Spotting a cat amongst the rocks, eyeing up weird stuff at the fish market, and a lift home with a motorbike in a van.

Day 201: Hengchun, Taiwan. We woke to the not-so dulcet sounds of Jingle Bells being practiced rather sloppily on a recorder. By the twenty eighth rendition (we were quickly learning that practice doesn’t always make perfect), we were reaching for our ear plugs to block out the squeals.

We decided to head out to the local laundromat with a large bag of washing. The lady who owns the guesthouse (we must find out her name) apprehended us on the way, shook her head and steered us back up the stairs to the rooftop, where we found two washing machines.

Using Google Translate, she managed to communicate that it’s best not to go to the laundromat as ‘dogs and cats are often washed there’. We assume she meant dogs and cats clothes but decided not to pursue that one any further. Perhaps that’s why the little puppies at the pet shop yesterday looked so squeaky clean, if a little startled.

She also communicated via Google that there was no need to wait for the washing, she would take care of it – we were to go and have fun. How awesome is that. She loaded us up with a hefty handful of candy each, and we set off on a long walk around the coast.

As we walked out of town, we passed a karting stadium which seems to have been built around an old dinosaur theme park. Very bizarre. Jim took the opportunity to head-butt a dinosaur, big kid that he is.

The scenery as we walked through farmland and rice paddies and out towards the coast was absolutely stunning. We’re guessing the locals see very few tourists out walking the roads here (most probably zip past on a tour bus), and we were greeted merrily as we went. Jim was happy to spot a snake, albeit a dead one. This time a Banded Krait, the most venomous snake in Taiwan. Holy dooley.

We wandered through a very cute little fishing village called Hongchaikeng. From here you can get a tour boat with underwater windows to view the corals, but we were happy to just watch the local fishing boats putting in and out of the harbour.

We kept walking – and walking. We checked out a few raised coral beaches along the way, that are the fossilised remains of long exposed coral from when the sea level was very much higher.

And then we reached Baisha Beach, which is where the Sunday afternoon action was really happening. The beach is renowned to be one of the best in Taiwan, and it was pretty busy with people swimming and sunning themselves, with a couple of open air bars selling cocktails, and lots of umbrellas to keep the sun off.

Baisha Beach is also famous for being used in shots of Life of Pi and a very famous Taiwanese movie called Cape Number 7 – a fact that they promote quite heavily. Jim (of course) had to pose with the statue of Richard Parker the tiger.

We continued our walk around the coast, stopping after a while at the next attraction, Maobitou Park. Its claim to fame is a large rock that looks like a cat reclining, though to be honest we struggled to see the similarity. It’s the rocky outcrop in the picture below – and just in case you need a useful comparison, there’s also a picture of a real cat that happened to be reclining on a nearby viewing deck.

Some of the online reviews of the cat rock are quite scathing: “It’s a lump of rock for heaven’s sake” and “a lame excuse for people to make money by hyping up a pretend cat” (there was a small admission fee to see the feline wonder). Regardless, the distant views were awesome, though we had to battle our way past a bus load of tourists who seemed to go deaf when taking selfies.

There was also a sign saying watch your step on the platform while gazing at distant view; Lil tripped and nearly fell over while trying to read it as she walked past.

We walked past the Maanshan Nuclear Power station then through fish market where all sorts of weird and wonderful seafood was waiting to be bought and scoffed for dinner. Including leopard eel, razor clams that looked like they were waving at us as we walked past, and gross geoduck clams with huge syphons poking out. Lil couldn’t wait to get outside.

By now, we’d walked 22km and still had another 7km to go to get back to town. It was getting dark, so we decided it was safer to stop walking and catch a bus. We walked one more kilometre to the tourist shuttle bus stop, and stood waiting in the dark.

Two minutes after we arrived, a motorbike pulled up and the guy said there were no more buses at this hour. (We were surprised, as Google said there were at least two more before the service finished for the day, but he was adamant). He said his friends were about to head into Hengchun in a car, and we were welcome to a lift with them, and to follow him along the road for about five minutes. When we got to the entrance of a house, he waved us into a van, where we sat on a low wooden bench, alongside a motor bike and the driver’s wife. They dropped us off at the bus station, told us not to miss the night market, which is open on Sundays only, and wished us well. Such lovely, lovely people.

We took their advice and went to check out the night market, and we’re really glad we did. It’s a large market with a fabulous range of food and lots of games and raffles, including one stall where you stood a chance to win a live mouse, bird, rabbit or terrapin. The thought of a little live pet in our backpacks sounded like fun, but we decided to be sensible and give that one a skip.

We had one of our best dinners yet at the market – thinly sliced steak served on a hot plate with egg and noodles. Absolutely superb.

Then we headed home for an early night, very tired out from the day. Tomorrow we’ll likely give our legs a rest and hang about the town. Wearing lots of clean washing, thanks to the lovely guesthouse owner.

More then.

Hobbling around in knobbly sandals, Jim practices head banging with a parrot, and reaching 200 days of rambling.

Day 200: Taitung & Hengchun, Taiwan. Today marks another big benchmark – 200 days of Asian Rambles. When we set off from Sydney in May, we’d no idea how we’d be feeling at this point (or at any point, to be honest). The good news is we’re still having fun and loving rambling about. Long may it continue and all that.

This morning we caught a train from Taitung to Fangliao, and then a bus to Hengchun, both on the west side of the country. A very easy journey overall, with a 2 minute wait between train and bus. It’s always good when it works like that.

We checked into our guesthouse, which is nice and central; we’ve decided being in the heart of the action is definitely the place to be. We were based a few kilometres outside the town in Taitung, and despite being next to the train station which was its initial appeal, it really wasn’t that useful.

The lady who runs the guesthouse is lovely – we’ve yet to discover her name. She speaks about five words of English but communicates brilliantly with written and spoken translations on Google Translate.

As with most places here, it’s shoes off when you reach the front door – however this lady doesn’t like people padding around in socks or bare feet so we have to put on blue plastic slip on sandals with those knobbly bits under your feet that make you go ouch! continually. And not surprisingly, they’re way too small for Jim’s big western feet.

Our room is big and lovely, with cute cat sketches on the walls. There were no towels in the room, so we asked for some using Google Translate. We got two tiny hand towels which will be of limited use other than drying our hands. Thankfully we carry large microfibre towels so won’t have to walk around the town dripping wet.

Once we’d settled in, and hung up our tiny hand towels on the massive towel rail, we kicked off our knobbly blue sandals, put on our walking shoes and headed out to take a look at the town.

Hengchun (meaning “Always Spring” due to its all-year-round growing season) is an historical city and the entry way to Kenting National Park, where we hope to do some trekking in the coming days. It has a 2.5km long wall and moat around it, built in 1875 to defend against Japanese invaders and restless natives. We went for a walk along the old walls, at least the pieces that are still intact, staying well back from the unfenced 5 metre drop on one side.

We’ve noticed on our travels through Taiwan that people are very active and exercise inclined. While we walked the walls of the old town, we saw hundreds of people out walking, playing woodball (a cross between croquet and golf) in the park, playing basketball and walking and jogging around running tracks. Very inspirational.

We also watched a glorious sunset – lots more of those to come we reckon.

When we’d finished exploring we headed back into the town centre in search of dumplings. Lil had found some online reviews for a small restaurant that is said to serve some of the best dumplings in Taiwan. And oh my goodness, they are to die for. Plump, juicy pork and scallion dumplings with perfectly steamed pastry – just as dumplings are supposed to be.

A lady was hand making dumplings at the back of the shop, and the ladies at the front were doing the steaming and serving bit. We also ordered a bowl of chicken and noodles in thick soup – also sensational.

Then we waddled around the town for a bit, dodging the rubbish removal lorry which for some reason was roaming the streets on Saturday evening and playing the most annoying tune to let people know they’re on their way. Here there aren’t rubbish collections as such – when people hear the headache-inducing music they run out with their bags of trash and recycling.

On our waddles, we passed a large brightly lit pet shop. Spotting lots of live animals bouncing around inside, we popped in to take a look. Lots of very cute dogs and cats which will no doubt be snapped up quickly (and hopefully taken care of for life, not ditched after the novelty has passed); stacks of guinea pigs and mice plus an animal we didn’t recognise; and a big collection of parrot-like birds. Jim had a conversation and (a little embarrassingly) a short stint of head banging with one particularly ferocious looking macaw which looked like it could peck an eye out (or possibly consume an entire head) in two seconds flat.

Then we bought a bottle of red wine and took it back to our guesthouse, put on our knobbly blue sandals, and raised our glasses in memory of Feebee, our cat that passed away two years ago today. She was an awesome fun cat, and we still miss her dreadfully.

Tomorrow we’ll have a relaxed start to our Sunday, visit the local laundromat (hopefully no cranky guys like the last time we went clothes washing), then go for a long walk somewhere. And Lil reckons another large serving of dumplings might be in our near future too.

More then.

A bus ride in granny’s living room, crossing a dragon-like island bridge, and rescuing beetles at the local store.

Day 199: Taitung, Taiwan. We were up early to wolf breakfast and catch the East Coast line bus north to Sanxiantai.

The bus decor was interesting; utterly modern but it felt a bit like travelling up the coast in Granny’s living room, or perhaps a 70s disco.

We hopped off at Dulan town on the way, and spent a while wandering about the Sugar Factory complex. As the name suggests, it used to be an old sugar refinery, built in 1916 during the Japanese colonial rule. It’s now a vibrant art and cultural space, housing a number of art spaces, cafes and craft shops.

They also sell home made craft beer and mead at a bar called Highway 11, with a very hand made sign advertising the produce. The bar was closed when we were there (it only opens evening times), and in any case it was a little too early in the day to be glugging beers and mead.

We continued to Sanxiantai further north, an island linked to the mainland by a spectacular wavy bridge. The bridge with eight arches was built in 1987, representing waves like a dragon. The three huge rocks on the island carry legends about three Chinese saints who walked on the island – Lyu-Dongbin, Li-Tieguai and He-Xiangu, hence the name (Three Saints Island). It’s one of the top tourist destinations in Taiwan, though thankfully wasn’t too busy on a weekday.

The island is small with a fabulous boardwalk and a few trails around the shore. There’s also a lighthouse warning ships away from the coral reefs below, which provide some of Taiwan’s best reef diving.

After a decent amount of walking around the area, soaking in the stunning views, we had coffees in the central recreation area, then caught the bus back to Taitung.

The journey along the eastern coast is reputed to be the most spectacular in Taiwan, and we suspect it rates pretty highly worldwide too. We were glued to the window for most of the hour and a half drive back.

While we were stopped at a traffic light, we saw the cutest thing on the street below. A little boy had scooped some soil into a polystyrene food box, and was offering it to a dog lying on the road. The dog (perhaps not surprisingly) gave it a good sniff then walked off, looking a bit grumpy that he’d been woken from his afternoon nap.

Our original plans to have dinner in town this evening were scrapped, as we were tired out from the long day up the coast. So we had dinner and drinks locally instead. On the way home, we popped into the local Family Mart store to pick up a couple of things. We were intrigued by a sign on the door featuring a beetle, and warning people to mind their step (albeit with a small typo).

Turns out one of the store staff rescues beetles that are attracted to the bright lights at the store, and also at the local train station, and releases them back into the wild. Very heroic indeed.

Tomorrow we pack up again and catch a train and bus to Hengchun, a small town and the gateway to Kenting National Park. And perhaps we’ll find some more creature rescue programs at the local Family Mart store there.

More then.

Roadblocks on the way to the museum, craft beers cooking in the sun, and doing our best to do not much at all.

Day 198: Taitung, Taiwan. We had a day of doing not very much, which is always good now and then. Though Lil, by her own admission, doesn’t excel much at the ‘doing nothing’ thing.

After breakfast (more coffee, eggs and bread – we reckon the guesthouse has now definitely evolved from Taiwanese American breakfast), we headed out for a walk across the city to the Taiwan Prehistoric Museum.

The museum is split across a number of different sites. We visited the first one, which is in an open air park called Beinan Cultural Park. Excavations early in the 20th century revealed some 5500 year old occupations in the area, and when the new Taitung railway station was being built nearby in the 1980s, the diggings were further continued and preserved in the Beinan park and museum. We had a walk around the park afterwards, which is beautifully kept, well visited and full of birdlife.

Then we left to head towards the main museum building (where a lot of the excavated artifacts are on display), another 3km away. As we left Beinan Park, a guy in a car stopped to check we were ok and asked if we needed any help. The kindness of strangers here is really heart warming.

The route towards the main museum took us down some fabulous quiet country lanes, with fields full of fruit trees.

Unfortunately, there’s a giant new bypass being built along the river which was between us and the museum. It’s new enough that’s it’s not on any maps, and we constantly hit roadblocks as we found closed roads and walking paths, including the stunning footpath along the old railway, and we kept having to retrace our steps. Eventually we gave up trying to reach the museum, stopped for a coffee, then caught a bus to town, and another bus back to our guesthouse.

While we were in the town we walked over to take a look at Tiehua Music Village, the main local live music venue and part of the railways arts centre. We took a pic of their events poster, showing what’s happening in December (albeit we’ll need the help of Google Translator to understand what’s happening when). Perhaps we’ll manage to get there tomorrow evening, which will be our last night in Taitung.

We also spotted a fab looking craft beer bar next to Tiehua, with rows of beer bottles on the open air bar outside (presumably for display only, as they must cook nicely in the sun). The bar only opens evening times, so it may also be a good candidate for our night on the town tomorrow.

We spent the rest of the day travel planning and catching up with admin, and doing our best to do not much at all.

Tomorrow we’re planning to catch one of the tourist shuttle buses that run up the coast, to visit a large wavy bridge to a rocky outcrop. And after a day of doing not much at all, it will be good to get moving again.

More then.

Pedalling little bikes through rice fields, a Christmas tree made of logs, and spotting our first live Taiwanese snake.

Day 197: Taitung, Taiwan. Today was a day of cycling through rice fields, surrounded by the most stunning mountainous scenery of the East Rift Valley.

After breakfast this morning (a big improvement on yesterday, the guesthouse manager took our feedback on board and we got coffee, eggs and bread) we headed across to the station to catch a train to Chishang, about 40km north of Taitung.

Chishang is unofficially known as the rice capital of Taiwan – there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of rice fields, intersected with 23km of fabulous cycle paths.

We hired bikes at a shop right outside the train station. In retrospect we should have checked out some of the other bike rental shops, as we struggled to find bikes big enough. Jim had to upgrade from a town bike to a mountain bike to get a saddle that went high enough to stop his knees scraping on the ground. Lil made do with the biggest model town bike they had, but it was still too small for her (as she found out when her knees started aching mightily about an hour into the ride).

Regardless, we had a fabulous cycle around the area – it’s impossible to capture the beauty of the place in a bunch of photos.

Along with its rice recognition, the area is also famous for a Mr Brown coffee commercial that was shot there, at what’s now known as Brown Boulevard. (Mr Brown is a well known brand of canned and bottled coffee powders and concoctions). At the top of the Boulevard, there’s a cafe called Mr Brown’s coffee shop and a number of artifacts to snap pics against the amazing backdrop. Which we did.

EVA Air also shot a commercial in the area – a Taiwan born Japanese actor called Takeshi Kaneshiro featured in the commercial, drinking tea next to a tree. The tree is still there (though it was damaged by a typhoon in 2014) and a tea pot sits on a high table next to a seat. Another very popular photo spot.

And even out in the middle of rice fields, Jim got a chance to pose with a Christmas tree – this one was made entirely of wooden logs.

We also got to see our first live Taiwanese snake on the road (Lil nearly pedalled over it before shouting back to Jim, who jumped off his bike to photograph it from a safe distance).

We finished the ride where we started – at Dapo Pond – then headed back to the train station for the journey back to Taitung. With Lil grumbling that her knees were aching badly.

Tomorrow we’re planning to have a quieter day, with a walk to a local museum and dinner and drinks in the town. And we’ll keep a beady eye out for snakes along the way.

More then.

Redefining the American breakfast, Lil starts singing in the sun, and Jim hiccups his way through dinner.

Day 196: Taitung, Taiwan. We were up and about early this morning, raring to get out and do some walking.

Our accommodation booking says an American Breakfast is included in our room rate. We wandered down to the lobby, keen to get our paws on coffee, toast and eggs. What we got in reality was two cold Chinese tea drinks sealed with plastic, one with milk and one without, and both unbelievably sweet and undrinkable. And to eat, a pre-packaged white bread sandwich with a piece of cold fried egg, a piece of odd looking ham and some sort of spicy powdery spread. We’re guessing the American Breakfast may have been redefined in these parts.

We gave up on breakfast and headed out into a glorious morning; the recent wintery days have been replaced by hot sunny weather, and we found ourselves peeling off layers as we walked to the bus stop.

Lil had a noticeable spring in her step and did a ‘singing in the rain’ impression at a lamp post, albeit she was singing in the sun.

We caught the bus to the Taitung Forest Recreation Park, a huge expanse of land to the north of town hemmed in by the Beinan River and the Pacific Ocean. We walked around for a couple of hours, up and down paths and trails and around ponds which are reachable by well groomed tracks with scrubby trees in between. Thankfully no snake sightings, despite warning signs.

Along one of the trails, we spotted a half used strip of medication lying on the ground. To avoid any kids snaffling it thinking it’s candy, Lil picked it up and threw it in the bin. Jim quickly googled the medicine name – a type of Viagra. Whoever dropped it must be feeling a bit deflated.

Then we walked down a series of small lanes to the beach again, passing open farmland on the way where lots of crops were growing, including a huge field of dragonfruit.

We had the beach to ourselves, possibly because it’s a weekday.

Then we scrambled back up some rocks, and walked along a busy road to catch the bus back home, just as the sun was setting.

In the streets near our guesthouse we found a fabulous food stall selling Japanese beef soup, which was absolutely delicious. Jim added a little too much chili to his, so spent a considerable amount of time coughing and hiccuping his way through dinner.

Tomorrow we’re planning to catch the train to Chishang, a town north of Taitung, to go cycling through lots of rice fields. Hopefully it will be another warm day, so we don’t have pile winter layers on again.

More then…

Travelling south on a comfy train, a surprise gift of a free condom, and Jim gets cosy with a snowman.

Day 195: Hualien & Taitung, Taiwan. This morning we left Hualian and caught a train to Taitung, a small city with a population of around 107,000, further down the east coast of Taiwan.

It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Despite the fact that only 5% of the Taiwanese population is Christian, and Christmas isn’t a public holiday here, lots of stores are selling Xmas goods and Christmas trees and decorations are everywhere.

The train journey to Taitung was another fab one; Taiwanese trains are super comfy with heaps of leg room. The head rests had the same cute bear covers with ‘It’s time for Taiwan’ strapline, and the backs of seats had what looked like a wire-frame diagram of every single facility and detail on the train. There were lots of knobs and levers on and around our seats, though we couldn’t locate a single USB port (and every time Jim tried to find one, the lady opposite misunderstood and gave him a demonstration of how to recline his seat).

The train journey was through the East Rift Valley, a flat, fertile plain with lots of great scenery and farmland. The landscape is still being pushed up by the movement of the earth’s crust, and is the source of many of the island’s earthquakes (there are dozens every year – eek).

We arrived in Taitung mid afternoon, and walked across to our accommodation, which has rows of small wooden cabins around a central garden area. Some of them look like they could do with a little TLC but it’s still a nice and convenient place to stay. The lady at reception is lovely; she makes very good use of the little English she knows, though has a tendency to shout the words extremely loudly, which took us aback and made us step back, rather quickly.

When we walked into our room, we found a surprise present – a wrapped condom on one of the bedside tables. We assumed it wasn’t supposed to be there, but having changed rooms (because the room we originally got didn’t have a garden view, and Lil insisted we needed a view, because that’s what it said in the online booking description, and so we changed rooms to have a view (summary: it’s a Lil thing)) – we discovered that the next room had a free condom too. All very odd.

We caught a shuttle bus into the town to have a look around, and the ad on the back of the seats seemed to be promoting safe sex and the dangers of infected needles as part of an HIV campaign – so perhaps that’s what the condoms are about.

We had a good walk around the town, a nice long walk along the beach and a lovely dinner in a Japanese restaurant (for a bit of a change), then caught the shuttle bus back to the guesthouse.

As we walked to the bus stop, Jim took the opportunity to get cosy with an inflatable snowman on a pavement in Taitung, while Christmas carols belted out of the store behind.

Tomorrow we might borrow bikes from the guesthouse for a long pedal, or go for a walk through the forest recreation park. Whatever we end up doing, doubtless Jim will find lots more opportunities to pose with Christmas characters.

More then.

Blood pressure checks at the visitor centre, a leisurely stroll around a lake, and dinner at a restaurant with only four seats.

Day 194: Hualien, Taiwan. After two big walking days, we decided a cruisey day was in order today – our last day in Hualien before we move on to Taitung.

Early afternoon, we caught a bus to Lake Liyu, about 14km south of Hualien town, at the foot of the mountains. It’s the largest lake in the region, and a popular place for fishing, water sports and cycling.

We popped into the visitor centre, which was quite large but quite unbusy. The friendly guy behind the desk jumped up and asked us to sign his visitor register, clearly happy to get a couple of signatures in the book.

We also had the opportunity to get our blood pressure checked; there was a ‘serve yourself’ blood pressure monitor at the centre. We were both very happy with our numbers. All the walking and cycling and dodging killer creatures must be doing us lots of good. And the friendly guy behind the desk even came out to proclaim “you both very healthy!”.

We headed off for our walk around Lake Liyu. Another cool and cloudy day, but thankfully the gales from yesterday had subsided so we could stand up straight without trying. We saw lots of butterflies and birdlife, and passed lots more signs warning of poisonous snakes and killer bees.

We also passed a cool restaurant with a very realistic looking bookshelf sculpture outside. We had to do a double take before realising the shelves weren’t for real.

When we got to the far side of the lake, we had coffee in a tiny cafe (with lids sellotaped to cups, which makes us think they must have ordered the wrong size), then walked back to the visitor centre and caught a bus home. There were fabulous views of farming land along the way, including giant fields of water chestnuts and other crops.

We had dinner at an eatery a couple of hundred metres down the street, which has a single table for four people on the pavement, and a lovely lady who cooked us fabulous noodles, then gave us a gift of oranges.

Tomorrow we pack up yet again to catch a train to Taitung, a small town about 140km south of Hualien. Lots of opportunities for cycling and walking, and doubtless lots more opportunities to dodge deadly creatures.

More then.

Sampling local wine with gold bits, trying to stand upright at the beach, and the night market’s the place to be.

Day 193: Hualien, Taiwan. Our original plan today was to hire bikes, but given a wild gale was blowing, we decided walking was the safer and more sensible option.

We joined the coast path and walked to Qixingtan, a small coastal town to the north of Hualien, getting buffeted back and forth as we went.

We stopped on the way to visit the Hualien Brewery and Distillery, part of the TTL group which brews Taiwan Beer. We’d read about it in a travel article, but couldn’t find any other details online. It’s a pretty bizarre place; from the entrance it looks like the site might be abandoned, but it’s still a working brewery and distillery, with a huge green area with bowling games and a ‘products promotion centre’.

We had a look around the products centre and tasted a few different drinks, including local whiskey and wine that has flecks of gold floating in it (which the girl behind the counter told us improves the taste). It tasted ok, nothing too amazing though, and at around 100 AUD a bottle, we were happy to give it a skip.

We wandered back outside, and big kid Jim just had to goof about with some crazy cut outs.

We spotted a sign pointing to ‘visitor experience’ further down the road. We followed some faded white painted feet on the pavement and into the brewery buildings. We had to battle our way through the entry and exits which had thick plastic door curtains, which were flapping madly in the wind and nearly carved pieces off us.

We walked down to the exciting-sounding craft beer bar. The look of disappointment on Jim’s face when he found it closed, couldn’t be caught on camera.

The beach at Qixingtan is impressive, albeit it’s comprised more of stones than sand. The town itself looks a little dismal, though to be fair the weather didn’t cast a great light on it, and everyone was probably hiding from the strong winds.

Despite the wild weather, there were still bus-loads of tourists being dropped off for selfies at the beach – watching this group of ladies trying to pose and stay upright in the wind was hilarious.

After a quick coffee, we retraced our steps; it was late afternoon and starting to get dark. We walked along the cycle and pedestrian path back into town, nearly getting blown over several times.

When we got back to town, we visited the night market, which is big and lively and lots of fun. It’s clearly the place to be on Saturday evening – it was absolutely packed with adults and children and dogs.

Tomorrow we’re planning a quiet morning to catch up on some admin stuff, and maybe a walk to a lake in the afternoon. And fingers crossed the wind has abated, and we can walk without being blown over.

More then.

A once in a lifetime cliff hike; beware killer bees, bears and snakes; and coffee served with a side of sausage.

Day 192: Hualien, Taiwan. We were up at crazy o’clock to get ourselves together and catch an early morning bus to Taroko National Park for some hiking.

There’s a brilliant shuttle bus service running from the station up and down the valley for a daily fee. The bus left on time at 6.30am, and we reached Taroko just before 8am.

We had plans to do a few hikes, but were particularly excited about having permits to hike the Zhuilu Old Road trail, a breathtaking trek high above Taroko Gorge.

The Old Road Trail was originally built in the 1800s as a hunting path by indigenous local people. At that time it was a mere 30cm wide. When Japanese forces reached Hualien in the early 1900s, they needed a way to move artillery through the mountains. They decided to use the Old Road path, widening it to its current 90cm.

Thankfully despite the rain that had lashed Hualien overnight, the Zhuilu Old Road trail was still open to hikers. We handed over our permits and passports and the guy at the trail checkpoint unlocked the gate to the trail – and we were off.

The original Old Road trail was 10km. These days only 3.1km is accessible as a 2016 typhoon wiped out the rest of it. However the remaining 3.1km is still stunning, and unlike anything we’ve experienced before.

We started with a swaying walk across a suspension bridge, then a very steep climb up steps (yes, more steps) and across rocks, followed by a kilometre along the very narrow cliff path with a sheer 700m drop on one side, and a rock face with a rope on the other.

The Old Road trail is an ‘out and back’ walk – once you’ve completed it you need to retrace your steps, so we had time to gather our wits before getting a second opportunity to quiver on the cliff path, with views in the other direction. The rain started to clear on the return journey, giving us spectacular views down Taroko valley.

We were very happy to complete the Old Trail in one piece.

When we got back to the main road, we caught the shuttle bus to check out a couple of smaller trails, the Swallow Grotto Yanzikou trail and the Tunnel of Nine Turns, which has great views down into the chasms carved by the Liwu River as it comes off the mountain. Finally we caught the shuttle bus back down the valley to the visitor centre, where we walked to the Shakadang trail.

The Shakadang trail is also great – it’s 4.1km each way, through nature reserve and lands still occupied by indigenous people. Signs at the entrance warned of the various dangers of hiking the trail, including killer bees, venomous snakes and wild animals. And they say hiking is good for you.

The ‘killer bees’ they refer to are Giant Asian Hornets – terrifying huge bees that are 1.5 to 2 inches in length, and pretty deadly. Around 40 people die every year in Japan from them (we haven’t got figures for Taiwan), and about 5 or 6 years ago 42 people died in China in one single attack. They’re the stuff of nightmares and horror movies. Even if you only get stung once, you need to head to hospital. And if you get stung multiple times, things get more serious – even for people who are not allergic there’s a high risk of kidney and other organ failure.

Here’s a picture of Giant Asian Hornets from an article online, to give you an idea of just how big they are.

Image copyright: Devon Henderson

Thankfully we managed to complete the trail without encountering any deadly creatures, though Lil did spend more time scanning the ground and nearby bushes and trees than enjoying the scenery. And it rained the entire way. The trail follows a stream below with stunning blue water, and huge poinsettia trees growing in the surrounding jungle.

When we got back to the visitor centre, we ordered two coffees to help warm us up. A very enthusiastic young sales guy tried to upsell us to coffees with peach honey, then informed us that they have ‘very good indigenous sausage today’. Quite how that goes with coffee, we have no idea.

Then we caught the bus back home, had a very hot shower to thaw out, grabbed some beef noodles at a nearby restaurant and plonked ourselves down in front of the TV for the rest of the evening. We could hear the rain lashing against the windows and a gale start to whip up (and it’s supposed to be dry season here).

Tomorrow we might rent bikes and pedal along the coastal path, depending on the weather (and our legs). Or we might just explore some more of the town and surrounding area. Whatever we end up doing, hopefully we won’t encounter any killer bees or any other deadly creatures along the way.

More then.