Planning this trip to Taiwan, like any other vacation, started with looking at a map. The first thing we noticed was the obvious fact that Taiwan is, well – an island! Not just any island – but a tropical one. Therefore, it was obvious to us that we should mainly focus on exploring what we love about islands the most: the beaches. Both my partner and I were born and raised near the beach, and living in Kyoto, aside from all of its benefits, is not easy for ocean-lovers like ourselves. That’s why Taiwan made the perfect vacation destination.
Taiwan’s West Coast is the more populated area, and includes the capital city Taipei. On the contrary, the South and the East coasts are less populated and well known for their wild pristine nature and endless amazing beaches. That’s why we decided to spend most of our trip in the Southern and Eastern parts of Taiwan. There’s plenty of things to see on the West side, as well as the central mountains, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to see it all. However, we did see quite a lot (or at least we felt like we did). In this post, I will introduce you to the route of our trip (excluding Taipei and Jiufen, which has a post of its own), including Tainan, Kenting, Taitung, Dulan, Sanxiantai Island, Hualien, and Taroko National Park. So, let’s start!
The first stop to start out Taiwan itinerary with is – Tainan! Tainan is a very important city and a cultural center as it was the capital of the island between the years 1683–1887. This is why there are many significant historical places in the city. An interesting fact about these places is that each was built by a different party: Chinese, Japanese, and even Dutch.
We arrived at Tainan, via the HSR from Taipei. After taking the free shuttle from the HSR Station to the city center, and having an amazing vegan ban, we started touring the city. We only had a few hours to explore as we were planning to drive all the way to Kenting that night. There are probably more interesting places to see that we didn’t have the time to visit. Anyway, we did manage to see the two following places, both within walking distance, as well as Anping area:
Hayashi Department Store
Once we stepped through the doors of Hayashi Department Store, we immediately felt like we had gone back in time 100 years. This department store was built in 1932 during the Japanese colonization and was one of the first department stores built in the country. It was bombed during the war in 1945, and you can still see some of the damages on the sixth floor. There is an abundance of adorable shops on every floor, ranging from art, souvenirs, fashion items, and many other shops you can enjoy. On the top floor there’s also a restaurant, a small shrine, and a beautiful city view. Although there are stairs, the most elegant way to travel between floors is by the vintage elevator, having a floor indicator dial, and a very cool floor.
After walking through Chin Men Movie Theatre, and after having a short stop for great coffee at Good Thing Coffee, we arrived at the photogenic Shennong street. The street used to be the entrance to the river ports about 100 years ago. In recent years, after being considered old-fashioned and outdated, it received its current edgy appearance; now it’s a street that gathers artists from all around Tainan. On this street they sell their hand-made designs in renovated old shops. Strolling between the old re-designed houses, shops and random temples, you can really absorb the fusion of the old traditions with the new modern avant-garde spirit of Taiwanese culture.
We arrived in the Anping area by taxi to visit the Grand Mazu Temple and Anping Old Fort. Actually, they’re pretty close to one another, in fact you can see the temple from the port’s higher platform. If we had a little more time, we would have also visited the Merchant House, but unfortunately, we didn’t make it. This area had a relaxed atmosphere since there were fewer people than in the city center.
The smell of the ocean was in the air while we made our way from the temple to the Old Fort. The fort itself is a renovation of the one the Dutch built in the 17thcentury. Here and there, you will also notice the old impressive banyan trees, with their many aerial roots, standing out against the red brick background. Overall, we really enjoyed the Anping area.
At the end of our day in Tainan, we rented a car that served us in our Taiwan trip all the way until we arrived back in Taipei. So in Kenting, as well as in the rest of the places I will write about in this post, we traveled by car.
We went to Kenting especially to enjoy the ocean and the quietness that this fabulous area has to offer. Upon arrival, we discovered a tropical haven with an ocean view and land covered with beauteous green plants. Kenting was a great place to enjoy nature, the beaches, and to relax in our guest-house.
We spent two nights in Winson House, the surfers’ guest-house which had a great room with an ocean view. The place was a few steps away from the surfing point Jialeshui, so when the waves rose, my partner just grabbed the board and headed to the beach. Winson House is not on Kenting’s main street, so we could really enjoy the beauty of nature, swimming at the beach, and spending some time together without many people around. The owners (a local family) were really nice, and they also adjusted the breakfast to a vegan one for us! 😊
This park is located close to The Southernmost Point of Taiwan (although the two places have separate entrances). The cape is located on a cliff looking out over the ocean, and it’s a great place to stroll through the greenery. You can also notice the famous lighthouse, which was first constructed in 1883, and after renovations, is still in use today. It’s a nice place to visit if you want to have a little break from the beach.
Some say it looks like a head – sorry, I didn’t see a head, but it is a gorgeous spot on the shore of Kenting. So, why not visit? There’s also a very nice beach close by, so you can enjoy swimming while admiring this beautiful natural landscape.
Kenting Night Market
On our second night in Kenting there was a downpour when we headed to the night market (that’s why there are no pictures). Fortunately, everything was open. We strolled around in our ponchos (highly recommended, as I wrote in my tips for your Taiwan trip), and enjoyed the local Taiwanese fruits and lively market vendors. The market is on the main road, and it’s pretty long, so it’s worth dedicating at least an hour if you wish to explore all of it.
Seven Holes Waterfall
This was one of our trip highlights – definitely a place you cannot miss! Seven Holes is a series of seven waterfalls, one on top of the other, streaming down the hill. Since some have pools at the bottom of the fall, it’s a great place for a dip. In the higher waterfalls, you can even see the whole green valley beneath you whilst you’re bathing. It was a magnificent view!
Actually, this is a general recommendation for Kenting – spend some time on its lovely beaches! This area has a lot of beaches to offer. We enjoyed time at the beach in front of our guest house. It was relaxing and beautiful – a great place to spend the day and to enjoy nature.
Next up we traveled to Taitung, on our way to Dulan. We were only there for a couple of hours in the evening, but it was enough for us to fall in love. You can definitely stay in the city (which also has some of the best hotels around!) if you feel like exploring it a bit more. There are also many day-trips you can enjoy in this area, such as the Green Island, which unfortunately we didn’t have the time to go to. From our short visit, I recommend these two places, that are very close to each other:
Taitung Night Market
This lively night market was really fun to stroll through. Like other night markets – you can find various fruits, local food, fruit shakes (I tried an avocado shake there! Don’t recommend though lol), and live shows. It’s a nice place to hang around at dinner time. If you’re looking for vegan food – I recommend Vegine, which I wrote about in this post.
Railway Art Village & Tiehua Music Village
The old Taitung train station was transformed into an art center – it’s a really nice place to spend the rest of the evening. There are many shops you can check out, some sell native-Taiwanese arts and crafts, like pottery and houseware. In the nearby Tiehua Music Village, that comes to life in the evening, you can find many artists’ stalls, in the light of countless air-balloon lamps. There was a live music concert at the time we visited (it was on a weekend), which made the atmosphere even more romantic. Don’t miss Taitung’s nights!
Dulan is well-known for its artists and surfers. Although my partner surfs, we didn’t have much luck there in that realm, as there weren’t any good waves that day. However, we did enjoy spending time at the beach and the view of the ocean from every road we drove through.
Well, as written in the intro of this post – we mainly visited the East side of Taiwan to enjoy its wide, natural beaches. It’s the best place to spend hot summer days. There’s absolutely nothing around Dulan beach, which makes it even more stunning. It’s just you, some other fellows (when we were there, we were 2 out of 10 people in our sight), impressive green mountains, sun, water, and shining black sand. If you surf – grab your board if there’s a forecast for a nice swell.
Please note that there’s not much shade there. You can either bring your own or try to avoid long hours in the sun.
Dulan Sugar Factory Café & Art Gallery
This art center has quite a lot to offer: beautiful graffiti, food and drink stalls, a craft market, and live music on Saturday nights. With every step we took we discovered new artworks just randomly placed in different corners. It’s a really nice place to hang with local artists and drink a cold beer at the end of the day.
The island is most famous for the unique arch bridge connecting it to the mainland. After taking a bunch of pics with the bridge, we crossed it above the turquoise water and explored the small island. Sanxiantai Island has a circular route you can stroll around. You’ll be surrounded by green vegetation while looking at the beautiful ocean all around you.
Here’s something that wasn’t on our Taiwan itinerary – but we went there anyway:
On the way to Hualien, we also took a dip in Shitiping Scenic Area, to cool down a little. Besides the fact that it was super refreshing – it was also a beautiful place to hang around for a while near the enormous white rocks.
This city is a great place to stay the night before visiting Tatoko National Park, as it’s the biggest city near the park. Besides being a convenient base-camp, it also has a nice lively night market and a beach. Although we didn’t really spend much time in the city itself, we both noticed the presence of Taiwan’s native residence. On our way to the market, we came across a Native-Taiwanese community dance event. It was really interesting to see this part of the Taiwanese culture.
I really recommend just strolling around the streets leading to the market. You can really absorb the atmosphere of this small lovely city. If you want to know more, I wrote about the night market here.
Taroko National Park
We arrived in Taroko early in the morning, so we could see as much as possible without rushing ourselves. There’s more to see than you can in one day (when I say a day, I mean until the sun goes down). Therefore, if you’re planning to see the majority of it, you should really hurry up. We visited three main routes: Swallow’s Grove, Baiyang Trail, and lastly The Tunnel of Nine Turns. I highly recommend starting the day at the visitors’ center to find maps and other important information. For example, some of the routes were closed when we arrived, so we had to reschedule our day. You can also try to plan in advance by visiting Taroko National Park’s Website.
Just driving around in the car was absolutely beautiful. This place is such a jewel of nature. Definitely a must-visit place to anyone who’s planning to visit Taiwan.
21 KM of magical landscapes. We drove there on our way to Jiufen, and couldn’t stop pulling over at every corner just to appreciate the wonders of the creation. Words cannot explain how gorgeous these cliffs are.
Our Taiwan trip was definitely diverse, and we saw so many places in only 10 days (some of those days were dedicated to Taipei). There are countless other places to visit in Taiwan, but we truly feel that with the time and goals we had, this was the best route for us.