After spending 6 nights in Taipei, we headed east to explore Yilan and Hualien. Dominated by the rugged mountains covered with tropical and subtropical vegetation, the east coast is the last unspoiled land in Taiwan.
Throughout the day, we experienced the lingering effects of Tropical Storm Fung-Wong moving north from the east side of the island. We managed to cover most of the planned attractions. In Yilan, we visited the 3-tiered Wufengqi Waterfall and wandered aimlessly at the National Center of Traditional Arts. The idyllic reflections on the flooded paddy fields were quite a sight to see. Based on our private driver, Hualien has better rice quality than Yilan due to its climate.
Given the bad weather, we skipped our visit to Nanfangao Lookout and proceeded with our journey to Hualien by taking the Suhua Highway. This cliff-hugging route is one of the most dangerous drives on this island. Being the only main road between the northern part and the eastern part of Taiwan, there are many fast moving heavy trucks transporting goods and hauling quarry stones between cities. To make matters worse, there are many blind curves, road and tunnel constructions, protruding cliff walls and debris cleanups due to landslides and falling rocks from the cliffs.
After a few hours of driving, we arrived at Qingshui Cliff. Coincidentally, the rain stopped long enough for us to stretch our legs and to witness one of the most spectacular views on this island. As part of the Taroko National Park, Qingshui Cliff is dubbed as one of the Eight Wonders in Taiwan. We admired the stunning beauty of the 3 distinct color tones of the Pacific Ocean and the sheer cliff walls — caused by collisions between the Philippine and Eurasian tectonic plates. To this date, Taiwan is still growing higher and higher.
As we departed for Qixingtan Beach, the weather took a turn for the worse again. We rushed our beach visit as the daylight ran out. Upon our arrival in Hualien, it took us a little longer to locate the AirBnb accommodation in the darkness. However, we were pleasantly greeted by the very spacious high-ceiling rooms. After checking in, we leisurely strolled to the nearby Dongdamen night market for dinner where we tried several interesting aboriginal specialties.
A couple of observations…
- There are plenty of bright neon-lit shops along the streets, especially in the cities’ outskirts and in the countryside. These shops sell one thing in common: betel nuts. Unbeknownst to us, betel nuts are widely consumed as addictive snacks in Taiwan, usually by the working class men. It is also the 4th most commonly used psychoactive substance after tobacco, alcohol and caffeinated drinks in the world. Since these nuts contain carcinogenic properties, those who chew them are 28 times more likely to develop oral cancer compared to those who don’t partake in this cultural habit.
- This was by far the most road tunnels we drove through in a day. Given the mountainous landscape, some of these tunnels are so huge and long that we literally couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnels. While most of us slept through the drive to Yilan, we passed through the 8-mile Hsuehshan Tunnel — the longest road tunnel in Taiwan and the ninth longest in the world.