It’s summer already! For most of us, it means vacation time and we will try to brighten your holiday season with a lot of travelling posts. Let’s start with Hualien!
Hualien is the largest county in Taiwan in terms of area. Located on mountainous eastern coast of Taiwan, Hualien offers many breath-taking sceneries, including one of Taiwan’s jewels: Taroko Gorge. Indeed, it is a must-see place in Taiwan. However, getting there, especially in peak season, can be quite troublesome. After spending a lot of time planning this trip, we finally had the opportunity to visit this wonderful area.
Transport and Accommodation
If you live in Taipei, your options are very limited. By limited, we mean there is no direct bus serving Taipei-Hualien route. If you are in a rush, you can always book a plane ticket. Of course, it’s out of our budget so we chose to go by train. The fastest train, Taroko Express, can bring you to Hualien in about 2 hours. If you want to go in holiday seasons, be sure to book the tickets well in advance since it will be so hard to get a seat later on, even for non-express trains. Alternatively, you can always drive your own car/motorcycle or even use your bike to reach this county. Even though you need to spend more time for your trip, it will worth your time since there are so many wonderful sceneries along your way.
We decided to stay in Hualien city and there are many ho(s)tels to choose from. We picked Shi Fwu Hotel (花蓮禧福飯店) for our visit. It is a nice hostel located not so far from city’s “happening” area. To get around, we used a motorcycle which can be rent near Hualien Train Station.
After going to Hualien Visitor Center and taking its local map, we saw a big lake in the middle of Hualien and decided our first destination: Liyu Lake Scenic Area. You can spend your day here by circling the lake using bicycle (which can be rented from rental shop nearby), having picnic in park around the lake, or taking a boat ride to enjoy the lake itself. If you think this place is very nice, you can even camp in the nearby campsite.
The good thing of this place (like many other tourist spots in Hualien) is there were not so many people (but probably because it’s weekday).We didn’t really spend a lot of time in this place since it’s almost dusk and it took a while to go back to the city. By the time we got back to the city, it was night already and we decided to have a dinner in a small Japanese restaurant, Ka Jin (香人). It is located at the intersection of Zhongzheng Road (中正路) Lane 551 and Xingang Street (新港街) Lane 11. We ordered two bowls of Donburi, one with chicken katsu while the other with beef teriyaki, and fried Japanese tofu. They are delicious, especially the tofu itself.
Hiking in Taroko Gorge
On the next day, we went to the must visit place in Hualien, Taroko Gorge National Park. If you don’t ride your own vehicle, you can always take bus in front of train station and it will take 1-2 hours depending on your destination (Taroko is a very huge park). Before reaching the park, we decided to make a stop at Qixingtan (七星潭), a beautiful beach located right behind Hualien Airport.
We continued our ride and finally reached the Taroko Gorge.
First stop was the park’s headquarter. Here, you can rest for a while and check out their museum. After that, you can start your hiking trip on the nearby hiking trail or continue to go to the other tourist spots. Personally, I think the best spot in this park is Tunnel of Nine Turns (九曲洞). Unfortunately, it has been closed since 2013 due to rockfall and there is no sign it will be reopened anytime soon :(.
It’s lunch time and there were not so many options for us so we went to restaurant inside Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center (天祥青年活動中心).
You can find a lot of hiking trails and tourist spots in this park. All of them are free but you need to apply for a permit to enter some special areas. Some of the spots are a little bit “hidden” so if you go by your own, it does not hurt to ask for advises in visitor centers.
Back to Hualien City, we tried to kill time so we went to bowling alley near train station. This place, Taroko Sports, also provides places to play baseball (batting), dart, pingpong and billiard. Indeed, it is a good place to kill time.
Refuelling our energy, we made a stop at Big Peanut (大土豆), a Taiwanese dessert shop.
Then, we went to the most-visited-place in every Taiwan’s city: night market. The most happening night market in Hualien is Ziqiang Night Market (自強夜市). Don’t expect Shilin or Shida-like night market from Hualien. However, if you do go to this place, be sure to taste the famous coffin toast (官財板) there.
We finished the day by visiting Hualien Cultural and Creative Industries Park. You can compare it with Taipei’s Huashan 1914 or maybe Songshan Cultural and Creative Park without its Eslite building.
Farglory Ocean Park
On our last day, we visited the only amusement park in Eastern Taiwan: Farglory Ocean Park. From Hualien City, you need to take a ride for about 20 minutes in order to reach this place, public bus departs in front of Hualien Train Station. Arriving at this park, our first impression was: “Wow, it’s so empty!” Yeap, compared to other theme parks all over Taiwan, it looks “deserted”. We came on the weekend and there were not so many people. Indeed, it’s a good thing since we didn’t have to stand in a line for every ride. Don’t expect to find adrenaline rushing rides, though, because most of its rides are targeted to be enjoyed by children. On the good side, this parks offers a very nice and family-friendly wide open space for its guests.
Admission fees are NTD 890 for adults, NTD 790 for student, and NTD 590 for your under 12-year old kids. You can also get cheaper price for group ticket (if you go there with 20 people or more). For students, be gladful! You will also get vouchers for foods (NTD 120) and gifts (NTD 80). Entering the park, we started our trip by walking through a “wild west” street, called Mariners’ Cove. We were welcomed by staffs dressed like the park’s mascots. Each of them were accompanied by another staff who will help you to take pictures. Along this street, there are many nicely designed stalls that sell souvenirs and foods.
At the end of the street, you have several options. If your timing is right, you can go ahead to watch sea lions performance.
Another option is to go to Under Sea World, a mini version of Kenting’s Aquarium, or if you don’t really want to see animal at this moment, just go ahead to take cable car from nearby cable car station. The cable car brought us to The Crystal Castle (水晶城堡) and stopped right in front of Crystal Castle Theatre, one of the best attraction in this park. In this theatre, you can watch a theatrical performance filled with dances and special effects. Be sure to watch it while you’re there! Somehow, I didn’t feel like in Taiwan while watching that show.
Another attraction that should be visited while you are in the park is Dolphin Lagoon. Yeap, a dolphin show!
Lastly, like in any other good theme parks, they also have street parade!
It’s time for us to head back to Taipei. While waiting for our train, we found a nice hangout cafe near the train station, called Green House. It provides a wide variety of beverages, good magazines and cozy place. If you happen to be in Hualien and looking for a nice cafe to chill out, be sure to check this out.
Finally, it’s time for us to get back to hecticness of Taipei. See ya, Hualien!