In the book 1001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die, one item in this big bucket list is right in the heart of Taiwan–Taroko Gorge. I guess you could say this is sort of like Taiwan’s Grand Canyon. Construction of this park started when Taiwan was still under Japanese rule, and, reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, many laborers, forced and otherwise, died building the roads into this massive gorge.
This gorge was carved by the Liwu river, and if you can’t tell from image above, the thing is made primarily of marble. It’s gorgeous to say the least. I used to wonder why so many of my relatives homes in Taiwan were filled with marble tables, floors, and even walls. I had thought it was to keep the house cool in the hot, humid island weather, which it indeed does, but it wasn’t till I realized this gorge was made of marble that I realized that Taiwan has a massive source of marble right in its own back yard.
It wouldn’t have been easy for us to make the trip into the Taroko park on our own as it’s quite large and full of treacherous roads. My parents have driven me through it before when I was a kid, but I don’t exactly have a Taiwan driver’s license myself. So we joined a Taiwan Tour Bus group for this one.
Driving into the gorge, we got a glimpse of a view that looked something like it came out of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon scenery.
Next, driving through tunnels and roads that were carved at such a great cost of human life, we went up Swallow Grotto Trail. In order to hike up the trail, we had to put on helmets since falling rock is a regular occurrence along with people dying from being hit by those falling rocks.
The helmets were provided by the park. Luckily we had sanitary wipes to clean our helmets before putting them on. Our tour guide slash bus driver was incredibly thoughtful. We weren’t a public bus at all, but whenever he saw random tourists hiking up the road without helmets on, he would stop and urge them to get on, telling them they were in a dangerous rock fall area and could be killed if they weren’t wearing a helmet. (This also could just be safety protocols at the park, but it’s still nice nonetheless.) We picked up tourists from Japan, Australia, and Europe wandering the roads and dropped them off in safe spots.
Lunch was included in our tour package, and we ate at a restaurant in the park overlooking beautiful mountain views. I wouldn’t say the food was all that delicious, but it was made more delicious in the fresh air surrounded by unparalleled greenery and marble.
Next up, we stopped at the Motherly Devotion Bridge, which crossed over the river in the gorge.
Our guide told us that in certain seasons, when fresh waters flowed, the river was breathtakingly amazing when it was not muddied by the sediments the way it was on the day we visited. I thought the waters of the gorge were quite a beautiful color already, looking a lot like liquid marble. However, I caught a glimpse of some of the clear water, a patch of crystal turquoise in silky white-gray river, which made me wonder just how magnificent it looked when all the waters looked like that.
In order to reach temples past the bridge, we had to climb a series of pretty steep stone stairs. I swear, when I came back from Taiwan, I was like stair climber master. Everywhere we went there were these stairs to climb.
Of course, the views were worth the effort.
There was a legit looking pagoda at the top. Made me wish I had brought a flowing wuxia gown so that I could pose in front of it like a kung fu hero god unit.
Of course, there were more stairs inside. At least they were spiral, which made for great pictures.
There was a lovely gazebo perfectly poised with a bamboo wind chime that had buddhist markings on it. This is yet another time I wish I had brought a travel tea set so that I could fully enjoy the scenery. Regret.
Driving out of the gorge, we went down to see some of the local goods available, which included a mega center that made all sorts of pineapple cakes, one of Taiwan’s uber specialties. What I was really happy to see was a store full of marble sculptures, which gave me a lot of ideas for a chapter in my sequel novel to Legend of Phoenix Mountain.
Finally, our last stop on the tour was the beach in the town of Hualien on the west coast of Taiwan. There were some massive winds and waves there, which reminded me of the scene from Once Upon a Time in China when Jet Li is doing forms on the beach as waves crashed behind him. Come to think of it, why didn’t I take some video footage of myself doing forms on the beach? Oh yeah, because I could barely stand up in the typhoon level winds that were making those waves. Guess I’ll have to go back to get that footage when I’ve upped my kung fu game.
Finally, when our tour was over, we still had a couple hours until our night train back to Taipei, so we decided to try a local beef noodle soup place recommended by our tour guide as an authentically Hualien locals favorite dish.
It was definitely tasty and made me feel like I did get a chance to enjoy a local favorite, but again, since my diet has been largely low carb, low oil, and low sodium, this bowl of flavorful noodles was completely the opposite of that. My adventurous palate was pleased, but my American princess whole foods tastes was not.
Next up, a trip to a remote location that was totally worth the journey, San Xian Tai.