There was still much to see during our two-night stay in Hualien County– although we had covered several places the day before, we had barely started to scratch the surface of what this eastern region of Taiwan had to offer. Hence, we were happy to have another full day ahead of us to explore more of the natural wonder of this part of the country, of which we took full advantage.
Our driver (the same one the day before) picked us up after breakfast, and soon enough, we were off to our first stop for the day: the Hualien Air Force Base. As the name suggests, it is indeed an air force base– interestingly though, it’s also near the Hualien Airport, which serves commercial flights for customers to different parts of Taiwan and throughout Asia. Because of this close proximity, it has generate some disputes between airline companies and military forces, especially when the latter frequently does military practices nearby. All the same, we happened to be there to witness a pair of fighter jets zoom over our heads, like engine birds on their way to some unknown part of the ocean. We also cherished the cool, early-morning weather along the pebbled beach where the air force was situated, for we knew that it would soon begin to warm up later in the day (and significantly so).
Continuing onward, we made our next stop at some mountains, overflowing with lots of bushes and trees for that shamrock-green appearance. Our driver pointed out to us the distinctive shapes and curves of the scenery in front of us: she told us that, if we looked closely, we could see the image of a reclining girl sleeping, as a sort of natural “Sleeping Beauty” hidden within. After some difficulty, I saw her– can you? *hint: she may or may not be a bit “round” in figure.
We spent most of the rest of the day in the Taroko National Park, named after the Taroko Gorge which was carved by the Liwu River that runs through it. The national park is known to be three times the size of Taipei, which is truly unbelievable! Our driver first dropped us off at the start of the Shakadang Trail, known for its eponymous, cherry-red bridge and low-ceiling cliffs along the path.
It was a mere 1.5-kilometer walk, although the already-humid heat was starting to creep in as we made our way through. Along the way, we had to duck under some of the lower parts of the cliff rocks, as well as avoid the water droplets that kept falling through the cracks, which were probably to due a spring source nearby. Once we finished the trail, we turned around to return to where we had begun– our driver was waiting for us as we clambered into the private van and drove to another part of the park.
For lunch, we stopped by a restaurant within the park, which served Aboriginal cuisine from the region. We ordered several plates of food, including purple rice, sweet sausages, and even fried leaves! Some of the dishes tasted familiarly Chinese and Taiwanese, although with a distinctive edge that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. The flavors were quite subtle, though, but I did enjoy the meal.
In the afternoon, we made our way along Taroko National Park’s coastline. We took the scenic drive along the 13-mile (21-kilometer) stretch of the Qingshui Cliff, located several hundred meters above sea level. With its lush, green mountains in contrast to the crystal-blue ocean, it’s no wonder that the Qingshui Cliff is one of the most iconic places in all of Taiwan. Stopping a couple of times along the highway for photos, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the gorgeous scenery in front of me. For some reason, it reminded me of the cliffs of Étretat in northern France, another place which also took my breath away when I visited. That goes to show that there’s just too much beauty in this vast world, all of which would be impossible to see in one’s lifetime– all we can do is try!
Returning to the caves, we made a stop at the Swallow Grotto, home to lots of little cave holes alongside the cliffs, where the swallows rest themselves. Sometimes, you can see them leave their homes, swooping to perform daring, aerial stunts throughout the gorge. I believe we saw a few performing that day, although they were too swift to see clearly!
Our final stop in Taroko National Park was at the Gorge’s Suspension Bridge, a long and shaky crossing that made us apprehensive to walk upon at first. Taking no chances, I took the initiative and traversed the bridge all the way without much problem before making my way back to solid ground. Although there was a sign saying that no more than eight people are allowed on at the same time, it didn’t stop a large group of tourists from going together– thankfully, they were fine!
We left Taroko National Park in the late afternoon, making the drive back to Hualien City. Before dropping us off at our hotel, our driver invited us to tea tasting at a shop that’s reputed to have some of the sweetest, natural teas in the region. There was air-conditioning inside the shop, which was a huge relief as we tried the tea, which was quite tasty. My parents ended up purchasing three boxes of it, two of which were in tea bags form and one as tea leaves– not only would they be our souvenir, but also those for our relatives back home.
Our driver dropped us off at our hotel in the early evening, and from there we bid her goodbye. It would be our last night in Hualien before we had to return to Taipei the following day, so we thanked our driver for the wonderful two days before she left. I would say that she was probably one of the best guides we’ve had, being at once enthusiastic and funny, never seeming to run out of energy during our two days on the road. She’s a real keeper!
Since we hadn’t had the time to completely explore the Zhiqiang Night Market the evening before, of course we had to return for a second round of nightly eats and entertainment. While in Taiwan, it was quintessential to get the oh ah jian (“oyster omelette”), which we got to split among the four of us. Glutinous and eggy, the dish was chock-full of oysters, which was absolutely perfect.
We also tried the small sausage in big sausage, another well-known Taiwanese snack that consists of a sweet sausage wrapped inside a sticky rice casing. Imagine it being a hot dog, although the bun is made from rice. Nevertheless, it was piping hot and delicious. My family and I finished off the night with some mango shaved ice, which made my mango-obsessed self very happy. Granted, it was a tad on the pricey side, but the portions were enormous and generous with fresh, Taiwanese mangoes– utter heaven.
Finally, we reached a breaking point: we returned to our hotel to rest after another long day of sightseeing, hiking, and eating. Again, we would be heading back to Taipei the next day, thereby ending our five days on the road in Taiwan.
Overall, I have to appreciate the fact that my parents had planned this for the family, as I really got to venture out and see what the rest of the country had to offer. Really, there’s so much more to Taiwan than just Taipei: from the turquoise blue of Sun Moon Lake and Qingshui Cliff to the lively nightlife of the Fengjia and Zhiqiang Night Markets, I saw and learn so much about my ancestor’s country, all the while enjoying every minute of it. Although I didn’t get the chance to return this year, I hope that I can cherish Taiwan even more when I go back next time.
This effectively concludes my series on my Japan-Taiwan summer vacation from last year. I will be writing and posting my adventures from this year’s summer break soon, so look out for them in due time. Thanks, and until later!