My first week in Taiwan was pretty rush. I switched from a city to another city every two nights, it’s been pretty exhausting especially after hiking the Snow Mountain, I needed to slow down a bit. I had planned in advance that I wanted to do volunteering in Taiwan and I found a place in Hualien. So, for the next upcoming week I was staying in Hualien.
Pinned on the map right on the east coast of Taiwan, Hualien is home to the most scenic natural landscape of the country, the mighty Taroko Gorge. I definitely wanted to check it out but since I had enough time in Hualien, I’m not rushing it. I arrived by train from Yilan to Hualien and went straight to the hostel where I had signed up for volunteering. I was basically doing easy tasks like cleaning for three hours in exchange for accommodation then during my free time, either I explored the city or just chilling.
Hualien is a beautiful laidback city which I didn’t expect at all. I thought it would be busy and full of tourists roaming around before heading to Taroko Gorge, but it was the opposite. The city is surrounded by mountain ranges, on the coastline there are several parks and beaches where locals would have an afternoon stroll. A river cuts through in the middle of the city and bubble tea shops are almost everywhere! Let’s have a look at some point of interests that I’ve visited in Hualien.
1. Hualien Martyr’s Shrine
That day was beautiful, neither cloudy nor rainy, the sky was perfect instead. Done with my shift, I fought my laziness to go out and explore the city. When you know that you’ll be staying for a long time in a place you keep delaying and making excuses to yourself – you can always go the next day, better stay on the bed today. I got my maps ready, tied my shoelaces, put on my cap and took a big step out.
I was walking straight but my eyes were rolling to all directions, scanning all things that happened around me which I’d normally do in a new place. Then I saw this eye-catching building, from the look I was pretty sure that it was a temple. I walked up the stairs and entered the gate. Inside there are three similar buildings, left wing, main, and right wing I supposed. It looks more like a Korean Temple than Chinese. The doors were closed, which is a bit unusual and it was so quiet. I thought maybe it’s only opened on special occasion, so I left.
Second visit was with some friends from the hostel. “Try to have a peek inside”, a friend suggested me. I did but not even a second I got goosebumps allover my body. I saw many memorial tablets inside. Apparently it’s a memorial place for soldiers who had died after the civil war, not a temple. “Now you know why it’s so quiet and peaceful”, my friend added.
2. Pine Garden
Originally Pine Garden was an administrative office for Imperial Japanese Navy. An ashes-color- building with symmetrical arches on the wall sets beautifully in a garden of pine trees. The building is now used for events or exhibitions. I love the vintage look of the souvenir shops, roots crawling on the wall. The area was not so big, it didn’t take me long to look around and I could see the town and the ocean from here, since it’s on a higher land. One of the things to do in Hualien.
3. Beibin Park, Nanbin Park, and Dongdamen Night Market
Time flies. The day was almost ended but I managed to speed up and arrive in Beibin Park before sunset. The park was busy with locals exercising or family just enjoying their time. Beibin and Nanbin Park are actually on the same coastline. Bei means north and Nan means south.
It’d be too late for me to walk down to Nanbin Park so I settled in Beibin. The breeze was nice on the beach, not a spectacular beach but enough to make me stay until the sun set down. The sky glowed pink on that afternoon to evening time, beautiful. As the sun set down, the wind got stronger so I decided to leave or else I’d catch a cold.
What else should I do? Getting food at the night market sounds like a good plan but I was too tired after walking for the whole day. I walked back to the hostel and grabbed a takeaway on my way, turns out it became my favorite eating place after! The next evening I paid a visit to the night market.
The night market was bigger and way more organized than I thought. There’s a section for games like shooting balloons, and the rest was food and beverage. I jumped from one shop to another shop looking at the menu, there’re too many options however I finally followed the busiest line, it’s the famous coffin bread. I tasted it while watching street performers, it took me extra patient to eat the coffin bread cause it went all over my face. One thing that you shouldn’t miss while in Hualien is the scallion pancake, a must!
4. Qixingtan Beach and Qilaibi Lighthouse
It’s my off day! I was thinking of what should I do to spend my off day, Qixingtan Beach looks interesting, in fact it is one of the most popular tourist destination or things to do in Hualien. That day was pretty busy but nobody jumped into the water because of the strong tide. It’s not like that typical white sand beaches, instead dark pebbles beach, nevertheless the landscape is amazing, that’s what makes it special.
I followed the path and did a walk along the coast to Qilaibi Lighthouse. Looks like this path is not that popular, I didn’t see anyone doing this walk, well, I had some companions, the dogs. At some point the path broke in the middle, maybe the waves or typhoon did it. If it’s maintained again, it’d be a nice coast-walking. I had walked for an hour and finally reached the view point for the lighthouse. If the sky could be better, the backdrop of the mountains and the ocean would definitely make a perfect shot.
5. Exploring Taroko National Park
One of my highlight in this Taiwan trip is Taroko National Park. Pictures can’t show how amazing it is, you have to see them for real. I rent a scooter with a friend for NTD 400 and explored the area for the whole day. You can also get a one-day pass for the bus for NTD 250. We headed first to Wenshan Hotspring. This area is actually closed for visitors because it is unsafe due to unstable rocks around this area however my friend and I still went to Wenshan Hotspring and we didn’t regret at all.
The hotspring sits next to a river and the river is surrounded with this amazing white walls, like a canyon. A stream of water came out from the gap of the wall and flows into the pool. It was too boiling hot for me. I couldn’t stand that blistering pain from the heat. Just by the river, there’s also an area and once you dip in it, it’s actually pretty hot but still, bearable. Just like a puddle, an inch away from the river so you get both cold and hot in the same time, very fascinating.
The whole scenery in Taroko National Park left me speechless in awe. It’s unbelievable that this are used to be flat until the stream cuts in the middle and create the canyon. I really enjoyed riding my scooter on the winding road. There are may walks to do in Taroko Gorge unfortunately some of the are closed temporary until they fix the trails after being hit by typhoon. Some of the famous trails are: Shakadang, Changhun, and Baiyang Falls.
6. The Famous Zhuliu Old Trail
Hiking Zhuliu Old Trail requires permit. I thought it’d be easy to get the permit since it’s only a day hike so I decided to apply two days before the date I wanted to hike. Apparently it’s not that easy, some of the dates were full so I had to pick another date. First try I was rejected because my emergency contact was not reachable. They seriously gave a call. I was about to move to another city and still didn’t get my permit so I was nervous. Second try, they finally gave me the permit.
I paid the entrance fee for NTD 200, passed the gate, and crossed the swallow grotto. The trail is 6 kms return, not a difficult trail surrounded with beautiful tangling branches. After climbing the steps and passing some bridges, I finally found myself on a small path at cliff side and I was standing high. Below I could see the road and cars. There’s no barrier to prevent the fall, a mistake could kill. Definitely not the place for those who suffer acrophobia.
I was thrilled, my heart filled with excitement. The view was just terrific! There’s a sign suggesting the visitors to pass this outpost quickly and beware of fallen rocks. The path is narrow, even two people passing needs to be extra careful. Overall, I finished the walk safely in 4 hours including stopping for pictures. Thank you Hualien and Taroko National Park, you’re amazing!
Traveled in 17-24 November 2017
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