Sunday, April 22, 2018

Finishing Up Taiwan


silhouette green island taiwan


              Having finished up our tour of the west coast of Taiwan and getting to see the spectacular Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, it was time to move on eastward to our final piece of Taiwan.  During what we thought would be our final week (it wasn’t) we hiked through the beautiful Taroko Gorge, almost lost my drone a few times, had the worst day of our vacation thus far in the most beautiful place in Taiwan, and got stuck in Taipei for a while due to a visa snafu.


mountain tops taroko gorge taiwan
Mountain tops in Taroko Gorge


              The day after visiting the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, we boarded a train going southeast for Hualien.  We had heard that Taroko Gorge had some of the most beautiful trails in Taiwan so we wanted to check it out.  We had also heard that the same area had been hit by a fairly large earthquake earlier that month and were unsure about the safety of hiking through the gorge, but fortunately the park began reopening the trails just before we arrived.  


rocky riverbed taroko gorge taiwan
Rocky riverbed along the Shakadang Trail in Taroko Gorge


              Our plan originally was to head to the gorge right from the train and find a camping spot for the two nights we had set aside for this leg of the trip.  There is camping in the gorge, and its cheap, but the transportation to the gorge, on the other hand, is not.  While weighing our options we found out that there was a hop on hop off bus that left from Hualien with a one-day pass that was cheaper than a taxi to the gorge, so we scrapped our camping plans, found a hostel across the street, and waited till morning.  


cliff covered path shakadang trail taroko gorge taiwan
Cliff covered path on the Shakadang Trail in Taroko Gorge


              The hop on hop off bus turned out to be a great idea.  The timing between the buses was almost spot on with the time it took us to do each trail, which meant we had very little wait time in-between.  Our trip into Taroko Gorge took most of the day, and we ended up walking three trails, seeing the Eternal Spring Shrine, and going to the beach.  One of the trails that we wanted to hike ended up being a permit only, multi-day trip, so we had to scrap that one.  And the Eternal Spring Shrine trail was also closed, but we were still able to see the temple from the road.  Overall, Taroko Gorge was beautiful and the trails were great.  


taroko gorge taiwan


The Shakadang Trail lead us along the river, through over hanging cliffs, and down dirt paths through the forest on an easy but beautiful hike.  The Swallow Grotto trail, though not actually a trail, took us through a tunnel in the mountain with openings to the gorge outside, where we were able to see the power of the river below as it continued to cut its way to the sea.  While the Lushui-Heliu trail lead us through the forest, over a suspension bridge, threw a dark tunnel, and along a cliff over looking the gorge and forest below.


lushui heliu trail taroko gorge taiwan
Lushui-Heliu Trail in Taroko Gorge


It was a great trip and we were able to get some great pics and video of the entire area; though not without it’s scares.  After hiking the Lushui-Heliu Trail, I decided to fly my drone through the gorge to get some video.  Focused on a draw bridge I began panning up, unaware that there was a line for a cable car above me until it passed just in front of my camera (you can watch the unedited video here).  Then as I was trying to film the Eternal Spring Shrine, my drone had a 'Flyaway’ and flew full speed (33 mph) straight at the shrine.  I was fortunately, after a lot of sketchy maneuvering, able to get it back.  Needless to say, I was a little shaken up about the two events.   


scenery green island taiwan
Shoreline scenery on Green Island


The day following Taroko Gorge, we boarded another train to the south.  We were headed straight to Green Island, so we thought.  Arriving at the train station, we boarded a bus with a friend we had made on the train and headed to the port to catch the ferry over.  Upon arriving at the port, we were informed that there were no more boats for the day so we would have to come back the next morning.  The problem with this was that there were no cheap, even relatively cheap, hotels by the port (that we or our friend could find anyways).  So, as we sat at the bus stop, hoping that there were still buses, we decided that we would just find a place to set up a tent.  We crossed the street to the 7/11, ate some food, and found out there was a campground not to far outside of town, so we walked there and set up camp.


windy road green island taiwan
Windy road across the mountain side of Green Island


Overnight a storm rolled in and although it didn’t bring in any rain, it did bring a lot of lighting and stronger than normal seas the next day.  The next morning from the port, the sky was clear and the water looked as calm as you would expect an ocean to look.  We knew the trip was a quick one but had heard from locals that the ferry ride was hard.  As we boarded the ferry all we could do was hope for the best, but we got far from it.  The boat ride has to be one of the worst I have ever been on.  The boat was rocked to and fro over waves that were easily taller than the boat.  In the end we were amongst the few that survived without throwing up.  


gurad tower green island lodge taiwan
One of the guard towers at Green Island Lodge Prison on Green Island


Upon arriving in Green Island, we tried to ignore the constant badgering of two old ladies trying to get us to stay at their hotel or rent a scooter from them and made our way to our hotel on the other side of town.  Once settled in we made our way back into town to pull out money from the ATM to find out that the ATM didn’t take international cards (on an island geared fully towards tourism….really!).  So, we thought that perhaps we could pull out money from our cards at 7/11, or at the very least use our cards to buy food there.  Again, it seems like this was the only 7/11 in the country that didn’t accept credit cards.  Next, we decided to just exchange the few U.S. dollars that Jade had on her (I had left mine behind in Taipei thinking I surely wouldn’t need them) at the post office.  This turned out to be an even more infuriating experience.  The lady behind the counter, after taking our money to exchange, decided to help other people first.  After denying Jade’s passport and asking if she had a different one, I gave her mine, which I guess she found acceptable, and proceeded with the exchange process.  Taking her time trying to compare the bills to a picture of a $100 bill on the wall (we didn’t have any $100 bills…), she finally decided they needed to scanned instead.  After scanning all of the bills, she then returned a few of the bills, stating that she couldn’t accept them.  At first, we thought it was possibly because they were low denomination bills, but quickly realized she had accepted some of the same bills.  Tired of and extremely frustrated at this person, we accepted what we could get and left.  We later found that a hotel down the street will allow you to charge your credit card for money, but with a 20% fee!  


ocean rocks green island taiwan
Pacific Ocean crashing against the rocks on the shore of Green Island


Having traveled on the worst boat ride ever and dealing with the money issue and post office lady all in one day, we thought we had meet our quota for a bad day.  This turned out to be far from the case.  That evening, when we went out to find food, we found that the town was all but a ghost town.  It was the off season we knew, but this was crazy.  There was no one around and almost all of the restaurants were closed.  After finally finding a place to eat we started are walk home when we were hit with a down pour.  By the time we made it to the hotel we were soaked from head to toe.  Miserable, we dried off and decided we would do some work, but again, little luck.  The wifi was only downstairs in the lobby and the attendant was hard at work sucking all the bandwidth playing StarCraft.  Trudging through uploading photos, my work was cut short when the attendant decided he was ready for bed and told me I had to go to bed too…


zhaori hot spring green island taiwan
Zhaori Hot Spring on Green Island


The following day, determined not to let the previous days frustration win, we packed up our bags and moved to the hotel owned by the old ladies from the day before; who we also rented a scooter from.  I had never driven a moto before, but how hard could it be?  After a little touch and go I finally started to get the hang of it and we were on our way to explore the island.  Having planned to write a blog post the night before about why you should never consider going to Green Island, I was finally seeing what it had to offer and it was beautiful.  Driving around the island was amazing and seeing the landscape of Green Island ended up making it one of my favorite places in Taiwan.  We toured the old political prison, took in the views of the ocean crashing against the sheer cliffs, and ended the day with a dip in one of the few salt water hot springs in the world.  


statue shakadang trail bridge taroko gorge taiwan


The following day we took the ferry back to the mainland, still horrible, but not as bad as before, then boarded a train for Taipei.  We had planned to leave for Vietnam two days after arriving in Taipei, but it turns out that the Vietnam visa process takes much more time than we had thought.  We applied for our visas, but it being Friday evening, we would have to wait till Monday for the three-day application process to begin.  So, we bought our plan tickets to Vietnam for a week later and spent another week milling around Taipei.  


mural baoan temple taipei taiwan
Mural on the wall of Bbaoan Temple in Taipei


Overall, Taiwan was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to get away.  It’s a very developed country that is doing a lot of things right; even better in many ways.  Not only that, but the transportation system is on point; allowing easy and fast access to the entire country. We had planned to spend only about two weeks in Taiwan, but in the end, 1.5 months later, we were finally moving on to our next country, Vietnam.

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