Taitung 台東, Chinese for “East Taiwan”, is in the Southeastern corner of Formosa. Though few people visit the city itself, it often serves as a stopover point for those on their way to Green Island and/or Orchid Island (Lanyu), which is what you will find if you draw a line directly east from Taidong. Both of these islands are part of Taidong County. It is the 11th-largest city in Taiwan.
Being one of the southernmost cities in Taiwan, Taitung is at about the same latitude as Hong Kong or Honolulu. In spite of its being one of the poorest cities in Taiwan, it has a rich aboriginal history outside of Chinese influence that you can’t find in places like Taipei in the North. This region was the last of Taiwan’s major areas to be colonized by Chinese immigrants.
Tourism in Taitung City surrounds the area’s natural offerings as well as exploration into its aboriginal heritage. One of its main attractions is the Museum of Prehistory, the go-to place to explore the long history of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan. Taitung is also a great starting point for cyclists, as the East coast’s number of mountains seems to outnumber sparsely-populated humans.
National Museum of Prehistory
Archaeologists based out of National Taiwan University underwent the excavation legwork to bring this museum to life, uncovering tens of thousands of artifacts. As a testament to the wealth of the Taiwanese government, the museum was designed by epically-famous American architect Michael Graves. The museum uses archaeological artifacts to pull you through the history of Taiwan all the way from the island’s geological formation to the development of its aboriginal culture.
Beinan Cultural Park
A wide-open park area with lush scenery, this park doubles as an extension of the Museum of Prehistory. It was one of the archaeological sites excavated in the original discovery, with artifacts on display for those curious about the people who lived here thousands of years ago.
Railway Art Village
Taidong’s government had the ingenious idea of converting its old rail station into an art space for contemporary work being done in the city and elsewhere in Taiwan. The “village” also has some exhibitions displaying artifacts related to the original railway, juxtaposed with modern art.
On a clear day, it’s nice to walk around, even though there is not much to see. It’s just nice and relaxing. There’s a Starbucks and a couple of cafes and restaurants nearby at a new building that’s been built with containers. Some cafes have picnic tables outside. Cool place to chill and kill time.
Things to do in Taitung County
If you ask me what’s my ultimate favorite place in Taiwan, without a doubt I will tell you two words: Orchid Island. Remote, wild, lush, raw, and pristine, is usually how guidebooks describe Lanyu. If you have enough time on your schedule, make sure to save 2-3 days for this magical place. I guarantee you will come back with special memories and incredible pictures.
Green Island 綠島 is a small island that’s 33km to the east of Taiwan, in the Pacific Ocean. This little Taiwanese paradise offers world-class scuba diving and snorkeling, decent hiking, cycling, swimming, and lots of seafood restaurants.
Donghe is Taiwan’s #1 surfing destination. The Taiwan Open of Surfing National Championship is held at Jinzun beach yearly, and it attracts surfers from all around the world. If you’re not into surfing, fear not, Donghe has plenty to offer for the rest of us who like to chill at cafes, restaurants, or at the B&B.
Dulan is popular for mainly three things: its beautiful beach (good for surfing at times), the Saturday night live music at the old Sugar Factory, and its lively A-mei aboriginal population. You can get to Dulan by bus (free) from Taitung Train Station.
Cycling in Taitung County
The east coast of Taiwan is sparsely populated, with gorgeous mountains, making it an ideal location for the serious cyclist. Popular routes take you north from Taidong to Hualien, and further to Taroko Gorge if you’re willing to make it. If you have even a remote interest in cycling, I recommend you take this opportunity as it’s a great way to see some of the least accessible and untouched mountain beauty this island has to offer.
Getting Around Taitung / Local Transport
As Taitung is something of a real city, travelers with an International Driver’s License may want to rent a car or a scooter near the train station. This also makes exploring the surrounding mountains more accessible. Bicycle rental is also widely available. If none of these options are for you, you’re unfortunately stuck with hard-to-navigate buses and cheap taxis. Hitchhiking is also a viable option along the East Coast of Taiwan.
Eating in Taitung / Restaurants
Taitung’s food offerings are various thanks to the heavy influence of a number of indigenous specialties. Southeast Asian cuisine also makes its due appearance, thanks to immigration from those countries to the city.
Kasa Cafe and Restaurants
Possibly a misspelling of the Spanish, “Kasa” offers Western favorites that you might be surprised to find so far away from their home, such as Tex-Mex, bagels and pizza.
No. 102 Heping St. Taidong City, Taiwan
A small shop with an attractive name, Seaweed has fresh and well-done versions of local favorites such as noodles, light soup and dumplings. The shop’s namesake also features in many of the dishes.
No. 205 ZhongShan Rd., Taitung City, Taiwan
A bit like those creepy theme restaurants in Western countries, IWAWNA takes the marketability of aboriginal culture to its limits. Indigenous cuisine is mixed with an area for tribal dance that you can watch while eating.
No. 187 Xingan Rd., Section 2, Taitung City, Taiwan
Taitung Nightlife / Drinking in Taidong
The best place to go out to listen to music and get wasted in Taitung is not in the city itself – it’s in the village of Dulan, about 30 minutes south of Taitung (by car) on Highway 11, where most of the action happens on Saturday nights.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for some fun during the week in Taitung City proper, well… good luck! I’ve been around Taiwan for many years and there’s only one place on this island where locals were able to rip me off on booze (like charging me 2-3 times the normal price for beer) in the middle of the night and it was here, in Taitung. And not just one one occasion.
Your best bet for a normal evening (by Asian standard) is at a convenience store that’s located within crawling distance from your hotel. Cheers!
Taitung Accommodation / Hotels
Taitung Aboriginal Culture Hotel
Rooms here are quite cheap and the decoration does its best to introduce you to the aboriginal aesthetic. Double rooms start at under NT$950 during off-peak times.
No. 10 ZhongShan Rd.
Formosan Naruwan Hotel
This resort is on the higher end of the financial spectrum, but lavish travelers to Taidong will be more than comfortable here. It offers facilities that cheaper options won’t, such as a swimming pool, arcade, gym, sauna, etc.
No. 66 , Lien Hang Rd.
Getting to Taitung / Transportation
You will most likely be taking a train from other big travel hubs in Taiwan, such as Taipei or Kaohsiung. Taidong also has a humble airport, and planes are available from Taipei and/or Kaohsiung. Long but inexpensive buses can be taken, and are a good option if you are coming from somewhere more nearby such as Hualien.
New Taitung Train Station
A very important thing you should know is that the new Taitung train station is not downtown. It’s about 10km north of the city. It takes roughly 15 minutes to travel by bus or taxi between Taitung train station and the downtown area, which is kind of an annoyance. There is not much interesting around the new station, apart from the BeiBBBBBB Museum.
The new train station is the most convenient place to rent a scooter, bicycle, or car. As you walk out of the station, cross the park and you’ll see plenty of options across the road.