Ask any local Taiwanese what their favourite place in Taiwan is, and many will give you the same answer – Hualien.
Hualien is a three hours drive or two and a half hours train ride from Taipei, and is one of those must-visit places if you have a few days to spare – It is so far removed from Taipei’s city life and absolutely scenic and gorgeous.
As I was so privileged to be in Taiwan for a FANCL press event last month, I took the opportunity to extend my time in Taiwan and decided I HAD to see Hualien!
From beautiful cliffs and gorges at Taroko National Park to the maginificent sea view along the East Coast, I spent an unforgettable two days in Hualien together with my guide and driver Ivan who brought me off the beaten path as we traversed “Do Not Enter” signs and climbed down unmarked paths to seek out the most beautiful and isolated spots around Hualien!
It was an unforgettable experience and made all the more memorable with the enthusiasiam and great hospitality of my guide, Ivan!
I only had two days to spend in Hualien – which is the minimum number of days I would recommend for Hualien. Even with two entire days in Hualien, you’d barely touch the tip of the ice berg because Hualien has so much to offer!
Getting A Local Guide/Driver
First of all, I highly recommend visiting Hualien with a local guide. Hualien is huge and you definitely need a mode of transport when travelling in Hualien. Some people choose to just hire a “driver”, who will ferry you around from place to place, but thanks to Elaine’s great recommendation, I decided to go with Ivan, who’ll show you around and bring you places, not just drive you from location to location!
It was probably the best decision that I made for Hualien, I gotta say. Ivan was great fun to be with, and his vicacity and love for Hualien most certainly rubbed off me!
I know that many of you will ask for Ivan’s contact so here it is!
His website is here at: http://www.amazingtaiwantour.com
You can WhatsApp Ivan at the above number to enquire about available dates and rates 🙂 Oh, Ivan also speaks English well so if you’re not proficient in Chinese, it won’t be a problem.
Tell Ivan exactly what kind of experience you’d like, and he’ll customise the best kind of tour/experience for you!! If you’re more of an adventure seeker and willing to go off the beaten path, let Ivan know and he’ll be much more adventurous – The experience is very worth-while!
His rates are very reasonable and the service and experience I got well-merited the amount that I paid. Would I do it again? Yes, all over in a heartbeat!
Accommodation in Hualien
I booked a B&B – 一九九九民俗 (1999 B&B) from Booking.com – This minsu was located in Hualien City and met all my requirements for a great accommodation – clean, nicely furnished and comfortable at an affordable price.
Of course, if you’re looking for a more scenic view, there are B&Bs with sea views or even smack in the middle of lush greenery, those are a little more out of the way but very lovely. I was just looking for something nice and convenient, so I chose to stay in Hualien City.
This BnB is relatively new from what I know and it was a very pleasant place to stay for two nights! The staff were friendly and helpful, and I really enjoyed my stay. It isn’t located too far away from the train station or the local night market, all within walking distance! 🙂
Loved the aestheically-pleasing London-inspired interior decor!
My room was huge and came with a bath tub too 😀 Lovely! Everything was clean and well-maintained, and they even had some complimentary drinks and snacks available. Breakfast was prepared for us at the minsu for the two mornings that we were there as well!
From Taipei to Hualien
One of the trickiest bits about Hualien is actually getting to Hualien from Taipei City.
The most popular mode of transport is via the Taiwan High Speed Rail, which brings you from Taipei City to Hualien in just 2.5 hours! However, the train tickets are SUPER popular and hard to get, and I’ve heard of many people camping for the tickets (they only go on sale two days before your travel date) and not being able to get them.
I was very fortunate to have the help of my guide – The tickets were booked for me and all I had to do was to log in online with the booking number to make payment online with no hassle or fuss! I then redeemed my tickets from a machine at 7-11, it was as simple as that.
If you’ll be hiring a local guide/booking with local tour companies, do check with them to see what they can do to assist you with getting the tickets from Taipei City to Hualien.
If not, you can also consider the following alternatives:
1. Combo ticket – utilising shuttle bus and train (The combo ticket can only be purchased in person at Taipei City Hall Bus Station. You can’t get it online nor can you book it in advance but it is always available and won’t get sold out unlike the HSR direct train ticket)
2. Domestic flight – via domestic carrier UniAir (Flights in between Taipei City and Hualien take about 50 minutes. The website is completely in chinese though which might be a problem for some)
Woke up bright and early to get on the 7.08AM train from Taipei Main Station!
There are reserved seating on the train, so you don’t have to worry about not getting a seat once you have your tickets.
The train journey took around 2.5 hours, and I arrived at Xincheng Train Station before 10am to the loveliest blue skies and beautiful weather!
If you’re wondering why I alighted at Xincheng Train Station instead of Hualien Train Station, it is because Xincheng Train Station is much closer to Taroko Gorge, where my guide would be bringing me on my first day in Hualien!
Ivan picked me up straight away from Xincheng Train Station, and off we began on our Hualien adventure!
Day 1 – Taroko National Park
On the way to Taroko National Park!
Our first adventure begain along the highway – Ivan parked right outside the highway tunnel and we started walking through the tunnel, much to my trepidation and also the bemusement of the many cars that whizzed past us as I followed Ivan’s nimble footsteps along the narrow pavement along the tunnel.
It took us ten minutes of walking before we exited the tunnel along an old forgotten side entrance no longer in use, and the view truly took my breath away!
This path apparently used to be the old highway – It was much narrower and nearer to the edge of the cliffs as compared to the current highway in operation. Check out the natural marble rock cliffs, aren’t they amazing?
Qingshui Cliff (清水断崖) is famous for its blue blue waters that changes every day depending on the weather. Due to the water currents and difference in water temperatures, you can see the sea ranging in several shades of blue in a surreal fashion.
The sea was so crazy blue that it looked almost unreal!
Another stop we made along the drive was to this hidden spot right above a railway track! We actually had to climb past the road barrier and then down through some undergrowth to reach this view where the train tracks ran right along the sea – It was such a picturesque sight!
Also spotted a huge spider in its enormous web above us as we made our way back up to the road! Yikes..
Drove past this interesting painting on a house, and Ivan stopped to briefly explain the rich history of the Taiwanese aboriginals. Tattoos used to be a highly regarded mark of status – Only women who were well-versed in weaving would be allowed to go through the procedure of having their cheeks tattooed, for men, headhunters and hunters were honoured the prestige of forehead and chin tattoos!
|Cheek tattoos to signify the status of a skilled weaver in the Taiwanese aboriginals|
The practice died out after the Japanese occupation around 1920-1935 as the Japanese outlawed it, and there are only a few aboriginals in the whole of Taiwan now with these incredible tattoos!
Finally within the heart of Taroko National Park!
Taroko Gorge might be one of the most majestic places of nature in the whole of Taiwan. It was created by the continual rising of the mountains combined with the erosive power of the Liwu River, Taroko Gorge with its tall, almost flat walls are a true marvel to view.
Besides the gorge, other attractions include aboriginal settlements, temples, museums, and numerous hiking trails for visitors to experience the true beauty of mountainous Hualien County and eastern Taiwan.
Making our way through thick undergrowth and a precarious unmarked path..
To get to this amazing little secluded spot that had the most pristine blue waters!
The water was so delightfully cold and refreshing that I really wanted to hop right in! I could only make do with dipping my feet into the clear water – What a lovely way to beat the heat.
One of the iconic sights in Taroko National Park is the striking crimson Cimu Bridge.
Cimu in Chinese means “motherly devotion”. Legend says that in this area known as Heliu (合流) where the two rivers meet, a child was near to the river edge and swept away by a large current. Every day, the child’s mother would go to the river to wish for her child’s safe and quick return to her.
This rock formation next to Cimu Bridge is famously known as The Frog Prince! Do you see the side profile of a frog with a crown on its head?
The pavilion was constructed to become the crown for the “frog” in memory of President Chiang Ching-kuo’s mother.
We also climbed up a short distance to the 鐘樓 (Bell Tower) above Eternal Springs Shrine where you get a really gorgeous view of Taroko National Park!
We took a break for lunch at a restaurant inside Taroko National Park just as it started to rain. Thank goodness the rain only lasted less than two hours and didn’t spoil our plans that much!
Zhu tung fan (glutinous rice steamed in bamboo) is a local aboriginal specialty and it was surprisingly tasty!
Ivan also ordered this Taiwanese local produce – Stir-fried Bird’s Nest Fern (炒山蘇). It had a strangely crunchy yet smooth texture and was really good!
One of the most memorable parts of exploring Taroko National Park for me was most definitely the visit to Wenshan Hot Spring (文山溫泉).
Wenshan Hot Spring used to be one of the most famous natural attractions in Taroko Gorge ever since the hot springs were discovered in 1914, but a rockslide above Wenshan Hot Spring resulted in one death and seven injuries in the year of 2005.
In summer of the same year, the Hualian region was lashed by four powerful typhoons, resulting in further destruction of Wenshan Hot Spring.
Considering that landslides tend to happen in succession, the national park administration decided to close off the hot springs to the public due to the threat of more landslides.
|What Wenshan Hot Spring looked like before 2005 – Image source|
The entire area is now cordoned off by metal grilles, but I was game for an adventure with Ivan!
It took a 15-20 minutes walk from the highway where we were parked to reach the prohibited area from which a steep flight of stairs led down to Wenshan Hot Spring.
|Stairs leading down to Wenshan Hot Spring before 2005|
This is the same flight of stairs that we climbed – Except that the stairs were almost completely destroyed, from the railings to the steps, leaving behind worn out ledges of rock that we climbed down cautiously, worried that we would miss our footing on the slippery rock.
We finally made it down unscathed to what remained of Wenshan Hot Spring! To our surprise, there were some other visitors as well who had managed to seek out this now forgotten spot and had even brought along their swim wear for a soak in the river side.
The surrounding view of Dasha River Valley was truly spectacular!
Look at those natural marble ravines that have been created by the incredible force of the river over the course of the years.
Isn’t it beautiful?
There are two small riverside pools (partially destroyed) where you could still soak in, but just go around the corner to discover a tiny cave where the hot springs have formed a pool that is piping hot at 48 degrees celsius!
This pool was so hot that I could barely handle soaking my feet into the water! There was a middle-aged Taiwanese uncle soaking his entire body in the pool and I have no idea how he managed to withstand the crazy hot water.
Wenshan Hot Spring was one of my favourite parts of the day at Taroko National Park, and extremely unforgettable!
However, do bear in mind that there is a reason the hot springs are not recommended for visiting as landslides are possible at anytime. Visit at your own risk, and don’t go during or after heavy rains.
One other popular spot we visited was Swallow’s Grotto – 燕子口步道. This trail gives you a great view of the river, canyon and gorge.
After Swallow’s Grotto, it was time to drive to Hualien City and check into my accommodation! Ivan had a little surprise up his sleeve along the way though.. A specialty snack of Hualien – 炸蛋蔥油餅!
Check out the insane crowds of people queuing!!
Address: No. 102, Fuxing Street, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan 970
For this snack that was completely utterly out-of-this-world. 炸蛋蔥油餅 – Literally translated to Egg Bomb Scallion Pancake!
I can’t begin to describe HOW GOOD this was.
Messy, glorious and delicious – This 炸弹葱油饼 is literally DA BOMB!!! It was so good that I requested Ivan to drive us down again on Day 2 so that I could have it again haha!
I have no idea what secret ingredients they put in this thing but it was soooo delicious especially eaten piping hot! The thin crisp fried pancake is made from glutinous rice flour which gives it a nice chewy texture, while sandwiched in it is a sinfully deep-fried egg made perfect with runny yolk in the middle…. The entire thing is then liberally dusted with some magical powder seasoning that makes it addictively tasty! OMG. You must try this when you come to Hualien!
I didn’t actually get to explore Hualien City that much – I did visit the night market (花蓮東大門觀光夜市) but it isn’t very impressive, especially if you’ve already been to a few night markets in Taipei itself. My favourite night market is still Ning Xia Night Market!
This blog entry is getting lengthy so I’ll talk about Hualien Day 2 in the next post – We went jade picking and drove along the crazy beautiful East Coast! Read more here! 🙂
Read other Taiwan travelogues below:
2 DAYS IN HUALIEN: THE INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL EAST COAST OF TAIWAN (DAY 2)
TAIPEI JAN’15: 十分放天灯! RELEASING SKY LANTERNS AT SHIFEN
TAIPEI JAN’15: 寧夏夜市! FOOD TRAIL AT NINGXIA NIGHT MARKET
TAIPEI JAN’15: STAYING AT W TAIPEI
TAIPEI JAN’15: JIN FENG, BEST BRAISED PORK RICE IN TAIWAN! 金峰, 台北最好吃的卤肉饭!
TAIPEI JAN’17: MAN TANG HONG 滿堂紅 – BEST CHEAP HOTPOT BUFFET IN TAIPEI