10 Day Taiwan Round Trip: Round Island Road Trippin’
January 4, 2020
We’re Johan and Bianca
We have been living and traveling in Taiwan with a combination of 15 years. Together we, along with our dog Thula, bring you the beauty of a life of travel in Taiwan, personally curated by us. After a night in the rain, a vanbuild, and a few plane rides across the world later, we decided to make life more interesting and take a chance on doing what we love. This time we decided to take a 10 day Taiwan Round Trip.
We took our van Delica, our dog Thula, and some vanlife packing essentials and took off for our round island Taiwan road trip. We gave ourselves 10 days to drive around the whole country of Taiwan. In planning our trip, there were a few sights we wanted to see such as Toroko National Park in Hualian, Jioufen in Taipei, and Taitung Beach, the longest sandy beach in Taiwan. But other than that, we had no real plans, just a general direction.
Some of Our Stops Along the Way:
- Kenting National Park
- Manzhou, Paiwan Aboriginal Village
- Taitung Beach
- Manbo Beach
- Route 23
- Toroko Gorge
- Dong’ao and Wai’ao beach Yilan
- Jiufen Old Street, Taipei
- Hei Long Tong Campground, Taipei
- Puli, Eden Hill Festival
Manzhou is a beautiful countryside township in the north-eastern part of Kenting National Park. Get out of the cities, get away from the tourist traps and come here. There is a new High Speed Rail stop that will soon open between Kenting and Kaohsiung, but if you want to truly enjoy Manzhou, you need to ride a bike, rent a scooter, or have a van (love sent to our Delica). Fresh air, green jungle, sounds of nature and did I mention fresh air? Still, not many people visit Manzhou, and we (secretly) hope that it will stay that way. Manzhou is one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan. With Kenting National Park near, endless trails for biking, and no keychains in sight, it has become a very special place to us. Manzhou is not for the weary traveler, but that may mean it may be for you.What to do in Manzhou.
- Visit Zhongshan Harbor with awe-inspiring sea & mountain views
- Ride your bicycle or scooter along beautiful Country Road 20
- Sight see old Taiwanese architecture in Manzhou Village
- Visit aboriginal Paiwan villages
- Eat at this awesome Vietnamese restaurant
- Go to 7 Tier Waterfall
- Go to the beach at Jialeshui
- Hike the Jiupeng sand dunes
We heard from a local foreigner that there is an aboriginal village around Manzhou (close to Kenting National Park) that is tucked into the green of the mountains. They live a very different life than the typical Taiwanese. They, like all the aboriginal people of Taiwan, have their own music, food, customs and beliefs. They call themselves Paiwan. Johan and I stopped halfway to the village to take in some views from above. An old woman with slow short steps came out of her home. She looked at us and said “kus kus.” She reached her hand in a plastic bag, and continued to feed her chickens. Kus Kus?
Some Things to Know Before You Go
- The Paiwan typically live in the southern hills of Taiwan in Kaohsiung and Pingtung counties. They are known for their skill in wood and stone sculpture, as their art is regarded as the finest of all that produced by Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.
- Status within the community is based on the ownership of land.
- Their homes are made completely of concrete slabs.
- The Paiwan are renowned for their two unique ceremonies, ‘The Masaru’, celebration to thank God for the past year’s harvest and ‘The Maleveq’, an elaborate tribal ceremony held every five years worshiping their ancestors gods. The Paiwan marriage ritual is another highlight of the culture; the celebration lasts two days. On the first night, the families and friends the couple sing and dance outside the home of the bride until dawn of the next day, on the wedding day the groom carries the bride on his back around the group while receiving blessings from the gods.
- Paiwan music centers on the traditions the communication of respect to tribal gods and ancestors.
Day 3: Taitung, East Coast Taiwan
Taitung County is a wild paradise for the outdoor enthusiast. It’s the third-largest county in Taiwan and is a beautiful place to cycle, surf, snorkel, or hike. Here, skin turns tan and hair curls into the wind. Here, the mountains are different than the rest of Taiwan. They fall into the ocean and cut through the sky. Take a drive along Route 199 and see what we mean for yourself. The beaches toward the southeast of Taiwan tend to be more sandy, and as you move north they turn to rock.
What to do Up the East Coast of Taitung
- Tiehua Music Village: Tiehuacun is an area, which is just adjacent to the old railway station. There are some restaurants and bars, which attract tourists as well as local people at night. Some restaurants offer music performances.
- Xiaoyeliu: A small coastal park that highlights the beautiful rock formations caused by marine erosion. It doesn’t take long to walk through and take photos. Worth a stop if you’re in Taitung and want to stretch your legs.
- Luye Highland Hot Air Baloon: The hot air balloon festival is in June through August, but if you have an extra hour this is a stop to catch a great view of the land below.
- Popasagoan Seaside Park: It’s a nice place to watch the sea and sunrise. Spacious and unblocked view of the ocean. The pavilion roof is made of rattan and provides shade during sunny days.
Day 4: Dulan, Taitung
We continued to make our way up the east coast towards Dulan, a little town that is quite friendly and accessible to travelers and foreigners. Here there is a night life with music and food and drink on the weekends. We took a quick stop at WaGoLiGong (meaning ‘I tell you’ in Taiwanese), the best hostel to say at in Dulan. They also have biltong pizza for those South Africans missing home a bit. We took a night to charge our electronics, eat some burgers, and take a good rest.
What to do in Dulan, Taitung
- Take surf lessons at WaGoLiGong Hostel
- Most people will say to go to the Sugar Factory, however, it seems to just not be our style of travel. We do not recommend it if you’re looking for more of a grounded experience.
- Go to the beach.
- Eat at the local restaurants
Day 5: Manbo Beach, Hualien
With our bikes on the back of the van, we headed towards Manbo Beach, Hualien on our 4th day of our 10 day Taiwan round trip. Just a half hour away from Toroko National Park, one of Taiwan’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders, we decided to set up the van here for the evening to get a full day of exploration the next day.
Manbo Beach is a huge, sandy (and rocky) beach in Hualien, Xincheng Township. Its about 30 minutes from the entrance to Taroko National Park. Here is the location to Manbo beach. As you’re driving along Route 9, there will be a small inlet on the right. From there, follow the road past the vacant BnBs and make a left at the end of the road. There is a sign, and a small cafe just at the entrance. You can park here, or if you have a 4×4 vehicle, drive right onto Manbo Beach.
It’s very easy to get to the beach. It’s only a two minute walk from the parking lot. But remember that a 4×4 is required to go onto the beach. The morning we woke up, we ended up pulling a Mercedes out of the sand with our van. The shoreline is naturally paved by smooth rocks. We don’t suggest the passive swimmer take on the water. The waves tumble the rocks making a thunder of sound every time one falls. As lovely as it sounds it may be painful for your body. Please be advised that beach is very steep at the shoreline, causing a shore break. You’ve been warned…
What to Do in and Around Manbo Beach
- Drink and eat at the cafe
- Observe the rock art created by local artists
- Go to nearby Toroko Gorge or QingShui Cliffs
- Make a fire and enjoy the view
Toroko National Park has been on our Taiwan must-see bucket list for some time now. We have been to Kenting, and have traveled around the east coast, but for some reason have never made it to Hualian’s infamous Toroko Gorge. After we rescued a stuck-in-the-sand Mercedes with the trusty Delica, we packed the van from our stay at Manbo Beach and continued North towards Toroko. Photos don’t do Toroko National Park Justice. The gorges cut deep, deep into the earth dropping down into marble stone. We have lived in Taiwan for some time, and even though it is a tiny island, the massive stone you will see at Toroko will make you think otherwise.
Take this drive, especially if you’re taking a Taiwan round trip. Its only about 20 minutes away from the Toroko gorge, and worth the short trip. You can see the edge of where the island of Taiwan meets the ocean. The Qingshui cliffs drop straight down high above the sea…way down.
Must Sees at Toroko
- The Gorge: The marble-walled jewel in the crown of the national park
- Jhuilu Trail: Some of the best views of the gorge
- Swallow Grotto: Amazing patterns painted by nature.
- Shakadang River: A green blue river that flows into the main waterway
- Qingshui Cliff: Cliffs that drop down to Taiwan’s edge
- Golden Canyon: You can swim here!
- Eternal Spring Shrine: A good spot to gather some background about Toroko National Park
There is quite a contrast between Dong’ao beach and Waiao beach. Depending on what kind of experience you want when traveling the east coast of Taiwan, an evening of fishing boats over an endless ocean or a day of surfing and plumes of beachy umbrellas, you have plenty of options to choose from.
Dong’ao Beach, Yilan
We spent the night at Dong’ao Beach located in Yilan, Su’ao Township. We woke up to a quiet sunrise and no other human in sight. It’s a beautiful 3.5 km long beach surrounded by mountains and fisheries in Yilan. The North Dong’ao River forms a pool of fresh water in the center of the beach. Once you have made it to the entrance, just turn left and walk for about 10-15 min. This makes it a great place for swimming and camping because you can take a swim in the salty ocean water then wash off in the freshwater pool. Be aware of high tide when setting up camp… Which we almost learned the hard way. What to Do
- Enjoy Nature
Wai’ao Beach, Yilan
Wai’ao Beach, also known as Gangao Beach, is located to the north outside of formerly bustling Wushi Harbor, hence the name Wai (meaning “outside”) ao. This beach is much more popular and easily accessible for those traveling by bus or train. It also offers amenities like places to eat, shower, drink or just hang out and catch some sun.There is plenty of things to do here at Wai’ao you can…
- Take surf lessons
- Rent an umbrella
Day 8: Jioufen Old Street, Taipei
In our 10 day Taiwan Round Trip, Jioufen was a must stop. If you’re taking a trip to East Asia, you need to make a stop in Taipei, Jiufen. Taiwan is becoming one of the most popular travel destinations in East Asia, and for good reasons. Book a flight, and go!
But, if you already know about Taiwan, chances are you already know about the capital Taipei 101, bubble milk tea, and events such as Taiwan’s Lantern Festival. But, if you’re looking for something a little more than a city experience, Jiufen City (yes, the setting of Spirited Away), is a place you need to check out for yourself.
The Need to Know Before You Go
- The majority of attractions are concentrated along the cobblestone steps of Shuqi Road (豎崎路) between Jiufen Elementary School and the Jiufen police precinct. The three roads running perpendicular to Shuqi Road (Jishan St., Qiche Rd., and Qingbian Rd.) each boast a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and cafés.
- Walk around. Take in the sights. And, like most tourist attractions, try to remember what the town of Jiufen was before it was a tourist attraction, and why it is still here today.
Day 9: Hei Long Tong (Black Dragon Pool) Campground, Taipei
This was my first time to Black Dragon Pool…and I am hesitant to tell anyone else about it. This is one of the most beautiful campsites in Taiwan. The pools of water carve through and around the campground with waterfalls and pools of crystal clear water. The site is maintained and has a diverse array of wildlife and plant life. But, the treck to get there is long, winding and full of possible (definite) wrong turns through tea fields and rice paddies. If you have the will to take a little adventure for the weekend, enjoy a fire and green things, then we suggest you check Hei Long Tan out. But, again, don’t tell anyone…
Some Things to Know Before you Go
- Depending if it is a Holiday, it usually costs about NT$150 per person to camp for the night
- They have bathrooms and hot showers…for free.
- There are a few sites to camp out, so drive the whole road before choosing.
- There is little to no wifi on the campground.
- Bring a floatie and the things you will need to cook. There is no 7-11 around.
- Google Maps will not be your friend, so get ready to make some 8 point turns.
Our final stop on our 10 day Taiwan round trip was to Eden Hill Electronic Music Festival. Eden Hill is a festival where nature, electronic music, and good vibes meet. Every year people from all over Asia gather here in Puli, the geographical center of Taiwan, to listen to electronic music from DJs around the world, enjoy the mountaintop views over the city below, and dance well into the night.
Round Taiwan Road Trippin’: Then…Our Battery Died
So close, yet so far. Thankfully we got a jump from a friend at Eden Hill and made our way back to Kaohsiung making sure not to turn the van off until we parked. Until…well…”Johan! Wait!” Stopped outside my apartment, tired, hungry and Thula trying to jump out into the street, we called a cab to come give us one last jump.
We swam in the deep ocean, and leaped off of large rocks.
We cooked over midnight fires, and met the soft morning sun.
We gazed into green mountains and peered over sharp cliffs.Engage with life. It can be quite beautiful if you let it be.