This statement can be misleading, and those who live here or have visited would have probably already scoffed in disbelief at my blog title.
But it’s true. Taiwan really isn’t as ridiculous for drivers as some people may think. Well in Taipei, and other major cities, yes…but whatever chaos you come across there, doesn’t happen once you hit the smaller towns. For me it’s actually more relaxing than driving on some Australian highways, which is why roadtripping around Taiwan is an activity I keep coming back to.
I’ve driven around Taiwan taking the eastern routes since I first visited the island, and have done annual trips since. As every roadtrip enthusiast would agree, a great roadtrip make are wide roads and amazing scenery, and this is what Taiwan has to offer and more! I can’t stress enough to new visitors how different Taipei is to the rest of the country, and it will only take you about an hour out of the city to see why. Here’s a short rundown of why you should pick Taiwan as your next roadtrip destination:
- Eastern Taiwan is relatively unspoiled and is well-known for its eco-tourism as well as getting a taste for Taiwan’s aboriginal cultures. It boasts both the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷國家風景區) and East Coast (東部海岸國家風景區) National Scenic Areas and also includes the very popular Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園).
- The Tropic of Cancer runs through Taiwan, almost perfectly in the middle of the island. This means you go from temperate and sub-tropical north to as tropical as it gets in the south.
- Despite being mainly tropical, Taiwan is very mountainous. It’s the fourth highest island in the world! With high altitude comes rifts, woodlands, plains, lakes, rivers etc etc. So apart from being able to enjoy strikingly contrasting landscapes, you could also supplement your roadtrip with plenty of outdoor activities the environment has to offer: hiking, wind-surfing, river-tracing…and oh yes, soaking in hot springs.
- And then of course there’s the ocean to evoke any nostalgia of beach days and summer fun. Plenty of stopovers for surfers and beach-goers, or if you’re looking to whale and dolphin watch.
- If you don’t think any of this is a big deal, let me break it down to you in terms of food. Think mountain pigs to mangoes. And plenty of seafood in between. Yeah.
- It’s an easy drive taking the eastern routes – only about 5 hours from Taipei to Taitung. Go to the most southern part of Taiwan, Kenting for only another 3!
- Not only is it easy, it’s convenient. You can go from small rural towns to bigger cities to stock up on any needs within an hour at best. And there is food everywhere. This is Taiwan after all! No need to prepare anything before you start your roadtrip. Just jump into the car and go!
- Each township or city has its own charm. There are plenty of scenic spots to pull over and gaze at as there are plenty of tourist activities, such as visiting pastures, aboriginal villages or leisure farms.
- Taiwan is second to none regarding homestays and great hospitality. There are plenty of cheap and homey overnight stays along the highways that will make any roadtrip better.
Highway 9 and 11
There are two major roads that would take you to the south of the island: Highway 9 which takes you through the East Rift Valley National Scenic Area and Highway 11 for the East Coast.
Go along Highway 9 if you like endless fields of greenery or flowers with mountains as your backdrop.
Take Highway 11 for mountain cliffs and sudden drops into the Pacific ocean. Both roads are smooth with Highway 11 being slightly windy in the northern areas of Hualien County (花蓮縣) particularly around Qingshui Cliff (清水斷崖) and Taroko Gorge but will be as flat and easy (and sometimes too straight) as Highway 9 going towards Taitung.
Pro-tip: Most people will do a loop, by driving one highway in one direction, and the other on their return trip. But thanks to a suggestion from a good local friend, I made the best of both highways on the one-way by taking connector Highway 30 (aka Yuchang Road 台30 玉長公路) to go from Highway 9 at Yuli Township (玉里鎮) to Highway 11. The highway only takes half an hour to cross through the coastal mountain ranges which also includes going through the YuChang Tunnel. By taking Highway 30 going towards the coast, we were driving head on to the ocean, and the expansive sea view that was before us was simply glorious.
Here’s a guide map to help you out with visualising the logistics.
You will need your country’s driver’s license and an International Driver’s Permit if you want to hire from legitimate car dealers. I don’t like driving in Taipei, so have previously hired cars from Hualien as my starting point for a Taiwan roadtrip. I found Formosa Car Rental to be the most economical so far, and the lady at the Hualien office, speaks great English for those who can’t communicate using Chinese. Because the roads are so easy to drive on, you can get away with even a small 1500 c.c car. For those who go off the highways to places like Wulu Gorge with windy mountainous roads, then even a Nissan Livinia will do you just fine!
For this trip I was the lone driver, but thankfully my housemates were great at keeping me awake and focussed. Because we made so many stopovers, the drive itself is not as tiring as you may think. And certainly nothing as lengthy as Australia’s East Coast roadtrips!
Surprise surprise…there are speed limits in this Asian country! Don’t expect anything adrenalin-raising (unless you’re on a motorbike or scooter). This isn’t the Autobahn…highways average only about 70 km/hr! Yes this can be a bit of a disappointment seeing they’re labelled as highways, but they are definitely more like big provincial roads. Most cars definitely go past the limit but be aware there are plenty of speed cameras on the highway, especially in Hualien county. We also encountered a couple of police cars waiting to snag unaware speeding drivers, so you have been warned! Besides, the low speed limit just means you can take in the scenery at a comfortable pace!
In general I spend about 3-4 days roadtripping the eastern parts of Taiwan. However if you plan to do some major outdoor activities, an extra day or two won’t hurt! Because there is so much on offer between the two National Scenic Areas, it’s really hard to pinpoint which places exactly are must-see destinations. The following photoblogs are some of the places I’ve hit up in my past trips in the order from north to south for you to be your own best judge.
East Rift Valley (Highway 9) & Yuchang Road (Highway 30)
Taroko National Park and the East Coast (Highway 11)
Well that’s about as much photo bombardment I could squeeze into this post. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to get out of Taipei or to make your way here to see what else this amazing country has to offer. If you’re looking for more information or suggestions, please feel free to flick me an email or Facebook me!