Friday, January 27, 2012

Scenic Hualian

For the last few days of Chinese New Year, Yuki and I decided to spend private time with just ourselves. So for the last weekend of the long holiday, we headed down to Hualian (花蓮). Hualian is a beautiful seaside city on the east coast of Taiwan. It's no large city, but still has a few things to offer. But honestly, most of the tourists that visit here aren't here for the shopping and the night life. Heading just a few minutes out of town and you get to really enjoy the reason why it's such a popular attraction. The spectacular seaside views, the coastal highway, the gorge, the hiking trails, and abundance of nature is the reason. Speaking of the gorge, that was our first stop. Taroko National Park. It's a huge gorge filled with rocks, marble, waterfalls, forests and crystal clear blue rivers. From the Hualian train station they have a convenient bus that takes you directly to the many sights in Taroko gorge. It's not free and a little expensive (between 50-100 NT per ride depending on where you want to go) and was very confusing to us to find the right bus. There were not only several other buses at the train station to confuse us, but there is also a free shuttle bus to Taroko gorge, however that one has limited stops. I couldn't help anyone with this in the future, as we just asked our way into the right bus. Anyhow, some of the major stops in the gorge are: Shakadang Trail(砂卡噹步道), Tunnel of Nine Turns (九曲洞 Jiuqü Dong), Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠 Changchun), Swallow Grotto (燕子口), Jinheng Park (靳珩公園), The Bridge of the Kind Mother (慈母橋), Tiansiang (天祥), Jhueilu Precipice (錐麓斷崖), Lioufang Bridge (流芳橋), Hill of Yu the Great (大禹嶺), Buluowan (布洛灣). We went to Shakadang trail and Swallow Grotto. Two different sceneries. Swallow Grotto has a wonderful panoramic view of marble rock faces leading down to muddy rapids snaking down the valley. This is viewed from the roadside cliff platforms that's carved into and through the mountain. Shakadang trail was a long 7.5 km path with an great view of a crystal clear blue river winding it's way through a rock valley. The pedestrian trail is the longest and winds through the rock ledges cut along the mountain face with some forest paths at the end of the trail. Lunch was also enjoyable on this trail as there was a small rest-stop along the trail owned by what I assume are aboriginals. There we had some salty black mountain pork (鹹豬肉) and aboriginal vegetables on a small makeshift riverside table. Get your hiking shoes on, because this is a must place to visit if you've never seen it before. We were fully exhausted getting back on the last bus to the train station. So after getting back into town and checking in to our hotel, we cleaned up and headed out to 自強夜市 and 南濱夜市 night market. 自強夜市 has more food and would be my recommended market if asked. Although the other market in town, 南濱夜市, has more games and less food, it is oceanside. Unfortunately we got to the oceanside market too late to see how the view was. But I suspect it would have been a nice place to be to see the sun set. Therefore we didn't stay long, because 自強夜市 is where the food is at. Walking through the 自強夜市 night market, the majority of the food stalls were very similar to what you can find in Taipei. However they do have three BBQ shish-kabob stands (第一家烤肉串) that had very long lines. We later learned that they are so popular that when you order, they give you a keyring with a number on it. You can come pick up your order when the LED sign outside displays your number. Two hours later, our order was finally ready! Two hours! There is also two very popular fruit drink stands. Get ready to stand in a long line. Lastly, there's a grilled oyster restaurant right at the front of the market. They serve grilled oysters, clams, jumbo shrimp and other various seafood. They have beer in the back which you can serve yourself. The tables are old school desks and the interior resembles a straw hut with christmas lights and other paraphernalia hanging all over the place. Guess what...more long lines. However I think this one was well worth it. This is definitely something I haven't seen at any other market. We waited about 30 minutes in line and another 30 minutes inside. The prices are a bit expensive, but it's excellent grilled seafood in a uniquely and vibrantly decorated dining area right at the front of the night market. If you're not up for the waiting, there is also a notable brick oven pizzeria in the night market and a hong kong porridge stand right behind it. They both did not have a line, but was still packed with customers. Thus ended our day with more relaxing coastal motorcycle riding and hot springing to look forward to.

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