Taiwan

Where Taiwan meets the Pacific Ocean, art meets nature

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Many landscapes in Taiwan are thought-provoking. The country has East Asia’s tallest mountains, most spectacular canyons and a stretch of coastline.

The unspoilt eastern part of the island has long been a favorite with domestic and foreign tourists. Hualien and Taitung counties account for more than one-fifth of Taiwan’s land area but only one-quarter of its residents. There are forests, farms, small country towns and friendly villages in the area, home to nine of the country’s 16 Aboriginal Austronesian tribes. The East is the obvious place, Taiwan is part of both the Pacific Ocean and East Asia.

Eastern Taiwan is more accessible than ever thanks to recent investments in road and rail networks. Highway No. 9 connects the southwest to Taitung, while the greatly improved Su-Ao Highway connects northern Taiwan with the Taroko Gorge and Hualien. By train, it is now possible to travel from Taipei to Taitung in less than four and a half hours, and from Kaohsiung to Taitung in less than two hours.

A quick overnight trip is possible, but unlikely to be satisfactory. Upon arriving in the East, many first-time visitors are overwhelmed by the sense of space – not just the physical dimension. They immediately understand why people come here to decompress and unwind, and why so many Taiwanese say they hope to go to Hualien or Taitung after retirement.

Given its vibe, it’s no wonder the East has a disproportionate number of artists and visionaries. Works by some of these creators will be on display at the upcoming Taiwan East Coast Land Art Festival, also known as TECLandArt Festival. The festival’s website, www.teclandart.tw, is available in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean and includes promotional videos and profiles of participating artists, as well as details of workshops and networking events.

As in previous years, the 2023 curatorial team looked for works that addressed human connection, the natural environment, and the relationship between Aboriginal people and newcomers. The annual festival is both local and international. In previous years, the specially invited artists came from Australia, Japan, Malaysia and other places, as well as artists from Taiwan.

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Since the festival launched in 2016, these individuals have contributed a stunning array of indoor and outdoor installations, ceramic and fabric works, sculptures, soundscapes, wood carvings, woven materials and even creations using marine litter.

The festival will also include two concerts per month from June to September. Each show has a theme, such as “Ride the Wind and Waves” and “Moon Tide”. All eight performances will be held at the Torik Visitor Center in Chenggong Township, Taitung County.

The Central Government Tourism Administration has recently established several “tourism alliances” across Taiwan to leverage the strengths and unique appeal of each region by strengthening cooperation among local governments, experts and entrepreneurs. Attractions highlighted by the East Coast Tourism Alliance include stargazing near Yanliao in Hualien County, white water rafting and aboriginal communities along the Hsiuguluan River, and Fugang, a fishing village that serves as a starting point for excursions to Green Island and Orchid Island.

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Those looking for a meaningful travel experience might want to visit the Gaoshan Forest Center (https://www.gs-forest.com/), an ecotourism destination in Fengbin Township, Hualien County. Founded by an ex-professional soldier who grew up here and is committed to preserving the natural environment and the traditional ecological knowledge acquired over centuries by his Bunun indigenous ancestors, the center immerses visitors in hunting lore, tree climbing and other active. The center also has its own campground where visitors can enjoy the real forest atmosphere.

Some tourists rent cars, motorbikes or bicycles to explore the Orient. Public transportation is another viable option, but non-drivers who don’t want to wade through train timetables and bus route maps should explore the services of the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle.

Route 8101A provides a full-day tour of the Taitung coastline, starting and ending at Taitung Bus Station, NT$399 per person (half price for children under 12, free for children under 6). Passing through the Xiaoyeliu Scenic Area, which is famous for its peculiar geology, the Amis Folklore Center (Ami is the largest aboriginal tribe in Taiwan with 219,000 people), Chenggong Fishing Port, Sanxiantai, and Dulan Sugar Factory.

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In addition to sailfish and other seafood delicacies, Chenggong Fishing Port has more delicacies to come ashore and eat here. Since the Oyashio and Kuroshio currents meet near Chenggong, the harbor is a popular starting point for dolphin and whale watching cruises in summer.

Sanxiantai—the place name can be translated as “Three Xiantai”—was once a narrow peninsula. Long ago, wave erosion and rising sea levels turned it into a rocky islet, now connected to the mainland by an eight-arched pedestrian bridge. When the light is just right, you may find yourself stopping to take a photo, taking a few extra steps, and then pulling out your camera again.

The sugar industry in eastern Taiwan stagnated decades ago, but the small town of Dulan has made a comeback thanks to tourism and outsiders who choose to make their homes here. Some are drawn to Touraine’s laid-back surf vibe. Others relocated to join the town’s artist community. The former sugar factory is now a cultural center where you’ll find art galleries, dance performances and souvenir vendors.

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For those with less time on their hands, route 8101B offers a four-and-a-half-hour rotation around some of these attractions, starting at 8 a.m. For late risers, 8101C (same as 8101B, adult fare is NT$250 per person) starts at 1:40pm and returns to Taitung around 6:15pm. For reservation information, special offers and details of similar services throughout Taiwan, please visit the multilingual website www.taiwantrip.com.tw.

Travelers planning to travel to eastern Taiwan should visit the website of the East Coast National Scenic Area (www.eastcoast-nsa.gov.tw). The bimonthly English magazine “Taiwan Travel Review” sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau can be searched and read online at https://issuu.com/. For various tourist information about the country, please visit the website of the Tourism Bureau (www.taiwan.net.tw), or call the 24-hour tourist consultation hotline 0800-011-765 (toll-free within Taiwan).

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