Outside of Taipei, the city (as well as county) of Hualien (花蓮) is a popular tourist destination, offering gorgeous national parks and beaches to hike, sail, and do just about anything outdoorsy for the nature-minded adventurer at heart. My family and I spent two full days covering the entire county (the biggest in Taiwan), exploring and eating as much as we could.
From Tainan early the following morning (perhaps around 6:40), we caught the three-hour train ride to Taitung. Upon arrival, we met with our private driver whom would be taking us around for the next two days. We didn’t actually stay to see Taitung City, as our aim was to visit Hualien– it would take another three hours to reach our destination, but we were on board to make it over all the same!
We didn’t drive for three hours straight that morning. Instead, we make several small stops in the Taitung county which, like Tainan, is also quite rural and lush with nature. Considering that they’re situated on the eastern coast of Taiwan, we saw a blend of both cerulean beaches and mossy forests, which made for a nature’s paradise.
Our first stop was at a small water source, which had been fashioned into a thin stream flowing through a part of the mountains. What makes it distinctive is the fact that it flows upstream, rather than downstream– talk about defying gravity! There were a lot of tourists milling about for photo opportunities, so we didn’t stay very long– plus, it was small and not very prominent, so it was only enough to take a look at it before leaving.
The driver took us through the rural mountains, and along the way stopped at a tiny bao (steamed bun) shop where she told us sells some of the best baos in the region. Taking her word for it, we bought a few to share as our early lunch– I have to admit, they were delicious, light and fluffy and with generous fillings. The meat bao was good, but what really got me was the sesame bao: it had just the right amount of sweetness and it was surprisingly textured, i.e. could taste the actual sesame seeds used to make the paste– you know that everything had been made fresh!
We continued through the mountains, entering a national park where we stopped by the roadside to see some Formosan rock monkeys. Native to Taiwan, these small primates live tranquilly within the park’s many trees, and of course are major tourist draws. Not trying to disturb them, we kept our distance as we took a few photographs, all the while cooing at their adorableness. There happened to be a large group of tourists who arrived shortly after us, some of which tried to feed the monkeys with slices of white bread (which, according to a nearby sign, you’re not supposed to do, since that meddles with their feeding diet– they end up relying on the tourists for food, rather than foraging for themselves).
P.S. If you look closely at this photo, you’ll see that there are two monkeys– do you see them?
After another brief stop at Salifan, a small landmark post known for its Aboriginal straw statues and coffee shop hut, we sped over to Sanxiantai (三仙台), an area known for its rocky beach and eight-arch footbridge that’s meant to resemble a dragon. The latter is especially iconic to the Taitung county, and I spent some time clambering up and down the flat boulders along the shore to take some photos of the bridge while my family took a stroll along its eight arches.
We enjoyed ourselves a bit at the beach before continuing to Baxiandong, an archaeological site of caves situated along the face of a mountain. Consisting of eleven caves, Taiwan’s first prehistoric site was unearthed there in the 1960’s and today the caves have been turned into religious sites, with shrines placed inside the natural reliefs. There was the possibility of taking a hike through the eleven caves, although we ended up doing perhaps three or four of them in total– we were feeling the afternoon slump at that point, so checking out just a few of them was satisfactory for us. Plus, we also got a beautiful view of the Provincial Highway 11, an almost 180-kilometer stretch that connects Taitung county to that of Hualien– it was our highway route to visit the latter, and soon enough, we were almost there.
Just before reaching Hualien County, we stopped at another beach shoreline to see cuesta rocks, which are ridge-like formations created from years of erosion by the ocean. Feeling brave, I climbed on top of a massive one, at once thrilled and terrified by the churning water some meters down below– with the coastal breeze whipping around me, I could see myself as “queen of the world!”
Sometime in the late afternoon, we finally entered Hualien County, eventually Hualien City. We checked into our hotel and after getting settled into our room, we headed out to explore the Zhiqiang Night Market in town. Since we weren’t able to see the night market in Tainan, we made up for it by eating to our heart’s desire in Hualien! Aside from having the usual stinky fried tofu and pig’s blood cake with peanuts, we also tried pan-fried mochi (not bad, but piping hot!) and freshly-squeezed mango juice (refreshing after a hot day). Wandering the night market, we soon realized that it was larger than we thought, filled not only with stalls of good food, but also plazas with entertainment such as traditional folk dances and musicians. There was even a little girl banging on drums to the tune of a popular Japanese anime– she certainly had skills, as we saw a crowd forming around her to listen!
Bellies full, we soon returned to the hotel where we retreated to our respective rooms (I shared one with my sister while my parents took the other) to rest off our stuffed stomachs. While we didn’t hit every corner of the Zhiqiang Market, we still had another full day in town to explore more of it, which we did– more to come soon for that!
Stay tuned for the second part of our stay in Hualien, Taiwan!