Hiking in Taroko Gorge, Taiwan is one of the best adventures in the country (along with surfing, hiking the bizarre southern coast, and scuba diving for hammerhead sharks). The incredible convenience, low cost, and the sheer volume of brilliant scenery that can be absorbed in a single day made this one of the best trips that I have ever taken.
Please note, I’m not talking about hiking OR biking the gorge. I’m talking about first hiking high in the gorge and then biking to the bottom. This can easily be done with the help of a kind fellow named Rihang who runs a guesthouse at the bottom of Taroko gorge. He speaks a bit of English (enough to get by). If miming and interpreting choppy English are not your idea of a good time, then you would be wise to contact Richard from Barking Deer Adventures to help you arrange your trip. He is the guy who originally introduced me to the area. Full contact information for both Rihan and Richard can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, the details.
Getting To Taiwan
Many people who go to South East Asia skip Taiwan for two reasons: 1) its (undeserved) lack of reputation for tropical beauty and culture and 2) the fact that budget overland travel to Taiwan is all but impossible. Neither of these is a good reason not to visit. First, Taiwan is as beautiful as any other country in the vicinity (it’s old Portuguese name, Formosa, actually means “beautiful island”). Second, Taipei flights are not all that expensive. Below is a list of budget airlines that provide cheap flights to Taiwan and the best destinations to fly to Taiwan from:
Cebu Pacific Airlines (Philippines)
At the time of writing the cost of a normal one-way from Manila to Taipei (or vice-versa) was $70 USD. Cebu Pacific also has cheap international flights to other destinations around SE Asia, such as Bangkok, for similar prices. This airline is great if you want to visit both countries.
Dragon Air (Hong Kong)
At the time of writing had round trip tickets from Bangkok to Taipei for $360 USD and round trip tickets from Hong Kong for $160 USD.
Air Asia (Malaysia)
Air Asia is an excellent budget airline with a wide variety of destinations. Look here for flights to Taipei from Malaysia and India, or even Paris or Perth.
Getting to Taroko Gorge
The train system in Taiwan is excellent. After arriving at the airport you will need to take a shuttle, bus, or taxi to Taipei’s Main Station where you can buy your ticket. You will purchase a ticket the Xincheng Station in Hualien County. You will want to take an express train which takes 2.5 – 3.5 hr depending on the train you take and costs about $13 USD.
You can also check schedules and buy tickets on the Taiwan Rail Website quick search page. Just go to the page I linked to, leave your starting destination as is and change your arrival destination to “Hua-lien Xincheng”, choose the date of your trip, make sure “Express” is selected, and hit search. You will then be shown the times of all the express trains on that day.
If you are staying with Rihan, he can pick you up from the train station. His guesthouse is nearby.
Alternatively, you can drive from Taipei to Xincheng, which usually takes 3 hours or more.
The Hike and Bike Hookup
You may or may not decide to stay at Rihan’s guesthouse (about $20 USD for a room at the hostel. I’m not sure, but I think that’s per person). It’s very convenient because it’s right at the foot of the gorge (most other accommodations are a forty minute drive away in Hualien). If you ask, he or his wife will also cook dinner for you. It’s a great way to try real Taiwanese home-style cooking.
Even if you don’t stay at Rihan’s, you ought to take advantage of his shuttle and bike service. Rihan will rent you a bike for about $10 USD per day. He has a fair selection and, although they’re not new, they’re in pretty good shape. For another $10 per person he will drive you up the gorge so that you can ride down it.
If you’re looking for a bit more adventure than just cruising down this geographic wonder, he will drop you off at the beginning of one of the many trails that line the sides of the gorge (a list of trails is forthcoming) and lock your bike up at the end of it so that you can hike all day, and finish it off by cruising down through the majestic gorge.
I seldom seen more natural beauty from more different vantage points than I did in the three days I spent hiking and biking Taroko Gorge. If you don’t believe me, just check out this video of the Vertigo Trail–a trail carved out of a sheer cliff hundreds of meters above the gorge.
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention the free riverside hot springs?
Taroko Gorge Hiking Contacts
Rihan’s Guesthouse and Bicycle Rental
Phone: (+886) 922-938-743 (if dialling from inside Taiwan, the first ‘9’ must be preceded by ‘0’)
Email: rihangsu (at) gmail (dot) com
Barking Deer Adventures (Richard)
Email: barkingdeerinfo (at) gmail (dot) com
Phone: (+886) 938-337-710 (if dialling from inside Taiwan, the first ‘9’ must be preceded by ‘0’)