I had really been looking forward to visiting Taroko Gorge in Taiwan, part of Taroko National Park in Hualien county. Because I was sick the first few days, I considered cutting out this part of the trip, but after feeling better, went through with it.
I tried to buy a train ticket to Hualien online the day before I planned to leave (I already had accommodation booked) but the website said that all tickets were sold out. I didn’t understand how they sold out so quickly — the Harvest Festival holiday was over, and it was a weekday. Then I read online that tickets between Taipei and Hualien are often sold out and can be difficult to book. Luckily, I went to Taipei Main Station in person and managed to get the last seat on the train, though for a later time than I had planned. I hoped to get an afternoon ticket, but the last ticket was for the 3 hour Tze-Chiang Express at 6:40 pm, and I arrived at Hualien close to 10 pm. It’s possible to get non-reserved seats and stand on the train, but I preferred to have a seat so I was glad I got the last one.
The day I departed to Hualien, I asked at Taipei station if I could buy a ticket from Hualien to Taipei in advance, and I managed to get a seat at the time I wanted on the faster Puyama Tze-Chiang Express, which took only 2 hours. Based on my experience, it seems its easier to get train tickets between Taipei and Hualien in person rather than online. However it’s probably best to get them a few days in advance. If booking online, the tickets would probably need to be booked pretty far ahead of the travel date.
The Tze-Chiang limted express was really comfortable and had plenty of leg room. They also have bathrooms, though the bathroom on the Puyama was a squat Asian toilet rather than a Western toilet.
To get around Taroko, I decided to sign up for the bus tour arranged by my hostel. Since I was alone a taxi tour would be more expensive, and I’m unable to drive so couldn’t rent a car or motorbike. The tour cost NT 700. Because of the typhoon the bus tour couldn’t go very far into the Gorge, so they added a stop at a lake and a pebble beach. Although I knew in advance that the tour couldn’t go far into the Gorge, I was a bit disappointed at how little time was spent there. The tour was all in Chinese, and started at 8:30 and ended at 5:00 pm, with lunch in between. When the tour guide asked if I spoke Chinese and I answered no, he asked a lady who knew a little English to translate when we stopped somewhere. Normally, the tour goes to various highlights around the park, lets off for about 10 or 15 minutes and then it’s back in the bus. It isn’t the best option for people who actually want to hike. If the tour was able to go to more places in the Gorge I wouldn’t have minded it personally though. I imagine that renting a car or motorbike would be the best way to get around the Gorge for hiking or camping.
The Gorge was super beautiful though and I’m glad I got to see some of it least.
The overall countryside around Hualien is lovely as well. After the Gorge, the bus drove south to Liyu lake, which is nice and had some paddle boats for sailing.
After the lake, the last stop was Hualien Pebble beach.
After the tour, I headed back to my hostel and asked them about the night market. They told me there are two night markets in Hualien, one that is a bit smaller and similar to markets in Taipei, and another that is larger and has more aboriginal crafts and some performances. I decided to go to the larger market, though it was farther from my hostel, but they called a cab to take me there.
The night market had plenty of food options and shopping stalls, some with aboriginal handicrafts and aboriginal food. There was a stage where performances are held, though none going on while I was there.
Down the street from the night market is downtown Hualien, which was actually quite busier than I had expected for a small town. Plenty of food, shops, and people around.
The hostel I stayed at is called Colorful Taiwan, which is a short walk from the train station and pretty easy to find. It’s a little far out from downtown and the night market but they will call a cab and they have bike rentals. They were super helpful and friendly and the room was comfortable and had en suite bath.
The next morning I headed back to Taipei, and took a day trip out to Yehliu Geopark. The Taiwanese countryside really impressed me with it’s beauty and I’m very glad I got out of the city for a day.