Pearl River Cruise (Guangzhou, China)

One of the top things to do in Guangzhou is to take an evening cruise up and down the Pearl River. Along the way, there’s the rainbow Canton tower, several lit up bridges, and even a set of no less than 13 buildings lit up like a single screen. This is a tourist activity that developers have clearly invested in!

Snow Mountain Tunnel (Taiwan)

If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from my trip to Taiwan, it’s that Taiwan knows its tunnels. The king of all its tunnels is this, the HsuehShan (Snow Mountain) tunnel between Taipei and Yilan, a 15-year, $2.83 billion construction project that opened in 2006.

The tunnel is 12.94km long, taking around 9 minutes to pass through at 90km/hour (I tested it out and clocked in at 9 minutes 26 seconds). Because the tunnel is so long, there are 2 dedicated FM radio channels to broadcast traffic conditions, announcements, and rules within the tunnel. Taiwan sure came a long way from the old hand-blasted tunnels of Taroko Gorge!

Qingshui Cliffs (Taiwan)

The Qingshui Cliffs are the best look out along the 40 km coastal highway north of Taroko National Park. The mountains drop directly into the sea, so the highway clings on the edge of the cliffs the entire way.

Fun fact: the Qingshui Cliffs are featured in the newly issued Chinese passports from 2012 on, which fanned the flames of the China-Taiwan political debate. But, as I read in another blog, given how big China is, that’s quite a testament to the beauty of the cliffs!

Taroko National park (Taiwan)

Taroko National Park is awe-striking not just in its beauty but also in its history. The park is located inland on the middle-eastern side of the island, an area that was only inhabited by indigenous tribes. Though governments throughout the years wanted to develop the area, it was notoriously difficult because of the steep, solid limestone and marble mountains.

In the 1950s, Chiang Ching-Kuo decided to build a cross-island highway through the area. This was desperately needed for Taiwan’s infrastructure, but Taiwan lacked the technology and ability to do it. They reached out for international help, and Japan responded that it could construct the highway for free, as long as it got to keep all of the rocks that were excavated.

Curious about the strange request, Taiwan did their own surveying and discovered that the area was rich in iron, gold, gemstone, and other mineral deposits. Whether they were ready or not, they decided, they were going to do the project themselves.

Retired veterans were recruited to build the 120-mile highway, digging around 14,000 feet of tunnels and moving 2.3 million cubic feet of rocks with little more than dynamite and pickaxes. Around 225 workers died in the process from landslides, falling rocks, and other dangers. They are remembered in a shrine near the entrance, a monument to them and this incredible feat of engineering.

In the decades since the highway was completed in 1960, Taroko National Park was formed, business and tourist traffic on the highway has greatly increased, and technology improved by leaps and bounds. Now, there are many modern tunnels and roads that bypass old sections that have collapsed or don’t have enough capacity. But there are still sections of the original tunnels that you can walk and drive through, marveling that all of it was done by hand.

Zhuilu Old Trail (Taroko Gorge, Taiwan)

Zhuilu Old Trail

One of the only things that I knew I wanted to do in Taiwan was hike the Zhuilu old trail in Taroko Gorge. It requires two permits, which were possible to apply for online but not exceptionally easy without a good grasp of (traditional) Chinese. But I managed to secure two spots for my dad and I.

The Zhuilu old trail was first commissioned in the early 1900s by the Japanese, who needed a path to access and manage the aborigines in the area. It runs across a cliff-face that is so tall and steep that the Japanese engineers refused, so they forced aborigines to carve it instead. In total, the construction of the trail costed 37 lives.

At the start of the trail, we were given blue helmets from the national park in case of falling rocks. The trail itself was not difficult or dangerous, though, until we got to the sheer cliff face. There, the carved out walkway was only 2 feet wide in parts. This is a place where nature neither planned nor wanted a trail!

It’s a shame that the trail has such sad origins, but now that it’s built, I’m glad that it’s still open to the public to enjoy.

Bagged fruit (Taiwan)

“In Taiwan,” said a guide, “all our fruit wears clothes.” Soft fruits like mangos and tomatoes are bagged at a key development phase in order to keep insects off and help the fruit grow bigger. It looks strange when you pass an orchard, but it obviously works because there’s nothing like the fruit in Taiwan!