Day 2: Taroko Gorge

Day 2 we were up really early to go on an all day trip down to Taroko Gorge.  After some research on ways to see the Gorge, I decided on a group trip that included flying to Hualien and then taking the train back to Taipei at the end of the day.  Despite the early morning pick up, after finishing the trip I can say that I think this was the best choice (versus train there and back) and I would definitely recommend this trip.

Our hotel was kind enough to pack us a breakfast to go.
There was juice, dragon fruit, guava, and chocolate cake.
We flew out of Songshan airport.  The flight was at 7 am and Hualien was only about an hour flight from here.  The whole process was very easy.
It was a small plane, but it was bigger than I expected.
I was also surprised that they served us beverages.
As we prepared to land I got a glimpse of the coastline out the window.  I all I can saw is "WOW"!  It was so beautiful.

Welcome to Hualien!  This is in a different area of Taiwan than Taipei.  It is more central and along the east coast.
For the most part this post will be filled with more pictures and less writing.  I can honestly say that these pictures do not do this place justice.  Many times I just stood there, taking deep breaths and appreciating the nature around me.  Taroko Gorge is a very beautiful place.

Very made multiple stops along the way and did some light hiking at different spots.  Here are some of the initial pictures from our first stop.

Still not sure what I was supposed to beware of!
You can see the ocean off in the distance.  It is the faint blue in the back of the picture.  Here is where the water empties into the ocean. 
This is considered the entrance into Taroko Gorge National Park.
This picture was not easy to get!  There were so many tourists here (all Asian tour groups) and they all wanted to take pictures with us and not let us take one with just ourselves.  It was pretty crazy.  We were familiar with this from our previous China trip.  We were told that some of those tourists may not have much exposure to foreigners and just like to take pictures with them, especially when they are Americans.  We don't mind, but it is a little weird and in this case it was literally an entire bus full of people that lined up to take pictures with us.
Enter here!
Another gorgeous views at the entrance to the park.
This was at our first stop.  I love how the green seems to melt into the tunnel.



Our first little hike was the Shakadang Trail.  It was opened up again after a recent typhoon, but the trail was closed after a point, and I believe has been for a while from another typhoon.  It's only opened to traffic from locals from tribes that still live in these mountains.
To get to this trail we had to climb down stairs, so we were below this bridge.  I love all of the red bridges that were around here (and pretty typical in Asia).
You can see on the lower right side some people just ahead of us on this trail.  It was rather narrow and just hugged the side of the mountain.
It's almost as if the path was just chiseled out, possibly by local tribes for easy passage.
This is the same red bridge from the previous picture, taken as we were further down the trail.

I was ok, but Ryan definitely had to watch his head.
As I mentioned there are still local tribes here and they are allowed to pass through on motorcycles, which did pass us while we were on the trail.

It's a little hard to tell but the water below was so clear.  Some areas were not as clear but some were an amazing shade of blue.

Here I am with Ryan at one of the look out "balconies".
Our next stop was past the area recently damaged by a landslide.  We actually got very lucky because this road had only recently reopened after the landslide which occurred during the recent typhoon.  Here you can see our driver pointing to some of the workers.  They were clearing the road and securing the area.  The road was opened, but only with one direction at a time, so traffic wanting to pass had to wait about 20 minutes until the direction switched.
It is hard to tell but this is from the landslide.
Some of these are large rocks and you can see where it started all the way at the top.
After we passed, which was only a short wait, so we definitely got lucky, we picked up some helmets and headed to walk along the the roadside so we could be closer to the gorge and get views of the water.
We didn't go out on this suspension bridge, but it certainly looked like fun!  It is the start to a hiking trail, which I believe required permits.
Lots more pictures of the beautiful area.
Told you, I had to wear a helmet!  I guess maybe it sounds better to call it a hard hat.




Our next stop was an area with a little shrine.  It was amazing how quiet and peaceful it was.  We had managed to beat out all the tours.  One thing we had going for us was being a small group with a van, not a bus.  The road had been reopened but was only open for vans and cars, not for buses.  It was like we had the place to ourselves!

Giant boulders!

Here is the bridge.  Red, of course!


Gorgeous!
Here is another suspension bridge.  Our guide was kind enough to let us stop here and go all the way across.
Waterfall!  It's a little hard to see, but there was definitely a waterfall.
The view from on the suspension bridge.


Here I am with Ryan on the bridge and if you look closely you can see the waterfall behind us.
One last view from this area.
Our next stop was at a little cafe.  We (we had 5 people total in our group) all ordered some fresh juice and chatted while enjoying the beauty around us.
After our short stop for a beverage we headed to our lunch location.  Here we went for a decent hike up to that pagoda and temple.
We climbed all the way up to the top!  If you look closely below the pagoda there is a Buddha in the mountain.
A lotus on the bridge heading over to the temple.
Crossing the bridge.
Heading up!

Which way?
Much closer to the pagoda.
Finally there!
Inside the pagoda and getting ready to head up.
Looking up
View through the door at the top of the pagoda.
The temple at the top of the mountain area next to the pagoda.
Beautiful views...really the pictures can't even come close to showing how amazing this place is.

Outside the temple
I took this picture with Meredith in mind (she is probably reading this).  Elephants are her THING!
Simply amazing!
The temple from the front.
Info about the temple.
Lunch was at Silks Place Taroko.  I was really impressed with the meal.  Often times when touring and with a group the restaurant is equipped to deal with groups but not always the best quality food.  This place was surprisingly a little fancier than your average lunch location and the food was wonderful.

We started with some crab, abalone, and I think pork.
Chicken dish
This was a nice eggplant dish.
Egg with shrimp, which was really good.
Scallops, but they were topped with pork so I didn't eat them.
Veggies
This was a delicious fish dish.  The topping and sauce were really good and complimented the fish well.
Some soup, which had meat in it, and really at this point I think everyone was stuffed.  I don't think we thought anything else was coming out.  It seems that is usually the case- soup comes out at the end.
Then we had some nice fruit for dessert.
After lunch we headed to the main attraction at Taroko (honestly, the entire place was so beautiful that it is hard to pick one highlight, but this location seems to be the most heavily trafficked).  

This is the Eternal Spring Shrine.  You can see why this is a highlight.  It looks so perfect off in the distance.
To get there you have to go down some stairs and then get on the little trail up.  You can actually go on past the shrine and keep hiking up but we didn't have a lot of time and it was raining a little bit.  On the way to the shrine we passed by these statues.
Another fun red bridge.
A close up of the waterfall.
Love the colorful buildings with this shrine.
A front view of the waterfall.
Looking back out.
This is the bridge I was standing on when I took the picture of the water rushing out through the bridge.



That is it for the gorge.  We absolutely loved this and I highly recommend visiting Taroko Gorge if you will be in Taiwan.  Simply breathtaking.  It was more than worth the 4:30 am wake!

Our next stop was at the beach.  This beach was not sandy but instead covered in rocks.  Not sharp rocks but smooth rocks, making it easy to walk on.



This gives a better view of the rocks.
As we were walking back from the ocean we spotted a man selling coconuts from a truck.  Obviously we couldn't pass on this.  The best part was that the guy used a power drill to make a hole and then stuck a straw inside.  Awesome!
After a trip to a marble factory (Taroko is known for it's marble/granite) we headed to the train station, which was extremely busy, and then boarded the train back.  Since it was a Sunday heading back to Taipei this train was packed.  They had lots of people standing and it was so strange because it seemed ok for them to move into the area of people's paid seats.  Like I had someone standing between me and the seat in front of me.  I personally was not comfortable with this and I asked her to move.  I also moved someone (yes, I had to show them how to move because they didn't understand English) who was standing next to me and leaning on my chair with their arm pretty much on my head.  I just wasn't comfortable with this.  I had really bad motion sickness and I was not ok with people adding movement to my chair or bobbing around in front of me.  But apparently it is normal to stand like that.

Anyway, here are some pictures I took along the coast from the train.  It was pretty neat because the train hugged the coast for a portion of the trip.  It was neat to ride by so close to the ocean.

When we arrived home we decided to head to Din Tai Fung.  Our hotel happened to be very close to the original location.  We found this place in Shanghai and then by mere chance discovered that the hotel I booked for Taipei was near the original location.  That instantly made it on our to-do list.  

There are no reservations for this place so you have to go and wait for a table.  We had about a 40 minute wait but the whole process was so efficient that we didn't really mind.  You can order while you wait so that when you do a get a table the food comes very quickly.  Plus there was a nice view of Taipei 101 while waiting.
Pretty impressive in size, but I guess that goes without saying when it's the second tallest building in the world!

Here is what the wait looked like.  The red board is where the numbers are listed to tell you that your table is ready.
Yay for getting a table!
We couldn't pass up a chance to try the local beer.  Surprisingly (I don't know why I was so surprised actually, but I guess because you never hear about Taiwanese beer), this beer was really good.  If you have watched or happen to watch the movie Lucy soon you will see this beer make an appearance (the movie takes place in Taipei for the first half).
Some XiaoLongBao to get started.  This is their speciality.  It is a dumpling filled with a broth and meat, eaten in a special sauce.  These are the house speciality which is pork.
I had the shrimp with squash.
This is the sauce.
We also got some vegetarian steamed buns, which are probably my favorite thing on the menu.  Delicious!
Some fried rice.  I really liked that they were able to make this vegetarian and with brown rice.
We also ordered some dumplings.  Ryan got his with meat and I had some veggie dumplings.  Yes, we definitely ordered too much!  But the good news is that despite some locations having a Michelin star, this meal was pretty inexpensive.
Whew, that does it for a very long day.  This was a phenomenal trip ending with a super delicious meal, well worth the wait even after a very long day of sightseeing outside of the city.  Really, truly, simply amazing!

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever heard of Taroko Gorge?  Have you ever taken a day trip far outside of the city you were visiting?  What is the most beautiful place you have ever visited?  Have you ever been to Din Tai Fung?