Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Round-up

Hope you all enjoying the holiday season - and that you will have time in 2012 to explore Taiwan more.

An end-of-year round-up:

Firstly, most trails/roads/cabins in most places open and in proper working order.

As usual, Yushan Main Peak Trail (from Tatajia) will close for the month of February for all hikers. Snow and ice on the trail will probably mean this being extended well into March.

The renovation of Paiyun Lodge (the main cabin on Yushan) is ongoing. Officially it is to open “after Chinese New Year”, I predict it will the summer at the earliest. We can still arrange single-day ascents (only for the fit and experienced) after the mountain reopens in March/April.

A much needed bus service between Sun Moon Lake and Alishan (via Tatajia) has been launched. Buses leave at 07:00 and 09:00. Single trip ticket: NT$307, return: NT614. More details later.

Repairs to bridges on the Walami Trail have been completed.

We’ve recently scouted out areas in the south damaged by Typhoon Morakot in 2009:
The Southern Cross-island Highway (#20, the ‘nan-heng’) remains closed to visitors between Meishan on in the west and Xiangyang on the east. There has been lots of work done to make the road passable, we hope it may open to some traffic in 2012.
The road to Tengjhih is passable but in rough shape. The Forest Recreation Area is scheduled to reopen in August.
Shanping will be closed to all visitors for at least another year or two.
Maolin and Wutai are open to visitors. Roads are generally in OK shape, lots of reconstruction work being done to roads and trails.

The wonderfully-located Tienchr Cabin reconstruction - on the Neng-gao (Cilai South) Trail is very close to completion. Should be open for use in the spring.

The highway running through Taroko Gorge is usually open. In the next few months expect delays occasionally at the east end of the Swallow’s Grotto (where there was a large landslide November 2011) and just west of Tianxiang.

Birders can look forward to the 2012 Dasyueshan (aka Anmashan) Bird Race on April 13 and 14th. As well as being one of the best places to bird in Taiwan, foreign teams qualify for free accommodation. Contact the bird society - or me for further advice.

Two useful and practical apps for traveling around Taiwan have been launched. Here and Taiwan Adventures.
Steve Crook’s handy Does and Don’ts in Taiwan is now available in Kindle format.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Second Asian Bird Fair, Tainan

The Second Asian Bird Fair, to be held in Tainan, is only a few days away (October 15-17).  I went (on scooter) in search of info on what will be going on.

This event is (rightfully) aimed mostly at Taiwanese visitors, thus the 'bilingual' official website here follows the Taiwanese highly-animated style. In other words not not to say.

The related Asian Bird Fair’s group website is here.

Saturday & Sunday

  • Various activities for adults and children at the recreational docks in Anping harbor 9am to 5pm.
  • Speeches, preformances, and discussion groups all day at the nearby stage and Jincheng Activities Center. Many of these will be by foreign bird group representatives - in English.
  • Free shuttle buses morning and afternoon from the Wuchi side of the bridge to birdwatching sites. Route A: Sicao ‘inland sea’. Route B: Sicao mangroves ‘green tunnel’. Route C: Cigu (Qigu). First registered gets the limited spaces.
On Monday there will be other activities for invited foreign guests. 

Pester me for more details. Hope to see you there. 

The bird race at Tataka (trailhead for Yushan) will be on November 12-13th. See the
ROC (Taiwan) Wild Bird Society for registration.

As of the start of October, there have been 11 Black-faced Spoonbills spotted in the Cigu area. If wanting a day-trip out there email me at

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nanhu Mountain

Nanhu Dashan (南湖大山)

If you ask 10 experienced Taiwanese high-mountain hikers which mountain is the most beautiful, 9 are likely to say ‘Nanhu’.

Taiwan’s fifth highest (3,742 meters) and the highest in the North-East. If you have climbed  any of the main peaks in Shei-pa (Snow) National Park you may have watched the sun rise from behind Nanhu and its formidable neighbor, Jhongyangjian Mountain.

The trailhead is 3 hours from Taipei City in southern Yilan County, quite close to Wuling Farm - the trailhead for Snow Mountain. The first day’s trail passes through lush mixed temperate and pine forest. On later days there are expansive views from alpine meadows of dwarf bamboo, juniper and rhododendron. At the higher sections the paths traverse craggy cliffs next to enormous landslides, ending in the glacial cirques these mountains are famous for.

More photos here.

Nanhu is only suitable for the more experienced and well-prepared hiker prepared to invest between 4 and 8 days (doing a loop including Jhongyangjian). If time-limited or if there is a a lot of snow present, consider making Nanhu North Peak your target - thus avoiding the trickier fixed-rope sections before the final peaks. Less experienced hikers should consider other peaks elsewhere such as Snow Mountain, Hehuan, Cilai South etc.

I can assist in arranging logistics for this area (serious hikers only): permits, cabin booking, and booking the direct shuttle from Taipei (getting off right at the trailhead).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Paiyun Lodge - not ready yet...

Paiyun Lodge (排雲山莊) is the only significant accommodation along the trail up Yushan (Jade Mountain) from Tataka (Tatajia). An old structure, it worked well when there were few hikers climbing Yushan. In recent years its basic facilities and modest capacity were deemed insufficient for modern climbers.

From September 2010 it has been closed and undergoing reconstruction. Real progress has been made, but many factors mean it is slow. Multiple deadlines for completion have passed. My latest prediction for it operating normally is sometime between spring and fall 2012. Please note, this is not the official line, but is based on personal observations and conversations with many individuals.

As it was late September 2011. More images here

Prior to Paiyun being completed and opening there are essentially 2 options for those wishing to summit Yushan’s main peak. Single-day ascent, and camping at Yuan-fong. Both are tough and only suitable for the hiking-fit and experienced.

There are one or two irresponsible individuals that will boast that that these options are ‘easy’ or ‘anyone can do it’. I (as someone that regularly guides hikers to the top) want to make it clear that this is nonsense for most people. Yes, some some very fit people can run up and down it in a day without a problem, for most it is extremely exhausting and potentially dangerous.

Yushan Main Peak (via Tataka/Tatajia) will, as usual, probably be closed for the month or two around Chinese New Year. Not announced yet (wish they would plan ahead...never do), but probably January, February, maybe March. Even if open around then, there may be extra restrictions or requirements for crampons, helmets, ice-axes etc.

The longer routes into remoter parts of the National Park are opening up after the damage caused in 2009’s Typhoon Morakot. Mapo Cross-Island, the Southern Second Section, and Hsin Kang (Xinkang) Routes are now open - special case applications needed. Batongguan Cross-island is still closed. The Walami Trail should reopen within the month. I hear (haven’t personally been there recently) conflicting reports about the condition of the trail near Guanggao - some say it os OK, some say it is lethal.

Look further north in Taiwan for better trails at the moment.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fall & Winter 2011 Open Hikes.

Scheduled guided hikes (open to anyone) in the next months.

Full Moon Festival long weekend.
Join us for 1,2 , or 3 days for fun hiking in Taroko Gorge for Mid-Autumn Festival. As well as checking out most of the main sights (Shakadang, Eternal Spring Shrine, Swallow’s Grotto, Lyushui-Heliou Trail, Tianxiang etc) we will focus on one or two excellent trails. Last-minute arrivals welcome. All you have to do is to take the bus/train to Taroko, be ‘reasonably’ fit, and possess sensible walking clothes/shoes.

Day 1. Saturday September 10th: Wenshan-Lyushuei Trail, easy 4-7hours. Plus lots of main gorge sights.
Day 2. Sunday September 11th: Zulun Mountain 1599 meters elevation, 5-7 hours hiking. Not far from the Lotus Pond and the trail to the Jhucun/Meiyuan Trail. Plus lots of main gorge sights on the way up/down. Option to ride bicycles back down to guesthouse.
Day 3. Monday September 12th (a public holiday in Taiwan) Dali-Datong Trail: I will be doing the moderately hard route. Option available for those wanting a tougher option - and a very easy stroll. Finish with a little rivertracing.

Price NT$ 2,400 per day or $ 5,900 for the 3 days. Includes: shuttle from Taroko (aka Xincheng/Sincheng) Train Station, good nearby guesthouse accommodation, breakfast//dinner/snacks, local transport - and me guiding throughout. As well as the general, fun stuff, I will be focusing on the flora and fauna of Taroko.

Note, reserved train seats the whole way to Taroko/Hualien that weekend will be very difficult to book. Better to take Kamalan Bus from Taipei to Yilan or Luodong, and then local train to Xincheng. It works - quick and cheap too.

General Gorge photos.

October 10th National Day Long Weekend.
Similar to Full Moon weekend above, but hopefully including Jhueilu (Vertigo) and Baiyang Trails. October 8/9/10.

American Thanksgiving TBA

November Sunday 27th Yushan Single-day Main Peak hike.
We travel to the trailhead the 26th from cities on the west coast. Can be back in Taipei etc on 27th night. As the single-day option is only suitable for the hiking-fit. See previous posts as to why 2-day options etc are not possible. Repeat only for those in above average condition. Must be arranged well in advance.

Snow Mountain December 2, 3, 4.
We will travel via the west coast and Taipei to Wuling Farm. Standard route to Taiwan’s second highest mountain. Backup destination (should permits prove hard to get) may be Nanhu Mountain - Taiwan’s most beautiful mountain according to 90% of Taiwan hikers. Book early.

New Year Taroko - main gorge and fantastic viewpoint sunset/sunrise hike.

Friday December 30th. General great stuff in the gorge. Stay in guesthouse.
Saturday December 31st. Solid 3-6 hour hike via the remote Dali Village to almost the summit of Liwu Mountain. That night we will sleep in the local aboriginal chief’s house - simple, no electric, but warm quilts in dorm-style rooms, good food, and fantastic views.
Sunday January 1st. Arise and walk 15 minutes to the ridge - at 1,200 meters elevation, and similar horizontal distance from the Pacific Ocean. Hard to imagine a more stunning place to welcome the new year in. Hike 3-5 hours via Datong Village down to the Shakadang Trail and back to the gorge proper.
Other Taroko Tours can be arranged for the unfit/lazy/on a different level.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Taiwan trails, roads, bridges, birds - and Yushan.

Taiwan trails, roads, bridges, birds - and Yushan.

No typhoons!?! Not a bad summer - so far. Tip of the day: The best time for hiking in Taiwan is spring and fall but usually ANY month is excellent somewhere.

Work on the entrance to the Baiyang Trail and Wenshan Hotsprings in Taroko Gorge seems to be progressing smoothly. The tunnel entrance for Baiyang (currently accessible from a new trail starting behind the protestant church in Tienxiang) will be enclosed in a rock slide tunnel. Could be finished this year. The large concrete bridge near the waterfall was destroyed last month, work to replace it (with something less substantial) is likely to start soon. The trail will be closed for the second half of August 2011 to allow the cliffs to be ‘swept’ (刷坡) of loose rocks and railings replaced.
Also reportedly soon (maybe this year) to reopen are the Wenshan Hotsprings.
Have updated earlier comments on Taroko options.

The Southern Cross-island Highway (Number 20) remains closed at its highest section following Typhoon Morakot in 2009. The highway department has officially announced it will not ‘rebuild’ it but attempt to ‘maintain’ it.
Residents of Namaxia (formerly Sanming) in Kaohsiung fear the section of Highway 20 from Jiaxian northwards will not be fully rebuilt. Currently the road is passable.
The section of road from Wutai to Ali will not be rebuilt. This is effectivly the end for the village of Ali. The old forest roads/hiking trails beyond here, leading to the mountains around the ghost lakes remain utterly impassable.

Highway 21 between kilometer 121 and 145K (essentially between Tatajia and Dongpu) will only be open to traffic between 7am and 5:30 pm for the immediate future. This is due to unstable road conditions in this area. This may be relevant to hikers coming off Yushan and hoping to soak sore legs in Dongpu’s hot springs. If needing further information (in Chinese), phone the relevant roads office at 049-2791511. Road to Alishan (and on to Chaiyi etc) usually open to most vehicles.

Another bird race is to be held on November 12th and 13th at Tatajia - the trailhead for Yushan, 20km from Alishan. If wanting to compete, contact Elva at the Wild Bird Society, or me (will accept absolute novices on my team).

The Walami Trail is closed until mid November to allow for repairs on the first couple bridges on the trail after Nanan. Should be on schedule.

All Shei-pa National Park trails seem to be open. My earlier musings on the proposed rebuilding of Banan Cabin (to the south of Daba) were sadly wrong. There are no plans to replace this beautifully-located shelter.

A reminder: The only, sort-of, sensible options for getting to Yushan’s summit at the moment is either a single-day ascent from Tatajia, or camping at the high up Yuan-fong campsite/small cabin. In my opinion the single-day is preferable. If wanting a simple, fun, hiking experience consider other mountains.

When applying (paper/snail-mail option only) for permits, hikers must prove experience at on a high mountain. Proof - in the form of photos of you on a serious summit (or in snow...) seems to do the trick. Most hikers will start hiking at 2 or 3am from Tatajia (the highway, not the trailhead proper - handy van shuttle not possible) and return very tired between 2pm and 7pm. The National Park has the sensible, and enforced, rule that hikers must make it to Paiyun Lodge before 10am - or not be allowed further up the mountain.

This is all due to Paiyun Lodge still being unfinished. My prediction (based on discussions with numerous relevant people, and dependant on typhoons/snow/acts of humans) is that the cabin will not be effectively operating until spring 2012.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hehuan Mountain's Best

Hehuan (or sometimes ‘Hohuan’) is one of Taiwan’s best high mountain hiking areas. Being so accessible, sometimes we forget how high it is - how many good hikes are there - and how good the the views usually are.
  • Located in the center of Taiwan, with some luck you can have views of both Snow Mountain and Yushan by just turning your head 180 degrees.
  • Less than 2 hours drive, from the end of Freeway 6 at Puli, or from world-class Taroko Gorge.
  • The well-maintained road, makes this a great way to cross the island - slowly please!
  • Various accommodation options not far away.
Best hikes - from very easy to fairly tough.
Shihmen Mountain. By far the easiest of Taiwan’s ‘Top 100’ peaks. Everyone must stroll up this one.
Hehuan Main Peak. Even easier, can be great for sunsets.
Hehuan Jian (Pointy). A fun climb, up and over.
Hehuan East Peak. More like a proper ‘Top 100’.
Xiao (Small) Cilai. A different feel, some forest, some ‘Sound of Music’ spots.
Hehuan North. Really feel you are climbing a mountain.
Hehuan West. A full day (and night maybe) of great hiking and climbing.
Bilu. A perfect overnighter.
Also: Cilai, Pingfong, and Yangtou nearby... 

Bilu summit.

Looking towards Taroko.
Picnicing on Small Cilai
Coming down Hehuan North

Songxue Lodge...well for a few weeks a year anyway, sometimes.

A couple other points:
  • Stick to established route, feel free to reprimand those that wander of - tramping the vegetation.
  • The highest point that you can drive at Hehuan (and Taiwan) is ‘Wuling’ Pass. This has nothing to do with ‘Wuling’ Farm, the trailhead for Snow Mountain hours drive away!
  • Enjoy some of Taiwan finest endemic birds and plants at close range. Feel free to contact me (Richard) if needing help in touring Hehuan etc.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Top Taroko Gorge Hikes

My (current) 5 favorite Taroko Gorge Hikes:

Located on the east coast of Taiwan, Taroko Gorge has lots of great sights to enjoy. As well as the very easy stuff, there are several superb hikes starting from the main part of the gorge.

The Vertigo (Jhuilu/Zhuilu) Trail. 3 to 8 hours.

Dali-Datong Villages. 8 hours to 3 days.
Jhucun-Meiyun Villages. 6 hours to 2 days.

Tienxiang to Baiyang Waterfall. 4 to 7 hours.

Wenshan to Lyushui. 5 hours to 2 days.

Top tip: Have a bicycle waiting - freewheel back to your guesthouse!

And 5 easy strolls:

Eternal Spring Shrine. Remember the nice 30 minute loop up and around.

Lyushui-Heliou. 30 pleasant minutes on a trail with a bit of everything.

Swallow’s Grotto, or Tunnel of Nine Turns. 20 minutes very easy strolling - if/when open.

Tienxiang Temple. Various stunning views 10 minutes hike up.

Shakadang Trail. 20 minutes can become several hours next to this lovely river.

My comprehensive guide book to Hiking in Taroko Gorge is coming out in Christmas 2012. Of course, in the meantime, I can set up the required logistics for all these trails. Richard

Now arranging Taiwan trail running packages. 

Click here for more photos: 
Remember, conditions in Taiwan’s mountains are always changing. Recently: Loose rocks above the Swallow’s Grotto. Final concrete bridge before Baiyang Waterfall badly damaged. Take care, have fun, be sensible!

...and sorry for this horrible blog making me lose my hair!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Taiwan Lepidoptera.

Taiwan Lepidoptera. That is - Taiwan Butterflies and Moths.

Friends of mine will be aware I have fallen somewhat for butterflies and moths in the last few years. Heartfelt thanks to the individuals (you know who you are) responsible for sparking my interest.

Taiwan is a superb place for enjoying all sorts of insects. I have been slowly adding and organizing photos to this album Taiwan Butterflies, and here Taiwan Moths.

Taiwan has:
115 species of Lycaenidae (灰蝶科, Gossamer-winged)
67 species of Hesperiidae (弄蝶科 Skipper)
36 species of Pieridae (粉蝶科 Whites and Sulphurs)
137 species of Nymphalidae (蛺蝶科 Brush-footed)
37 species of Papilionidae (鳳蝶科 Swallowtail)

An absolutely excellent site for images of Taiwanese butterflies (in various stages) following this classification is The main text is in Chinese but still very usable by all. On the main page click on the butterfly icon or the characters 圖鑑 to bring you into the main family index. This link should lead to a superb main visual index page. The red link on the top left is to species that still need photos - not many!

I hope, one day, my images will be sorted like this

An interesting effort by the [Taiwan] National Museum of Natural Science to help butterfly identification,

The Taiwan butterfly checklist. May 2011 pdf from the Butterfly Conservation Society of Taiwan.
Field Guides:
Nothing great in English yet. These Chinese-language books have excellent photos and scientific names, and have proved very useful to non Chinese-reading clients.
For insects in general, this set of two books are excellent.
A small pocket-sized guide to the top 133 butterfly species.
The most comprehensive Taiwan butterfly field guide.

If you have further advice (or need advice), email me, Richard, at Also, I delighted to get out my binoculars, camera, and mercury vapor lights for any feeble reason. Tours all round the Butterfly Kingdom!

Images above:Troides magellanus from
Ailanthus silkmoth (Samia cynthia) a saturniid moth. Wingspan of 120 mm.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taroko (and Yushan) Spring 2011 updates.

Taroko (and Yushan) Spring updates.

Yushan (Jade Mountain): The official line is that Paiyun Cabin will be open from the end of July. Based on conversations with people who should know, I don’t believe this. I predict maybe a reopening at the very end of this (2011) year. Edit August 2011: best prediction will open spring 2012. Note very tough single-day ascents are still available now...when the mountain opens in the next few days.

Sometimes there is not always time to arrange last minute high-mountain hiking trips. You can’t go wrong with Taroko Gorge for a great range of sights, hikes and nature. See here for some recent photos.

Taroko Trail conditions at the start of April 2011, starting from the eastern ‘start’.
Original map here.

Qingshui (Chingshui) Cliffs at Chungde (崇德步道) 176.4km mark, right after the first tunnel north along the coast. Open.

Dekalun Trail (得卡倫步道). Up the hill behind the National Park headquarters. Open.

Dali-Datong Trail (大禮大同步道) Long, scenic single-day, or couple days. Open.

Shakadang (砂卡礑步道). A very pleasant must-do hike, starts after tunnel not far from National Park HQ. Open.

Eternal Spring Shrine Trail (Changchun, 長春祠步道). An absolute must-do sight. Do the 40-minute loop hike up above the shrine exiting at the nearby Changuang Temple. Few people get beyond the car park. Usually open.

Buluowan Trail (布洛灣-燕子口步道). A good steep path to use down to the main highway - especially if staying at the Leader Hotel. Open.

Swallow’s Grotto Trail (Yanzihkou, 布洛灣-燕子口步道). A very easy stroll that should NOT on any account be missed. Usually open, occasionally closed due to loose falling rocks.

Jhuilu (Vertigo) Trail (錐麓古道) is now open its entire length. Unbeatable! See pictures. Needs both kinds of permits.

Tunnel of Nine Turns Trail(Jiuqudong, 九曲洞步道). A stunning, easy stroll. Currently closed due to rockfalls, a very short section on the western end is sometimes open but is often plagued with tourists from China nowadays.

Lyushui-Heliou Trail (綠水步道). A very pleasant 1-hour loop. The short tunnel is just about manageable without a flashlight. Open - and don’t worry about the signs warning you about snakes and hornets - not a significant worry.

Lyushui - Wenshan Trail (綠水文山步道) A recently reopened trail. Moderatly tough - at start and end some scrambling, and requires/deserves 4 to 5 hours. Permit required but easy to obtain from the the NP police (warden) station at the park headquarters or at Tienxiang (the station on the left going up the hill towards the protestant church...across the street from the regular police station!)

Baiyang Trail (白楊步道). A very, very nice trail, CLOSED due to damage to mountainside at entrance next to highway. Tougher alternative route now available - see below.

Tianxiang - Baiyang Trail (天祥─白楊步道). Recently reopened access to the Baiyang Trail. Toughish and potentially risky in places. Trail starts from the protestant church in Tienxiang village. Please get a permit (easy) from the nearby police station. Easy walking once you get to the original trail that ends at the fun ‘Water Curtain tunnel’. If possible bring a flashlight for the tunnels. Allow 5-6 hours. Edit August 2011: may be closed close to waterfall due to missing bridge and reconstruction work.

Wenshan Hot Springs (文山溫泉). Officially closed for the last few years, park officials suggest it will reopen this year.

Meiyuan Jhucun Trail (梅園竹村). Great 6-hour, fairly-flat path. Officially closed due to landslide damage after the turn of for Lianhua Pond. Usually passable.

Lianhua Pond (Lotus, 蓮花池步道). A very nice 3-hour round hike starting and ending at Huitouwan (6km beyond Tienxiang Village. Don’t get too distracted by the views and walk of the edge. Open.

In addition to these trails, I recommend the following:
The ornamental entrance gate.
In the mid section of the gorge look up and try to spot the Jhuilu Trail - best at eastern end of the Tunnel of Nine Turns.
Take in the splendid Feng-shui of the pavilion at Cimu bridge.
Walk over the suspension bridge next to the Yuefei Pavilion. (The trail on the other side is the end of the very tough 7-8 day Cilai East Ridge Trail that starts at Hehuan Mountain.)
Tienxiang Terrace hike across the bridge and up to the statue and Xiangde Temple.

Remember trail conditions are always changing. Recently delays just after (west of) Eternal Spring Shrine - traffic allowed through on the hour and at lunchtime/morning/evening. Currently no delays at the rockslide after Tienxiang.

Rihang, the owner of Country Garden Hostel in Xincheng at the edge of the gorge May 2012 update - new location, even better place. Click here. has been impressing us with his eagerness to help. His clean hostel/homestay is conveniently located 10 minutes walk (can also pick you up) from Taroko (aka Sincheng/Hsincheng/Xincheng) Train Station. Overall good service - as well as accommodation, transport, and food - he has bicycles to rent. Consider his offer to drive you up to Tienxiang (Tiensiang) or Huitouwan by van and then letting you freewheel the whole way down again - a superb way to see the gorge at you own pace, solving the problem of a proper public bus service. Other fancier accommodation can be arranged.

Accommodation NT$900 per/person private rooms. Includes breakfast.
Bicycle rental (hostel guests or day-visitors) NT$350/ day.
Bicycle rental + shuttle to Tienxiang NT$700 (very good value!)
Contact Rihang at 0922938743 Some English spoken, if having communication problems speak to me at 0938337710 or

Note the 8:40 bus from Hualien to high-mountain Lishan (via the gorge, Tienxiang, Guanyuan, and Dayuling) stops briefly 9.30 at the nearby Sincheng (Xincheng) school. Also buses at 6:30, 10:50, 13:50 from Hualien City (orange building next to train station) take 1.5 hours to Tienxiang. Return leaves Tienxiang at 9:10, 14:00, 16:40, 18:30. Pathetic service considering this is such a top destination for visitors.

For most of the time the gorge is quiet and empty...except when the Chinese tourists arrive on mass. Almost all their tour buses seem to arrive at the main easy sights (Swallow’s Grotto, Eternal Spring Shrine) mid to late afternoon. Be aware.

Recently Chinese (from China that is) tour groups have been booking up train spaces from Yilan to Hualien or Taroko (Sincheng/Xincheng/Hsincheng) to avoid the (un-)fun part of the Su-hua highway. It can be difficult to secure guaranteed train seats if coming from Taipei. Please note: just because there are “no seats available” that does not mean you can’t buy a ticket - and then with a bit of luck find a seat to use for most of the journey. It is possible to get on any train (except the 'Taroko express' and 'tourist' trains) without reserved seats. A trick locals use is to take the bus from Taipei (main bus station, Gamalan Bus Co) to Yilan (either Yilan City, Luodong or Dongshan) and then catch the next local train onwards. As well as saving money and time (bus is quicker...via the Hsueshan Tunnel), it means, at very worst, you may only have to stand a shorter time on the final Yilan to Hualien/Taroko section. No reason for not just going to Taroko again!