Head for the hills! The city at times can be quite overwhelming and nothing brings us back to center quite like time under the stars in the serenity of nature. The train from Taipei to Hualien gave us four hours to read, nap and research our upcoming destination.
Hualien is very tourist friendly, often considered to be the most pleasant county in Taiwan- even by the locals. We decided to come here by recommendations of friends who have visited, local guidebooks and websites but what really sealed the deal for us was when a woman in Taipei told us it is the most beautiful place in the world, can’t argue with that.
Once you leave the bus station you are welcomed into Hualien by the Visitors Center immediately to your right… highly recommended to stop there and pick up maps and information about what to do and getting around.
We had our first taste of the famous “big fried chicken steak” we have been seeing posters for and it was more than we expected. So good we ate it up without taking any photos. I guess we’ll have to get it again- darn! Fried chicken bigger than your hand topped with a sweet and savory thin brown sauce… but watch out there are bones!
Typically in Taiwan you must have an international driving license to rent motorbikes or cars…. but if you are a sweet talking guy in a shady part of town things might work in your favor. We were able to rent our ride for three days meaning we didn’t have to take lame and pricey tour buses to see the town or Taroko!
We used a storage locker at the train station to house what we didn’t need to lug around- the computer and extra clothes, shoes and make it out of town with two backpacks. The storage lockers had instructions in about 6 different languages and were easy to figure out and cheap. Once you insert your stuff and some money you are given a receipt with your code to unlock the locker… no key to lose, just a slip of paper! Knowing ourselves we make sure to take a picture of codes.
The ride to the park from Hualien was about an hour of scenic mountains and vistas. We passed by the ocean, a flower farm and large gardens. It seems every extra piece of land is used to grow… how perfect. In between large apartments people sneak in Asian Greens, Broccoli, Lettuce and herbs- a veggie geek’s fantasy.
The views of Taroko speak for themselves….
We stayed at the only camping area in the park. Unfortunately it was also one of the few restrooms and all the tour buses would stop there from 10 to 6 to let people off who would meander thru the area and take photos of our hammocks… I guess hammock camping hasn’t really caught on here because everyone seemed to think we were crazy.
As soon as we set up shop we set off to find the Wushen Hot Springs, a little more elusive than we expected. The sign for the springs was pretty far off from the actual entrance, we tried meandering down a few different trails until we ran into some others on the search as well. They didn’t speak English but could understand our trying to pronounce “Wushen” and Chris’ body language for swimming… after a little laughter the kid pulled out his smart phone and showed us pictures of what to look for…. I guess they want to preserve the pristine and don’t want every Lang, Whi and Zhang heading that way..?!
The area of the hot springs that has been so nicely paved for tourists is only about a foot deep, if you jump the fence there is another hot spring that locals have dammed up about 2.5 feet deep next to the river, so refreshing to jump from the hot water into the cool.
The trail to the springs really was uphill both ways, reminds me of my dad’s stories of his youth. The way down is much easier descending about 9 stories, but on the way back up you are refreshed and energized from the swim.
Hard to complain when life is so sweet!
One morning we woke up about 5:30 before the sun and were both so chilled from the temperature drop overnight. We decided to warm up we should head to the hot springs for sunrise. The motorbike ride was torture going so fast when it was so chilly compounded the problem… but the reward was sooo sweet- the hot springs to ourselves for an hour.
After the springs we spotted a pair of Macau monkeys munching in the tree tops. Ironically when we got back to the campsite our food bag had been raided by another Macau monkey… those little sneaks. They had also turned on the water at our campsite and left it running.
Not much was lost, some remnants of our dinner of from the night before canned oysters, tomatoes, crackers and canned pineapple.
Back to reality we rode back to Hualien and returned the motorbike… goodbye spontaneity.
The murals at this school were quite impressive. Taiwan really has it figured out, using all their resources and recycling the waste.
On the train home we rode thru towns that were poorer and more crammed… If I had to guess I would say this is where the sweatshops where all our “Made in Taiwan” goods come from. Funny how none of these towns are in the tourists pamphlets……