Yesterday’s long walk in Taipei took a toll on me. Thankfully, I had time to take a long nap to recharge my batteries. Next stop: East Taiwan.
We took the railway train from Taipei to HUALIEN, a long journey that rode past the concrete city into vast plains of green fields and rolling hills. I’d like to say that the view was breathtaking, but I was so tired I slept most of the journey, waking up only when a little girl with the sharpest voice started to go on hyperactive mode. In between my dozing off, grasses swaying in the wind and fog-covered mountains entered my dreams.
We left at 10am and arrived at Hualien train station at 12.30pm. When the taxi dropped us of at the hotel, we met the most informative receptionist in probably all of Taiwan. Tour information, town information, best food joints, tours vs bus vs motorbike.. Woah, my brain was exploding with information overload. I bet if I asked the bespectacled girl the best place to pee in Hualian, she would whip out a map and circle at least 6 different toilets, complete with description. My very supportive travel buddy, who doesn’t speak a word of mandarin, was happy enough to leave all the listening and translating to me while he stands aside and look innocently clueless.
Hualien is a very quiet town, I wouldn’t say peaceful, more deserted and silent. There’s not much to see in Hualien, it serves as a stopover for those who wants to visit Taroko Gorge National Park. Most of the shops were closed, and for the few that were open, there were no souls to be seen. An odd little railway museum kept us occupied for 30 minutes, old buildings and a few odd graffitis line the streets, the ambience is somewhat reminiscence of the 1990’s.
There is a, however, one of the most beautiful temple I’ve ever seen. Standing in between modest square buildings of blue, brown and gray, CHENG HUANG SHI temple took my breath away. You wouldn’t expect to see such a luxurious temple in the middle of this simple town life. My eyes were torn between the elaborate carvings that stood out in vivid red and gold. The deities inside, all guards, generals and judges from the underworld look imposingly upon those who peer up on to the intricate trimmings.
For some reason, Ocean Sun Fishes (Mola–Mola) could be seen swimming happily on the walls of the buildings here. A big Sun Fish sits patiently above one of the very few dive shops. I would have stayed an extra day to dive in Hualien’s murky coast if they told me there were Sun Fishes swimming in these waters, but what the night receptionist told me made my heart sank.
“Is Hualien famous for Sun Fish?” I asked with full of hope.
“Yes, yes we are! There’s lots of Sun Fishes here. The meat is smooth and silk, very yummy. You can find it in the market,” the 40-something-year-old old, wrinkled receptionist replied with his thick Chinese accent.
“Errr… So if I go diving, can I see Sun Fishes?” I cling on to hope.
“Of course not! We’ve eaten them all!”
We weren’t in the mood for Sun Fish, so it was stinky tofu hot pot for dinner and fruit juice at ZI QIANG NIGHT MARKET. This night market seemed like the only nightlife in town, bustling with tourists and locals alike. At the arcade area of the market, I got my ass whopped at air hockey, basketball hoops, and Matti once again tried his magic hands at the claw-a-toy arcade game. I said “don’t waste your money”, but lo and behold, at first try the metal claw grabbed on to the alien from Toy Story and dropped it into the bin! I never though it was ever possible to win anything from these arcades games, but now I have a new favourite toy!
On our way back to the hotel, we walked past a restaurant and Matti suddenly stopped in his tracks. Is that lady feeding pigs? In the middle of town? At the back of a restaurant where she cooks? Those pigs were probably the fattest and most solid thing I have ever laid my eyes on. One of the pigs was so fat it broke its own legs. Yet the lady happily scooped rice into the pig’s hungry mouth while it laid on its side. The owners of the restaurant beamed with pride as the other pig walked into the front of the restaurant, sniffing for more food. There were pork on the menu, I hope the two pig’s future is not fated on that frying pan.
That’s Hualien for you. She is sort of like the wallflower of towns, sitting quietly in the background waiting to be noticed. If it weren’t for her more popular friend Taroko Gorge, she would never have any visitors. But if you spend a little effort to know her, her character, quirks and friendly personalities might actually surprise you. :)
Mei Mei Chu’s Hualien Travel Tips:
- Stay at a hotel near the train station. That’s where all the motorbike rental services, town centre, night market AND gateway to Taroko National Park and beyond is. We stayed a little deeper in where it’s more quiet and residential, but had to spend more on taxi to move about.
- The Tourist Information Centre is located opposite the train station, you can grab all the town information and maps you need here.