My knuckles were white, my arms sore from holding on so tightly. My feet didn’t fit on the footrests properly so my legs were splayed at a weird angle and tensed awkwardly to hold myself in place. My body was attempting to get comfortable yet my brain was forcing me to cling to the moving death machine so tightly this was impossible.
This was my initial reaction to riding on the back of a scooter in Taiwan with Bradley.
Don’t get me wrong, I love renting scooters. I have done so in several countires including, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan. Whizzing around on them is heaps of fun and it gives you loads of freedom to see a place properly and on your own time.
However, I am the driver. I have always seemed to either been the one taking control or just had my own scooter. Turns out, I don’t do so well when someone else is in charge (who knew).
It might stem from the fact that the only time I have crashed on a scooter was when someone else was driving. In fact this was the last time I was on the back of a scooter.
It wasn’t really a big deal, we just cut our legs a bit and from that point on she didn’t want to drive anymore. Hence the reason I have usually taken the wheel (or handle bars in this case)
So when Bradley and I decided to tour Taroko National Park in Taiwan by scooter, this became an issue.
Neither of us had any desire to go on a tour bus (yuck) but we also wanted to spend as little as possible.
Obviously it is much cheaper to just get one scooter, half the price even. And this is where my discomfort started.
I’ll admit it, those who know me also know I can be a teeny weeny bit of a control freak. However, I am also a notorious ‘tight arse’ as we would say in Scotland, so these two ideals were warring in my head.
In the end my desire to save money won out and Bradley enthusiastically picked out ‘his’ scooter.
He claims that in the beginning he was ‘taking it easy’ for my benefit, but at times it didn’t feel that way going 80km down a highway. It took me forever to relax, hence the sore knuckles and tense arms.
I should state for the record though, that Bradley is an excellent driver. A lot of the problem wasn’t him as much as others. In Taiwan, like most of Asia, the driving is pretty chaotic. Of course there are rules, but they seem to be few and occassionaly unfathomable to a tourist.
In fact we had already seen a car and scooter accident on our way to rent the bike. That coupled with the fact I had yet to purchase travel insurance (I know, I know) it felt like an extremely bad omen.
Since I am not writing this blog post from a bankruptcy inducing foreign hospital, you may be pleased to know it all went to plan and turned into our best day in Taiwan.
Taroko Gorge is jaw droppingly beautiful. It reminded us a lot of New Zealand and, in particular, the Milford Sound area.
I just ignorantly went to Taiwan with no clue how gorgeous and green the place is. Taroko Gorge was a great introduction.
Unfortunately for us we went on a Weekend, massive error. It was very, very, very busy with tour busses and tourists from mainland china and Taiwan itself.
So if going here, my advice would be to definitely go on a week day. Hualien (the closest town to the Gorge) is only a few hours by train from Taipei, so it is a popular weekend destination.
There are a lot of things to see in Taroko National Park and many walks and hikes. We stopped and looked at all the highlights and we did one walking trail – Shakadang River Trail. We were turned off from doing other walks as Shakadang river was overflowing, not with water, but with tourists.
The walk is advertised at 1 hour each way, but we did it in more like one hour all up. Some foreign tourists had been smart enough to take swimming stuff with them and we looked on jealously as they sat in the cool river and drank Taiwan Beer.
All of the places we visited in the national park were pretty awesome, but the real standout was just driving through the gorge itself. Lonely Planet calls it “the marble walled jewel in the national park’s crown” and they were not wrong.
The views from the road alone are quite epic, the walls of the gorge are a rainbow of marbled rock and the water changes colour at every turn.
By the time we had gotten to the gorge I had relaxed a lot on the back of the scooter and we both really enjoyed the winding drive. It was probably much better for me that I was on the back since I could look around and take in all the sights without having to concentrate on the road.
We kept stopping every five minutes to take photos of another brilliant view, weird rock formation, or bright coloured body of water. For this reason the scooter really paid off and we have never been more confidant in our decision to self drive. We saw hordes of people waiting around at each attraction for their bus to come back and collect them, they coud only get off at the designated stopping points and when they did it was with a group of 50 people.
We didn’t even bother making our way along the mountain path to the Eternal Spring Shrine as we could see a long winding snake of tourists heading that way. We made do with a long distance photo and enjoyed the view from afar rather than join the throng of people.
We were occasionally lucky enough to beat the crowds at spots like Swallow Grotto and Qinshui Cliffs, which was much nicer.
The only time we were actually jealous of all the lemmings on the busses was when we were on our way to the Qinshui cliffs. This road involves driving through a series of tunnels carved into the mountain side, some of them several kilometres long, with little or no ventilation. That was pretty rough. Knowing we had to return through them again when we got to the end was even worse!
Sadly the Tunnel of Nine Turns – a walk through a 2km tunnel – was closed when we visited because of heavy rockfall damage, a common problem within the park. This was the only stop (apart from the other walks and hikes, which sound really good) we didn’t get to see on our day trip.
We were especially lucky on our visit to Taroko that the rain held off all day and we even saw a bit of sunshine.
I typically got sunburnt (bloody scottish skin)
Since it was rainy season while we were in Taiwan the rain was ruining a lot of our activites and the national park would simply not have been anywhere near as enjoyable, or possible in the wet.
A self drive tour is not the only option for the gorge and you can see it close up on the famous river tracing in and around Taroko National Park. Unfortunately for us, our budget wouldn’t quite stretch that far and since we knew of some places we could do river tracing for free around Taipei, we didn’t bother.
We heard great things from others on this activity though, so for those with a less strict budget than us should definitely give it a go.
Taroko Gorge was hands down the best day we had in Taiwan. The weather played the game, Bradley was in his element driving the scooter and the scenery was absolutely beautiful.
Recommended for everyone visiting Taiwan.