Taiwan, an island that straddles two tectonic plates, is part of what is considered the ‘Ring of Fire’ that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. While it may be unpleasant to think of living in such a volatile environment, the push and pull of the earth from these natural forces is what forms the stunningly beautiful coastline to the east of Taiwan’s central mountain range.
From the marble canyons of Taroko Gorge, to the charming seaside cities of Hualien and Yilan and the fishing villages along the way, the landscape on the East Coast is an ever-changing place of moist rice fields at the foot of steep mountain hills and the roaring surf of the Philippine Sea.
Journey into Taroko Gorge
My journey began with a trip into Taroko Gorge. My taxi driver-cum-guide stopped along the way to point out several sights.
Tunnel of Nine Turns / CC by 3.0 / eazytraveler
Our first stop after entering the gorge was the Shrine of Eternal Spring, which was built to commemorate the more than 200 people that died building the road and the Tunnel of Nine Turns. As he explained, Taroko Gorge used to be a highway linking the east and west coasts of northern Taiwan.
The original road was built by retired soldiers, who blasted bits of solid marble sections at a time. It was a dangerous job and many did not return home to their families.
Following the Stunning Coastline
Back on the coast-hugging highway, with the ocean on my left and the East Rift Valley on my right, we drive south and unceremoniously cross the Tropic of Cancer to officially enter the tropical zone.
Shihtiping / CC by 3.0 / Allon Lim
It may have been my imagination but the further we drove, the sun shone brighter and the day got warmer. There was one rocky beach after the other, all pounded by the rough seas and sculpted into caves, steps and platforms. These became attractions such as Shihtiping and Little Yelio, where the rough seas had turned the landscape into dramatic sculptures.
Yehliu Geopark / CC by 3.0 /Jiashiang
A little further south in the Chenggong Township, the Tao-influenced bridge, Sansiantai, hops eight arches to a small offshore island. This is one of the most popular sightseeing spots on the East Coast and I join the hundreds of visitors on the beach to soak in the surroundings while pebbles were being washed clean by the gentle waves.
Sansiantai Bridge / CC by 3.0 / 白士 李
Living Among the Indigenous Culture
The Amis people, the largest of the 14 recognised indigenous groups in Taiwan, have called this stretch of coast home for hundreds of years. The East Coast is dotted with indigenous settlements still living in their traditional ways.
Buluowan Taiwanese Aboriginal Cultural Centre / CC by 3.0 / Albert Luo
Over the past years, the increased focus on preserving Taiwan’s indigenous culture has seen the development of many cultural centres in the region. The Buluowan Taiwanese Aboriginal Cultural Centre in Taroko has displays of heritage arts and craft, as well as hosting an accommodation service in traditional bamboo huts.
However, I found the Amis Folk Centre to be a more authentic experience. Located further south near the town of Donghe, the centre is a model village showcasing the way the Amis live and work.
Amis tribe / CC by 3.0 / Larry Koester
A couple of young people offered to show us how Amis fireworks were used to trick offshore intruders: sparks of harmless explosions would be pointed towards the sea, where any coastal invaders would think the land dwellers were armed. The ear-piercing bangs made me think they even had canons!
the most dramatic geological phenomenon I experienced was the violent beauty of the coastline
Relaxing Soak in Natural Hot Springs
After nine hours of sightseeing, arriving at the town of Chihpen was a welcome relief. The day had been long and I was exhausted from the awe I continued to feel for the East Coast. It was time to rest.
The word Chihpen means ‘source of wisdom’. This name was given to the town by the Japanese when they developed the area as a hot springs resort during their occupation for the enjoyment of soldiers and dignitaries visiting Taiwan.
The mineral hot springs are said to ease the soul and cure all illnesses and it seems fitting that I spent the last day of my East Coast adventure rubbing my sore feet in the hot mineral-rich waters.
Just like the dramatic landscapes of the East Coast, hot springs are another by-product of the hot seismic activities that cause the earthquakes I’ve been warned about many times.
Luckily, the grounds stayed absolutely still for my entire trip and the most dramatic geological phenomenon I experienced was the violent beauty of the coastline.
Feature Image: Tunnel entrance along Hualien coast / CC by 3.0 / Tan Cheng Joo