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The Stunning East Coast of Taiwan Part 1: Yilan to Hualien and Taroko Gorge

Dear reader: This article contains links to products and services that I may be compensated for, at no extra cost to you.

While this is a simplistic breakdown of Taiwan’s diverse and abundant attractions, but there’s no denying that Taiwan’s east coast boasts a vast, sparsely populated coastline of unparalleled beauty, making it the ideal place for a Taiwan road trip.

In Part 2 of this guide, I cover how to continue south along the east coast from Hualien City through southern Hualien County to Taitung County in the southeastern corner of Taiwan, and finally reaching Kenting National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan.

The tips and photos I present below come from multiple visits over many years. It is my hope that this guide shall provide everything you need to know about planning the ultimate Taiwan east coast road trip, though you’ll also have options for doing it by public transportation.

East Coast Essentials 

How Much Time Is Needed for the East Coast of Taiwan?

Qingshui Cliffs, Hualian, TaiwanThe death-defying Suao to Hualien (Su-Ao) Highway

But if you want to follow the east coast trip I’m going to describe below, you’ll need more time, as well as your own wheels. In fact, few people actually travel along the coast from Yilan to Hualien because the cliff-hugging road has a tendency to be destroyed once in while by landslides, and some consider it unsafe during or after heavy rain or typhoons. This is also why there are no public buses that cover this route.

Having said that, the highway from Suao in Yilan to Hualien (called the Suhua Highway) is gorgeous to drive or bike ride. It’s a two-hour journey, but with stops you can easily make a half or full day of it.

Therefore, I’d recommend one day for getting from Yilan to Hualien, one day for Taroko Gorge, and 1-2 days for further exploring Hualien City and the area around it. That means you’ll need 3-4 days to see and do everything I mention in this article. If you’re living in Taiwan, then you could consider making multiple weekend trips to the area instead of doing it all as one road trip.

For Part 2, traveling from Hualien City south to Taitung and/or Kenting, you’ll need another 1-4 days, depending on how you go about it.

Coastal scenery in Fengbin, Hualien County, Taiwan

You can also see parts of the east coast of Taiwan on this east coast day tour starting in Hualien City, if you don’t have the time (or vehicle) to do it yourself.

Why is Taiwan’s East Coast so beautiful?

The Route of this East Coast Guide

Route covered in parts 1 and 2 of this guide

This map shows the total distance covered by my two east coast guides (in blue), spanning Yilan, Hualien, Taitung, and Pingtung (Kenting) counties.

Map of Taiwan Suao to KentingTotal route covered by this guide (PARTS 1 and 2) in blue

Route covered in this article only

As you can see, there isn’t a whole lot of ground to cover in part 1, but the road between Suao and Hualien is a rough one, and is not covered by public transportation. Also, you’ll need several days for this part of the east coast, because there is just so much to see and do, including Taroko Gorge.

Map of Taiwan Yilan to HualianTotal route covered by this guide (PART 1), the Suao-Hualien Highway from Yilan to Hualien

Route covered in part 2

This map shows the two options covered in part 2: coastal highway 11 (in blue) and inland highway 9 (in gray) through the East Rift Valley.

Map of Taiwan Hualian to KentingTotal route covered by this guide (

)

with highway 9 in grey and 11 in blue

When to Do this Trip

You can do this road trip at any time of the year. In winter in Taiwan, the northern east coast, including Yilan and Hualien, can be chilly and windy, but in Taitung and the far south, it can still be warm enough to swim or surf in the sea.

Spring and autumn are probably ideal, but heads up that the Plum Monsoon can bring more rains in June, while in July through October typhoons can strike, especially in August and September. If a typhoon hits, avoid traveling or being anywhere near the coast. Summer in Taiwan can also be extremely hot, so make sure to protect your skin and avoid the midday.

See more information in my guide to the best months to visit Taiwan.

Getting from Taipei to the East Coast

Taking the train from Taipei to HualienMy sister and daughter on the Puyuma express train from Taipei to Hualien. See my complete article on traveling around Taiwan with kids.

If you’re coming from Taipei, be sure to check out my recommended Taipei hotels, Taipei 4-day itinerary and Taipei traveling guide.

For the majority of visitors, they don’t do the Yilan section of my below guide. They take the train directly to Hualien to see Taroko Gorge and perhaps travel south down the east coast of Taiwan from there. Still, I include the Yilan section below for those who really want to to do it!

Use a Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass to save money while traveling around Taipei. In this Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass article, I explain how the pass works and who should get one.

Getting to Suao in Yilan

If you follow my below guide, you’ll see that it begins in Suao, where Highway 9 along the coast of Yilan and Hualien starts. While you can reach Suao on the slow local train from Taipei, or by taking a faster train to Luodong in Yilan then transferring to a bus, there’s no public transportation from Suao on to Hualien.

Therefore, if you really want to cover this section of my guide, you’ll have to bring a bike on the train, rent a scooter in Yilan, or rent a car in Taipei and drive there yourself.

You could also do my below guide in reverse. Take the train to Hualien City first, then rent a scooter or car there, and drive north up the coast to Yilan and back.

If you hire a driver to take you from Taipei to Hualien, the vehicle will actually drive along this route and stop at a few of the most scenic spots on the Suhua (Yilan and Hualien) coast, so you can kill two birds with one stone (get to Hualien, and see the coast along the way).

Flying from Taipei to Hualien

The fastest and most convenient way to reach the east coast is to book this flight from Taipei to Hualien, departing from Taipei’s Songshan airport in the city center. However, if you add the time needed for getting to the airport on either side, it’s barely faster than taking the train.

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Taking the train from Taipei to Hualien

The Taipei to Hualien train route is one of the most popular in the country, so it almost always sells out. This is why it is essential to book your train tickets in advance. You can book TRA (Taiwan’s regular) trains up to 2 weeks in advance. Try to do it the moment they go on sale if you’re hoping to travel on a weekend or holiday. They can sell out in minutes! Also keep in mind that they go on sale at midnight, so you’ll actually want to book it on the night of 15 days before your trip (Taiwan time, of course). Here is a guide to booking train tickets online.

The express (Puyuma/Taroko Express) trains from Taipei to Hualien only take 2 hours, but they sell out especially fast, and standing tickets are not allowed. Non-express trains take 2.5 to 3.5 hours, but even if their seats sell out, you can still always buy a standing ticket and just stand or sit on the floor between train cars. It’s not ideal, but at least you’ll still get there.

When booking your train ticket, you need to first decide whether you’ll get off at Xincheng (Sincheng/Taroko Gorge) Station or Hualien Station. Xincheng is a small town very close to the entrance of Taroko Gorge. There are few hotels or amenities there, but if you’re going directly to Taroko Gorge or staying at a hotel inside Taroko Gorge, it makes sense to get off there. You can also rent a scooter at Xincheng station and drive to the entrance of Taroko Gorge in less than 10 minutes.

If you continue on to Hualien Station in Hualien City, the county capital, there are loads of amenities, hotels, hostels, and attractions there, but it’s about a 40-minute drive to reach Taroko Gorge. Most Taroko Gorge tours take off from Hualien City, but should be able to pick you up from Xincheng as well.

Taking the bus from Taipei to Hualien

It is impossible to travel all the way from Taipei to Hualien by bus because no buses do the Suao to Hualien coastal highway, and there are no highways through the mountains; only the train goes through tunnels in the mountains.

Many locals do have a trick for slightly shortening their trip from Taipei to Hualien by taking a bus from Taipei to Luodong in Yilan, then transferring onto train from there (or the same thing in reverse). It doesn’t save much time, but getting a seat on a bus for part of one’s trip can be more comfortable at times when trains are packed and only standing tickets are available.

Cycling from Taipei to Hualien

For cyclists, you can actually cycle all the way around Taiwan, including to and from Hualien. See this super detailed guide to cycling around Taiwan for all the details.

Riding a Scooter to Taroko Gorge

It is possible to rent scooters at Hualien or Xincheng (Sincheng/Taroko Gorge). You’ll need a local or international driver’s ID.

Note that riding scooters or even bicycles in Taroko Gorge is a risk. Several people have been injured or died in landslides, and some local tour companies no longer recommend it. If you do decide to do it, definitely avoid going after or during any kind of heavy rain or typhoons, and drive carefully. Also watch out for those big tour buses hogging the narrow road.

Riding a scooter in Taroko Gorge, TaiwanRiding scooters in Taroko Gorge, an unforgettable experience

Where to Stay on the East Coast

Pool backed by mountains at Silks Place, the best hotel in HualienSilks Place, the most luxurious hotel in Taroko Gorge

One of the toughest choices you need to make when visiting the east coast of Taiwan is where to stay. Hualien City is the most obvious choices, with loads of accomodation options and some of the best hostels in the country. However, it’s also possible to stay in Xincheng, closer to the entrance of Taroko Gorge, or right in Taroko Gorge. To really get off the beaten track, you can also stay in the aboriginal village of Sanzhan.

Hostels in Hualien City

B&Bs in Hualien

Xincheng (Taroko Train Station)

Staying near Xincheng (Taroko Gorge) train station is very convenient for accessing Taroko Gorge.

A good option in Xincheng is Yu’s Homestay B&B (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor).

In Taroko Gorge

There are a few places at the entrance to Taroko Gorge, including Liwu Hotel (a hostel) (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor).

Silks Place Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is the most luxurious hotel in Hualien, while the wood cabins at Taroko Village Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) offer a more down-to-earth experience in Taroko Gorge.

Budget travelers who want to stay right in Taroko Gorge can try Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center (see on Agoda / TripAdvisor) at Tianxiang village in Taroko Gorge.

Find more information in my Taroko Gorge article.

Camping in Taroko Gorge

This is your cheapest option. Heliu Campsite is first-come-first serve, with a dozen wooden platforms (NT200 per tent) 16.5 kilometers up the valley. I stayed here several years ago with my family; the facilities are very basic but the setting is awesome.

Moon River Guesthouse, Sanzhan

Sanzhan (Sanjhan), Hualien, Taiwan, starting point of the Golden Grotto river traceThe incredible backdrop to Sanzhan, an aboriginal village near the entrance to Taroko Gorge

My personal favorite is the Moon River Guesthouse (see on Booking) in Sanzhan (Sanjhan).Sanzhan is a small aboriginal village 10-minutes south of the Xincheng train station, in the direction of Hualien City. You can rent scooters in Xincheng to get there.

The relaxed one-street town of Sanzhan sits on a lovely stretch of the scenic Sanzhan River with a stunning mountainous backdrop, with many good spots for jumping into blue-green pools of water. It is a 15 minute ride by scooter from Sanzhan to the entrance of Taroko Gorge. It is also the starting point of the famous river trek to Golden Grotto (see the end of the article).

There are only a few tiny shops and informal restaurant-slash-KTV joints with limited hours in Sanzhan, so you may want to pick up supplies at the 7-11 on the highway just south of Xincheng train station.

They don’t speak much English and the hotel is basic but clean. I love it for its location and the town’s non-touristy atmosphere. I’ve never seen other guests staying there, but do be aware that it can sometimes be filled with river tracing groups, so advance reservations are strongly recommended in summer.

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East Coast Road Trip: Yilan to Hualien

Dongao Bay in Yilan County between Suao and HualienBeautiful Dong Ao Bay between Suao and Hualien

Now, let the road trip begin! We set out from Suao in southern Yilan County, following Highway 9, the Suhua (Suao to Hualien) Highway. The following are the sights you’ll encounter in order.

Suao (Su-Ao) Cold Springs

Su'ao Cold Spring, YilanSuao Cold Spring (image from Taiwan tourism)

Starting in Yilan County, at the point where the northeastern plains meet the coastal mountain range, Suao Cold Springs (蘇澳冷泉) is Taiwan’s most famous cold spring town. The town looks very similar to hot spring towns found all over the island, with multiple hotels and spas offering a full range of experiences, from cheap and gritty to posh and upscale, but the natural spring water itself in this case is cold.

Obviously, the town is only popular in summer, and attracts many families with kids. I’ve never stopped Suao Cold Springs because I like the natural setting of Dongao Cold Spring south of Suao (see below), but if you want a convenient place to cool down in summer on the way to Hualien, Suao may be for you!

You can get from Taipei to Suao slow local train, by taking a faster train to Luodong then transferring to a bus, or as a stop if you charter a private car from Taipei.

If you have more time in Yilan before traveling down the coast, don’t miss Jiaoxi Hot Spring, or see my 40+ tips for other things to do in Yilan.

Nanfang Ao Harbor

Nanfang Ao HarborBoats in Nanfang Ao Harbor

Nanfangao made international headlines on October 1, 2019, when the steel arched Nanfangao Bridge collapsed, killing six fishermen in boats below. The bridge is visible on the far left of the image below, which I shot several years before the bridge collapsed.

If you only want to visit Nanfangao, you can get there by public transportation. Take a bus or train from Taipei to Luodong, then transfer to a local bus to reach it. You can also get there as a stop along the way if you charter a private car from Taipei.

Nanfang Ao Harbor from above, TaiwanNanfang Ao Harbor from the viewpoint on the Suao-Hualien highway

Seafood Market at Nanfang Ao, TaiwanTWD100 to fry up any fish or seafood item purchased from the market!

Dongyue (Dong’ao) Cold Spring

Dong Ao Cold Spring, Yilan, TaiwanMy son Sage in crystal clear Dong Yue Cold Spring

After the turnoff for Nanfagao, the highway winds upward for some time and reaches its crescendo, upon which you will suddenly be rewarded with an incredible view of the wide Dong Ao Bay to the south. After you descend and reach the small aboriginal town of Dong Ao, watch for a small sign (or ask around if you can’t find it) to the rustic Dongyue Cold Spring (東岳湧泉) sometimes called Dong Ao Cold Spring (東澳冷泉).

Here a small cold spring stream has been dammed up to create a pool of chilly, crystal clear water that provides a much-needed cool-down on a scorching, Taiwanese summer day. Kids love it, evidenced by the mobs of children splashing around in the water. Many local aboriginal families come here to picnic, and don’t be surprised if they call you over and offer you a chilled can of beer from the water like they did to me.

The pool sits below a train overpass, causing the kids to scream every time a train passes overhead. Beside the pool there is a large grassy field, and at peak times, vendors set up, selling cold beer, sausages, and other snacks. Strangely, the spring was packed with people and food stalls the first time I went, about three years ago (photos below), and nearly deserted when I went last year (photo above). Both visits were on summer weekend days.

It is only possible to visit Dongyue Cold Spring with your own transportation.

Dong Ao Cold Spring, Yilan, TaiwanTrain passing over Dong Yue Cold Spring

Dong Ao Cold Spring, Yilan, TaiwanDong Yue Cold Spring on a hot summer day

Continuing south from here, you can visit remote Nan’ao Beach Waterfall (南澳滴水坑瀑布) and Aohua Waterfall (澳花瀑布) before reaching the border of Hualien County.

Qingshui Cliffs, Hualien County

Qingshui Cliffs, Hualian, TaiwanVertical Qingshui Cliffs

The Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖) have been designated as one of Taiwan’s “Eight Wonders”, and stretch for more than 21 kilometers along the coast of northern Hualien County. Some of the best views are only a 10 to 15-minute drive north of the entrance to Taroko Gorge and are often included on Taroko Gorge day tours, so you don’t have to drive all the way down the coast from Yilan to see them.

There are multiple lookout points and places where you can park at the side of the road or follow stairs down toward the sea. Just be careful for passing traffic, since many drivers’ eyes are on the sea and not the road. Another magnificent experience is to visit the cliffs while sea kayaking below them.

If you are visiting Taroko Gorge by van tour or on this private tour, the Qingshui Cliffs are included. The cliffs are best seen in the early morning, when the rising sun casts softer rays on them, but you may also be rushed to get into Taroko early to beat the crowds. Some tours only visit them at the end of the day, if there’s still time.

Qingshui Cliffs, Hualian, TaiwanThe Qingshui cliffs offer some of Taiwan’s most dramatic scenery

Taroko Gorge: The East Coast’s Most Famous Attraction

Taroko Gorge, Hualien, TaiwanIf you’ve never been to Taroko Gorge before, this is the kind of scenery you can expect.

Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s most famous scenic attractions. It is the star attraction of Hualien and the east coast, and many visitors travel to the east coast just to visit it. There’s a lot to see and do in Taroko Gorge, so you’ll definitely want to set aside a whole day for it. For more information on how to plan your visit, where to stay, and how to get there, see my detailed Taroko Gorge itinerary.

Taroko Gorge is even doable with young kids. Whether you take the local bus and just visit one or two spots, or hire a car or scooters like we did, there are plenty of easy, kid-friendly trails to enjoy in Taroko Gorge.

To make planning easier, here is a highly recommended Taroko Gorge tour.

Riding a scooter in Taroko Gorge Taiwan with toddlersMy wife and kids on one of our many visits.

Funny side note: There is one more place in Taiwan that claims to have the “Grand Canyon of Taiwan”, although it is much smaller and few people know about it. Find out where it is in my article on day trips from Taichung.

Eternal Spring Shrine, Taroko Gorge, Hualian, TaiwanEternal Springs Shrine, one of the top sights in Taroko Gorge

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Wenshan Hot Spring

Wenshan hot spring TaiwanTaroko Gorge’s secret hot spring

For those who love to get off the beaten track, there’s a secret wild hot spring that used to be popular many years ago, before it was mostly destroyed in a landslide. There are still some rock pools you can bathe in, and it’s an adventure to find it. To find out exactly how to get there, read my guide to Wenshan Hot Spring.

Hualien City

Famous steamed dumplings at Dongdamen Night Market (Hualien night market)Hualien Night Market

Hualien City, the capital of Hualien County and largest city on the east coast of Taiwan, is located about 35 minutes south of the entrance to Taroko Gorge by car. As the region’s main city, most visitors base themselves here for visiting Taroko Gorge and other scenic attractions and outdoor activities in the area. Most tours in the area take off from Hualien City.

There are enough things to do in and around Hualien City to warrant staying here for 1-2 days after you visit Taroko Gorge. Most people reach Hualien by direct train from Taipei City.

Qixingtan Beach

Qixingtan Beach, Hualian, TaiwanVisiting the beautiful pebble beach at Qixingtan is a must!

There are a dozen or so food stalls set up here and it’s a great place to lie on the beach and gaze at the sea, but note there is no swimming permitted due to strong tides, and yes, they will stop you.

If you’re looking for sandier beaches on the east coast of Taiwan, check out my articles on the best beaches on the Northeast Coast of Taiwan or Dulan Surfing beach in the far south.

Other things to Do in Hualien City

People dining in the Hualien Shipping Container Store, one of the coolest Starbucks in TaiwanHualien City’s famous Starbucks container store

  • Martyr’s Shrine: One of the city’s most beautiful pieces of architecture
  • Dadongmen Night Market: The best place for tasting Taiwanese street foods in Hualien
  • Farglory Ocean park , a marine ecology theme park
  • The Starbucks shipping container store (picture above)
  • Taking an aboriginal cooking course
  • Hopping on a dolphin and whale watching tour

Also see my suggested Hualien itinerary for the finer details of planning your trip.

River Tracing in Hualien

River tracing the Golden Grotto in Sanzhan, Hualian, TaiwanEnd point of the Golden Grotto. We made it!

River tracing (aka river trekking) is a very popular summertime activity in Taiwan. Basically, you walk up a river, jumping in various spots, playing in the water, sliding down rock slides, and more. It’s really fun and a great way to cool off in summer.

If you are a first timer, you can consider trying this river trekking in Hualien guided adventure.

The small aboriginal village of Sanzhan/Sanjhan (三棧), which I will mentoned above as my favorite place to stay in the Taroko Gorge area, is also the starting point for one of Taiwan’s most renowned river traces: the Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷), but this is not recommended for beginners, and as times it is illegal to visit.

This 6 to 7-hour return trace requires some experience and equipment, and it is at times technically illegal to the visit due to the very real danger of falling rocks, especially after heavy rainfall. Here is a .     

If you’re visiting the area just to go river tracing, it makes most sense to stay at Moon River Guesthouse, from where it’s a short walk to the river.

Cliff jumping at Sanzhan (Sanjhan), Hualien, TaiwanJumping in the river in Sanzhan (Sanjhan), my favorite place to stay in Hualien

But if all you want to do is jump into some cold water, Sanzhan is also a great place to do so. The Sanzhan Riverside (三棧溪戲水區) has several spots where you can jump into the water. You can also walk from Sanzhan Village upstream for about 10 minutes in the direction of the Golden Grotto, to find more great spots to jump into the water. This part of the river is popular for Taiwanese river tracing groups, so you may see lots of them.

Sanzhan village is only a 10-minute drive from the entrance to Taroko Gorge, and just off Highway 9 between Hualien City and Taroko Gorge.

River tracing the Golden Grotto in Sanjan, Hualien, TaiwanClimbing waterfalls up to the Golden GrottoTaiwan Golden Grotto Hualian, TaiwanCliff jumping in the Golden Grotto

Golden Grotto, Hualian, TaiwanCrystal clear pool of water outside the Golden Grotto

Other Outdoor Activities in Hualien

Dolphins jumping out of sea on a whale and dolphin watching tour in HualienSpotting sea mammals from a boat off the coast of Hualien

Cycling is extremely popular in the area. For more detailed info I would recommend searching cycling blogs online, of which there are many, or checking Lonely Planet Taiwan.

Aboriginal Culture on the East Coast of Taiwan

Taiwanese aboriginals, aboriginal festival in Hualian, TaiwanAboriginal festival in Hualien

Nearly 30% of the population of Hualien county is aboriginal, including the Amis (Taiwan’s largest tribe), Atayal, Bunun, Truku or “Taroko”, Sakizaya, and Kavalan. As such, many aboriginal festivals take place on the east coast of Taiwan, including the most famous, the week-long Ami Harvest Festival in summer.

Dates of festivals can change, so if you want to see if anything is coming up, you can try contacting the Hualien County government. All of my photos above and below were taken at the Hualien County Joint Aboriginal Festival in Hualien City in 2014. At any authentic aboriginal festival, you can expect song and dance performances, curious smiles, and profuse consumption of millet wine (小米酒 or xiaomi jiu).

The best way to experience aboriginal culture on the east coast is to take this aboriginal cooking course. The class includes visiting an aboriginal garden maintained an Amis tribe, learning how to cook wild herbs, and tasting millet wine.

You can visit a small aboriginal museum or enjoy an aboriginal buffet feast at Buluowan Visitor Center (布洛灣管理站) in Taroko Gorge, on the site of a former aboriginal village of the Truku (Taroko) tribe. You can even spend the night there at Taroko Village Hotel (see reviews / check prices). Finally, you can also meet aboriginal people if you visit Sanzhan village (三棧) near the entrance to Taroko Gorge (see the river tracing section above).

Taiwanese aboriginals, aboriginal festival in Hualian, TaiwanAboriginal dance performance

Other great places to experience aboriginal culture in Taiwan include Orchid Island and Sun Moon Lake.

Aboriginal leader, aboriginal festival in Hualian, TaiwanAboriginal tribe leader, HualienTaiwanese aboriginals, aboriginal festival in Hualian, TaiwanTaiwanese aboriginals in costume at a festival in Hualien

Well, I hope that the information here helped you to plan your Taiwan East Coast trip. Enjoy your Taiwan road trip! Please continue on to Part 2 of this guide for Hualien to Taitung and Taitung to Kenting National Park!

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