words by Rick Charette
The Hotel Royal Chihpen – Unbeatable home base for those for which happiness means healthy-lifestyle outdoor exercise
The alluring Hawaii-like combination of low and accessible coastal mountains, Pacific coastline and open, flat land in between makes the East Coast region around Taitung City and the Zhiben (知本) hot-spring resort area a well-nigh heavenly destination for travelers keen on healthy outdoor exercise combined with spirit-lifting scenic entertainment. The East Rift Valley’s (花東縱谷) flat floor, between the central and coastal mountain ranges, offers plenty of options. (Read also: A Bit of Hawaii in the West Pacific – Places to Go in and around Taitung City)
An invigorating schedule of international athletic events is served up in the region, most with open sections for non-professional athletes, enticing nature/exercise aficionados with an extra reason to come view the sights and experience the healthy local lifestyle. Among the bigger events drawing international participants and spectators are the Taiwan Open of Surfing, CIGNA Tour of East Taiwan–365km Challenge (cycling), Challenge Taiwan (triathlon), Hualien-Taitung Multi-day Ultra Marathon, IRONMAN 70.3 Taiwan, and Taitung Marathon. (Read Also: World Renowned Triathlete Couple Takes-On Challenge Taiwan)
The Hotel Royal Chihpen can play a helpful support role on many fronts as the sporting traveler’s “home away from home,” ensuring maximum-efficiency lead-up to events as well as an optimal recuperation environment afterwards. What are perhaps the region’s finest room accommodations ensure restful sleep. The freshest, most nutritious foods are prepared by the hotel kitchens. And the L&R amenities are perfect for athletic types: gym, competition-style swimming pool and world-class spa facilities. (Read also: Eight Taiwan Sporting Events Serious Athletes Need to Know About)
Of course, there’s no need to wait for large-scale organized events such as these to roll around in order to get out there exploring. Here’s a DIY sampler of what you can get up to – on the hiking trails, on a bike, on a surfboard, on a paddleboard, on a raft and more.
Just upriver from the Zhiben resort area is a strikingly photogenic bright-red bridge, located before a point where the mountain valley narrows and deepens dramatically. Across the chasm, spread out over the mountainside opposite, is the 110ha Zhiben National Forest Recreation Area (知本國家森林遊樂區; recreation.forest.gov.tw). The grounds are laced with trails, with the star attraction the most challenging, the Brave Man’s Slope Trail (好漢坡步道), a steep 320m-long stepped pathway which rewards its brave conquerors with magnificent giant thousand-root banyan trees and splendid far-off ocean views. (Read also: Take a hike: the best hiking trails in Taiwan)
The region’s two most popular bicycling destinations are in the verdant East Rift Valley’s south section. Chishang (池上) and Guanshan (關山) are two farming towns, close to each other, both in idyllic settings, central mountains on one side, coastal mountains on the other, surrounded by a neatly sculpted tapestry of farm fields. Chishang is renowned as producer of “Chishang rice” (池上米), widely proclaimed Taiwan’s best. (Read also: Eight Unforgettable Taiwan Cycling Routes)
Kilometers-long dedicated bikeways are at each town’s edge and bring you through the fields – the surrounds are at their most beautiful whenever one of the multiple rice fields is ripening. Along the way, the easy-grade loop routes, which are almost entirely free of vehicle traffic, also pass myriad sites of historical and/or cultural interest and let you view the region’s sophisticated irrigation system up close, presenting gurgling-water irrigation channels and irrigation ponds, large and small. There are many certified bike-rental outlets around the respective starting points, supplying bikes of varying types, including tandems, pedal bikes and e-carts.
Guanshan’s 12km trail circles the town, traveling the hillside above it on the west, creating thrilling bird’s-eye views. Chishang offers a pathway system on its east/southeast. Whichever options are chosen see riders loop back to the launch-point. The most iconic and by far the most photographed location along the two routes is Chishang’s Bolang Dadao (伯朗大道; “Brown Avenue”), made famous in TV commercials for Mr. Brown Coffee and EVA Air starring Japanese-Taiwanese pop-celebrity Takeshi Kaneshiro.
Other highly recommended biking choices are the Taitung Forest Park (台東森林公園), in Taitung City along the Beinan River (卑南溪), and for the more ambitious and energy-abundant, the easy-grade, gently curving coastal highway north from the city, Provincial Highway 11.
Surfing, Standup Paddleboarding, Snorkeling
In the warmer months lovers of watersports flock to the area around Dulan (都蘭) and Donghe (東河), two Amis tribe (阿美族) coastal villages above Taitung City, for the joys of surfing, standup paddleboarding, and snorkeling. The key surfing site is at Jinzun Fishing Harbor (金樽漁港), warmed by waters from the Kuroshio Current, where the annual Taiwan Open of Surfing is held. The World Surfing League recognizes the area as one of the world’s best surfing spots. Waves are highest when the northeast monsoon winds begin to blow each autumn. Rental equipment is readily available, as are beginner lessons.
No, not whitewater, though first-rate whitewater-rafting excursions are available in the East Rift Valley’s north, launching from the town of Ruisui (瑞穗). Here, “rafting” means handling the traditional-style bamboo rafts used in the past by locals, doing your imitation of a Venetian gondolier with bamboo pole in hand. (Read also: River Tracing in Taiwan)
At its north end, Chishang’s bike network is centered around Dapo Lake (大波池). “Chishang” literally means “on the lake.” Over twice its present size in the 19th century, fish and shrimp were long harvested from this natural wetland, along with water chestnuts and lotus roots. Rent a bamboo raft (or pedal boat), meander the tree-surrounded lake and pole your way into the thick forest of lotus plants on the east, picking as many flowers as desired.
The Amis-run Marongarong Donghe Tribe House (瑪洛阿瀧東河部落屋; marogarog.tacocity.com.tw; Chinese) is in Donghe where the Mawuku River (馬武窟溪) meets the sea (FYI, good surfing here). One-hour river outings are offered on traditional-style bamboo rafts that were in fact designed for the sea, which the Amis call their “refrigerator.” The tribal center also offers handicrafts DIY, traditional-style feasts, song-and-dance and other performances, a thatch-hut homestay experience and guided deep-mountain 4WD excursions.
For more information, visit the websites of the East Coast National Scenic Area, East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, and Taitung County tourism authority (www.discovertaitung.com). Note that Guanshan, Chishang, Taitung City, and Zhiben can all be reached by train.