We’ve really zipped around Taiwan this semester, both within Taitung County as well as around the island. Here are some of the highlights:
Three of us went to Taroko Gorge on probably one of the Last Warm Weekends of the year. We took a train to Hualien, stayed the night at a quiet hostel in the city, and then woke up early the next morning to rent a scooter and ride forty minutes north to the entrance of Taroko. It was absolutely incredible. It reminded me of Zion National Park in Utah, where I used to visit often when I was living in Vegas, but everything was green instead of red, and the gorge was so tall it seemed to swallow us deeper inside every corner we turned. I’ve never been more grateful to have a scooter license, because we were able to zip around the highway that cuts through the gorge and stop at leisure to marvel waterfalls, cross suspension bridges with fantastic views of the gorge, or go for a walk on trails that dot the park. On the second day, we trekked to a natural cave hot springs near the river on the bottom of the gorge, and that was quite fun. We felt really moisturized afterwards. The town of Hualien was fun, too, though it did invoke a bit of FOMO, as it was a bigger and more lively city than Taitung. Admittedly, my standards are low; I was astounded by the presence of sidewalks. Their nightmarket was incredible though, and I ate some of the best sweet potato balls in my life. We’ll be back in the spring, Hualien!
A few kilometers south of Taitung City is the town of Zhiben, known for its hot springs and natural beauty. On my roommate’s birthday last month, we spent a lovely day soaking in a lovely hot springs that resembled more of a waterpark and had a fantastic view of the mountains around us. We also met some interesting people there as well, including a friendly family from Tainan and a recently retired ex-police officer who told us to call him “Daddy Sung.” We followed our hot springs soak with a venture into the 知本國家森林遊樂區, or the Zhiben National Recreation Area. Not expecting much, we were completely bowled over by how extensive, beautiful, and well-kept it was. The whole time we kept asking ourselves, “Why is this place so nice? Who built this?” It almost felt like we were in Spirited Away, and the recreation area was just a shared delusion. There were walks, hikes, sculptures, a suspension bridge, a jungle gym of sorts, and an interesting visitors center that we walked through in awe. I guess after experiencing some janky things in Taitung, we were just in shock over how well designed everything was. We only had time to explore for a few hours before heading back for a hot pot reservation, but we’ll definitely be back.
Taipei Thanksgiving + Sharon
On the Friday before Thanksgiving, all the Taiwan Fulbright scholars (ETAs, researchers, and MA students) got together in Taipei for a Thanksgiving dinner together at the Howard Plaza Hotel, hosted by AIT (virtually the US embassy in Taiwan). We were warmly welcomed and fed by our hosts, and enjoyed a great meal with our fellow Fulbrights. The highlight of my weekend, though, was seeing my close friend from college, who was in town to visit family. Though our time together was short, it was amazing wandering around Taipei with her and updating each other on our lives.
Taiwan Open of Surfing
Taitung hosted an international surfing competition mid-November to early December. A few friends and I spent a warm afternoon scootering up the coast to see the surfers in the Jinzun Harbor lookout area. We were extremely impressed by how effortlessly the surfers maneuvered through the waves, and enviously imagined how awesome it would be just to look that cool. I just had my first surfing lesson earlier that month and felt that I could appreciate these surfers even more.
Hot Springs Hunting
This is probably one of my favorite travel stories so far this semester. Our friend Chris’ LET told him about this illegal hot springs up north that some (mysterious) people build every year, on the banks of the river that flows through Luye. We weren’t sure what to expect, or if it even existed, but we wanted to take a look regardless. We took 3 detours along the way due to construction, and the last stretch of road was gravelly and dense with vegetation. None of this deterred us, though, and we kept pressing on. And our luck paid off! We soaked in the hot spring for nearly two hours while trying not to think about how clean it was.
Kaohsiung Part I & II Out of Many to Come
I went to Kaohsiung, the second largest city in Taiwan, twice in December. It’s a located in the southwest coast of the island, about a 2.5-3.5 hour train ride from Taitung City. Like each time I’ve been in Taipei, I’m still in shock and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and the height of buildings, not to mention the whole industrial look of it all. I’m so accustomed to provinciana life nowadays. Still, I know I’ll be back many a time for Kaohsiung’s amazing food and cultural sites.