I’m moving to Hualien!
That’s what my friend Jeff told me seven years ago, after giving a try at settling down in Taichung. Obviously the big city wasn’t for him. He needed something quieter, unspoiled, closer to the elements. So he moved to the other side of the island, fell in love with the eastern coastal lifestyle… and never looked back.
I’m so glad he made that move – I now have a “pied-a-terre” by the sea, for the weekends (don’t worry Jeff, I’ll get my own pad one day – wink). Over the years, I’ve also become attached to the raw beauty of the east coast. I always go back to surf, visit temples, ride my bike along scenic roads and enjoy a BBQ and a drink with Jeff and his beautiful wife Ching in their garage.
Quick facts about Hualien and the east coast:
- Hualien is the biggest city on the east coast. It has a population of 110 000 people.
- It enjoys old-fashioned island culture and is home to manyethnic minorities.
- It’s not as commercially and industrially developed as the west coast of Taiwan.
- The weather is unpredictable, typhoons are stronger and earthquakes are frequent.
- The area is one of the world’s biggest producers of marble
Attractions in Hualien
You’ll love this port! It has an energy that’s hard to find elsewhere in the city. Just walk around the docks and observe the harbor life unfold quietly between the colorful boats, fishing nets and the sound of the ocean. Fishermen from distant lands will give you curious looks while Taiwanese folks will invite you to join them for a beetle nut and a smoke.
Tao and Buddhist Temples
East coast’s residents take their religions very seriously. That’s why you’re guaranteed to see something interesting if you visit one of the many temples scattered around the city. DongjingchanTemple is a particularly fascinating Buddhist shrine where you’ll find golden Buddha statues and a sort of tranquility.
Tzu Chi Campus and the Still Thoughts Hall
The main attraction here is the Still Thoughts Hall and it’s majestic roof. It’s got to be one of the most beautiful and photogenic structure on the island. The Tzu Chi Foundation is the world’s biggest charitable Buddhist society. Check out the exhibition halls and make sure you don’t miss the free vegetarian lunch, around noon, in the building behind the main hall.
Nanbin Night Market
Grab a cold Taiwan Beer – it’s time to eat some stinky tofu and squids on a stick! You should also bring a handful of change cauz I’m sure you’ll want to play some of the games that line up the small paths alongside the food stalls. The night market is right by the ocean – it’s a great spot to have a romantic evening walk.
Attractions Around The City
Only a ten-minute ride outside the city, this long, quiet beach is a great place to enjoy expansive views of both the sea and the mountains. The beach is covered with black stones, not sand. It’s not a really swimmer-friendly place, but I’ve gone for dips there in the past with my friends. You can cycle all the way up here from Nanbin Park on the Coastal Bike Trail.
Nine out of ten people who make it here come to visit Taroko Gorge and its deep marble canyons, rushing rivers and massive cliffs. Drive up the spectacular Central Cross Island Highway and you’ll pass some of Taiwan’s best hiking trails, grottoes, pagodas, high suspension bridges and attractive resort towns. Visit Taroko National Park now!
Qingshui Cliffs (Cingshuei)
From the winding, precarious road, you can see these steep rock faces plummet dramatically into the turquoise water of the Pacific Ocean. The sheer Qingshui Cliffs are along highway 9, about 25km north of Hualien City, between Chongde and Heren.
Beware if you ride your scooter or bicycle there – the traffic is heavy, the air filthy and the truck drivers wired on beetle nuts.It’s the only road on the island that can make me shiver.
Swimming and Surfing at Jici Beach
Let’s go to Jici! That’s Jeff’s mantra. He’s been saying that every time I’ve visited him since 2002. I’m the kind of guy who likes change, but I’ve never actually objected to this habit – I’m always very happy to strap the surfboards on his car and head down highway 11 to play on this undeveloped strand.
Jici’s black sand seashore envelops a crescent-shaped bay that’s surrounded by green, lofty mountains. It’s definitely one of thefinest places to swim on the east coast and a cool place to surf. Takes about 30 minutes from the city. Bring food and drinks – you won’t find 7-11s in that area.
Take a road trip down Highway 11
One of the most amazing road-trip you’ve ever taken – guaranteed!
This journey takes you south, all the way to Taidong, along Taiwan’s magnificent coastline and through tranquil rice-paddied countryside. Don’t rush it! Take your time and stop at the humblefishing villages, aboriginal towns and viewing platforms along the way. Don’t bus it either. The experience will be so much better if you have your own wheels. Lots of campsites along the way.
There are many reasonably priced hotels and bed and breakfasts in Hualien that are of international standard. Cheaper accommodation like hostels and guesthouses can also be found easily around the train station.
Bianshi and muaji are two names that come to mind when thinking about the area’s specialties. Bianshi is a type of pork and shrimp dumplings in soup (wonton soup). There are many good restaurants in town that sell this tasty meal, but I always go back toDaiji Bianshi, at 120 Zhonghua Rd. This local canteen is right downtown and the soup they serve is huge. NT50/bowl.
Muajis are sticky rice cakes filled with sweets. You’ll find them in the bright, yellow cakeshops on Zhongshan and Zhonghua Rd. Try the peanut and strawberry ones.
Getting There and Away
By Air: The city has daily air connection with Kaohsiung and Taipei. Hualien Airport is 6km north of the city. It has a rental car agency and a good information desk where Taiwanese people can help you in English.
By Train: Taking the train is the most convenient way to get here. One way from Taipei: fast/slow; NT455/345; 2hr/3.5hr. The fast train is called Taroko (Tailuge). Book ahead of time if you want to have a seat as this train is often crowded. The train station is in the northern part of the city (2km from downtown).
By Bus: Traveling in and around Hualien by bus is really confusing – lots of stations, tons of companies, changing schedules…. I recommend you take information from the people who work at the visitor center just outside the train station.
Anyway, I’ll still do my best to show you the lowdown. I hope it makes sense…
The Hualien Bus Company has buses to Taroko Gorge, Taidong and Lishan. It has two stations: one is at the downtown terminal, the other is right in front of the train station.
To Taroko National Park Visitor Center: buses leave every half hour; NT75; 1hr; from 5:30am to 9:30pm.
To Tiansiang (Taroko): seven buses a day; NT145; 1hr 30min; first one is at 6:30am.
To Lishan: the only bus is at 9:30am; NT360; 5hr
To Taitung: five buses/day; NT450; 4hr; buses leave at 5:10am, 7:10am, 9:10am, 12:10pm, 4:10pm. In my opinion, there’s no point in taking the bus to Taidong – the train is faster and gives you amuch better experience.
You can easily rent a scooter by the train station. Expect to pay around NT350-450 per day. If you plan on taking trips down Highway 11 or up Taroko Gorge, get at least a 100cc. Make surethe back tire still has some thread. Bring your passport and international driver’s license. Pony Leasing and Rental Group, by Ching Yeh Hotel, is supposed to be the easiest place to get one.
Buses run between the airport and the station downtown every 20 minutes; NT25.
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