Hualien is on the East Central Coast of Taiwan, and is a city with huge mountain ranges, as well as, a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean. I have been here once when I was little, but I have little to no memory of it.
We woke up, not very early, and bought a ticket for the fastest train down to Hualien. The train ride was about 2 hours. We were later told we were very lucky to have gotten seats on the day of. Because this particular train sells out very quickly, as it skips a bunch of stops and pretty much is an express for Hualien.
Of course, I can’t really blog about Taiwan without talking about the wonderful food!! This is a childhood favourite of pretty much any Taiwanese. They are train lunch boxes sold on the train, or in the stations. The prices of these range from 60NT to 110NT, depending on what’s inside. This particular yummy treat was in the 60NT category (that’s right, a little less than TWO DOLLARS!), get this for $2 in Canada you say? yeah, right! We were actually waiting for the sales person to come around with the lunch box, but over heard a lady sitting in front of us asking the garbage collector about them. The garbage lady said that they were selling from cart 8 (we were seated in cart 2) and could possibly sell out by the time they get to our cart. The lady in front of us asked the garbage lady to keep some for them, and we quickly followed suit. About 30 mins later, the lunch box cart came around, with 5 lunch boxes left. He stated that he had sold out around cart 6, but because we had asked to hold some, we were getting food! YEH! The lady in front of us actually wanted 4, but the lunch box guy forgot to ask how many to keep, and only kept 5. He ended up approaching us first, so we ended up with 2, and the lady in front ended up with 3. YEH again!
After 2 hours of train ride we stopped at Hualien station. The guest house that we had booked (through agoda) was actually in the sort of suburbs of the city. In a town call Jian, which did have a train station, but because it’s smaller, doesn’t get as many trains running to it as Hualien. We ended up hopping on to a local bus, after asking for directions from tourist info outside of the train station. The owner of the guest house was very impressed that we actually got to the guest house via bus instead of taxi. It’s probably worth it to mention that taxies are very cheap in Taiwan, but we decided to opt out of it as much as we can. Reason being we want to be real backpackers, and the other of course, is because we are cheap.
We were quite lucky that the guest house was near by a tourist spot (an ancient temple), so the bus stopped close to that area. We were also very lucky that there were a couple of ladies that wanted to be dropped off at the same stop. The bus stop was about 5mins walk from the guest house, we ended up going into a police station just to make sure we were on the right track.
This is the outside of the guest house. The guest house is call Kalianco Guest house, I’ve linked the agoda page, in case anyone is interested. I highly recommend this guest house if you are ever considering visiting Hualien. Yes it’s a little out of the way, but it was one of the best experiences I had. The guest house was a two building, four floor townhouse-ish building, and we were promptly greeted by the owner: Joey.
The guest house was super clean, and very quite. It wasn’t exactly high season for tourists around early March, so we were the only people in the building.
Outside lounge area. They even had a swing next to this seating area, which I fell off of…
The very friendly owner, Joey, greeted us and asked us what our plan was. As I have mentioned we didn’t do any detailed planning for this trip. For Hualien we really just wanted to see the famous Taroko Gorge, and that’s what we told him. He suggested that the Taroko Gorge was a one day trip thing, and since we arrived late (it was about 2:30PM by the time we got settled), we should save that for tomorrow. Then we told him where we were off to the next day…and got laughed at. So our plan and the way we booked the guest houses was to start in Hualien, then move on to Nantou, and then move down to Taitung. Here’s a map, to show you why we planned this way. Hualien and Nantou are circled on the map.
Why not right? They are right next to each other, right? Well…here’s a more realistic map of Taiwan.
Remember the huge mountain ranges I was talking about? well that’s circled in yellow. (Puli is a town in Nantou) Problem? Yeah, HUGE problem. Due to the steep mountain ranges, there is absolutely no safe passage to get to Nantou in a day, unless we were driving, even then it’d be a pretty treacherous road to drive on. There are no train tracks, and there are no buses. The only 2 ways to get from Hualien to Nantou is to either go down south to Pingtung, switch train and go up to Taichung, and then bus over to Nantou, or go up to Taipei again, and down to Taichung and bus to Nantou. Which would mean we would need to pretty much circle the island again to get back to Taitung, the day after. Yeah, it just wasn’t going to happen. Joey quickly helped us solve the problem. He offered to call the guest house in Nantou and explain the situation and see if they will be willing to push back our dates (instead of the second destination it would become our last destination). The other guest house, also laughing at our big mistake, agreed. We ended up extending our stay in Hualien for another night, so that we didn’t have to disturb any of the other bookings, and also Hualien seemed like a two night city.
After that was all sorted out, Joey suggested that for the rest of the day we should do a bike tour around the town of Jian. He took us to a near by bike shop that offered such service, and we went on a 10KM bike ride through the town of Jian.
The tour ended with this little gem. It’s the ancient temple I was talking about before. It’s a Japanese Buddhist temple left over by the Japanese. It’s actually very well kept, and had some interesting sights.
Here’s a sneak photo of our tour guide. He was showing us how to properly cleanse your hand with the water before you enter the secret grounds. He then showed us how tourists does it: doing it half ass and ending with a peace sign, and someone taking a photo.
This was one of the more interesting piece of display in the temple. I thought the explanation was really funny and so it stuck with me. So suppose this is a wishing stone. The characters on the stone is loosely translated as “hundred pass stone.” Why a hundred passes? Well, in order to make a wish, and for the wish to come true, one must circle this stone 100 times, while chanting their wish. It is apparently very very powerful, and is pretty much a genie. However, the tour guide goes on to explain, not many people are willing to make wishes, and not because of the circling of 100 times. But because, once your wish does come true, there is a custom of what we call 還願, which basically means giving thanks to the gods for granting the wish. This stone in particular, when you give thanks, there is also a ritual. You will need to circle the stone, backwards, not 100 times, but 1000 times. Yup! And that’s why people don’t make wishes.
After our hour long tour ended, we took some time and walked around the temple. It was about 6pm by the time we were done, and we were starved. We took a local map, and decided to venture to a, what seemed like, nearby night market for dinner. We ended up on an hour and half walk to seek out this elusive night market. By the time we got there it was 7 something almost 8, we nearly died.
We bought some fruit back to the guest house, this time via taxi. It took the taxi all but 7 mins to get us home…Yeah, we so smart.
The next morning we woke up to delicious breakfast provided by the guest house. It’s appropriate to note, we paid $57 for the first night, and 1600NT ($53) for the second night, for this amazing bed and breakfast guest house. And that’s per night, not per person! It blew us away how cheap it was, and how great the service was.
Joey suggested that we take a taxi down to Hualien station and purchase a ticket for the hop on hop off bus that circles around Taroko Gorge, and that’s what we did. The bus ticket was something like 250NT, while single rides costs 50NT per ride.
I did a drive by shot of the Taroko Gorge entrance gate. This was actually a point of drop off, but the next bus wouldn’t come until 30mins later, and we felt that it wasn’t worth spending 30mins on, so we decided not to get off.
Our First stop was Qixing Beach. In Chinese it’s actually “Seven Star Lake,” but it’s not a lake, it’s the Pacific Ocean we are looking at. The story goes that when it was first discovered, the water was so calm, and because of the little curve of the inlet, people mistook it for a lake.
The weather wasn’t particularly wonderful this day, but I love how the sun shines through the clouds. The beach of this “lake” isn’t filled with sand, but with round rocks, that are actually very famous in Hualien (some China lady got arrested for trying to take them home). When you stand at the beach and listen to the waves, it sounds like little people clapping when the wave washes away and moves the rocks around (I have a video posted on youtube <–click here)
We originally got off here for the slide show of the wonders of the forest, when we asked the park rangers when the next showing will be, he started a conversation and asked us were we were from. When we replied Canada, he promptly lead us into his office, and showed us his own personal slide show of pictures he took while working there for the past 20 or 30 years. One of which was of a truck. He told us a chilling story of how a rock had fallen from the mountains and struck this truck, crushing an old grandpa and his grand child to death. (and that’s why there are no roads connecting Hualien to Nantou). We ended up not watching the actual slide show, and decided we were going to walk to the next point of interest: Swallow Grotto
The path unfortunately was a set of stair cases going down hill (at least not up hill right?) but it wasn’t great for our knees. We ended up ending on to the highway of the mountain, and my friend refused to trek the last 1km on that highway to get to the Grotto. So we ended up waiting for the bus. Oh, I should probably note that these buses will actually stop in between stops if you wave them down, as long as it’s safe to stop.
Again I just could not capture the beauty of this place. Swallow Grotto is currently the most popular point of interest. It use to be “Tunnel of Nine Turns,” but that has been closed for years due to falling rocks.
Our last stop was this shrine: Changchun shrine. It was built in memories of those who had lost their lives tunnelling through the mountains, thousands of lives were lost in order to connect the east coast to the west.
We ended our day back in Hualien city centre, were we went to a proper night market, and found a shaved ice place. This was our dinner.
We later received a call from Joey, saying that he was in the city for some grocery shopping, and was wondering if we wanted a ride back home. What wonderful service.
The next morning, we woken again, to a delicious breakfast. Joey offered to take us to a lake near by for sightseeing, and would later drop us off at the train station, so that we can make our way down to Taitung.
This lake is call Koi Fish Lake, it’s not in the shape of a koi fish, nor do they have koi fish in the water, but was named because the mountain surrounding it was named Koi Fish Mountain, and that’s probably because it was shaped like a Koi Fish.
After the visit to the lake, Joey dropped us off at the train station and saw us off. It was probably one of the best experiences I have had at any vacation accommodation, and through out the entire trip, we kept talking about going back. Our standards were set amazingly high for the other places we stayed at, and with the exception of the one in Nantou, none had topped this experience.
All in all, Hualien is definitely a place worthy of a second visit. I didn’t expect how breath-taking this city would be, it was a pleasant surprised.
Next stop, Taitung.