Where Taiwan Meets the Pacific, Art Meets Nature

Many of Taiwan’s landscapes are deeply inspiring. The country has East Asia’s tallest mountains, its most spectacular gorge, and stretches of dramatic coastline. 

The unspoiled eastern part of the island has long been a favorite of both domestic and international tourists. The counties of Hualien and Taitung account for more than a fifth of Taiwan’s land area, yet just one in forty of its residents. It is a region of forests, farms, small rural towns, and friendly villages inhabited by nine of the country’s 16 indigenous Austronesian tribes. The East is where it becomes obvious that Taiwan is as much part of the Pacific as it is of East Asia. 

Thanks to recent investments in road and rail networks, Taiwan’s east is more accessible than ever. Highway 9 connects the southwest to Taitung, while the much-improved Suao Highway links Taiwan’s north with Taroko Gorge and Hualien. By train, it is now possible to get from Taipei to Taitung in less than four and a half hours, and to Taitung from Kaohsiung in under two. 

Quick overnight trips are feasible but are unlikely to satisfy. On arriving in the East, many first-time visitors are struck by the sense of space – and not just in the physical dimension. They immediately understand why people come here to destress and decompress and why so many Taiwanese say they hope they can retire to Hualien or Taitung.  

Given its ambiance, it is no wonder that the East is home to a disproportionate number of artists and dreamers. Works by some of these creatives will feature in the upcoming Taiwan East Coast Land Arts Festival (also known as the TECLandArt Festival). The festival’s website, www.teclandart.tw, is available in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, and includes promotional videos and profiles of participating artists, plus details of workshops and exchange events.  

As in previous years, the 2023 curatorial team has sought out works that touch upon the connection between people, and the natural environment and relations between indigenous peoples and newer arrivals. This annual festival is both deeply local and thoroughly international. In previous years, featured artists have come from Australia, Japan, Malaysia, and other places, as well as from Taiwan.  

Since the festival was launched in 2016, these individuals have contributed a stunning range of indoor and outdoor installations, ceramic and fabric works, sculptures, soundscapes, woodcarvings, woven materials, and even pieces created using ocean litter.   

The festival will also include two concerts per month between June and September. Each show has a theme, like “Riding the Wind and Waves” and “Moonrise Surge.” All eight performances will be held at the Torik Visitor Center in Taitung County’s Chenggong Township. 

The central government’s Tourism Bureau has recently created several “tourism unions” around Taiwan to leverage the strengths and distinctive appeal of each region by enhancing cooperation between local governments, experts, and entrepreneurs. Among attractions highlighted by the East Coast Tourism Union are stargazing near Yanliao in Hualien County, whitewater rafting and indigenous communities along the Xiuguluan River, and Fugang, a fishing town that is the jumping-off point for excursions to Green Island and Orchid Island.  

Those looking for meaningful travel experiences may want to visit the GaoShan Forest Center (https://www.gs-forest.com/), an ecotourism destination in Hualien County’s Fengbin Township. Founded by a former professional soldier who grew up here and who is trying to preserve both the natural environment and the traditional ecological knowledge acquired over centuries by his Bunun indigenous ancestors, the center immerses visitors in hunting lore, tree climbing, and other activities. The center also has its own camping ground where tourists can enjoy a true forest atmosphere.   

Some visitors rent cars, motorcycles, or bicycles to explore the East. Public transportation is another viable option, but non-drivers who would rather not wade through train timetables and bus-route maps should explore the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle’s services. 

The 8101A route offers a full-day tour of Taitung’s coastline, starting and finishing at Taitung Bus Station, for NT$399 per person (children under 12 qualify for half-price tickets; those under six go for free). Stops include Xiaoyeliu Scenic Area, which is famous for its remarkable geology, the Amis Folk Center (the 219,000-strong Amis people are the largest of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes), Chenggong Fishing Harbor, Sanxiantai, and Dulan Sugar Factory.  

There is more to Chenggong Fishing Harbor than the sailfish and other seafood delicacies brought ashore and eaten here. Because the Oyashio Current and Kuroshio Current meet just off Chenggong, the harbor is a popular starting point for summertime dolphin- and whale-watching voyages. 

Sanxiantai – the toponym can be translated as “Terraces of the Three Immortals” – was once a narrow peninsula. Eons ago, a combination of wave erosion and rising sea levels turned it into a rocky islet that is now linked to the mainland by an eight-arch pedestrian bridge. When the light is just right, you will likely find yourself stopping to take a photo, walking just a few more steps, and then once again pulling out your camera.  

East Taiwan’s sugar industry ground to a halt decades ago, but the little town of Dulan has made a comeback thanks to tourism and outsiders who have chosen to make their homes here. Some are drawn by Dulan’s laid-back surfer vibe. Others relocate to join the town’s community of artists. The former sugar factory now serves as a cultural hub, where you can find art galleries, dance performances, and souvenir vendors.  

For people with less time on their hands, the 8101B route offers a four-and-a-half-hour spin around some of these attractions, kicking off at 8 o’clock in the morning. For late risers, the 8101C (like the 8101B, adult tickets are priced at NT$250 per person) starts at 1:40 pm and returns to Taitung around 6:15 pm. For booking information, special offers, and details of similar services throughout Taiwan, see the multilingual website www.taiwantrip.com.tw.   

Travelers planning to head to Taiwan’s eastern half should browse the website of the East Coast National Scenic Area (www.eastcoast-nsa.gov.tw). Back Issues of Travel in Taiwan, a bimonthly English-language magazine sponsored by Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, can be read online by searching for it at https://issuu.com/. For all kinds of travel information about the country, visit the Tourism Bureau’s website (www.taiwan.net.tw), or call the 24-hour tourist information hotline at 0800-011-765 (toll-free within Taiwan).