My new-found enthusiasm for trail running has seen me planning more trips that involved hiking in nature. While it’s quite difficult to find friends who want to run with me in the forest, it’s much easier to find people who enjoy walking. So it was with incredible excitement that I started my recent December Taiwan trip with a hike in Taroko National Park. This is one of the country’s eight national parks and is located near Hualien City in the east of Taiwan.
We spent three days and two nights at Taroko. This trip was arranged by a freelance tour guide Ricky, who was introduced to us by a friend. I usually don’t like going on tours and being escorted around by other people but Ricky was passionate about hiking and was not your usual conventional tour guide on buses.
We went on two trails. The first was the Zhuilu Old Trail and this was supposed to have the most magnificent views in the gorge. We spent about six hours on this trail, including rest time at the top. The second was the Lotus Pond trail, which took us four and a half hours in total.
To hike the Zhuilu Old Trail, we had to get a special permit from the park that Ricky arranged for us. We started off from a bridge that spanned a valley.
We knew that this was no walk in the park when we saw that there were ropes to help us navigate the steeper parts of the hike! We were wearing so many clothes because it was less than 10 degrees and we Singaporeans were weak in cold weather. Here are Flo and Anna.
There were about three bridges on the way to the top. This was one of the less treacherous ones so I was able to smile and pose on it. I wore my Salomon trail running shoes because I wanted to test their grip on slippery ground and they performed admirably.
After huffing and puffing and climbing for a few hours, we arrived at the most magnificent part of the trail. We walked on a narrow path that was cut into the side of the mountain. The view was incredible. This is Ricky, our hiking guide.
I was fortunate not to have a fear of heights so I could enjoy the view fully. One strong gust of wind and we could have fallen to our deaths!
We arrived at the halfway point after walking 3.3 km. Ricky whipped out his stove and cooked some black sesame drink for us. As it was about five degrees Celsius, we were soon freezing as the heat from our bodies dissipated. I stomped around trying to get warm but the hot drink and flailing around didn’t really help. I will always be a child of summer. I handle the cold so poorly.
The entire trail was 10 km but Ricky decided that it was better if we headed back the way we came from, which meant walking 6.6 km in total, rather than taking on the entire length of the path. At the point in time, we were too tired to insist on walking the entire 10 km Zhuilu trail, and we had already seen the best views after going that far. We hiked back the same way we came from.
After the walk, we were tired but we couldn’t retire to a nice hotel. We had arranged for Ricky to bring camping equipment for us so that we could rough it out in nature. We thought he would camp with us but the day before, he declared that it was too cold for him and decided to stay at the Tienhsiang Youth Activity Hostel instead.
Were we being too ambitious, I wondered. Even our local Taiwanese guide didn’t want to camp out in the cold. But it was too late to change our minds. We had rented the camping equipment and it was a waste not to put them to good use. We were taken to a specific camping ground near the roads that had nearby toilets, a water source and a charcoal pit.
We set up two tents for four people on wooden platforms.
By the time we finished setting up our tents, I was freezing once more. While everyone was helping to set up the stove for our dinner, I hid in my tent in my ski jacket and shivered. I emerged shortly after to sit by the stove and warm my insides up with a very paleo dinner of pork, mushrooms and vegetables.
After dinner, we tried to warm ourselves up by starting a fire but we didn’t have enough dried twigs. So we had to contend with the glowing embers of charcoal. By the time I went to bed, I was sufficiently warmed up by the food, alcohol and whatever heat I managed to glean from the charcoal pit. But I woke up at four in the morning and found myself cramped up painfully in my sleeping bag because I was curled up trying to get warm. I cursed myself for not listening to Ricky and bringing a -5 degrees sleeping bag. Instead, all I had was a thin one from Carrefour that my mum probably bought for $20.
When dawn broke, I was glad to feel the warmth of the sun once more. We had breakfast at the youth activity hostel that Ricky stayed at and were secretly glad that we didn’t attempt to cook breakfast at the camp site. At that point, we just wanted to take a small rest indoors before we headed out again for the second day of hiking!
We embarked on the 4.3 km Lotus Pond trail, which looked like a magical forest most of the way. It also offered a great view of the marble-encrusted river. It was really beautiful – I had never seen a river surrounded by marble.
While the Lotus Pond Trail was very pretty, the trail was less pleasant for me than the the Zhuilu Trail. There were a lot of steps built into the trail, which took some of the fun out of hiking. I felt like I was simply exercising my legs rather than thinking about where to place my feet and experiencing the thrill of hopping over branches.
There were countless steps like these.
As we climbed the winding steps, we were muttering about how the pond must be spectacular given all our effort. This was the sight that greeted us at the top.
This was a case of the journey being the highlight of the walk rather than the ending point. While we were entranced by the pretty forest we walked through, we were less than impressed by the sight of the pond. This was unlike the Zhuilu trail, where the pay-off was the summit.
Nonetheless, we were very pleased with ourselves that we had survived two days of hiking and one night of camping in the cold. People usually visit Taiwan for the food and shopping and do not realise that the country also has so many beautiful nature spots. To reward ourselves, we pigged out on amazing street food when we got back to Taipei City.
This is how we got to Taroko Gorge:
- We took Scoot from Singapore to Taipei.
- Upon arrival at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, we took a one-hour bus to the Taipei Railway Station.
- We then boarded a high-speed train that took us to Hualien Railway Station. The journey took us nearly two hours although I cannot be sure because I passed out on the train. The seats were wide and there were lots of legroom. It was way more comfortable than my plane ride there.
- Ricky rented a car in Hualien City to take us to Taroko Gorge. Once again, I lost track of how long it took because we stopped for lunch and sightseeing at the Chishingtan Beach, which was just incredible with pounding waves and pebbled sidewalks. If we had not stopped, it would have probably taken slightly less than an hour.
Our transportation, save for (1) and (2), was arranged by Ricky. He also bought the entry permits for Zhuilu Old Trail, which apparently are only given out to locals and not foreigners.
If you are looking for a guide to Taiwan or Taroko Gorge, you can contact Ricky at demonricky [at] gmail [dot] com. He is a big nature enthusiast and would love to take you for hiking and camping trips.