Taiwan Road Trip Part 2 – Taitung County
November 1, 2020
Taitung (台東) is the third-largest county in Taiwan by land area. The East Rift Valley runs through the northern half of Taitung County. But as you pass the Coastal Mountain Range, the ocean comes into view. Because of the area’s relative seclusion due to the mountains, it was the last part to be urbanized and commercialized. Additionally, it also holds the largest percentage of the indigenous population compared to the total (33.5%). We didn’t go south of Taitung City, but there are plenty of beaches and outdoor activities for another trip. The islands of Green Island (綠島) and Orchid Island (蘭嶼) are part of Taitung County but I’ll save that for another post.
With just over 100,000 people, Taitung City is the least populated of the major cities in Taiwan. One of the first things you notice when arriving in the city proper is the lack of high-rises. It sits in a flat plain along the Pacific Ocean. Everything is just a little more spread out. With that comes a sense of ease and freedom.
The area is becoming popular for city-dwellers looking to get away from the hustle and bustle. You’ll find plenty of unique coffee-shops for the freelance crowd. It has also become a popular city for yoga retreats. The peaceful environment and proximity to the ocean provide a great atmosphere to unwind.
Taiwan’s surfing culture and popularity is likely a secret to many. Surfing was brought to Taiwan in the 1960’s by American soldiers. Since then, the sport has quickly grown because of the ease and availability of waves. You can generally surf all year round at almost any part of the island. Taitung is the mecca of surfing in Taiwan. The area hosts many international and domestic surfing competitions attracting athletes from all over the world.
We stayed in Dulan, a small community about a 20-minute drive up the coast from Taitung City. It has become really popular with surfers, backpackers, and artists. We came just before the typhoon season of late summer and fall. It’s a great time for beginners since the waves aren’t too big. There are a few surf shops in Dulan to rent boards or book a lesson. Overall it’s a really chill and laid-back town with great beaches and an international crowd. You can find similar neighborhoods dotted along the Taiwan coast wherever there are good waves.
Dulan was also our favorite spot for food on the trip. Because of the international crowd, there are some more choices for Western food. Although there were come closures from COVID, the options were still plentiful even between surf sessions.
Dulan Fish and Chips – A small outdoor restaurant situated basically in someone’s backyard, this place serves up some fresh and authentic fish and chips along with inventive shaved ice desserts for the hot summer days.
Cape Cafe – This mostly outdoor restaurant is next to the beach. It’s a bit hard to get to unless you have a scooter or car. But the views and food are worth the trip. They serve Spanish inspired tapas and drinks.
There’s a pool and bar overlooking the ocean for the perfect spot to relax after a day of surfing.
Dulan a Mano Pizza – This spot is right next to Dulan Surf Shop. It get’s really busy so best to make a reservation. But the pizza is worth the wait and the price. They serve Neapolitan style with fresh ingredients.
都蘭錦鸞越南美食Vietnam Food – It seems you can find a Vietnamese restaurant anywhere in Taiwan. This place is probably one of the best ones out of all the places we’ve been to. The portions are large and the price is very reasonable. The coconut iced coffee was perfect for a hot summer day.
Highway 11 – Built inside the old sugar factory, you drink craft beers in a hip and chill environment while listening to some live music. It might be the only place to “go out” in Dulan but it’s definitely worth it.
Dulan Little House (都蘭小房子) – You’ll see this little cafe as you pull into the Sugar Factory parking lot. It’s only open from 10 am to 5 pm and closed on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. We were lucky enough to grab a brunch spot the day we left. They serve fresh-made brunch and lunch items. The burger was top notch.
Escaping the city
We spent the last two nights of our trip in Changbin. It’s the northernmost township in Taitung County with a large aboriginal population consisting of Amis. We didn’t know it at the time, but our two nights coincided with the tribe’s harvest festival celebrations. It’s one of the few celebrations in Taiwan that is open to non-tribe members.
The Auntie that owns the homestay we booked is also a prominent member of the tribe. She invited us to attend the evening celebrations. Afterward, she told us about the tribe, the harvest festival, and their history in this part of Taiwan. She talked about growing up as children during the time the KMT took over Taiwan, learning Mandarin and English, and running a hotel with the influx of “新都民” (new city people) and changing government regulations. We were so lucky to be able to have this experience, especially after such a memorable trip.
For one of our last dinners of the trip, we wanted to do something special. This small restaurant, which seats only eight guests per night, sits on the mountainside looking over farm plots and onto the ocean. The chef is a Taipei transplant and former rock star. He and his girlfriend serve up a multi-course, Japanese-inspired meal based on local ingredients.
There is no menu and reservations should be made weeks in advance. We were treated with fresh and flavorful dishes including a rich pork stew, local sashimi, and flying fish bisque. They also have a great selection of sake and unique cocktails. We came back the next day for the coffee shop next door run by the chef’s uncle.