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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hualien in Two Days

Hualien is almost synonymous with Taroko, a designated national park that has the most amazing views of marble gorges in Taiwan. However, most tourists especially those who are only in the country for a limited time, tend to reserve only a day in this county, majority of them doing it as a day trip from Taipei. I decided to stay at least one night so as not to rush things and experience the city in a more relaxed light, discovering why it was included among the East Coast National Scenic Area.

taroko gorge
my favorite spot in Hualien - Taroko Gorge!

HOW TO GET TO HUALIEN
I haven’t heard of direct buses that goes to Hualien directly, thus, when coming from Taipei or neighboring counties, it is recommended to take the train, either through the TRA or HSR. From Kaohsiung, there is also a direct train so no need for me to transfer in Taipei.

There are frequent trains from Taipei, and depending on the type of train, the journey can take from two to four hours. Express trains (Taroko Express) take 2 hours and cost 440NTD. The train follows the east coast for part of the journey, sit on left side of the train offers the best views.There are also frequent trains from Taitung and also from Kaohsiung and then Tainan.

During peak travel season, train tickets are sometimes are hard to get. It is recommended to book your trip early to ensure a seat.

hualien train
the colorful Taroko Express train

GETTING AROUND HUALIEN
Since Hualien gets a fair share of tourists on a daily basis, the local government dedicated a Visitor Information Center located just a couple feet away from Hualien Station. You’d definitely see it as you exit the station.

I couldn’t remember riding the bus around the city since most of the time, attractions can be reached by foot. Either way, you could still rent bikes or scooters and the day rates are quite cheap. For exploring more sights around the East Coast, renting a car/cab would be the better option.

DAY 1 – 42, 000 steps!
This was a busy, busy, busy day for me! I initially planned to wake up at around 6AM but my body betrayed me and started a bit late off my plan. I spent majority of my time around Taroko National Park 太魯閣國家公園, which is definitely one of the highlights of this 16-day trip to Taiwan. I spent a day filled with magnificent views and relaxing nature walks. Need I say more? Well, if you’re craving for more info, I did a guide/FAQ and posted tons of pictures at a separate post.

taroko gorge national park
Superb!
taroko gorge blog
I'm not a selfie addict, but when locals offer, who am I to resist?

Zhongshan Street 中山路 is where the “party” is at especially when the sun goes down and the streets light up and different colors of neon pop out, glittering the night. The place is also teeming with small restaurants so it’s hard to pick which one to try out first. It’s a good thing I chanced upon my hostel Taiwanese roommate on the bus from Taroko back to the city, so she showed me around where locals eat and get cheap grubs.

hualien food
my bread that looked and tasted like broas. The juice was way too sweet for my liking

Our first stop was this small shop that sells teas and fruit juices. I forgot the name of the store but it’s just a block away from another favorite pit stop for local and foreigner travelers like me, Gongzheng Baozi 公正包子 or as it is translated in English, “Justice Buns.” So was justice served? Yes, it was indeed. My friend and I shared on an order of xiao long bao buns and steamed pork dumplings. This was a steal, filling and does a good job of satisfying your cravings, and for the price, you would want to order some more!

hualien food trip

taiwan food

Still at Zhongshan Road, we walked to the biggest night market in Hualien for more snacks, Dongdamen Night Market 東大門夜市, which in English means the ‘big east gate’.  The market is divided into four sections; Futing Night Market, Streets of Aboriginal Cuisines, Streets of China Cuisines, and Zhiqiang Night Market.

hualien night market
This is probably the only spacious night market in Taiwan that I have seen

I was surprised, this was different from the night markets I have seen in Taiwan, for one, it is definitely the most generous in walking space! Aside from the usual clothes and food on sale, they also have arcades and other activities catered for kids and kids at heart, plus lots of street performers! I got to listen to some folk songs from a local group (I think they were from Atayal tribe). There are also lots of different dishes available here – aboriginal delicacies, Taiwanese food and some from Mainland China and the West. I really enjoyed this place, and I actually consider this to be my favorite in the country.

Dongdamen Night Market

Dongdamen Night Market

taiwan arcade

taiwan band
live folk music in Hualien
taiwan performer
interesting performances, I couldn't help but to stop for a while and watch

taiwan rice cake
Zhu tungfan竹筒飯, an aboriginal favorite which is rice cooked inside a bamboo tube.. There were also lots of other rice-based snacks such as muaji麻薯

taiwan pineapple dick cake
would you agree that this is the funniest pineapple cake in Taiwan, I just had to snap a pic for my beki friends

Another unexpected discovery while I was going back to my hostel was the Hualien City’s Old Railway Walking Path  花蓮市區舊鐵道徒步區. A shopping street filled with artsy cutesy stores and trendy restos. I actually thought these were made-up railway tracks but turns out, these used to be a decommissioned original railway path.

Hualien City’s Old Railway Walking Path

hualien art store

DAY 2 – 50 Shades of Blue
I had lots of things planned for Day 2, number 1 from my agenda was Qingshui Cliff, supposed to be followed by a visit to Qixingtan to see the beach and Liyu Lake. However I consumed the whole day trying to find the famous view of the cliff that I had no time left for the rest. If you’re interested for a DIY guide to Qingshui Cliff and don’t want to spend on taxi fare, I suggest that you splurge a little or join a group. But if you still insist, this is my guide – beware: walking on a highway is required!

qingshui cliff hualien
Lovely scenery at Qingshui Cliff

I only had an hour left before my trip back to Taipei so I decided to get my favorite, a biandang or the Taiwanese bento. It has everything I need, protein, rice and egg! My new found friend and I decided to look for some of Hualien’s specialty, muaji or mochi as most people would call it. Lucky for us, this shop call Tzen Chi Muachi 曾記麻糬 is located nearby the station, and the best thing was they had LOTS of samples available! I could actually just get them and not buy anything, lol. Too bad though, the samples were all cake balls and no mochi as they ran out for the day. I ended up buying sweet potato yam cake balls which I brought with me back to the PH. I also bought some mochi that I ended up consuming on the train, they were pretty good!

taiwan bento

Tzen Chi Muachi

taiwan cake balls

More time for Hualien? Here are more places worth looking into..
Qixingtan Beach – I’ve heard they got a nice beach there! Plus good and cheap seafood too, what’s not to like?
Liyu Lake – biggest lake in this county with a nice view of Mt. Liyu. Boats and kayaks for rent
Shihtiping – amazing landscape! I would have went here on my second day but it was too far from the city center

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