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Pristine Pastures in the Valley – Taking the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle through Taitung’s Charming Countryside

July 6, 2013 DESTINATION No Comments Email Email

The southeastern portion of Taiwan has some of the most beautiful scenery the country has to offer, with plenty of sun, bucolic mountain splendor, and thriving indigenous culture. 

A great option for discovering the area is taking the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle’s East Rift Valley Line.

Armed with a day pack and a ticket for the city of Taitung, I took the train from Taipei down along the eastern coast.  The trip to Taitung, which takes 4 hours and 40 minutes with the fastest train, is amazing in itself, with the line south of Hualien running through the long East Rift Valley between the Central Mountain Range and Coastal Mountain Range, passing small towns and towering peaks on both sides.

Taitung Railway Station is the sixth stop on the East Rift Valley Line.  The tourist shuttle-bus run starts at the visitor center in downtown Taitung and ends in Luye Township.  From the railway station I walked to nearbyBeinan Cultural Park (one stop from the station, if you take the tourist shuttle bus), to learn about the history and culture of the people who lived in theEGT_Artical Banner B 250x250 area in prehistoric times.  I first stopped to have a look at a dig site where a portion of an ancient village, during back about 3,500 years, has been unearthed, getting a glimpse into the everyday lives and beliefs of the prehistoric people.  I learned that all houses in the village, and even their unique slate coffins, faced Mt. Dulan to the north of Taitung City, a sacred site revered as a holy provider.

For more comprehensive information on the prehistoric Beinan culture, visit the associated exhibition hall, which is not far away.  Visitors can view ancient weaving instruments and stone tools, along with pottery and examples of Beinan architecture.  There are also explanations of rites of passage, such as the teeth-extraction ceremony performed on both young men and women to prove, through tolerance of extreme pain, that they had indeed come of age.  Most of the signage around the museum is in Mandarin only, but English audio tours are available.

Leaving Beinan Cultural Park, my next stop was the Yuan Sen Applied Botanical Garden (three stops from the park), a mountainside area where tourists can learn all about the approximately 1,000 herbs that grow in Taitung and all around Taiwan.  Over 300 are cultivated at the garden, and tour guides are available to show visitors around (English-speaking guides are available).  To avoid information overload, you might want to keep things simple, as I did, and focus on the most important herbs used in Chinese medicine.  These include heartleaf, the Chinese name of which translates as “fishy-smell herb.”  That should give you a pretty clear indication of the odor of the plant.

The botanical garden also has a large herbal-products gift shop where you can browse through items such as tea, snacks, beauty products, and over-the-counter medicines.  A short walk away from the centrally located shop is a huge herbal-hotpot restaurant, with many local greens served fresh daily.  All the food available in the restaurant has been produced organically, so it’s a great place to enjoy a healthy midday meal in the midst of your trip around the Taitung area.

Next up was Chulu Ranch, the next stop on the tourist shuttle-bus line.  The expansive 72-hectare ranch overlooks the botanical garden and the Pacific Ocean, in the distance to the east.  The ranch is an active dairy farm, with around 200 head of Holstein cattle, along with horses, goats, ducks, turkeys, and assorted other farm animals.  That might seem like a lot of ground to cover, but just recently the ranch rolled out a speedy and highly entertaining way to get around – Segway!  A patient staff member showed me how to drive the two-wheeled, eco-friendly transportation tool which, much to my surprise, was quite easy to maneuver.

I drove past the grazing grounds and over to the milking pens.  Once there, I was introduced to a few of the ranch’s newest inhabitants, some calves born just a few months before, including a rare set of twins.  The curious calves caressed my outstretched hand with their rough tongues, their large eyes irresistibly adorable.  Here you can see how raw milk is processed, with the opportunity to tour the working factory if you arrive in the morning, and you should also take the time to sample a few of Chulu Ranch’s home-produced milk products.  You can’t go wrong with a tall, cool glass of fresh milk, along with some milk pudding or milk crackers.  After seeing where my favorite breakfast cereal accompaniment comes from, I ramped up my Segway to its top cruising speed of 20 kilometers per hour on an open straightaway and was able to catch the shuttle bus to my final destination, the historic village of Longtian.

Getting off the shuttle at the Kunci Temple bus stop, I quickly found A-Do’s Bicycle Rental Store and Guided Tours.  A young guide named Xiao-Min, a proud member of the Bunun Tribe and at times a touring performer in an indigenous song-and-dance troupe, was ready to show me around.  We hopped on a pair of rental bikes, the best way to take a relaxing, slow tour of the area, and pedaled off down the road.  During Taiwan’s period of Japanese colonial rule (1895~1945), which ended with the close of WWII, Japanese immigrants settled inLongtian and there are still a few preserved historical buildings from that era, including an elementary school that dates back nearly a century.  We passed by pineapple and Buddha-head fruit (custard apple) farms, along with a landing area for hang gliders sailing down from the Luye Gaotai (Luye Plateau), that look down over the village.  A favorite spot for most tourists is the Longtian Green Tunnel, a road where trees on either side curve up and over the pavement, providing a natural overhang that stretches over a kilometer in length.  Motor vehicles are so few and far between that it’s actually possible to lay down on the road, look up at the green foliage above, and enjoy a few peaceful and uninterrupted moments of solitude.

My visit to Longtian literally ended with a bang, as my last stop was a small gunpowder factory.  The owner put a few rocks of the explosive substance inside a bamboo tube and instructed me to hold a flaming torch near a small circular opening at the bottom, explaining that this is how local farmers scare pesky, crop-eating animals away.  A sonic boom reverberated throughout the valley, drawing a hearty chuckle from Xiao-Min as I jumped back, startled and amused at the same time.  With my heart still racing, I jumped on my bike and headed off to get the bus back to Taitung Railway Station, a thoroughly enjoyable day in the city of Taitung and surrounding Taitung County complete.

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