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After the rather rural Myanmar and Cambodia, Taiwan is a dense populated country, which never the less have some amassing nature. Here are 655 humans on each square meter, significantly more than the 130 in Denmark.
I am in particular targeting the upper foothills which are subtropical (300-1.500 m) to learn about the conditions for the plants, especially the Camphor tree along with the orchids. However, I do intend to see other wonders along the route.

Some facts about the country. (Jump to diary)
Taiwan is made up by a large island and many tiny ones. It covers 35.883 square kilometres, and the highest point is Yushan with 3952 metres.

The population is around 23,5 million of which 30% believe in Folk religions, 25% are Buddhists and 15% Taoists. Ethnical, 84% are Taiwanese and Hakka, and 14% mainland Chinese. It seems like humans have been here in at least 50.000 years. The last historical colonisation was around 6.000 years ago. Since, several rulers have controlled the island. It might have been part of the Ming dynasty, but it was for sure taken over by the Dutch in the 16. century. They might have followed the Portuguese directions, as they passed bye in 1544. The Dutch are kicked out by the Chinese in 1662, who looses it to the Japanese in 1895. In 1945, the control is given to the Chinese again - but not the new, huge China, but former rulers of the big China who retreated here.

MONEY: The currency is Taiwan New Dollar (TWD). 1 TWD=0,22 DKK= 0,0296.  Or the other way: 1DKK=4,54TWD. 1=33,78TWD.

CLIMATE: It ought to be the dry time of year, but it could be warmer. See more on the lover part of the Map-page.

ANIMALS and PLANTS: Due to the diverse climate, created by the mountains, the biodiversity is large. Actually, it is more diverse than I have thought. The isolation from mainland China have created many indigenous species, of which I hope to encore several.
Here are 4-5.000 different plant species of which 25% is estimated to be endemic. Along with the many interesting trees, I hope to see some of the plentiful orchids. Taiwan is in a matter of fact the world's biggest exporter of nursery orchids.

Among the 70 species of mammals, the 45 are endemic. Among them  are the macaque, deer, boars, civets, elephants, tigers, rhinos and bears. Here are over 500 species of birds of which 69 are endemic. 400 species of butterflies, 60 being endemic. 85 species of reptiles, 27 endemic. 37 amphibians, 17 endemic and then the other insects, fish and alike.

(Hoover over the photos, to enlarge them and see the text)

28/1 The flight from Cambodia is slightly delayed, and I'm a bit anxious about the delivering of my rented car. They have no deposit, and it was rather cheap. And the huge problems I had in Cambodia, when I was delayed still sit in my memory. I'm quick out of the plain, rush pass everyone else and get through immigration quite fast. But none stands with my name on a board.

Well, I have to get some Taiwan New Dollars anyway, and I get the remaining UD dollars exchanged. Then back to look for my name, and is is there! To start with, I could not rent the car, as the office was closed due to New Year. Someone volunteered to  meet me, and I bought him a huge bag of Haribo's Travel Mix (Danish candy) in the airport.

He don't speak a word English, but it is fairly simple anyway. I show my Cambodian driving license, and he run my Visa card for rent and deposit. Then we find the brand new car with leather interior, and I set of. It is half pass six in the evening, and it have turned dark. I have 90 kilometres to the pre-brooked hotel, but recon the roads will be good.

They sure are, but there are a lot of them! The GPS have a problem with handling three layers of road, and send me out of a wrong one. It is the Freeway, and despite the GPS think it have turn-offs, it don't have a single for 30 kilometres. And then 30 kilometres back.

The traffic runs pretty much as in Denmark, they even  - and a bit unexpected drive in the right side. I do a few Cambodian tricks to overcome the lack of GPS support, and the locals don't really appreciate - but I do.
It feels mostly like depreciating in the Singapore F1 race: Concrete and high fences along the entire road. I have not any feeling of, what landscape - or city I drive through, but I sense some small mountains close to the road.

I thought I misses the centre of Taipei, but thanks to the stunt the GPS preformed, I do it twice. But at least on the huge Freeway. Actually, I drive almost the entire way before I see something resembling a town. Else, it is just several stories of roads twining into each other. And here are for sure some tunnels. The Hsuehshan Tunnel is the longest in Taiwan with its 12.942 metres.

I reach Johnny Rose Surfer hostel in Yilan at nine, and four locals are sitting outside, having a New Year barbeque. I'm invited, but it is a meat meal they are in for. I drive back to the "village", but all restaurants and cafes are closed. Either the time or the day? While I drive, I see quite some fireworks.

I find a convenience store, and try to find something reasonable to eat. But I am not familiar with any of the products, and I find no other printing than Chinese, and the girl at the counter is no help. End up with cakes, nuts, water and a choko-milk. Well, the calories are there, and the nuts hold the protein. Back and dine with the boys, then do a bit of work.

29/1 A good nights sleep in the dorm with the boys, despite the symbolic madras. At eight, I hit the road, and the first I have to find is breakfast. I find a few restaurants, but they are not open yet - or today. Further more, they seems to only have seafood. I end up at a 7-Eleven, with a bun, a banana and a caramel moccachino, as they do not tea.

I go down the the beach, and see the black sand and the misty shore. A huge, private house, called the White House, look quite impressive, and so do another hostel.
I follow the coastal road up north, and passes through small communities. It seems like the live by fishing, and not that good. The houses are old and could do with some maintains.

I stop at a harbour, and it is a bit strange to see the mess it have, compared to what else I have seen. The road is squeezed in-between the sea and the untouched green foothills along with the railroad. I pass several colourful and wery decorated temples, but I don't stop.

An old part of a town make me pull-over. It seems to be some historical site, but as most other places, the writing is only in Chinese. I make a few photos, but the buildings are still in use.

I reach Fulong and the start of the Caoling/Tsaoling Historical Trail. My guidebook say, "if you only are going to do one trail, this should be it". I might do more, but I won't miss this one.
The first part is sealed, but the sides offers a lot of interesting plants. Here are epiphytic ferns from tiny "ears" to huge Bird nest-ferns.

The trail is 8,5 kilometre long, but as I parked in Fulong, it get eleven. Here are a few locals, using their day off to go hiking, but I pass them quite fast, as I have no equipment to drag me down.
As the trail changes into mud, it gains height, and the views get better. But due to the dense vegetation, it is hard to make photos of the surrounding mountains. A few places look like they have been farmers fields years ago, while most are real undisturbed.

I see quite some native plants flowering, and a lot of unknown herbs. The area is general very moist, and some areas are covered in mosses. The trail crosses a lot of creeks and a few rivers, which have some water in them. It is the dry(-er) period, but it does still rain.

After some time, I reach higher ground, and there are views to the town in the valleys. There are a few houses and old huts along the trail, one with a lot of cats and a old dog.
The tree ferns are getting higher, some over six metres.

As I cross a road, an area is a popular sight for the locals, and especially during the New Years days off. A bit further up the road, some rice patches are dormant, while the vegetable garden is active.
From here, the trail is well made with cut rocks. In many places, the creek runs along it.

Here are many big trees, and it is said that the figs count 18 species. I can't tell them all apart, but they do look fantastic. The birds-nest ferns get bigger and bigger, some a meter and a half in diameter.
The weather is just perfect for this trail: Around 25-30C and sunny. I had feared it would be 10-15C, but jacket and shoos are left in the car.

From time to time, the sea can bee seen through the gorges. It is a bit misty, and it look a bit odd how high the water seems. A huge inscription of four Chinese signs was made by a Commander who walked the trail in 1867: "Boldly Quell the Wild Mist". This ancient road, opening the north was indeed a fantastic achievement.

I reach another real popular sight; The Tiger inscription. Guess you have to be Taiwanese to appreciate it fully.
This is the high pass, and the vegetation is mainly grass. The sea is visible to both sides, although the mist take its part.
The trail head into the deep descent through a dense forest, and the pavement is natural rocks in some parts.

As I get closer to another bigger road, another set of toilets and drink vending  machines are found once again. The nature have been fantastic the most of the way, and the last part is the best. The views have changes so much, and beside from the first couple of kilometres, it have been so great.

I get out at the huge Dali Temple. It is well visited today, but I want to see it as well. The carvings in sandstone are astonishing. Strangely enough, none take off their shoos within the temple. And the food court attached to it don't seem to have any vegetarian food, which I else was ready for.

I find the Dali Railroad Station, and get a ticket for Fulong and the car. It cost 15 TWD; 0,10 for this eight kilometre tour.
I try to find lunch, but the restaurants just refers to each other, when I ask for vegetarian food. When I get back to the car, I find a big scratch on the back. I didn't see it yesterday, but it was a murky parking basement I got the car in. It might have happened while I was hiking, but anyway; I got to pay for it.

I head further up the east and then northern coast, passing small towns with close restaurants. The road assent to over 500 metres, and the views are great. Here are some new, interesting plants, but the views are hard to get to.
The few places I can see through the bushes and trees, the coastal line is covered in mist. It look awesome with the mountain ranges, one more dimmer than the other. On picture, only the first are visible though.

I reach the Jiufen village I was aiming for, but I guess the two large temples causes it to be completely packed with locals. There is no chance I find a place to park. I'm not even aloud to drive down to the huge parking lot outside town!

I am here to see the steep town and some of its sights, but that won't be today for sure! I might have time in the end of the tour? I shoot a few photos out the car, and am pleased I don't have to join the 400 meter line for the train or bus.

In the next, bigger town; Keelung, I look for food again, but end up at a 7-Eleven. Chocolate biscuits and a Cappuccino, as they don't have tea either. Well, at three, I eat almost anything.
I do a short stop at their temple, which is empty, but pretty nice.

It is time to head homewards, and I try an alternative route. It seems like it leads right through the mountains, and it is: I had hoped for some scenic, but it is first some huge roads, weaved into each other between small, green mountains. It is pretty clear; Taiwan consist of either unspoiled nature or the wildest constructions. Even the rice patches seems to be found within the towns. I like that concept.

Within long, I end in the thirteen kilometre long Hsuehshan Tunnel. Not the views I had hoped for, but it is truly through the mountains! Good thing is I have time to find some dinner. And that is needed. The most restaurants are closed, but at the Wushih Harbour have plenty, and they are open.

Unfortunately, they are only with seafood. Every one look like a part of a aquarium, with odd creatures along colourful  fish. I try them all, but only the last one pities me enough to serve some seaweed and algae along with two fried eggs and some steamed rice.

Back at the hostel, I talk with the boys and the owner, until they head off to dinner. Then I start on the diary and the 330 photos. It does get a bit nippy in the evening, and I guess the heights and rainy days will too.
While I go through the photos, I realises; I have seen more unspoiled nature to day, than the last two month all together.

The Caoling Historical Trail get a slideshow.

30/1 Again, the madras which have the same thickness as the sheet make sure I'm up early. The tour is south along the coast on the old Highway 9. Accordantly to my guidebook, it is fantastic, and I have 110 kilometres to enjoy it, before I reach Taroko National Park.

Well, you have to be deeply into suburbs architecture to find the first 30 kilometres remotely interesting. It is the coastal part of the large Yilan/Ilan and Lotung cities, and it is rather old and warn down.  What at first look like flooded rice patches, is the huge water treatment plant, as we had it in the '70ties. I have the road for my self, although it is urban all the way so far.
Here are numerous light crosses, and apparently not "intelligent", as most are red, despite there are no crossing traffic. My GPS warns about a automatic speed control, and there is! Actually, there are quite some.

The restaurants and cafes are still closed, but at least the 7-Eleven and Family Mart are open, and they have to supply me with breakfast. Two real light breads, which I thought had more grain. Unfortunately, the weight is mainly made up by some butter-ish filling. But the calories are secured... I skip the coffee.

Then, just after Suao, Highway 9 completely change character. The mountains reach the sea, and there are no room for even the smallest village on the beach. The road works it way up to 250 metres or more, but the sea is right below.
The steep mountain sides s completely covered in dense vegetation. Huge trees, tree ferns and bushes, and they continues all across to the other side of the country.

The mountains behind is covered in mist, and so is the sea, deep below. Here are a few places where the car can be parked, and I try to capture the magnificent road and its surrounding. Just as I left Suao, the traffic intensified, and the only open parts is just in front of one of the many busses.
When I look at the deep gorges and remote mountains, they seem quite visible, but the camera fail to capture them. Where the sun peaked out in the early morning, the clouds are covering now, and it is rather dark.

At the highest point, and larger parking lot is found, and an old pickup is rigged out as a cafe with several cappuccino machines. I spot a tea-bag on the ground, and she find a whole new box, deep within the car. I get a three tea-bag mug with liquid sugar (great invention!) and a dash of cold water. I thought I was the only one doing that!

The road slowly descents, and the surroundings get even greener. Here are huge ferns in the trees, which in some places closes over the road. I try to get out in the forest, but the mountain sides are too steep to be walked.
More and more tunnels break up the views, some seems to be made by hand.

Two small town are found in bays, but I drive through, as it is getting late. The start of the day with all the light crosses and now the 40 km/t limit on the mountain road, have slowed me significantly down. The sun starts to peak through, but not that convincing.
The first turn off to Taroko National park is blocked, but my GPS had another in mind anyway. When I reach that one, it is closed by the police two!

Here are a lot of frustrated motorists, who must see only the busses continue. It is apparently a popular destination in the holydays, and the police were prepared. I wasn't. My next target was the highest pass behind the park, and then a temple further out this road. Well, time for plan B: Hualien, which should be a "Pleasant town", and a place to find a bed.

I get in to town by some back-roads, leading through sleepy suburbs with dogs sleeping on the road. The buildings are just as depressing as those this morning, and I head for the centre of Hualien. Exactly why this should be a "pleasant" town eludes me. Except from the New Year red lanterns, it is not charming or interesting in any way. Never the less, I better find a bed for the night, even though it is only just passed noon. I have only seen two hotels the entire day.

After quite some walking around, I find a single hotel, but I'm not desperate enough to pay 6750 TWD - yet (200). They claim here are no guesthouses around, but I try the area anyway. And I find two just around the corner. One is just closed, the other should open within two hours, but there is a number I can call.

That leads to next issue: I need a SIM-card with a local number and some time on. I need it to return the car anyway. The first couple of shops I find, only sell the phone, not the cards. Then I find a shop that does, but they want my passport and another ID. Back to the car to get the passport and my Cambodian driving license.
A note is stuck in the windshield, but I will sort that out later.

Back in the shop, they now want my Taiwanese address. To get that, I need a phone... I claim I live at the expensive hotel. After an eternity, all the papers are filled out, and I have a Taiwanese phone-number.
Back to call the B&B to get the number, but none answers. I try to walk bye, as the backdoor was open earlier.

A young man with a real good English excuses, but they have no vacant beds. However, they have in the other end of town, and for only 600 TWD. I can cross town for that, especially as it is now three o'clock. He supply me with a map, and I try to find it on my GPS. And he try, but all names are spelled different, and I have to find it visual.

Back at the car, it turns out the note is part of the parking fee. It is added right away, and every half hour of hour, a little man passes by on moped, and add a stamp. I ask around; how to pay for it? In the 7-Eleven, right across the street. Later I figure, I will have quite some time to pay the stack I collect, but the first is paid right away.

I find the other B&B, but it is closed. A telephone number on the door is disconnected, and I try to find a back-door. When I return to the front, a girl has arrived. She speak no English, but call her brother - the guy who referred me to here. The room is not ready, but I drop my bag and head back to the business centre of Hualien.

Here are several pedestrian streets, and most shops are open, in contrast to other places. I even find their market, but that is closed. As usual, I am looking for a souvenir right away. But as I'm the only pink around, here are none conventionally. I have a few other things, I could use, and especially some vegetarian dinner would be nice to locate.

The shops look like western shops. Shoos, cloths, gold and smart-phones are the most numerous. Delicatessen and sweets come next. Here are even two tea shops with all sorts of tea and pots.
But here are no big shops at all, and I fail to find where they buy their food, if it not at 7-Eleven?  The dumpling shop is real popular, and they were prepared!

The only unfamiliar shop is a small arcade with machines, where you can catch a bear or alike. And when I return to the B&B, I see they have a station for water outside. Just like a gas station, but with drinking water. Later, I see several editions of this. I really appreciate the brilliant Danish drinking-water! We don't have to have two taps for cold water, and fill one our self.

I work a bit before I head out on the hunt for dinner. A hour later, I have said "su-shi" (vegetarian) a lot of times, in around 20 restaurants. The only sure offer I have, is from Pizza Hut, but they had 90 minutes queue. Another place served a nice meal, but had mixed a lot of fish and shrimps into it. I pay and leave. The last place seems so clear, but there is a lot of chicken in my fried rice. At this time, I pick off what I can find, and eat the rest. On the way home, I stock breakfast at Family Mart: A banana and one bread. No need to waist time tomorrow, hunting breakfast, when I know what it end with.

Everywhere I been, every menu I have seen, every information sign and all road signs, except the brown tourist sight-signs have been only in Chinese. All the food I find at 7-Eleven and Family Mart have only Chinese writing on as well, and I haven't a clue about what is in most of it. I wonder id there is an APP for that?

I have asked around, and the guesses for how long the bloody new year last goes from two to six days. I will have to get back to Taroko National Park another time. I can try an alternative road to the Chung Tai Chan Temple and Hehuanshan Pass in the morning, else I have to head further south.
The photos from this first, north-eastern part is found in this The North-Eastern taiwan

Despite I haven't seen that much, the diary will continue in Diary 2 with the south-eastern Taiwan.

Photos   Map & Plan   Diary 1  2  3  4  5  6  7