Hiking Through Taiwan's Toroko Gorge

Taiwan was never a bucket list destination for me. In fact it wasn’t even on my radar when I was researching places to travel while studying in Asia. So when my friend Adam invited me along on a trip there I had to do some serious research. This little island country took me by surprise. I scoured the internet and found incredible black sand beaches, breathtaking national parks, and vibrant city life. Taroko Gorge quickly made it to the top of my list of things to do in Taiwan. I was drawn to the stunning marble mountains and rushing waterfalls.

Taroko Gorge Park was declared a national park in 1986. The park spans an impressive 920 square kilometers and includes some incredible natural beauty. Besides the gorge itself, the park consists of twisting hiking trails, beautiful cascades, tunnels, shrines, and a huge suspension bridge.

Taroko Gorge is actually really easy to get to. There’s a bus from Hualien that leaves daily from 6:30am to 1:50pm. The bus is a very reasonable NT250 ($8) for unlimited hop on/hop off throughout the day of purchase. The bus takes about an hour to get from Hualien to the park headquarters. There is no fee to enter the park, although some areas require a special permit to hike in.

Adam and I sat next to a group of German travelers on the bus ride there. One of the guys in their group was an English teacher in Hualien and had been to the park several times. Their group had dedicated several days to exploring the park because of how vast it is. Adam and I only had a day to hike so we wanted to make the most of it but had no idea where to start. Luckily they allowed us to tag along with them on the trail.

There are a ton of trails throughout the national park. Every one of them will blow you away. We walked along the edge of the river, passing under tunnels and up and down through the gorge.

We saw several places to stop and get a snack. At the end of our trail there was a local vendor selling grilled meats wrapped in leaves. My stomach was growling but being vegetarian I couldn’t indulge, so I bought a fruity milk drink.

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We stopped about a million times to take pictures and got some cool shots beyond a “do not pass” sign that we took as a suggestion. At the very end of the trail there’s a large river bank with plenty of boulders to sit on. The area was fairly crowded with picnicking locals. We managed to find a pretty secluded spot and stopped to rest and enjoy the view. The Germans had with them some local flavored grain alcohol. We took turns drinking and sharing stories. Some of the guys went out into the river and balanced rocks on the boulders jutting out.

I don’t remember any of their names or stories but I’ll never forget the little moments we all shared that day.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Surfing in Taiwan

Taiwan is one of my favorite countries I have ever visited. This little island nation is the perfect mixture of bustling cities, mouthwatering local cuisine, and incredible natural beauty. During my short visit I explored the capital Taipei, hiked the marble mountains of Taroko Gorge, climbed Elephant Mountain to get the best view of Taipei 101, and soaked in healing hot springs. Read on to find out about my experience surfing in Taiwan with Rising Sun Surf Inn.

Unless falling on my ass in various Pilates classes counts as a sport, I won’t be winning any Olympic medals anytime soon. I spent years trying to do a cartwheel and never succeeded. The one time I went skiing I got too scared to jump off the ski lift. They had to stop the whole thing and send someone to get me off. I never went out for any sports in high school. I could keep going but I’m sure you didn’t come here to read about my athletic failures. My point is that I’m not the sportiest traveler.

Naturally, when my travel companion mentioned he wanted to try surfing in Taiwan I was a bit hesitant. I honestly didn’t even know you could surf in Taiwan.

Surfing in Taiwan

Surprisingly, Taiwan is known for some world-class waves. One article actually called it the “New Hawaii”. There are tons of little towns dotted across the coastline that are year-round surf destinations. The three main spots on the East coast to shred some gnar are Yilan, Dulan, and Kenting. We only had one day free so we chose Yilan which is the closest to Taipei. It’s easy to reach by public transport because the train station is right in front of the beach.

Rising Sun Surf Inn

Neither of us had ever surfed before so we were on the lookout for some beginner lessons. Rising Sun Surf Inn was the easiest to find from the train and also offered lessons for newbies. The vibe is very chilled out. The lobby area is a small room with beanbag chairs and a counter where you can order food and sign up for surf lessons. We chatted with the owner a little bit and it turns out she doesn’t surf or even know how to swim! Luckily their instructors are much more experienced and made us feel super safe and prepared the whole time.

Included in the price for a lesson is the board rental, rash guard rental, and photos of your lesson. The instructor swims out with you and will even hold your board for you while you flop around like an idiot trying to get on it.

The Inn is located on the beautiful black sand Wai’ow beach. There are incredible rock formations just off the coast but the area you surf in is far enough away to not send you hurling into the boulders. The scenery was so picturesque I would visit just for the views.

My Experience

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So how did I do? Safe to say I lived up to expectations. I did not get up on both feet a single time that day. My friend Adam had a sprained ankle and hopped on both feet within minutes of getting out onto the water. If that doesn’t sum up my athletic career perfectly I don’t know what does. Despite my absolute failure I felt incredible the whole time. The adrenaline rush pushed me to keep trying again and again and I was proud of myself for not giving up.

I probably swallowed twice my weight in fish pee and the salt stung my eyes but I had the time of my life.

I walked away from the experience vowing that I would surf again. Or for the first time since I don’t think I ever technically surfed. But hey — I have a picture standing next to a surfboard now. Close enough.

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More Information

Getting to Rising Sun Surf Inn is incredibly easy. You take the local train from Taipei to Wai’ao station. When you get off the train you walk across the road and turn left at the boardwalk. That’s it.

We chose the 1 Day Surf School package and loved it. For one person the price of this package is NT 1500 ($50 USD) but if you go with a friend you will only pay NT 1400 ($46 USD). This package includes:

  • 2-hour instruction and all day surfboard rental

  • Full day rental of a rash guard or wetsuit

  • Photos taken during your lesson

  • Free use of the common areas – toilet, changing facilities, etc.

This post was not sponsored by Rising Sun Surf Inn — although they did give me two free stickers when I was there. I genuinely enjoyed my experience and wanted to share it with my readers. All opinions and athletic failures are completely my own.



Lost in the Land of Smiles — Motorbiking in Krabi

Motorbiking in Krabi was one of the highlights of my four months in Southeast Asia. Krabi is the kind of place I can’t stay away from. I first visited on a weekend trip from Bangkok with some friends. We had an incredible time despite the fact that it was raining the whole weekend. When my dad came and visited me towards the end of my semester I knew I needed to take him to Krabi.

Rather than make a beeline for the beach, we decided to stick around town and explore for the first day. We forked over about $7 to rent a motorbike for the day and set off without a destination in mind.

My whole life I’ve had a healthy fear of motorcycles. When I was really young, my uncle let me sit on the seat of his motorcycle before it had cooled down and I burned my leg on the side of it. When my dad bought an old Honda motorcycle a few years ago I gathered enough courage to take a ride on it. With the memory of my burned leg still fresh in my mind, I carefully sat on the seat and the bike immediately tipped over, trapping me against the curb. Needless to say I preferred just about any other method of transportation.

But with travel comes newfound courage.

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I had spent four months watching babies, kids, and animals strapped into motorbikes zipping through Thailand. I thought if they could do it so could I. We made our way out of the main part of town, zipping through traffic as I held on to my dad with a death grip.

Motorbiking in Krabi is safer than two-wheel trips in other parts of the country. The traffic is pretty much nonexistant once you get out of the center. There were a few potholes in the roads but easily avoided. Not many tourists venture out of the beach-y areas of Krabi so as soon as you get away from the coast you get a glimpse of local life.

We had no map or itinerary in mind. Just a full tank of gas and our cameras.

A short while later, a golden Buddha peeking out of a limestone cave caught our eye. We turned our little bike on to a gravel road and were greeted by some friendly chickens. A Thai man came out to greet us and offered to show us around the cave. After a short tour, we left a small donation in the box and hit the open road again.

Krabi is famous for its steep limestone cliffs jutting out of the landscape. We had beautiful mountain views on one side and endless lush rainforest on the other. We passed through farmlands and local villages.

The sun was beating down pretty hard that day so our next stop was a tiny local market to get some iced tea — or cha yen. They must not get a lot of lost tourists at this little strip of vendors because we got a lot of crazy looks. I was very proud when I ordered my drink using my very limited Thai knowledge and I got exactly what I wanted.

This little pit stop cost us a total of $0.50 for two iced teas.

Our final stop of the day was a spontaneous visit to Huai To (Huay Toh) Waterfall. We were actually getting pretty tired at this point and about to head back when we saw a sign for the falls. Huay Toh is actually a national park just northeast of Krabi town. They charged us a 200 baht entrance fee (about $6) which turned out to be well worth it.

There’s a short walk through the rainforest to the waterfalls. The path is pretty wide and the walk isn’t too treacherous. When we were there we didn’t see another person the entire time. The falls are beautiful and a lot of fun to climb around on. We splashed our faces with water and just enjoyed the unspoiled beauty.

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We returned to town just before sunset and got some dinner. After a full day of cave exploring, chasing waterfalls, and facing my fears I was getting hangry. Motorbiking in Krabi is an experience I will never forget. If you want to get off the beach and go off the beaten path for a day I highly recommend exploring on two wheels.

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(Bali)n’ on a Budget

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Although Bali is the most visited island in Indonesia, it’s still really easy to travel Bali on a budget. I stayed for 10 days and found it to be really reasonable. Here is a guide to traveling the island for under $35 a day.

Best Time to Visit

High season in Bali is during Easter, Christmas, New Years, and the months of July and August. Prices will be at their highest during these times because there will be loads of tourists. I visited Bali the week before Christmas and still found reasonable prices everywhere I went. Bali has great weather year-round but May, June, and July are generally considered the best time to visit. The dry season in Bali runs from May to October.

Accommodation

Because of how many tourists visit Bali, there are options for every budget. Sure, you’ll find 5-star luxury resorts everywhere but Hostels and Airbnb’s are also very prevalent.

I stayed with some friends in an Airbnb in Seminyak for my first couple days and stayed in hostels for the rest of the trip. You’ll find some pretty incredible Airbnb’s in Bali. For a really reasonable price you’ll likely have an entire villa, complete with a pool, to yourself. If you’re new to Airbnb you can get $40 off your first stay by using this link!

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In Ubud, I stayed in Puji Bungalows for $7 a night. The room was very basic, but they offer free wifi, a swimming pool with rice paddy views, and a 24-hour front desk. The best part about Puji Bungalows was the incredible location. The Ubud Traditional Market is a 10-minute walk away and the famous Monkey Forest Sanctuary is only 15 minutes on foot. If you book through Booking.com you can get $25 back on your first stay by clicking on using this link

When I made my way back to Seminyak I stayed in Capsule Hotel New Seminyak. I paid about $10 for a dorm bed and absolutely loved it. The rooms were clean and comfortable. There was a hangout room with beanbag chairs and DVDs to watch. The kitchen was stocked and there was a bar area downstairs to hang out in and it looks like they put in a pool since I stayed. The beach and all the main clubs and restaurants are within walking distance.

Transportation

The cheapest mode of transportation in Bali is the motorbike taxi. This is exactly what it sounds like — sitting on the back of a local’s motorbike. This isn’t the safest mode of transportation but it gets you from point A to point B relatively cheaply.

Taxis are common throughout Bali but are much more expensive than in other Southeast Asian countries. To make sure you’re getting a fair price, be sure you use the company Blue Bird Taxis. There are a lot of immitators so have your hotel or hostel book a taxi for you before you head out.

There are tourist buses in Bali but they are very limited. I took a Perama bus from Kuta to Ubud for about $5 USDone way.

Food

Okay I know this post is all about Bali on a budget but food is the one area where I would splurge. Bali, especially Ubud, has no shortage of incredible, fresh food. Like “oh my God I can’t believe this isn’t bad for me” good. I’ll focus on Ubud because that’s where I had the best meals. In other areas of Bali I ate mostly at local warungs. I saved a few rupiah but the food was pretty bland and not worth writing about.

My favorite restaurants in Ubud were Alchemy, Sari Organik, and Umah Pizza which is right next to Puji Bungalows.

Alchemy is Bali’s first 100% raw vegan cafe and juice bar. They offer a juice and smoothie bar, salad bar, and raw chocolates. There is also a health food store located inside the cafe. My daily order was a coconut milk flat white ($3.30USD) and one of their incredible smoothie bowls ($4.10USD).

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Sari Organik is an Ubud staple. It can only be reached by a pleasant 20-minute walk through the rice fields. The food wasn’t outstanding, but the table overlooking the rice fields was enough of a reason to visit. Across the path from the restaurant you can actually walk through the gardens that they grow their organic produce in.

Next to my hostel was the hidden gem Umah Pizza. After months of Italian food withdrawal in Thailand, I was delighted to find somewhat decent ‘za in Ubud. The prices were incredible — about $2 USD for a small margherita pizza.

Activities

I didn’t feel the need to spend much on activities in Bali. I spent my days in Seminyak walking to the beach and strolling through local shops. In Ubud there were magnificent hikes and markets just a walk away from the center of town.

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One day in Ubud I visited the famous Monkey Forest Sanctuary for $3 USD (it looks like the prices have gone up in 2017 and are now $3.75). This pocket change bought me a few hours of monkey watchin’ and jungle walkin’. If you don’t want to pay the entrance fee there are always monkeys hanging around the entrance.

I loved taking long walks in Bali. My favorite hike was the Campuhan Ridge Walk. I also liked walking through the markets. Both of these activities are obviously completely free unless you do a little souvenir shopping.

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One day I hired a driver to take me around to some of the more significant sights around central Bali. I paid around $40 for my own private driver for the entire day. He took me to Tegalalang Rice Terraces, Tegenungan Waterfall, and a Lewak coffee farm. I wouldn’t recommend the latter as it seems there is some controversy around the process of Lewak coffee, but the other two activities were well worthwhile.

Nightlife

The local beer in Bali is called Bintang and can cost between $1.50-$3 for a bottle.

I didn’t drink or go out very much in Bali. Nightlife is pretty much nonexistant in Ubud. I didn’t meet very many people during my time there so I didn’t go out to the few bars that are there.

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In Seminyak there is a much bigger party scene. I spent a couple nights out at the upscale beachfront club Potato Head. This beach club is home to two restaurants, three bars, and an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. I also visited the treehouse-themed bar La Favela. Neither of these places has a cover charge so they are free to visit (unless you want to shell out $10.50 for a cocktail).

Daily Budget

For an average day I would budget $10 for a dorm bed or $25 for a private room. A mixture of local warungs and more upscale eateries should cost you no more than $12 a day. Factor in $3 for activities and $5 for transportation and you’ve still got enough for a couple Bintangs at the end of the day.

Total cost: $30/day

I definitely could have saved a few dollars by eating local, taking motorbike taxis, and forgoing my private car hire for the day — but overall I found Bali to be pretty easy on the wallet.

Want more Bali info? Check out my other posts about the island here.

Ready to book your stay? I recommend Booking.com to find the best prices on accommodation. Click on this link to get $25 back after your first stay.


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