Hualien has always been a scenic destination in Taiwan. My impression of Hualien since childhood was mostly sitting in a car or shuttle, touring around Taroko National Park and getting off for a few minutes before hopping back for the next stop. This time, I was the tour guide planning a 2-day trip to Hualien going with our own schedule. It was a totally different kind of experience from previous group tours, exploring the trails on our own pace and stopping by restaurants suitable for small groups.
From Taipei main station, we took a Puyuma train to Hulian for about 2 hours and 15 minutes. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we walked around Hualien downtown near the train station. On our full day in Hualien, we rented a car from KKDay (operated by Avis right by Hualien train station). We drove with extra caution, seeing warnings about falling rocks all the time on our way to Taroko Park. Driving would be the easiest way to access spots in Taroko Park to explore with own schedule. This time, we picked two trails in the park, and then back east and went north to see the cliff by the ocean.
Taroko – Shakadang Trail
This is my favorite trail in Taroko park, along the river and between two vertical gorges. It is a popular trail, and we arrived by 9:30am to enjoy the trail with much less crowd than when we came back. The trail is pretty easy, the hardest part is probably the steps at the end. The whole trail is about 4.1 km (2.5 mi), and we turned back after the first checkpoint 1.5 km in. At the first checkpoint, there are a few vendors selling aboriginal style sausage for anyone hungry from the hike.
Taroko – Baiyang Trail
Originally we wanted to experience the waterfall cave from this trail, however the road was temporarily closed after 1km in due to fallen rocks. For natural sites in Hualien, it is always the best to check the status since a few of them were closed at the time we went. In any case, we found this trail a unique one even just for 1km each way. Right after parking the car, we climbed up to cross the road into a pitch dark cave. We suddenly walked from a hot sunny world into cool damp darkness for quite a while, guided by our flashlight. Despite the short distance, the river scenery was quite impressive.
After lunch outside of Taroko Park, we made a slight detour to check out this vertical cliff formed between the mountain and the ocean. We had a quick stop here along the highway, with viewing decks looking out to the sea. The cliff into the ocean runs for about 5 km, and there is a bathroom and a trail down close to the beach.
There are quite a few Starbucks in Taiwan, but this Starbucks in Hualien is built with 29 shipping containers designed by an award-winning Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Each cargo container has been to a few cities listed on the wall, and we got to sit down in one overlooking the parking lot with my favorite chocolate chip Frappuccino.
I had the most memorable meal at this aboriginal style restaurant, located before the entrance to Taroko Valley. “Truku” means Taroko in the aboriginal language, and I loved the interior with bright colors and handicraft decorations. We came here after two hikes in Taroko, and waited for a bit since there were only 3-4 tables. I got mountain chicken set meal, and Tony had wild boar combo set. The combo meal had a few special items – banana rice (sweet with real banana), side dishes and a petite glass of aboriginal rice wine. My favorite part of the meal was all the local vegetables that I had never tasted before in Taiwan, and perfectly seasoned.
Wonton (called 扁食 here) is a famous dish in Hualien, and this wonton shop was first opened during Japanese colonization days and passed down over 3 generations. When we came in the restaurant, I looked around and asked about the menu. There was actually no menu, as they only served one dish – wonton soup. We shared one soup (70 NTD) that came with 8 wontons, and they truly did their one and only dish well. The soup was light and flavorful, and the wontons had thin wraps and solid fillings. If not going to the night market later, I would have got a bowl for myself.
About 5 minute walk from the wontons shop, we sat down at this busy dumpling store and shared one basket of 10 steamed dumplings and another basket of 5 small meat buns. And everything cost 55 NTD, high “CP value” (cost-performance ratio) as people called it. They had their production line at the storefront, with stacks of steam baskets. The dumplings and buns tasted very fresh, and it was perfect amount as our second dish of our dinner.
This night market was the most organized one I have been to in Taiwan. There are a few zones of the night market “compound”, including a playground for kids to play and three night market themes. We went a bit earlier under light rain, and found the most interesting food stands in the aboriginal themed area. It might be worthwhile researching the vendors ahead, as the night market is quite large.
We found the most unique shaved snow shop in Taiwan here, located in the East Gate night market. There were certificates and medals on display for their invention of “ice brick with chocolate and banana / pineapple and kiwi”. Their bestseller was fresh mango shaved snow with two layers of fresh mango between mango snow. As chocolate lovers, we went for the chocolate & banana shaved snow. They made their ice block together with the fillings, chocolate and banana. When they shaved the ice brick, the fillings were defrosted and became part of the shaved snow, instead of just toppings.
We had lunch here right before noon and waited for a bit, and it was worth it. This is a medium size sit-down dry noodle shop, with quite a few tables inside and one or two outdoors. The popular style here is to order a dry noodle (35 NTD) and a few boxed side dishes (35 NTD each, or 3 for 100 NTD). We had the small size of dry noodle, and it was plenty of noodles. I loved the variety of side dishes here, there are certainly more dishes out there than we could take.
If coming by train, there are a lot of lodging options near the Hualien train station. We stayed at Rhino Guest House, and the room was pretty spacious with everything we needed for $50 per night. The location here is perfect, walking distance to downtown area with many food and entertainment options. For visitors who spend most of their time in Taroko Park, lodging near Xincheng (Taroko) train station might be a more convenient option.
With our own schedule, there were so many spots that I got to go for the first time. I loved hiking between the gorges with crystal clear water running through, and enjoyed all the food we tried there. The nature and food had given us a great time, and we headed to our next stop, Taitung.