5-day Eastern Taiwan
EXPERIENCE TAIWAN RURAL ADVENTURES by Edison Travel Service
Tailor-made itineraries into Taiwan’s indigenous and rural areas are developed by Cheryl Robbins, a licensed, native English-speaker tour guide and published travel writer, as well as Menno Goedhart, former Netherlands representative to Taiwan and current Taiwan Tourism Ambassador. We provide complete packages including driver, tour guide, and trip planning based on your interests and schedule.
Our standard itineraries provide just a few examples of all that Taiwan’s rural and indigenous areas have to offer. They are focused on places that are off-the-beaten-path and that offer a glimpse into Taiwan’s hospitality, cultural diversity and spectacular scenery. In addition, an effort has been made to link them with more popular tourism destinations, to allow travelers to make the most of their time in Taiwan.
What to expect:
Taiwan is a small, advanced island nation. Many of Taiwan’s indigenous communities are located in somewhat remote areas, but all can be reached by paved roads. Taiwan’s indigenous tribes have had contact with the outside world and mainstream society for a long time. Even in their villages, they mostly live in, to Taiwan standards, modern houses and dress in modern clothing. However, it is still possible to experienceTaiwan’s rich indigenous culture. In addition, communities are surrounded by natural beauty, offering excellent ecotourism opportunities. These include, but are not limited to, hiking, river tracing, bird watching, swimming, white water rafting, and paragliding.
There is usually at least one small grocery store in each village where you can buy snacks and toiletries. However, you will need to bring along enough New Taiwan Dollar (NT$) in cash, as credit cards are rarely accepted and there are very few ATMs or banks.
Basic medical care and first aid is usually available but there is rarely a pharmacy. So, bring along an ample supply of all necessary prescription and over-the-counter medication.
There are not many hotels located in indigenous and rural areas. Accommodation will mostly be in family-run guesthouses.
What to bring:
*Adequate supply of all needed prescription and non-prescription medication.
*Toiletries: Shampoo/conditioner, soap/shower gel, towel, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, hair gel, etc. In indigenous villages, we will mostly be staying in family-run guesthouses and not all will provide these items, so it is best to prepare.
*Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, swimsuit, mosquito repellent, comfortable walking shoes.
*Most, but not all, guesthouses will have Internet access. Voltage is 110V.
*Camera, extra battery, extra memory card.
*Adequate cash (in NT$).
*Sense of curiosity and sense of humor.
5-day Eastern Taiwan
Taipei/Taitung (Taitung City, Taimali Township, Jinfeng Township)
Meals: Lunch and dinner
From Taipei’s Songshan Airport, we will take a flight to Taitung’s Fengnian Airport. Taitung is located in the southeastern part of Taiwan and boasts the longest coastline (nearly 200 kilometers) of any county in Taiwan. At the National Museum of Prehistory, you will gain an overview of Taiwan’s natural history and indigenous culture. We will then head southward to Taimali and Jinfeng townships. Both of these townships were devastated during Typhoon Morakot in August 2009. The residents have shown that the human spirit can overcome natural disaster and have rebuilt their communities. We arrive at the first indigenous community on this tour, Xinxianglan Village. This is home to members of the Paiwan and Amis tribe. The residents of this village have revived several aspects of Paiwan culture including the youth meeting hall and hunters’ school (for teaching survival skills and tribal legends) and millet growing. Millet was once a staple food of many indigenous tribes in Taiwan. A dinner of dishes made using local millet and traditional indigenous ingredients will be served at the village’s restaurant.
Accommodation: Tjiljuvekang Art & Leisure Guesthouse or equivalent. (Note: It may be necessary to share a bathroom this night.)
Jinfeng Township/Taimali Township (Taitung)/Ruisui Township (Hualien)
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
We will start the day with a tour of Xinxing Village in Jinfeng Township. The residents of this village are mostly from the Paiwan and Rukai tribes. There are eight chieftains in this village and a tour will include some of their homes as well as a workshop selling products designed and produced by village residents. This village is perched on a mountain slope and from here there are excellent views of the coast and Pacific Ocean.
After the tour, we will enjoy a Taimali Township specialty, beef noodles. After lunch, we head north to Hualien County, making stops at some of the scenic places in the East Rift Valley, a valley bordered on one side by the Coastal Mountain Range and on the other by the Central Mountain Range. We will arrive in Ruisui Township. This township is home to three indigenous tribes: Amis, Truku and Bunun. It is also famous for its natural hot springs, cycling paths and whitewater raft rides along the Xiuguluan River.
For dinner, we will enjoy hot pot, a Chinese dish of broth boiled over a fire in which you add meat and vegetables. The twist here is local wild greens.
After dinner, we head to a hot springs guesthouse where you can socialize outdoors in a large pool of natural hot springs water or enjoy the soothing waters in a large bathtub in the privacy of your own room. The iron content of these spring waters makes them appear rust in color. It is safe for bathing but not for ingesting. Also, due to the metal content it is best to rinse off after bathing.
Accommodation: Yuan Hsiang Hot Springs Homestay or equivalent.
Ruisui Township (Hualien)/Xiulin Township (Hualien)
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Today starts out with a thrilling ride along 24 kilometers of the Xiuguluan River. We will experience more than a dozen rapids along this Grade 3 river. A simple lunch will be served along the river bank about half way to the ending point. After a shower and change of clothes we continue our drive through the East Rift Valley to Xiulin Township, home to the Truku and Sediq indigenous tribes and the world famous Taroko Gorge. We will tour one of the indigenous communities in this township before enjoying a dinner of indigenous cuisine.
Accommodation: Crossing the Rainbow Bridge Guesthouse or equivalent.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
On this day, we explore the spectacular Taroko Gorge. We first hike the Shakadang Trail. Along this trail, local indigenous people grow bird’s nest fern, an ingredient in indigenous cuisine, and the aquamarine waters of the Shakadang River flow. After this, we will finish exploring the gorge and its natural beauty including the Eternal Spring Shrine, Buluowan and Swallows’ Grotto.
Hotel: Silks Place Taroko (5-star) or similar
Taroko Gorge/Xiulin Township/Taipei
Meals: Breakfast and lunch
After leaving the Taroko Gorge, we continue our cultural tour of Xiulin Township. Stops include visits to a workshop creating products from local natural stone, the Truku community of Sanzhan, and a museum devoted to the past tradition of facial tattooing. After our tour, we head back to Taipei via van along the Suhua Highway and Xueshan Tunnel (12.6 kilometers long) or train to arrive at about 7:00 p.m.
For groups of 2 ~3 persons = NT$73,200 per person
For groups of 4~5 persons = NT$47,700 per person
For groups of 6~9 persons = NT$42,900 per person
Single supplement add NT$4,000
INCLUDES: Meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner); Admission; Insurance; Transportation; Professional, Licensed Tour Guide; Accommodation (based on double occupancy).
Please note that the above rates are not applicable during public holidays, on Saturdays or New Year’s Eve.
Itineraries are subject to change due to weather or road conditions and availability.
Tjiljuvekeng Art & Leisure Guesthouse (吉盧夫敢藝文民宿)
8-1, Lin 1, Xinxing Village, Jinfeng Township, Taitung County, Taiwan
This guesthouse is owned and operated by Utjutj Tjiljuvekang, a member of the Paiwan tribe who is originally from Xinxing Village. However, he spent most of his working life in urban areas, recently returning to his village to become reacquainted with his roots. From the outside, this guesthouse is very striking. The white walls are painted with black murals, the subjects of which are Paiwan culture, such as the grinding of millet and hunting. Also in front of the guesthouse is a statue of a Paiwan male climbing a pole on which there is a hundred pace pit viper. Next to this is a stack of logs. Obtaining such a stack of logs was part of the preparations for Paiwan weddings of the chieftain clan. The guesthouse has five rooms on the second and third floors, with a shared bathroom on each floor. There is also a balcony for viewing the star-filled sky at night or the Pacific coast during the day. This guesthouse is located right within Xinxing Village and makes a good base from which to explore the area on foot.
Yuan Hsiang Hot Springs Homestay (原鄉溫泉民宿)
325, Wufu Road, Lin 5, Ruixiang Village, Ruisui Township, Hualien County, Taiwan
Tel: +886-38-876-307; +886-38-876-308
www.yuan-hhs.com.tw (in Chinese only)
This homestay is located in the Ruisui Hot Springs Area and has a park-like setting. The rooms include a private hot springs bathing area with an adjacent shower. Outside are tubs and a large pool for soaking in the soothing waters while looking out at the surrounding fields and mountains during the day and up at the star-filled sky at night. Bicycles are available for guests to take advantage of the nearby cycling paths.
Crossing the Rainbow Bridge Guesthouse (走過虹橋民宿)
210, Lin 3, Chongde Village, Xiulin Township, Hualien County
In the traditional beliefs of the Truku tribe, only those who observe the moral code of the “gaya” will be able to cross the rainbow bridge and be in the presence of the ancestral spirits. This guesthouse is owned by Teyra Yudaw, an indigenous autonomy activist who has spoken at the United Nations. He is very happy to share his knowledge of Truku culture with guests.
The rooms are beautifully decorated and some have breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. The water for the shower comes from clear mountain springs and is heated by solar panels. Each of the seven rooms has a different name in the Truku language such as Wili (leech) or Skadang (many molars). This guesthouse is located near the entrance to Taroko National Park. Guests can make use of bicycles for a leisurely tour of the surrounding area.
Silks Place Taroko (太魯閣晶英酒店)
18, Tianxiang Road, Xiulin Township, Hualien County, Taiwan
Silks Place Taroko is part of the Formosa International Hotel Corporation, under the Silks Hotel brand. This mountainside hotel is the only 5-star accommodation located within the boundaries of Taroko National Park. Silks Place Taroko is designed in the modern Chinese style and combines Taroko’s cultural and environmental characteristics. The four pillars on the hotel’s façade each measure nine meters in height and are made from sandstone from Shanxi Province of China. On these pillars are carved motifs of four of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes: Rukai, Tao, Puyuma and Amis.
National Museum of Prehistory
Opened in 2001, this is Taiwan’s first public museum devoted to archaeology. Its main purpose is to display artifacts from the prehistoric Beinan Culture unearthed from the nearby Beinan Cultural Park. Of importance to visitors planning to spend time in indigenous areas is an entire floor dedicated to Taiwan’s indigenous culture. Displays in this area cover topics of language, clothing, arts, ceremonies and traditional lifestyles.
Taimali and Jinfeng Townships (Taitung County)
Taimali and Jinfeng Townships are located side by side in the southern part of Taitung County. These townships are mainly home to the Paiwan and Rukai tribes, with a small population of Amis. Indigenous peoples in these townships are working to preserve and revive traditions including those related to the growing of millet, once a staple grain, and the youth meeting hall. Xinxianglan Village in Taimali Township was one of the first Paiwan villages to create a hunter’s school and meeting hall for the young males of the tribe. The youth meeting hall was traditionally a place for the youth to socialize, learn survival skills and to listen to the oral history of the village as told by the elders. Training includes starting a fire, signaling for help using smoke, sleeping outside without a sleeping bag or tent, walking in the dark of a night in a mountain forest, diving, climbing rock faces and using several types of hunting weapons including bow and arrow, knife and rifle. A meeting hall and training courses are being developed for the young females of the village, so that they will also be able to have a place to socialize and to learn the traditions of the tribe. In addition, the Paiwan and Rukau tribes traditionally possessed a strict hierarchy of chieftain, nobility and common classes, and in these townships this hierarchy is still evident, such as the use of symbols including a banyan tree and stone carving to mark the homes of the chieftains.
On August 8, 2009, Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan dumping more than 2500mm (100 inches) of rain. This extreme amount of rain brought catastrophic damage including massive mudslides and severe flooding to parts of these townships. But, there is a spirit of recovery and renewal here as homes, workshops and business are rebuilt and reopened.
In addition to indigenous culture, Taimail and Jinfeng townships offer natural hot springs and panoramic views of the mountains and coastline.
East Rift Valley
The East Rift Valley is a long, narrow valley flanked by the Central Mountain Range to the west and the Coastal Mountain Range to the east, bordered by Hualien City to the north and Taitung City to the south. There are three main river systems, namely the Hualien, Xiuguluan and Beinan rivers, which create a closely knit network of waterways in this area. Each of these rivers originates in the high mountains at 2,000 to 3,000 meters in elevation. These rivers have led to the formation of canyons, waterfalls, hot springs, river terraces, alluvial plains, faults and badlands. They have also created many unique natural landscapes. This valley is home to five of Taiwan’s 14 officially recognized indigenous tribes: Amis, Bunun, Puyuma, Sakizaya and Truku.
Ruisui Township (Hualien County)
Ruisui Township is located within the East Rift Valley with spectacular landscapes that include hills, mountains and farmland. This township is very popular among tourists for its many attractions such as hot springs, cycling paths, nature trails, whitewater rafting and tea plantations. Unfortunately, many visitors pass through here without even realizing that this township is rich in indigenous culture. Ruisui is home to the Amis tribe, with some villages able to trace their history back hundreds of years. There are also communities of the Truku and Bunun tribes to explore.
The source of the Ruisui Hot Springs is the upper reaches of the Hongye River. The natural temperature of these sodium carbonate spring waters is about 48oC. These waters contain an abundant amount of iron which creates a rust color. This is one of the flatter areas of Ruisui Township and there is a cycling path that runs along the main road of the hot springs area.
One of the most popular activities in Ruisui is whitewater rafting along the Xiuguluan River. The Xiuguluan River originates in the Central Mountain Range, but it is the 24-kilometer long section from the Changhong Bridge in Ruisui to Dagangkou, an Amis village along the coast, that is the best for rafting. This part of the river meanders through a steep gorge and features more than 20 sets of rapids. It takes about three or four hours to complete the trip. The best time is between April and October, but it is possible to raft here all year long.
Xiulin Township (Hualien County)
Xiulin Township is located in the northern part of Hualien County between the coast and the mountains. It is home to the spectacular Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist destinations. Although Taroko National Park is within an area rich in indigenous culture and history, this does not become evident until you explore the surrounding communities. For example, the Taiwanese Aborigine Tattoo Culture Museum provides information about the facial tattooing traditions of the Atayal, Sediq and Truku tribes. This practice was forcibly discontinued by the Japanese in the 1930s during their occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). Kimi Sibal, a member of the indigenous Sediq tribe, has devoted much of the last two decades to preserving the remnants of the facial tattooing traditions by photographing the elders who were tattooed before the tradition disappeared. Kimi founded this museum to display his photographs, as well as historical items such as traditional tattooing tools.
Xiulin Village of Xiulin Township is made up of three communities of the Truku tribe: Kulu, Dowras and Bsuring. A tour of this village includes weaving and woodcarving workshops, churches, fields of bird’s nest fern (an ingredient in traditional indigenous cuisine) and maybe even a stop at one of the karaokes featuring coin-operated machines. In the Sanzhan Community, there is a traditional Truku watchtower to explore and a chance to try your skill with a bow and arrow. The waters of the Sanzhan River are very clear and local residents often swim here. This is also a good place to learn about and purchase products made from local rose stone and bloodstone.
Taroko Gorge (Hualien County)
Taroko Gorge is a marble gorge created over millions of years and through this gorge flow the aquamarine waters of the Liwu River. This area was designated part of Taroko National Park in 1986. This park covers parts of Hualien County, Nantou County and Taichung City and was once home to the Truku tribe (also known as the Taroko tribe) until it was forced to move out by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945).
Near the entrance to the national park is the Shakadang Trail. In 1940, the Japanese built the Shakadang Trail to develop a hydropower plant along the Liwu River. Along the 4.5 kilometer trail, you will see patches of bird’s nest fern. This is a common ingredient in Truku cuisine and is grown along this trail by members of the tribe. This is a fairly flat trail and is well marked. There are explanatory panels in Chinese and English. The trail follows the Shakadang River which features beautiful aquamarine waters and natural marble with intriguing folds and shapes.
The Eternal Spring Shrine was built to commemorate those who lost their lives in the building of the highway that runs through Taroko Gorge (1956-1960). This is a picturesque shrine built above the Eternal Spring Waterfall.
Buluowan is a recreation area that features an exhibition center on Truku culture. This is because this was once the location of a Truku community. In addition, visitors can explore one of several nature trails or enjoy a cup of coffee on a large veranda overlooking a meadow that is surrounded by towering mountains.
At Swallows’ Grotto, the gorge narrows significantly, and this is where visitors can obtain good views of the rock cliffs. Swallows’ Grotto Trail is about a half kilometer. This narrow tunnel created from the rock with large openings for viewing the gorge was once part of the Central Cross-Island Highway. In 2005, a bypass for vehicular traffic was created so that pedestrians could walk through the tunnel and enjoy the scenery. Visitors will also see many nesting and flying swallows, for which this place was named. It is necessary to wear a hard hat during your walk here as there is sometimes falling rock.
Tianxiang is a large river terrace recreational area. Places to visit include the Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church, the Pudu Bridge and a giant statue of Guanyin or goddess of mercy.
Information about the tribes visited on this tour:
With a population of more than 140,000, the Amis is by far the largest of Taiwan's officially recognized indigenous tribes. The mountains and coast of Hualien to Taitung are where this tribe is concentrated. Traditionally, the Amis possessed a matrilineal society. Women inherited the family property and children were named according to their mother's name. Although women were responsible for the major decisions in their individual households, the political decisions of the village were made by men, with division of labor based on a strict age hierarchy.The Harvest Festival is held in July and August to celebrate the harvest of millet, a traditional staple grain.
The Paiwan tribe is concentrated in Pingtung and Taitung counties. This tribe traditionally possessed a strict social hierarchy of chieftain, nobility and commoners. The chieftains are responsible for preserving traditions and ceremonies and overseeing the welfare of the village residents. They are the landowners and it is the commoners who work their land, providing a portion of the crops to the chieftains for the use of the land. The Paiwan tribe is well known for the high quality of its art works and handicrafts including pottery making, wood carving and bead making.
The Rukaitribe is concentrated in Pingtung and Taitung counties, as well as in the mountainous areas of Kaohsiung City. The Rukai maintained a strict social hierarchy with a nobility and common class. Certain patterns on clothing and accessories and carved on homes could only be used by the nobility, such as human head, human figure, hundred-pace pit viper, lily and pottery vessel patterns. The lily flower denotes social order and morality. The right to wear this flower in the headdress was only granted to outstanding warriors and hunters and to young women of virtue. These symbols of honor and social standing are most evident during major ceremonies, such as the annual Millet Harvest Festival.
The distribution of the Sediq tribe is in Nantou and Hualien counties. Similar to the Atayal tribe, the Sediq once practiced facial tattooing. A woman was able to receive facial tattoos if she proved herself a skilled weaver, i.e. able to clothe her family. A man was able to receive facial tattoos if he proved himself a capable warrior, i.e. able to defend his family and village. Textiles were traditionally made using ramie, a type of Asian hemp, and woven on a horizontal backstrap loom. This was hard work, especially as many of the traditional patterns were quite complicated such as rhombuses within rhombuses which represent “the eyes of the ancestors”.
This tribe originally inhabited Nantou County, but as its population grew it moved into what is today Taroko National Park in Hualien County. The highway that cuts through Taroko Gorge was expanded from a Truku tribe hunting trail. However, in the early 20th century, the Truku tribe was forced to move out of this gorge by the occupying Japanese forces. This tribe is still concentrated in villages surrounding Taroko National Park. As with the Atayal and Sediq tribes, the Truku tribe also practiced facial tattooing.