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Remote Taitung (台東 or Taidong) in the southeastern corner of Taiwan is a region of stunning beauty, especially along the coast and the inland East Rift Valley. Picture deserted beaches, colorful hot springs, and vistas of rice paddies backed by mountains – now you’re in Taitung.
Taitung was one of the last regions of Taiwan to be settled. Today, 1 in 3 people in Taitung are aboriginal, more than any other county. The region produces the country’s best rice, thanks to its pure mountain waters.
In this article, I’m going to introduce my favorite things to do in Taitung, based on multiple visits over the last 15 years. The first section will cover Taitung city. But if you’re short on time, skip to the sections on Highway 9 and Highway 11, the two parallel highways traversing the county, continuing north into Hualien. This is where the best of Taitung can be found, but you’ll need a little extra time to sync with Taitung’s slower pace of life and fully appreciate the area.
Next, I’ll cover Taitung’s two offshore islands, Green Island and Orchid Island. Finally, there are a few more places you might want to add to your Taitung itinerary south of Taitung city, heading towards Pingtung and Kenting National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan.
Quick Tips for Visiting Taitung
- Express trains from Taipei can reach Taitung in a mere 3.5 hours (non-express ones take longer). You can also fly from Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport to Taitung.
- If you want to drive from Hualien to Taitung, I recommend renting a car here. You can also charter a private car with driver.
- You can also rent a scooter in Hualien or rent a scooter in Taitung.
- Taitung city is not that exciting. To experience the best of Taitung, I recommend staying in Chishang or Luye on inland Highway 9 (train access), or Dulan on coastal Highway 11 (no train access). You can surf in Dulan year round!
- You can also experience several sights on the Taitung coast on this half or full-day tour from Taitung city.
- Buy ferry tickets for Green Island here or Orchid Island here. Don’t visit Orchid Island in winter, when most services are closed. Learn more about when to visit Taiwan and planning your Taiwan itinerary.
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Things to Do in Taitung City
Whether you’re just transiting at the Taitung train station for a few hours or decided to spend a night or two in Taitung city, there are a few interesting attractions in and around town.
Note that these attractions are rather spread out, and it’s not always easy to find a taxi in Taitung city, nor is the public transportation very convenient. Therefore, I recommend renting a scooter (international or local drivers license required) or bicycle in front of the train station to get around. You can also explore the city on this guided Taitung city attractions tour or this electric bicycle guided tour.
The Taiwan Tourism Shuttle Bus goes to most of the major sights in Taichung city.
If you need to spend the night in Taitung city, I recommend K2 Hostel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) or Hotel Cham Cham Taitung Caesar Park (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) by Taitung Train Station.
In the city center near Railway Art Village, try The Gaya Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor), which has a rooftop pool, or budget-friendly Tiin Tin Inn (see on Booking / Agoda).
Beinan Archaeological Site
If you have some time to kill at the Taitung train station, Beinan Archaeological Site (卑南遺址) is pretty much the only Taitung attraction that is within easy walking distance from the train station.
The park protects the largest and best-preserved prehistoric settlement in Taiwan. The Beinan (卑南) culture inhabited the area from 2500 to 300 BC in and were known for their jade production. The site was discovered when the train station was being built in the early 1980s.
The Beinan site has produced several artifacts linking Taiwan’s ancient peoples to the Austronesian cultures found throughout the South Pacific, from Madagascar to Hawaii. Most impressive among the artifacts found here are 200+ stone burial coffins. The site has even been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Taiwan doesn’t have any yet).
The most famous attraction on the archaeological grounds is the collection of “Moon Pillars” (labeled 卑南文化月形石柱 on GoogleMaps). You can reach these in less than 10 minutes on foot from the train station. Upon entering the archaeological site, you’ll need to hang a sharp right and cross a short bridge over the road.
If you have more time to further explore the grounds, you can observe active archaeological dig sites, examples of Beinan thatch homes at the Beinan Site Exhibition Hall (卑南遺址展覽館), and a small museum with some artifacts on display (卑南遺址公園展示廳, entrance TWD 30).
Taitung Railway Art Village
If have more time in Taitung city, the city’s hippest attraction is Railway Art Village (鐵道藝術村, often abbreviated to 鐵化村 or Tiehua Village / tiehua cun). This is Taitung’s answer to Huashan Creative Park in Taipei, Cultural Heritage Park in Taichung, and Pier 2 Arts Center in Kaohsiung.
The creative park is built around the original Taitung train station, which operated here for 80 years before being moved to the current location in 1982. The park lies opposite Liyushan (see next entry).
You can walk right along the train tracks here, where a few train cars are parked. There’s also some original wooden Train Warehouses (台東舊站機關車庫 and 台東鐵道藝術村261倉庫) and Old Taitung Train Station Platform (台東舊站轉車台).
Besides the train-related attractions, you’ll find various artworks on display throughout the grounds. Next to the train line, Tiehua Music Village (鐵花村音樂聚落慢市集) is the focal point of the grounds, where live musical performances take place nightly (5-10 p.m.) from Wednesday to Sunday. Many of the performers are aboriginal, but the vibe is definitely more hip and modern than traditional.
I recommend visiting Railway Art Village in the evening, not only for the music but also because that’s when the various other cafés, restaurants, and shops on site come alive. There are often various lights and lanterns lit up after dark, giving the whole village a romantic yet artsy vibe.
Most of the businesses on site have cool designs and make use of natural or alternative materials. Don’t miss the collection of businesses in shipping containers covered by an undulating roof at the back near Xinsheng Road. Google the restaurant “Wow’s 邦查 Pangcah” to find it.
Also check out the Taiwan Blueprint (台東藍晒圖) artwork across Bo’ai Road from the Railway Park. Note that the Railway Village is quite a ways from the Taitung Train Station, so it’s best to get there by taxi or scooter, or on the Taiwan Tourism shuttle.
Liyushan Park (鯉魚山公園 or Carp Mountain Park) is the highest point in Taitung city and supposedly looks like a carp when viewed from above (you can kind of see the shape on the map). The park features a few temples, hiking trails, and lookout points of Taitung city.
The best way to access the park is Bo’ai Road, which is right across from the Railway Village. The road leads uphill into the park, terminating at the staircase to Taitung Martyr’s Shrine (台東鯉魚山忠烈祠). If you’re walking in, it only takes 5 minutes to reach it.
The Martyr’s Shrine is one of several like it across Taiwan built for the soldiers of the Republic of China armed forces. It stands on what was originally a Japanese shrine (舊台東神社), which would have been exponentially more fascinating if it hadn’t been torn down.
The current shrine includes a bright orange-red gate and staircase leading up to the main hall, which is usually closed. While the shrine is looking a little dated these days, it’s still worth a quick look, especially for its natural surroundings. You can find loads of details about the history of the original and current shrine here.
From the parking lot to the train, a series of stone walking trails lead to Longfeng Temple (龍鳳佛堂) and Longfeng Pagoda (龍鳳寶玉塔, pictured above), as well as lookout platforms at the eye (鯉眼觀景平台) and forehead (鯉首觀景台) of the carp.
Taitung Forest Park
Taitung Forest Park (臺東森林公園) is the largest green space in Taitung city. The park runs along the Beinan River just before it meets the sea. The park features many kilometers of walking and cycling trails, lotus ponds with lookout pavilions, and lots of waterfowl.
South of Highway 11 (which travels up the coast to Hualien), the park stretches all the way to the sea. In this portion, you’ll find the long, rectangular, human-made Flowing Lake (東森林公園活水湖). It’s possible to rent boats at popular times or even swim in the lake.
More trails lead to nearby twin Pipa Lakes (琵琶湖), the most beautiful in the park, with several lookout pavilions along them.
You can get to Taitung Forest Park by taking Taiwan Tourism’s shuttle bus from Taitung train station. If you want to rent a bicycle, there are a few shops near the park entrance, such as 天祥自行車行, which I’ve pinned on the map at the top of this article.
Taitung Seaside Park
From Taitung Forest Park, the trails connect all the way to the sea via Green Tunnel Bridge (綠水橋). Called Taitung Seaside Park (台東濱海公園), the coast here is lined with an expansive black sand beach. The beach is wild and unsupervised – it is not considered safe to swim due to powerful currents and riptides.
This being Taitung, there are several large-scale works on art along the coast here. These include the Taitung Tree of Life (台東生命之樹) by Wang Wen Zhi (王文志), a Chiayi artist famous for his monumental bamboo structures on display across Taiwan. The art installation can be entered via an elevated walkway.
If you follow the coast to the west, it will turn into Haibin Park (海濱公園), with more boardwalk paths along the sea and artworks. Just off the beach, Taitung White House (台東阿伯小白屋) is a popular photo spot. It’s a derelict structure built by hand by a retired solider using random materials he found (if this sounds cool to you, also don’t miss Rainbow Village in Taichung!)
The following are a few more spots in Taitung you may want to seek out if you have more time in the city:
Taitung Night Market (台東觀光夜市) There are actually a couple night markets in Taitung, but both are quite small. Taitung Night Market (台東觀光夜市) sets up on the street in front of the Sheraton Hotel, 5 minutes’ walk from Railway Village, but only from Thursday to Saturday. The even smaller Siwei Night Market (四維夜市) is held on Sundays only near Taitung Forest Park.
Taitung Art Museum (臺東美術館) A small art museum near Taitung Forest Park known for its unusal shape and wooden platforms which allow visitors to walk up into the trees.
National Museum of Prehistory (國立臺灣史前文化博物館) This recently renovated and reopened museum is Taitung’s largest. It covers Taiwan’s early history, including wildlife and aboriginal peoples, with lots of interactive displays. The only downside is that it is quite a ways out of the city center, past the Taitung Airport. To reach it, take bus 8115 or a taxi.
Original Tribe Mountain Cuisine (原始部落山地美食) This is an aboriginal restaurant and hangout spot west of the city and National Museum of Prehistory. It’s got artsy, aboriginal vibes, good food, excellent views looking down on the city at night, and occasional musical performances.
Star Tribe Tea House (星星部落景觀咖啡) This is another small café up in the hills, across the Beinan River and north of Taitung city, in Beinan township. The outdoor patio features impressive views looking down on Taitung, especially at night. Also, there are bunnies! If you continue following winding Dongli Road (197) past it, the views become even more dramatic.
Liji Badland Geopark (利吉惡地) Also in Beinan township, but up a different road (東45), the Liji Badlands feature a lunar landscape jutting out from the forested hills. A walkway leads through the park and is seldom busy. This would make for an easy half day trip from Taitung. A similar landscape can be seen at Tianliao Moon World in Kaohsiung and Caoshan Moon World in Tainan.
For a more adventurous experience, you can try this river tracing day trip in Taitung!
Going North on Highway 9
Heading north from Taitung City, you have the choice of taking either Highway 11, which follows the coast all the way to Hualien, or inland Highway 9, which follows the railway line through the scenic East Rift Valley.
Both highways include several worthwhile attractions, but the inland route is more popular and convenient due to the train. Both have buses, but they are slow. Alternatively, you can rent a scooter, hire a private vehicle with driver, or rent a car.
The below sights are in the order you would encounter them when driving north from Taitung city on Highway 9.
Luye and the Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival
Luye (鹿野) is one of my favorite places to spend the night along Highway 9. This rural township consists of a grid of farms surrounded by gorgeous East Rift Valley scenery. Read my detailed guide to Luye and the Hot Air Balloon Festival here, which includes my hotel recommendations.
Luye Highlands, which can be reached on a 30-minute scooter ride from Luye, are the site of the famous Taitung International Hot Air Balloon Festival every summer. Witnessing the festival, or riding in one of the ballons, is one of the top experiences to be had in Taitung.
The drive up to the Highlands is gorgeous, passing many tea fields along the way.
If you have your own wheels, also consider making the trip to Wuling Green Tunnel (武陵綠色隧道), one of several “green tunnels” (streets with canopies of vegetation) across Taiwan. Also read about the more famous Sicao Green Tunnel in Tainan.
Bunun Leisure Farm
In Yanping township north of Taitung city, near Luye, the Bunun Leisure Farm (布農部落休閒農場) is a leisure farm run by members of the Bunun aboriginal tribe.
The grounds include a café, restaurant, organic farms, cultural displays, and gorgeous scenery, but the highlight is the dance performances. These take place twice a day, and only if there are enough people, so it’s better to come on the weekend and call first to confirm (their English may be limited). There are also cabins on site if you want to spend the night.
This attraction is definitely off-the-beaten-track for international travelers. They offer free pick-up from Luye train station, but communication could be difficult.
Cycling in Guanshan
The next stop you may want to consider is Guanshan, another quaint village. This one is known for its cycling loop around town, which passes through sections of quintessential Taitung countryside.
Guanshan was the original cycling hot spot in Taitung. However, in recent years, Chishang (see below) has totally surpassed it in popularity.
Still, if you prefer to go against the crowd, Guanshan has hundreds of bikes parked in lots and waiting to be hired. Here’s an article I wrote about Guanshan for Taiwan Tourism’s Travel in Taiwan magazine.
Like Chishang, Guanshan is famous for its rice, which is best enjoyed one of the locally famous lunchboxes sold near the train station.
Brown Boulevard in Chishang
Chishang is known across Taiwan for its famous Brown Boulevard (池上伯朗大道), a cycling path through a gorgeous region of rice paddies. The attraction was catapulted to fame after an Eva Airlines commercial starring Japanese-Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro was shot there. See my detailed guide to Chishang and Brown Boulevard.
Arriving in Chishang, you can rent a bicycle or electric family bike to explore the network of small roads through the rice paddies, including a traditional laundry station and waterwheel. For all the details, see my guide to cycling in Chishang (coming soon), including the hotel we stayed in right across from Brown Boulevard,
Lisong Hot Spring
Lisong Hot Spring (栗松溫泉) is one of the most beautiful wild hot springs in Taiwan. The spring is known for its vibrant green and yellow colors painting the cliff from which it seeps down into riverside pools.
However, you’ll have to work to get there. The hot spring is accessed on the remote Southern Cross-Island Highway (Provincial Highway 20). After an hour’s drive along the highway from Chishang, you’ll need to park and follow a steep downhill trail for 90 minutes. Finally, you’ll need to cross the river to access the hot pools.
Going North on Highway 11
Highway 11 runs parallel to Highway 9, but along the coast. There’s no train here, so you’ll need to rent a scooter, charter a car with driver, or rent a car. Taiwan tourist shuttle Bus 8101 runs along the coast as far as Sanxiantai, as does this guided east coast day trip.
Here are the attractions you will pass in order after driving north from Taitung city.
Xiaoyeliu (小野柳) means “Small Yeliu”, referring to the more famous Yeliu, a similar coastal geopark in New Taipei City famous for its rock formations.
Little Yeliu is indeed less impressive than its northern namesake. It is less showy, with no Queen’s Head rock or anything like it. Still, this rocky stretch of coastline is pretty, with lots of little tidal pools to explore.
Xiaoyeliu is the first noteworthy stop when heading north on Highway 11, about 10 minutes’ drive north of Taitung city. You can also get there by taking Taiwan Tourist shuttle 8101 or Puyuma Luhaikong Express A.
Nearby, seafood lovers can head to Fugang Fish Harbor to enjoy one of the harborside seafood restaurants. This is also where ferries depart for Green Island (see “Offshore Islands of Taitung” section below).
Jialulan Recreation Area
Similar to Taitung Seaside Park in Taitung city, Jialulan (加路蘭海岸) is a seaside park that is venue for art installations with a distinctly Taitung flavor, such as the current Garland of Coastal Pebbles (加蘭海岸握卵石).
It’s a popular stop for drivers on the highway just a few minutes north of Xiaoyeliu. Bus 8101 and a few others make the trip from Taitung – use GoogleMaps for the current times. However, it’s not possible or easy to access the water here.
Continuing north from Jialulan, Fushan Fishing Harbor (富山漁港) is another slice of coast with lots of rocky pools to explore. It is just before the long Shanyuan Beach (杉原灣沙灘), which is beautiful but difficult to access unless you are staying at one of the guesthouses along the it, such as this one.
Dulan Surf Town
Dulan (都蘭) is the closest thing to a backpacker’s beach town in all of Taiwan. This small aboriginal village along the highway features a collection of surf hostels, cozy guesthouses, and hippie vibes.
Before entering town, you’ll pass Water Running Upward (水往上流遊憩區), a stream that appears to flow uphill. Dulan Sugar Factory (新東糖廠文化園區) is hippie central, with a musical performance venue, café, restaurant, and bar serving Dulan’s own Highway 11 beer.
It’s a bit of a hike (or much easier scooter ride) out of town to actually reach the beach. For everything you need to know, including the best places to stay, see my guide to visiting Dulan.
Jinzun Recreation Area
Continuing north past Dulan, Jinzun Recreation Area (金樽遊憩區) is the next notable stop. This is just a pullover on the highway, but I recommend stopping to enjoy the epic coastal view. Mushroom-shaped Lulian Island (金樽陸連島) is visible out at sea.
Grab a coffee from Jinzun Café (金樽咖啡), whose café offers an unbeatable view. The staircase down to the beach far below is in disrepair.
If you want to visit the beach, continue further north to Douli Beach (都歷沙灘), where you can drive right to the beach or learn how to surf at Torik Ocean Surf (都歷海洋教室).
Chenggong Harbor (成功漁港), also called Xingang Harbor (新港漁港), is a large fishing harbor dominated by the boat-shaped Harbor Fishery Building.
Fishermen return to the habor every day to auction their catches, especially swordfish (旗魚), right on the dock from around 1 or 2 p.m. Note that they stopped letting tourists get close during COVID, but that may be over by the time you read this.
Platform of the Three Immortals (Sanxiantai Arch Bridge)
The Platform of the Three Immortals, or Sanxiantai (三仙台), it the most awe-inspiring human-made sight along the east coast of Taiwan. The dragon-like 320-meter bridge curves up and down as it leads out to a small island off the coast.
Walk up and down the coast in either direction to enjoy the best views of the bridge. There is a cluster of shops and tourist amenities in the parking lot. You can get here from Taitung City on one of the buses that ply the coast, such as 8101, but the ride will take just over 2 hours (each way). You can also visit Sanxiantai on this day tour from Taitung.
Baxiandong Archaeological Site
The last attraction you would encounter before Highway 11 leaves Taitung county and enters Hualien county is Baxiandong Archaeological Site (八仙洞), or “Caves of the 8 Immortals”.
The sea caves on site have produced the oldest prehistoric relics in all of Taiwan. They belong to the Changbin culture, dating back to as early as 25,000 years ago.
After being closed for several years, the site is open again now, but only the lower Lingyan Cave (靈岩洞) is accessible. The cave used to contain a temple, but it has now been removed. Trails leading up to some of the 30 or so other caves on site are still closed.
Baxiandong sits right below the Tropic of Cancer. You can read more about the caves here.
Offshore Islands of Taitung
Two of Taiwan’s major offshore islands belong to Taitung country: Green Island and Orchid Island.
Green Island (綠島) is a popular holiday island 33 kilometers off the coast of Taitung. Formerly a penal colony during the martial law period in Taiwan, the island now attracts mainly domestic tourists for its beaches, snorkeling/scuba diving, and saltwater hot springs.
Several ferries per day depart for Green Island from Fugang Harbor just north of Taitung City. The bumpy ride takes 50 minutes. You can book Green Island ferry tickets here. Once on the island, it’s best to rent a scooter. You can pre-order your scooter here for pick-up when you arrive.
You can circumnavigate the island in 1-2 hours. Zhao Ri Hot Spring, one of the few like it in the world, is not to be missed.
More remote Orchid Island (蘭嶼 or Lanyu) is home to Taiwan’s most remote aboriginal tribe, the Tao people. The Tao are famous for their Flying Fish Festival, partially underground houses, and beautiful hand-carved traditional canoes.
Orchid Island is more difficult to get to. You either need to brave a longer (and often seasickness-inducing) ferry ride from Taitung or Kenting (book your ferry tickets here), or buy a ticket on a small plane run by DailyAir (seats available two months in advance and sell out quickly).
Riding a scooter on Orchid Island is pretty much a must. Bring all the cash you need, and don’t come in winter, when almost everything closes. Here’s my detailed guide to visiting Orchid Island.
South of Taitung City
A few more famous Taitung attractions lie to the south of Taitung City. The train line follows the coast here, before crossing over to the west coast of Taiwan.
Chihpen/Zhiben Hot Spring
Taitung’s most well-known hot spring village is Zhiben (知本, also spelled Chihpen). The collection of hot spring hotels are found along County Highway 194, west of Zhiben Train Station, and about 30 minutes’ drive southwest of Taitung City.
After passing all the hot spring hotels, the road terminates at Zhiben National Forest Recreation Area (知本國家森林遊樂區), which features several walking trails through dense forest.
Cheng Ping Hot Spring Inn (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is my recommended choice here. Rooms have private hot spring tubs with river views. Hotel Royal Chihpen (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) offers a more luxurious experience.
Following Highway 9 south along the coast from Taitung City, there’s an insanely long stretch of sand at Taimali (太麻里). Although it’s clearly visible from the highway, it’s surprisingly difficult to get down to it.
Try entering Millennium Dawn Memorial Park (千禧曙光紀念園區) into GoogleMaps for beach accees. However, note that swimming is not safe here.
Further south in Jinlun is another beach you can seek out, near the impressive Jinlun Bridge.
Duoliang Railway Station
Our last stop in southern Taitung will be Duoliang Railway Station (多良觀光車站). This remote railway station draws in masses of Instagramers for its panoramic view looking down on the train line, with a gorgeous ocean and coastal backdrop. You might have to wait a while to get a shot with a train in it!
Besides the view, a small, steep, and very winding road leads uphill to an aboriginal village and a few cafés and small eateries. You can also visit Duoliang on this half-day tour from Taitung.
That brings us to the end of the guide to the best things to do in Taitung. If you’re planning to continue further south into Pingtung and Kenting National Park, make sure you check out my east coast road trip article for all the details!