Around the Island Holiday Tour

Happy New Year, 新年快樂, Xīnnián kuàilè!

As we approached the end of the year, traveling off of island remained both difficult and not safe, so we decided to wrap up 2020 by taking a 2-week road trip around our sweet potato shaped island of Taiwan.  We wanted to explore some new sites and revisit some favorite places – a “Fresh Eyes” tour.  We set up the Toyota Previa camper van, loaded up our bikes, grabbed our selfie stick, and then headed north to start our clockwise journey around the island.

Follow the rainbow…

Wulai Hot Spring Town

While researching our trip, our Taiwan travel books mentioned the town of Wulai as a must-visit. We’ve never been, so it seemed like a good place to start! It’s only a short 40-minute drive outside of Taipei, but it is a different world nestled in the mountains.

Mom & Pops Berggren gifted someone a Taiwan bird book so guess who’s officially a birder? There are over 100 species of birds recorded in Wulai alone.
Our hot spring hotel, Fullmoon Spa, tucked back along the right.
Wulai Hot Spring ‘n Like a Local

From a bridge we saw locals soaking in the river’s wild hot springs and poked around to find their access point.

Not a sanctioned soaking zone, hence the sheet metal fence with warning signs, but a local encouraged us to go for it.

Sensing we were welcome as we popped our heads over the wall, we went for it and made new friends with the grandma and grandpops of Wulai. Taiwan is the friendliest, most welcoming place we have ever traveled/lived!

These folks are hot spring geniuses who run cleverly placed pipes to regulate water temps in each pool. And because no hot spring spa is complete without a sauna, there’s a sauna TENT which was crowded.

A perfect way to spend an overcast rainy day.

North Coast Geology Tour

There are many unique geologic features and short hiking trails along the north coast that we wanted to take our time and explore for a couple of days.  The weather was very wet and rainy which doesn’t phase PDX-ers. It does tend to scare off the locals, so we had the sites practically to ourselves! Highlights: Yehliu Geopark, Nanya Rock, and Bitoujaio Trail.

Yehliu Geopark: fossils & big waves!
Nanya Rock on the North Coast
A short and wet coastline hike on the Bitoujaio Trail.

North East Corner

We ended up in the upper north-east nook on Christmas Eve. It was pretty darn quiet here as this is typically a summer destination with divers and snorkelers. We had the entire homestay to ourselves with an accommodating host who offered to drive us to the trail head of the Caoling Historic Trail and then pick us up at the end on a very rainy and windy day. The silver lining to an overcast day is a hobby called BIRDING! I’m hooked, and I wish we could share all these beautiful discoveries with Jack.

Along the Caoling Historic Trail with binocs, gifted to me by my dad many years ago. It’s a gift that keeps giving, and I think of him every time I use them.
This was the best find. Not rare, but so beautiful and not easy to spot in a lush green jungle.

Christmas Eve

This small town is rich in freshly caught seafood. We were the only ones here on Christmas Eve, and the owner (a fisherman) lavished us with way too much food, a common Taiwanese phenomenon.

Taiwan can be so lovable. The owner said he didn’t know English, so he sketched our bill. $1160 NTD = $40 USD
A then a couple rounds of golf. Thanks for teaching me this, Wendy!
Who’s who?

Yilan – Boozy Christmas

To celebrate Christmas we then drove south to the city of Yilan, and we organized a tour of the KAVALAN distillery known for their award-winning whiskey.  For 200 NTD each (approximately $6 total) we got a private English-speaking tour and a small bottle of whiskey.  After the distillery tour we headed a little way down the road to Jim & Dad’s Brewery to complete our boozy Christmas.

50% of us enjoyed this whiskey.
Jim & Dad’s taproom toast to all those back home. xoxo

We originally booked this stop in Yilan to simply break up the long drive to the East Rift Valley, but we ended up loving this quiet “suburban” B&B located on the edge of town.  It’s situated next to a bike path and is run by a nice family who served great food and gave us great recommendations on food in town.  We loved it so much we plan to return in March.

Lei Garden served one of the most beautiful and tasty local style breakfasts we’ve had on the island.

It was a wet winter in Yilan. We were told that there had been 12 solid weeks of rain and drizzle.  Lucky for us the sun came out the day after Christmas and we got in a short bike ride along a river near the B&B before driving south.

We wish we could have stayed longer, but onward to…

East Rift Valley

We enjoyed cycling the East Rift Valley so much in December 2019, we decided to do it again in 2020. We wanted to spend time exploring new roads recommended to us from cyclists from our last trip.  We stayed in the town of Yuli at Antong Creekside hot spring hotel.  The first day we took the train north to the town of Fenglin and then biked 77 km back to our hotel.

The second day we drove south to the town of Chishang, stayed in a small homestay called FomeStay (a play on words with homestay and the word handsome in Mandarin… things we barely grasp). From here we biked another 77 km south to Taitung then took the train back to FomeStay.

The scenery in this area is breathtaking

Route 197, the leg from Luye to Taitung, was recommended to us, and it did not disappoint. For us, it rates #1 for cycling roads in Taiwan. The 197 is on a ridge line where you get stunning views of both the East Rift Valley and the East coast.

Our last day in Chisang we lingered around because the valley has a network of easy flat cruiser trails crisscrossing through verdant farmland.

Cruising the valley floor on our homestay’s complementary e-bikes.
In the valley looking west, towards the center of Taiwan

Dulan for New Year’s Eve

Our last stop on the tour was back to the town of Dulan, a fav and our 4th time visiting now.  Since none of us could get back safely to see our families in our home countries, a small group of friends from Nike and our Hash running club gathered here to ring in the new year.  It was a bittersweet holiday for us and many others.  We miss our family terribly, and with each day it feels like time is getting farther away from Jack.  New Year’s Eve enhanced that painful yet inevitable passage of time.  It’s another “first” and it was achy.

The white house where each room is rented separately and breakfast is prepared by the owners who live next door.

Our group of friends rented this big house near the beach, and we wanted to check out some rustic refurbished container cabins run by the people at Stone Party (our favorite place to stay in Dulan) and then sleep ocean side in our camper. The big white house became the central hang-out zone, and it felt as close to a home as we could make over here.

The cabin style container where we stayed, nestled closer to the mountains.
It had an exceptionally groovy bathroom.
Oolong tea shaved ice at Taitung Tea Shop stood in for eggnog.
Hibiscus “roselle” stood in for cranberry sauce.
NYE BBQ feast catered by The Pig Out stood in for turkey.
Some of the Nike and Hash running club buds… making the best of being away from our families. We failed to get a photo of the entire gang. 🙁
Prepping for the nightly s’more ritual

Setting lanterns afloat with good riddance wishes to 2020, the worst year ever.
Van Camping Just Steps Away
Waking up to a new year.

Although we it was hard to be away from our families and friends this holiday, we know this was a difficult and lonely holiday for a lot of people.  We do feel extremely fortunate and lucky that we can safely travel around Taiwan, take trips like this, and spend time with our friends here.

We miss you and hope we can make it back in 2021… fully vaccinated.

Pickles & Passionfruit

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9 thoughts on “Around the Island Holiday Tour

  1. I’m there! Taiwan looks so lovely and the people warm & friendly. Would love to take this exact trip— however …that 12 foot sheet metal fence to get to the hot- springs…hummmm… should I pack my Saws-All? Live KTG!

  2. Welllll that sure looks fabulous! I love how you always fit in all the activities – food, relaxing, outdoor activities, meeting all the people. All the reasons I love to wander the world. Maybe I’m just biased, but you two know how to travel!

    1. Thanks, Dakota! ‘Have van, will travel’ is our motto. It sure would be fun to host you and Chelsea. Let’s see how 2021 shakes out and how long we’ll be here. As Kate McKinnon’s character, Dr. Wenowdis, says on SNL, “Wedonnowdis”.

  3. Somehow I missed reading this post in January but thoroughly enjoyed it just now. I also loved the food bill with pictures. You have such a way of capturing and savoring little delightful moments. That is the art of living, indeed. I wish we could come visit you again and partake in a road-trip-adventure!! I agree that you two know how to travel well!

    1. I suspect there will be some road trip ‘n state-side eventually. You guys can teach us everything about the art of van living.

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