Slow travel in Eastern Taiwan: Ecotourism in Hualien and Taitung’s indigenous villages
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
In November of 2019, I was invited to participate in a media tour organized by The Alliance Cultural Foundation (公益平台文化基金會). The tour was designed to promote the development of two rural townships in Eastern Taiwan: Changbin and Fenbing (known collectively as “Shuangbin” 雙濱.) Although these indigenous areas were experiencing an aging population due to limited job opportunities, members of the tribe’s younger generation have recently returned to their villages, leading the development of their community and simultaneously preserving their tribe’s culture through tourism. Read below to be inspired by the youth’s conservation efforts and to explore these unique ecotourism opportunities in Eastern Taiwan.
New Hope Plaza 長光部落新希望廣場
Shuangbin is an area in Taiwan known for its exotic, pickled foods. For members of the Ciwkangan* (Changguang 長光) clan - a member of the Amis tribe - the town’s history, legends, and culture are preserved through the tradition of pickling food. In this aging, indigenous town, a young woman by the name of Panay has been diligently working to continue her family’s food traditions. A member of the Ciwkangan tribe, Panay recently returned to her hometown with the mission of reviving her community. Through her restaurant, she is not only creating new job opportunities for local youth, but she is also enabling the tribe’s matriarchs to realize their full potential as carriers of the town’s food traditions.
Visitors can experience the local culture, dig deep into the town’s history, and contribute to the town’s revival efforts by tasting delicious, preserved creations at Panay’s restaurant located at New Hope Plaza. Don’t miss the fermented boar nigiri- a true local dish!
*Note: The Ciwkangan clan was previously referred to as the Shikeng (石坑) clan.
Kai Yao, King Kong Boulevard’s local tour guide 凱耀
Like most indigenous youth from rural, Eastern Taiwan, Kai Yao grew up with big city dreams. With the ambition of becoming a major league baseball player, Kai Yao left his hometown at a young age and moved to Taiwan’s urban cities to pursue his sports career.
Fate then brought him back to his roots. After suffering a sports-related injury, Kai Yao took a break from baseball and returned home to Changbin. While helping his father tend to his farming duties, Kai Yao awoke to the potential problems facing his hometown’s agricultural-dependent, aging population.
On a whim, he decided to throw himself into Changbin’s farming society, hoping to single-handedly revive his hometown.
After immersing himself in Changbin’s farming community, Kai Yao now promotes his hometown to visitors with a rich tour of Changbin’s prized King Kong Boulevard, serving as a humorous and passionate tour guide that introduces Changbin through its history, culture, and farming methods.
Contact Kai Yao:
More about King Kong Boulevard:
King Kong Boulevard is a flat, scenic road that has become a hot spot for tourists in recent years. The must-visit spot was aptly named after the towering, “King King Mountain” that towers over the boulevard and resembles a gorilla figure believed to protect the people of Taitung’s East Coast. Terraced rice fields known as the “Changguang Terraced Fields” line both sides of the boulevard, and one can see the Hai’an (Coastal) mountain range towards the West and the Pacific Ocean on the horizon towards the East. With no poles and no buildings in sight - except for a small pavilion for resting - King Kong Boulevard provides the perfect photo opportunity with its idyllic scenery.
Every May, the “Double Waves King Kong Marathon” is hosted here. It is during this time of the year when the rice crops are ready for harvesting. The rice’s golden ears sway in the wind, creating “golden waves” that complement the Pacific Ocean’s blue waves, attracting both athletes and tourists who wish to stroll, drive, or bicycle through the picturesque scenery.
Changbin’s Main Street:
Take it slow with a stroll through Changbin’s developing “downtown” area:
Just 700 meters from Provincial Highway 11’s 86K marker, visitors can get a taste of Changbin’s true local flavor. In the early mornings, the smell of fresh vegetables from the indigenous diet, as well as the “Innas’” (Aunties’) preserved foods permeate the air of the wet market. Throughout the day, street vendors also sell unique snacks, fresh seafood, and sashimi. Fruit stalls that also sell homemade bread are a big hit with tourists, and visitors can pull up a chair anywhere on the side of the road to chat with the tribe’s friendly elders.
Changbin’s main road is also home to a bookstore, a bakery, coffee shops, and even a bar opened by a young indigenous woman who returned home, bringing new life to the small town of Changbin.
Featured vendors on Changbin’s Main Street:
Opened by Gao Yaowei, a man from Tainan who pursued his “second life” and dream to open a bookstore in his 40’s in Changing. He hopes to encourage the small town to read more, and to encourage locals to find their inspiration from books. The store is an interwoven part of the community, as the owner provides water (free of charge) to his neighbors and allows children to rest and read books at his store.
To make ends meet, he often returns to Tainan to work. He developed a “Monthly Store Manager” model in which he gives the locals a chance to experience managing a bookstore. The managers gain managerial experience while enjoying room and board in exchange for their labor.
A bar opened by an indigenous youth who recently returned to her hometown. She makes cocktails with millet wine.
Features local, hand-made brown sugar.
A local, no-menu restaurant charging $500/person
A local bakery on Changbin’s main street.
A mobile coffee shop, often found in front of Book Porridge Bookstore.
Address: Check their Facebook page for their weekly location
A brunch restaurant by day and lively bar by night.
Bagelang Boathouse Restaurant 巴歌浪船屋餐廳
“Bagelang” is the name of the Amis tribe’s final ritual during their celebrations. During Bagelang, members of the Amis tribe gather by the river or in the sea to catch fish with nets, a ritual that symbolizes washing away life’s troubles and starting anew.
In Changbin, a tribe member by the name of Ha’wang is known for his sultry voice and musical compositions that became popular songs sung during tribal celebrations. In 2001, Ha’wang returned to his hometown and pursued his dream of opening Bagelang Boathouse Restaurant, featuring the seaside diet of Changbin’s Amis people. With no menu, the restaurant serves the fresh catch of the day, beautifully displayed on natural driftwood.
Four years ago, his dream was complete when his son, Li Ai, also returned to his hometown to help run the restaurant. Together, the father-son duo found their confidence to continue their tribe’s legacy, teaching the world about the Amis people through food at their hometown restaurant.
Herdor Bistro 禾多小酒館
The Chinese word “Herdor” (禾多) has a double meaning for A’xiang (阿翔) the owner of Herdor Bistro. Interpreted literally, it means “too much rice.” Initially, the inspiration for opening the restaurant came from a surplus of rice that A’xiang didn’t want to see go to waste. When the Chinese characters for “Herdor” are combined (移), it represents A’xiang’s desire to provide a deep travel experience for visitors to his restaurant and the Changbin area (他希望旅客"移"動到花東時, 不要走馬看花).
A’xiang married into a local, indigenous family, and encourages visitors to experience Changbin’s local people, places, and things. To further this effort, he opened Herdor Bistro to provide a place to serve indigenous food. He also curated a camping area in front of the restaurant, fully equipped with restrooms, running water, a swimming pool and even massages provided by Father Wu, a Swiss missionary who opened a massage school to empower Taitung locals.
With a passion for design, A’xiang meticulously built Herdor Bistro from storage containers, and added a deck with a 180-degree view of the Huadong valley, as well as glass walls.
The delicious food is served by the Makerahay Restaurant, (真柄壹號倉) an indigenous restaurant located in the nearby Sanjian village that not only caters events at Herdor Bistro, but also offers immersive tours of their village at their colorful Sanjian location.
Tel: (08) 983-2397
Address: No. 58-2, Zhenbing, Neighborhood 3, Sanjian Village, Changbin Township, Taitung County (台東縣長濱鄉三間村3鄰真柄58-2號)
High Mountain Forest Base 高山森林基地:
Explore the outdoors with the Bunun tribe
Unlike Taiwan’s coastal Amis tribe, the Bunun tribe (布農族) was originally based high up in Taiwan’s mountains. During the Japanese colonial period, one clan was pushed out of the mountains and into Fengbin’s coastal valley. Although the tribe adapted to their new environment, visitors can immediately appreciate the unique cultural differences of the Bunun tribe thanks to Xiao Ma (小馬), the grandson of the tribal leader who decided to settle at the High Mountain Forest Base. Visitors can learn about the Bunun tribe’s lifestyle through outdoor activities like tree climbing, archery, camping, and even tightrope walking.
With a belief that the forest is the tribe’s (and people’s) best companion, Xiao Ma strives to bring visitors back to nature, offering outdoor experiences that form a connection between visitors and the natural world.
Other sustainable vendors in the Shuangbin area
Stone Ladder Kiln 石梯窯 小圓陶藝
The Stone Ladder Kiln is the only pottery workshop one will find in Fengbin township. Started by a city girl from Taiwan’s capital, Hou Xiaoyuan (侯小圓) left Taipei after breaking up with her boyfriend, losing her job, and losing her general direction in life. She first tried her hand in the tea business, selling tea in Taitung’s Luye and Dulan towns.
She eventually landed in Fengbin, where she found herself again through her love of pottery. 63.5 kilometers off of Provincial Highway 11 in the Huadong valley, she built her very own wood-fired kiln against the backdrop of the East Coast’s blue sky and green trees. Ms. Hou named her workshop after her kiln’s resemblance to an ascending ladder. The shape of her kiln also resembles a natural landmark in Fengbin known as “Shitiping,” a coastal area featuring a natural staircase of eroded stone.
The Stone Ladder Kiln offers an artist-in-residence program, inviting artists to explore their creativity and gain experience running a pottery shop all while incorporating Fengbin’s natural environment.
At Sinasera 24, you can dine with a Michelin-trained chef who worked in France and returned to his motherland to empower and connect his community. The word “Sinasera” means “mother earth” in the Amis language, and 24 is the number of solar terms that make up the lunar year.
Chef Nick Yang previously served as the only Taiwanese chef at Le Petit Nice - Gérald Passedat, a three-Michelin starred restaurant famous for its seafood in Marseilles. Nick wanted to continue creating French cuisine with seasonal and local ingredients, and thus chose Hualien as the place to open his own restaurant. Featuring a seasonal menu curated with natural farming techniques, Sinasera 24 serves culinary dishes that tell the story of Taiwan's Hualien county, showcasing local ingredients that can be found nowhere else in the world.
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment if you have any questions about the vendors mentioned in this blog post, or about Taiwan in general.