Monday, August 12, 2013

Taitung - More than worth the trip (Taiwan Business Topics)

If you live in Taipei, one of the remotest parts of Taiwan is Taitung County. There are more scheduled flights per day to the Matsu islands (nine) than to Taitung (six to eight), and the flying time is a full hour, compared with 50 minutes to Matsu. Driving to Taitung takes a whole day, and there are no direct buses. The fastest of the 14 or so daily trains from the capital takes four hours, 40 minutes to reach Taitung City, although quicker service should be possible by the end of this year when the route is fully electrified and double-tracked.

Getting to Taitung, in other words, is either time-consuming or expensive. Flying a party of four there and back costs around NT$16,000; one-way tickets on Tze-Chiang express trains are NT$785 each. The expense and inconvenience are probably the main reasons why, even though tourism is of growing importance to the county, Taitung receives relatively few visitors compared with other parts of the country.

According to Tourism Bureau statistics, just over 94,000 people entered Taitung’s Zhiben National Forest Recreation Area last year. In comparison, the Alishan National Forest Recreation Area – a favorite of mainland Chinese tourists – notched 2.08 million visits, while the total for the Xitou National Forest Recreation Area came to 1.45 million. Taitung’s best-known museum, the National Museum of Prehistory, had around 172,000 visitors in 2012, while the National Palace Museum sold 25 times as many tickets in the same period. If you want to get away from the crowds, yet still enjoy a range of natural and manmade features, Taitung is thus an excellent option.

The county’s 226,000 people are spread over 3,515 square kilometers; only Hualien and Nantou counties are larger. Almost half of the population lives in Taitung City, which is big enough to support one lively, friendly bar where English is spoken - KASA (102 Heping St., Tel: 0981-693-495; open 11 a.m.-12 midnight daily) - as well as an aboriginal restaurant praised in at least three English-language guidebooks, Mibanai Indigenous Cuisine Restaurant (470 Chuangong Rd., Tel: (089) 231-084; open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. daily; Chinese-only website at

The county’s odd shape – it does not quite reach Taiwan’s southernmost tip, yet has a narrow band of coastal land tacked on to its northeast – is a result of mountains pressing in from the west and the north. The Central Mountain Range is so forbidding that road and rail routes linking Taitung with Kaohsiung swing far to the south. Although the Coastal Mountain Range is not nearly as high as the central sierra, it gives the eastern littoral an appearance strikingly different from Taiwan’s pancake-flat western lowlands...

The last of my three articles in Taiwan Business Topics' travel special. The whole piece is here

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