If you’re a backpacker you already know that plans, which are kept to a minimum for starters, change very often and very quickly. This was the case as soon as we tried to leave Taipei towards Hualien and the Taroko Gorge.
Upon arrival to the bus station we were told that there are no buses to Hualien, on the east coast of Taiwan. This seemed odd, but a friendly young lady who spoke English approached us and confirmed what we thought we were hearing. She suggested that instead we visit Lu Tong, which is on the way to Hualien, and besides being her city it is very nice and has admittedly the best night market in Taiwan. Ok, fair enough!
However once we arrived we were not very sure we had made the best decision; at first glance it is not one of those oooooh-aaaaaahh cities, so we began to walk to the train station and continue our way. Not even a block later a black sedan honked at us and pulled over. The driver’s door opened and …out came the lady from Taipei! Apparently she had felt guilty for not getting on our bus (?) so she had waited 20 minutes for us to arrive. She said that her work day was over, had a free day, and wanted to drive us around and show all there is to see (??). But alas, before that she wanted to invite us to lunch so we could taste some local cuisine. “Is that OK with you?” she enquired (???).
The sightseeing tour took us to the city park where children fed big red fish in a pond, to the peculiar farm-bars where you could feed domestic animal while sipping a tea, the plantations where japanese pears are cultivated (excellent stuff-we bought 2kg) and the Yuntzu Temple, one of the most important religious buildings in Taiwan that receives thousands of visitors per year. She dropped us close to the hotel late that afternoon and suggested we join a what watching tour the following day, asserting that every time she had been on one she had seen both whales and dolphins. Awesome! That night we tasted local cuisine again in the night market and went to sleep early for next day’s tour.
We woke up early to cath the bus and train to the harbour, and were there at 8:45 am, with enough time left as it would start at 9am.
By 9.15 we (and a few more tourists) were out in the ocean trying not to fall because of the medium surf. Three hours later we were back on land, without having seen any animals, with 1600NT less in our pockets, and completely drenched because of the waves. We were not lucky this time, but we did manage to get back 1000NT, which surprised me quite a bit.
Two hours of train travel later we were in Hualien, a medium sized city which would be used as our base camp to explore the Taroko Gorge and other nearby attractions. Hualien is quite manageable, and once more Taiwanese people proved to be outmost friendly. I was trying to ask the receptionist where could I find an adaptor for my netbook when a hotel guest popped by and told me to follow him. By the time I realized where I was Dawson (that was his name) had driven me to two stores and was asking about plans for dinner. We had none, of course, so he suggested we go to the night market and get some cheap eats. We did. He drove us to it and again invited us to some delicious local meal, although this time we did manage to buy him a local dessert he said he liked.
The next few days were spent driving through the Taroko Gorge on a scooter(best way to do it) which is quite nice, but if you have been in Norway’s fjords or the Grand Canyon in the US it doesn’t quite match up; on a rainy day we went to visit aboriginal Ami people, which was a bad idea because the typhoon rains were too much for the raincoats- we did have an exquisite aboriginal meal though; I also rode a bike along the Chichisan scenic area, about 30 km overall, and was busy for 6 hours staring at the surf and the great coastal views; and we enjoyed the water dancing festival in a nearby lake, where people from different tribes got together to perform a traditional dance. On the way back we bought the 3 largest mangos we had ever seen (not uncommon in Taiwan we later realized), at a whopping 1.5 kg each!
We enjoyed our stay in Hualien very much, helped as well by the great hotel deal we found, but it was time to move on and I desperately needed to surf a bit…
Have you visited this part of Taiwan? What did you like best? Did you chill out at any of the beaches? Comment below, and please share this post if you liked it!