All the great things you hear about Taiwan are true—from being one of the most underrated tourist spots in Asia to how well their government runs the island independent from China.
For most people who have been to Taiwan, you probably started in the capital of Taipei and took side trips to nearby districts like Yehliu, Shifen, and Jiufen. I did that too, but have you heard of a small coastal town called Dulan?
[Scroll to the bottom of this post if you’d rather watch the vlog.]
Where is Dulan and how did I end up there? Every year I go to a new country or city I’ve never been to before, preferably on my own. For 2019, it was Taiwan. After Taipei with my family, I decided to extend my stay and go somewhere else alone.
Some people close their eyes, point a random spot on the world map and say, “That’s where I’ll go!” My version: I Googled “where to go in Taiwan away from everything.” I read a lot of backpacker blogs and found Nick Kembel’s blog. This retired backpacker talked about a sleepy town called Dulan in Taitung (not to be confused with Taichung), where surfers, backpackers, and the artsy crowd congregate.
He mentioned Dulan’s Sugar Factory, which was built in 1916. After it closed in the ’90s, the area slowly transformed into a thriving artistic community called Sintung Sugar Factory Culture Park. You can explore the bars, art galleries, music studios, and cafés. There’s an event every Saturday night, from karaoke night to acoustic sets from local musicians. Sugar Factory was the deciding factor that made me pick Dulan for my yearly solo escape.
After exploring Taipei and its nearby districts with my mom and auntie, they flew back to the Philippines and I hopped on a train in Taipei Station, which took me to Taitung, five to six hours away.
From there I took the bus, tried my best to communicate with the driver who spoke no word of English (not even a yes or no), and prayed I got off the right road in Dulan. Most of the spots there aren’t found on Google maps, so I got by with a little help from the locals I befriended, expats fluent in Chinese, and backpackers who arrived there days to months before me.
With zero plans, I explored the coastal town of Dulan, which turned out to be one of the safest places I’ve ever traveled to. The town is so safe that hitchhiking is part of the norm—and for most travelers, on top of their Dulan bucket list.
With my Philippine passport, I had only two weeks of visa-free stay in Taiwan, so my time in Dulan was limited. I immersed in as much culture as I could, and learned a lot about traveling from the people I met, especially the volunteers that run The Travel Bug,
Aboriginal art and culture are very much preserved in this town. While it’s not exactly a secret spot anymore, Dulan hasn’t succumbed to a tourism nightmare. Thank goodness. There are no truckloads of tourists that populate the beaches and no major commercial establishments sans a convenience store a stone’s throw away from my hostel. Dulan has mostly mom-and-pop shops, quaint cafés, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.
I know I missed out by not surfing in Dulan (Does accompanying surfers count? See video below!), but my trip led me to take basic surfing lessons in Siargao, the surfing capital of the Philippines, months after. Now watch my Dulan vlog and see the friends I made, some of whom ended up going to the Philippines in early 2020.
I hardly scratched the surface of what this coastal town has to offer, so I’ll come back one day, when the pandemic is over and it’s safe to travel again.