Words & Images by Amanda Osborn
Hualien is the second largest city in eastern Taiwan. It’s nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Central Mountain Range and offers visitors a scenic getaway from skyscrapers and fast paced city life. Visitors based in Taipei can spend a mere day in Hualien by booking a same day round trip train ticket, but I’d suggest giving yourself two or three days to unwind and relax as you explore everything Hualien has to offer.
Time almost has a funny way of slowing down in Hualien, such is the pace of life in this smaller Taiwanese city. When I was there, I really appreciated being able to take things slowly to better enjoy my experiences. Here are my top three picks for what to see, eat, and do if you’re ever in the area! Note that English is not widely spoken in Hualien, if at all, so keep that in mind when making travel plans.
Places to See:
Taroko Gorge National Park Taroko Gorge National Park (太魯閣國家公園) is one of Taiwan’s most famous national parks. It’s named after the landmark Taroko Gorge, which spans 19 kilometers long. “Taroko” translates to “magnificent and splendid” in the language of Truku, the aboriginal tribe that lives in the area. Magnificent and splendid are apt descriptions, as Taroko Gorge and its sights were some of the most breathtaking scenic views I’ve come across in my lifetime.
There are quite a few ways to visit Taroko Gorge and to explore the park, including tour bus, private car, scooter, bicycle, or by foot. I opted for a private van tour, and joined five other passengers for a day long tour of Taroko Gorge. Some of the park’s most famous sites include:
- The Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠), where a temple dedicated to the 450 workers who lost their lives building the highway is nestled into the base of the gorge
- Swallow Grotto Trail (燕子口步道), where the gorge twists and towers in some of the most spectacular sights
- Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖), where towering coastal cliffs rise 100-200 meters above sea level and plunge straight into the Pacific Ocean
- Bulowan (布洛灣), where the gorge transforms from steep marble cliff walls into dense forest shrouded by mist, and is the site of a former Taroko mountain village
Since I hadn’t planned on hiking and I didn’t have any real desire to explore the gorge on my own, my decision to go on a private van tour was perfect for me. My day tour was eight hours long, including an hour break in the middle of the day for lunch, and I saw everything I wanted to see. In future, I’d LOVE to go back and do some hiking and river tracing, or even participate in the annual Taroko International Marathon! (I’d only do the half marathon or 5K, though. Don’t think I’d ever be up for doing a marathon in this lifetime...)
Places to Eat:
Ziqiang Night Market (plus dumplings!) Ziqiang Night Market (自強夜市) is famous throughout Taiwan for its bevy of food and drinks! Not only does it offer delicious food and snacks, there’s also games like pinball and darts available to play. My favorite things about night markets are the atmosphere and the fact that I get to try a little bit of everything that I come across. This night market has no shortage of food to try; I ate stir fried noodles with wild boar, stinky tofu, Taiwanese fried chicken, and fresh squeezed pineapple juice. If my stomach had been as big as my eyes, I also would’ve eaten some hotpot and coffin cake!
Bonus: if night markets aren’t really your thing but you love dumplings, I highly suggest going to Gongzheng Baozi (公正包子), which is an amazing (and cheap!) dumpling shop right in the city center. It’s a no frills place that serves baozi (包子, steamed stuffed buns), xiaolongbao (小笼包, soup dumplings), and jiaozi (饺子, dumplings). The place is often jam packed and the dumplings are served in record time. Man, I could’ve eaten nothing but those dumplings for the entirety of my time in Hualien, they were so good!
Things To Do:
Explore Along the Seaside My lodgings were right along the beach, so I spent a day leisurely strolling along the boardwalk and soaking in the sunshine and salty air. I wish I had thought of renting a bicycle or even a scooter so that I could’ve seen more of the seaside, but I still covered quite a bit of ground on foot that day. I eventually made my way to Qixingtan Beach (七星潭) and walked along some of the sightseeing trails and beach pavilions. Qixingtan offered a great view of the Pacific, and the black pebbles instead of sand made it different from the beaches I’ve encountered in the past.
While Hualien obviously has more than just these three things to offer visitors, these recommendations are really good if you’re short on time or have no idea where to start. Hualien is definitely a place I loved visiting and would love to go again, and I hope that if you make your way there you’ll love it as much as I did!