21 January, 2012

Taroko Gorge - We Came. We Saw. We Took Photos

Eternal Springs shrine
Though not averse to guided bus tours, the 6am scheduled pickup at our hotel seemed daunting, as well as the whole day itinerary that would see us arriving back in Taipei around dinner time. 

However,  we were pressed for time, and thus decided to join Edison Tours' "Taroko Gorge 1 Day Tour" in an attempt to see Taiwan's most popular tourist attraction and at the same time inject a dash of nature into our trip, which up to this point involved copious amounts of eating and shopping in Taipei.

The above-mentioned airport pick-up and a forty-five minute flight later, our group of thirty nine people piled into a waiting bus at Hualien airport, led by our talkative female guide who provided maps and talked incessantly about Taroko National Park.

Our early start meant that we got there before 9am, so I figured we'd have full day of sightseeing around the various sights on the Gorge, and maybe even do some hiking to further appreciate the scenery.  Little did I know this was not to be the case. 

The first few stops at various attractions (i.e. the bridge to the right, the spring) were nice enough, and we were allotted fifteen minutes or so for photo taking. 

However, they also pretty much laid out the pattern for our visit to Taroko - the bus makes a stop, thirty nine people get off to take photos, the tour guide hectors us to  get back on the bus - repeat until lunch time.

The nearest we got to actually doing something was when we had to don helmets for a short walk on the road (not even off-road) to appreciate the marvelous marble and limestone rock formations. Although not in the least bit strenuous, this was followed by a quick coffee break, and off we were to zigzag through the Tunnel of Nine Turns.

Lunch time was fast approaching, yet inexplicably it was time for another food break. While we sipped our coffees and endured the unseasonably low temperatures, the guide took delight in pointing out rock formations that looked like an American Indian chief, an alligator, a bear - in her rather vivid imagination, at least. 

"Do you see that?!", she'd exclaim, while pointing. "Looks like an alligator, doesn't it? Use your imagination!" 

She had been this all morning, much to my amusement, and pointing out such phenomena in English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, and even Nihongo to accommodate every passenger. A hard working woman indeed, who rarely took holidays (she confided in us).

Cimu Bridge

Finally, lunch was served at noon. This one turned out to be a pleasant surprise in the form of a non-rushed multi-course banquet inside a fancy hotel (yes, it was included in the tour price). Food was quite decent in quality too. Unfortunately, the rest of the afternoon went in one direction - downhill. 

We still had over three hours to kill before taking the 440pm train back to Taipei, and instead of exploring more of the national park, the bus took us to visit a jade factory and its showroom, a food store selling local delicacies handing out free tastes (admittedly not such a bad stop), and even to a local beach for some relaxation. 

Really wished we could have done more at Taroko Gorge instead of all that unproductive time. Perhaps even a short hike on one of the numerous trails. But rather, we just did about eight or nine stops for photo ops, that's about all we got out of our all-day trip. Makes me wonder why we had to rush out there so early in the first place.

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