Getting to and getting around East Taiwan
Not surprisingly, the quickest way of getting to Taiwan’s east is by airplane. A handful of international charters link Hualien with Japan; visitors coming from other places should try to book a flight arriving at Taipei Songshan Airport (rather than Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport) as Songshan has up to six flights per day to Hualien (flight time 40 minutes; one-way fare US$49) plus another six to Taitung (one hour; US$75). Both Hualien and Taitung airports are relatively close to the centres of those cities, and there are buses for those who don’t want to pay for a taxi into town.
East Taiwan now benefits from improved rail services. No bullet trains come to this side of the island, but the fastest expresses leaving Taipei reach Hualien in slightly less than two hours (US$15 one way) and Taitung in three and a half hours (US$26). Those who enter the region from the north may wish to leave via the south, as trains heading for Kaohsiung from Taitung (typical journey time under three hours; US$12) cross 158 bridges and go through 36 tunnels, hugging the Pacific Coast before cutting through uninhabited valleys.
Because there’s no railway line along the coast, public-transport users who want to see the ocean should board one of the fairly frequent buses heading south on Highway 11. From Hualien, very few services go all the way to Taitung City, however, so changing bus – or perhaps staying overnight – somewhere like Jingpu (two hours from Hualien; US$8 one way) or Chenggong (journey time three hours; under US$12) is necessary. Buses are also a good way to get from Hualien to Guangfu in the heart of the East Rift Valley, or from central Taitung to Zhiben’s hot springs zone. From the bus station very near Hualien Railway Station, there are buses to various spots in Taroko Gorge.
The very best way of exploring the east is, of course, to rent a car or motorcycle. Without a private vehicle, it can be difficult to reach some of the region’s most attractive hotels and homestays.
Hire cars can be arranged at the airports in Hualien and Taitung (pre-booking is advised, especially during the summer and around weekends). The latter is trickier as many rental businesses insist on seeing a local, rather than international, license. Picking up a vehicle in west Taiwan is often more straightforward, and this also makes it possible to enter and leave the east at a leisurely pace via any of these intriguing and visually-rewarding routes: The coast road between Suao in Yilan County and Hualien; from Sun Moon Lake, over Hehuanshan and down through Taroko Gorge; or from Kenting in the deep south on Road 199 or Highway 9.
Fit outdoors types may want to ride bicycles in the east. Short-term rentals can be arranged in a number of places, including Guanshan and Liyu Lake. For multi-day rent of quality bikes, panniers and other equipment, contact a shop run by bike manufacturer Giant.