Hualien is only a 3 hour train ride from Taipei. Trains leave regularly from Taipei Main Station and buying a ticket should be no problem. Try your best to get a seat on the left side of the train when heading to Hualien as the ocean views are striking.
Hualien itself is a small and quiet city and doesn’t have much to offer in the ways of sightseeing but there are plenty of ways to keep yourself occupied. Hualien boasts a remarkable amount of stone quarries and many of the artists in the area utilize various locally mined stones for art and jewelry making.
An hour outside of Hualien by bus is Jici, a small, rocky, black sand beach that is suitable for swimming. The waves can get rather choppy but the water is warm and clear. The beach is not terribly popular so it will feel like a calm and comfortable place to spend an afternoon. Just buy a ticket from the Hualien bus station and hop on the bus right outside.
Another place worth visiting in Hualien is the Stone Market. Here, many vendors set up shop to sell jewelry and figurines carved from marble, rhodonite, or other locally found stones. This is the perfect place to buy unique gifts and jewelry for friends and family!
Taroko National Park
Several miles north of Hualien is the spectacular Taroko Gorge. To properly see everything that this magnificent park has to offer would require several days. However, it is still possible to see the most popular sights in one day. Although buses run from Hualien to the gorge several times a day, if you do not have a lot of time to spend there it may be best to hire a taxi driver. This is particularly economical if the cost can be split between 4-5 people. To hire a driver for about 8 hours will cost approximately 80USD. The driver will take you to the different trails and sights and wait to take you to the next location.
We only had one full day to spend at the gorge, so we hired a driver to take us to the top sights. Although we didn’t get to see everything there is to see, we had an amazing day exploring the beautiful trails of the gorge.
Here are my recommendations for a short, all encompassing, visit to the Taroko Gorge.
This will likely be the first place you will go. Right inside the entrance gates of the park, this trail begins under the red bridge. Follow the steps down to the trail, which is a very easy walk and suitable for all levels. The trail will take you near the water, which is a brilliant shade of blue. Walking through the trees and around the cliffs gives you an impression of just how large and outstanding this park truly is. The layered cliffs are stunning, and the views get increasingly more impressive with every turn. The trail leads to a tribal village where the daily lives of villagers can sometimes be observed.
Cihmu Bridge (Motherly Devotion Bridge)
This is yet another red hanging bridge located at the park. Marble lions stand at each side of the bridge, and a beautiful pavilion is situation among the trees. The bridge was built by a former president to honor his mother. The views from the bridge are beautiful, although it would be difficult to find a spot in the park that doesn’t offer stunning views. From here it is a short drive to a long pedestrian suspension bridge that overlooks an incredibly tall and mellow waterfall.
Tunnel of Nine Turns
A series of walkways take you through cliff-sides that, at times, are so close together they appear as though they are touching. The water that runs between the cliffs appears to be grey, most likely due to sediment in the water. The grey layered cliffs seem to flow into the water. The twisty walkway was constructed in 1996 to allow visitors a chance to see the cliffs up close.
Yanzihkou (Swallow Grotto)
The Swallow Grotto is one of the sights seen while walking the Tunnel of Nine Turns. Over time, erosion has created small holes on the surface of the cliffs. These have become home to nests of the Pacific swallow. Although it is difficult to stop the swallows, the walk through the tunnel allows for a much closer look at the vast canyon.
A large recreation and rest area, this location offers multiple statues and lookout points. From Tianxiang, find the Xiangde Temple Trail. After a short walk up you’ll see the Samanthababhadra Bodhisattva, a golden statue with ten faces in ten directions. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a monk circling the statue, bowing to each face.
The beautiful Heavenly Summit Pagoda extends from the lush cliff side. Walk the spiraling staircase to the top of the pagoda for an impressive view of the Xiangde temple and surrounding trains and rivers.
Finally, you will reach the Main Shrine Hall and large golden Buddha statue. The temple is a pristine white, with an ornate roof. Again, the views here are fantastic.
The Lushui trail is another easy and mellow trail in the park. It passes along a small brook and through a 30 meter long pitch black tunnel (don’t forget your flashlight). This scenic trail will take you through lush forested areas of the park, which look very different from the sights seen at Shakadang Trail.
Eternal Spring Shrine
This is perhaps the most visited spot in the park, and was definitely one of my favorites. This shrine is dedicated to the 226 people that died in the four year period during which the highway and tunnels were constructed. The shrine is a beautiful and touching memorial to those who gave their lives for this tremendous project. The people worked to build roads and tunnels with their bare hands, no explosives were used during the construction. The shrine is the perfect homage to those who worked so hard to make this highway and park possible. A small but steady spring passes through the shrine and a trail allows visitors to walk above it.
Although a long day at the gorge allows visitors to see the park’s main sights, I would highly recommend at least two days to get the full experience of this massive, diverse, and stunning park.