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TOP OF CHAPTER National Centre of Traditional Arts This arts centre (Guólì Chuántǒng Yìshù Zhōngxīn; www.ncfta.gov.tw; admission NT$150; 9am-6pm; ) occupies 24hectares along the scenic Tongshan River and is a venue for the research and performance of folkmusic, opera, dance, toy-making and temple decorations.
For visitors there is an exhibition hallloaded with artefacts and informative displays (in English), that change regularly but could be oneverything from family shrines to the life of students under a Confucian education system.
Along the river sits a genuine traditional scholar’s house that was rescued from the wrecker’sball and reassembled on the centre’s grounds.
The folk-art street shops sell good-quality glassware, paper cuttings and glove puppets in what is rather oddly a re-creation of the varioustouristy ‘old streets’ one finds around Taiwan.
Trains to Luodong (fast train NT$238, 1? hours, slow train NT$153, 2? hours) leave Taipeiabout every half-hour.
Once in Luodong, it’s a short taxi ride to the arts centre or catch a TaiwanTourism Shuttle Bus (www.taiwantrip.com.tw) from the station.
Buses (NT$22) run every 30minutes.
SU-HUA HIGHWAY: SUAO TO HUALIEN Just past Luodong, Hwy 9 rejoins the coast and begins what is known as the Suao-Hualien Hwy(Su-Hua Hwy).
The road stretches for 118km along the coastline and, at one of the most breathtaking sections, the Qingshui (Chingshui) cliffs, the highway is literally cut into toweringwalls of marble and granite that loom 1000m above the rocky seashore.
The beginnings of the route go back to 1874, when the Qing government ordered a road to bebuilt along the east coast to end the region’s isolation (and prove to the world they actually weresovereign over all Taiwan).
The Japanese widened the road in 1920, battling with landslides andearthquakes the whole time.
In fact, the road didn’t officially reopen for public use until 1932.
Plans to turn the highway into a superfast freeway have been tossed about for decades but werefinally scuttled in 2010 when the government announced that it would pay for an expansion of theexisting highway, but not for a full freeway.
At the time of writing the road was being widened,and straightened where possible using old tunnels, but nature was not cooperating and closures anddelays due to washouts were and will probably remain a regular occurrence.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK TURTLE ISLAND (GUISHAN ISLAND) This captivating volcanic islet (Gūishān Dǎo), 10km off the coast of Ilan, is less than 3km long yet rises up to 398m.
Once supporting a population of 750 people, the island was taken over by the military in 1977 then returned to civilian rule in 2000.
These days Turtle Island is a protected marine environment and access is very limited.
In addition to fantastic views from the highest point, the island also has numerous quirky geological features.
These include underwater hot springs that turn the offshore water into a bubbling cauldron, volcanic fumaroles that spout steam, and a ‘turtle head’ that faces right or left depending on where you stand on shore.
Turtle Island is open from 1 March to 30 November, 9am to 5pm.
If you wish to land on the island you must apply in advance for a special permit (it’s a hassle but worth it).
Download a copy of the application form from the Northeast & Yilan Coast Scenic Administration ( 02-2499 1115; www.necoast-nsa.gov.tw) website and fax it, along with yourpassport information, three to 20 days before you wish to sail.
Once you get your permit, ask for a list of boat operators andmake a reservation (none speak English so ask the scenic office for help).
If you just want to circle the island or whale- and dolphin-watch you don’t need permits but you should still make a reservation.
Call the Wushih Harbour reservation centre on 03-950 8199 (Chinese only so try going to a visitor centre inTaipei or elsewhere and asking for help).
Boats leave from Wushih Harbour.
It costs NT$600 for a 1?-hour cruise to and around the island, and NT$1200 for athree-hour tour that includes a stop on the island.
Combination tours involving stops on the island and dolphin- and whale-watching (April to September) are also available (NT$1600, 4? hours).
To get to Wushih Harbour, take a train from Taipei to Toucheng (fast/slow train NT$184/119, 1?/two hours, every half-hour) and then a short taxi ride.
Or take a train to Wai’ao and walk 15 minutes south along the beachwalk.
Call the English Tourist Hotline ( 0800-011 765) or Northeast & Yilan Coast Scenic Administration for more information.
If you are staying at Rising Sun Surf Inn in nearby Wai’ao, staff can help arrange fast permits forthe island.
TOP OF CHAPTER Nanao 03 / POP 500 The small coastal town of Nanao (Nánào) has a large crescent bay with a dark sandy beach that’svisible from the highway as you make your descent from the hills.
It’s a great spot for strolling along and taking in the gorgeous coastal scenery.
Heading towards the hills, the scenery and theethnography change completely, from alluvial plains and the Hakka to deep-cut river valleys andthe Atayal.
Though it covers a large area, it’s easy to find your bearings in Nanao.
Highway 9 runs throughthe centre, and you can clearly see the sea to the east and the mountains to the west.
History Atayal aboriginals settled in the Nanao region about 250 years ago, and throughout the late Qingperiod were successful in repelling Taiwanese advancement.
It was not until 1910, after a five-year campaign by the Japanese to ‘pacify’ aboriginal groups, that Taiwanese settlers were able tobegin to develop the land for farming.
These days the Atayal presence is still strong, and much oftheir traditional way of life, including hunting for deer and pigs, is visible as soon as you head offthe highway.
Activities Despite the town being snugly positioned between the sea and some very rugged mountains,Nanao’s cycling is, for the most part, flat and leisurely.
The alluvial plains on the east side of Hwy9 offer hours of riding on empty roads through pretty farming fields.
On the west side, a couple ofroads head up the valleys formed by the North and South Nanao Rivers.
To reach the north river valley, head south out of town and at the Km133 mark turn right ontoTownship Rd 55, which was under heavy repair at the time of writing.
A few kilometres past Jin-yueVillage there is a set of free outdoor hot springs that should be open by the time you read this.
Aftera dip in the waters, continue to the end of the road.
It’s gorgeous up here.
To reach the south river valley road, head down Hwy 9 south out of town to the Km136 markand turn right on Township Rd 57.
Ten kilometres up the valley, the road ends at the start of the NanaoHistoric Trail (Nánào Gǔdào), an old Qing-dynasty cross-island road that’s open for the first 3km.
It’s a beautiful walk up a deep river valley and the chances of hearing and spotting indigenousbirds, monkeys, deer and even wild pigs are high.
At the time of writing the trail was closed forrepairs.
Also worth exploring is the Jhaoyang Historic Trail (Zhāoyáng Bùdào) that runs over a lushlyforested hillock and affords excellent coastal views from on high.
To get to the trail turn left at thetraffic lights just before the 7-Eleven on the main road (as you head south) and follow to the end(the harbour).
You can rent cheap bikes (per three ho
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