Part 3: Hualian,
-> Taroko gorge -> Hualian
Hotel Ocean, Hualian
Weather: overcast in the morning, it
starts raining lightly in the afternoon. Not cold, just
a bit fresh. Poor far visibility, due to all the mist.
More rain in the evening.
After an essentially sleepless night (fell asleep
initially, then woke up and could not sleep until almost
6am due to the jet-lag) I'm awoken by the alarm clock at
8:45am. I take a shower, get ready, then wake up Shirley
and the kids.
We have breakfast at 9:30am. Small, very light earthquake
around 9:45am (you can feel that the ground is moving a
bit). I use the oppotunity to explain to Alissia what an
earthquake is. Later in the evening we will hear in the
news that there has been a strongish earthquake (6.1
strength) in Nantou, a city in the middle of Taiwan on the
We then wonder what
to do today. The weather conditions are far from ideal for
a trip to the Taroko gorge. On the other hand, Hualien
doesn't seem to be such an interesting place. Out of lack
of options I suggest that we will have a bath in the
Wenshan hot spring in the Taroko NP.
So we take a taxi to the train station (150 TWD; the
starting fee is 100 TWD in Hualian). We arrive there at
11am. At the bus reservation office near the train station
we check when the next bus for the Taroko gorge leaves.
That would be 11:30am and to get to the Wenshan springs we
need to get off at the Tianxiang station and from there
walk for a while. The bus ticket costs 250 TWD and is
essentially a round-trip ticket allowing multiple stops on
a hop-on-hop-off bus. There is a bus roughly every hour
Since some time is left, I walk to a 7/11 store where I
buy some snacks & drinks. At 11:30am the bus (a small
yellow bus with perhaps 20-30 seats) leaves for the Taroko
gorge. The trip to Tianxiang is supposed to take 1:20
We drive for a while along the coast, then at a certain
point the bus turns inland. The scenery quickly gets very
interesting. Very steep, very high rock walls on both
sides, very narrow channel in which the (small) river is
The bus now does a
series of stops at certain places in the Taroko NP: Taroko
Archway, Taroko park HQ, Shakadang, Changchun, Buluowan,
Yanzikou, Jiuqudong, Lushui and finally Tianxiang. At each
of these stops there are things to see and trails on which
to walk. If you start early in the morning and take for
instance the 7:50am bus and return with the last bus
(leaving Tianxiang at 5pm) you can explore the areas
surrounding a number of these stops.
While in the bus, a video is running in both Chinese and
English. This explains what the area is all about, what
can be done and seen in each place. It also warns against
falling stones and rocks, and states that it is possible
to rent helmets and explains how to behave. For instance
it is necessary to be very careful in the event of an
earthquake, since some rocks might fall down. Apparently
recently a visitor was killed by a falling rock.
Somewhere between Buluowan and Jiuqudong
the scenery is particularly impressive, with almost
vertical walls, for sure hundreds of metres high,
delimiting a narrow river. The road is quite narrow in
certain spots, and only allows car to stop in a few spots.
But for instance in the spots with the best views it is
not possible to stop, unless you are planning to block the
We reach Tianxiang shortly before 1pm. Tianxiang is a
small - let's say - settlement, with shops and
restaurants. Since it's lunch time we have some quick
lunch in one of the restaurants.
After lunch we walk down the road a bit, cross the river
on the pedestrian bridge and go to the small temple on the
other side. The views are quite cool. We then fetch the
2:30pm bus towards Hualien.
When we get in, the bus is still empty, later it fills up
and there are no more empty seats. And
today is actually a day with low activity. I wonder what
happens in the peak season or the peak periods. These
buses probably get very full and it might be even
impossible to get in.
We get off at Changchun shortly before 3pm. In Changchun
there is the Eternal Spring shrine, dedicated to the 225
military veterans who died during the construction of the
central cross-island highway. Apparently building this
road was quite a challenge and resulted in many accidents.
The view of the river valley in Changchun is cool, but
this is not the most impressive spot of the Taroko gorge.
I try walking up a bit one of the trails, but it is so
damn steep and I don't know where the trail leads to. (not
exactly keen to get on top of the gorge today). So I just
turn back after a while.
At 3:40pm we get back to the bus station and wait
for the 3:51pm bus to Hualian. Turns out that the bus is
delayed a bit. While waiting we witness a small road
accident (a bus reversing and hitting another bus). There
are actually lots of buses in this place, many big ones
from tour companies. Also quite a few taxis, probably
waiting for customers who missed a bus.
Finally at 4pm our bus arrives and we get in. There are
quite a few empty seats. The bus gets however really full
when we stop at the park HQ bus stop (lots of people
We're back near Hualian station shortly before 5pm. There
Shirley spots a "moji" shop, a place where the sell a
sweet Asian delicacy, made out of sticky rice flour and
sweet potato powder. After buying some stuff we take a
taxi to the hotel.
In the evening, since it is raining, we take a taxi to a
shopping mall, where we have dinner and buy some stuff.
-> Ruisui -> Hualien
Ocean hotel, Hualien
Weather: again overcast the whole
day. Some rain around 3pm. Relatively warm, no jacket is
After breakfast we take a taxi to the train station, and
then get into the train to Ruisui (143 TWD adult one-way,
kids pay 72 TWD). We buy the tickets at the ticket vending
machine (not self-explaining, somebody helps us).
The train leaves
punctually at 10:30am. It's an a bit oldish train, with
rows of seats. From the windows there is an interesting
view of the beautiful countryside south of Hualian, known
as the East Rift valley. It's basically a tropical scenery
with plantations, forested slopes, plains etc. Very green
region, i.e. it must be raining a lot here.
We reach Ruisui with a small delay at 11:23am. The plan is
to visit the Ruisui hot spring, which should be fun with
We call Mandarin airlines to book the seats for tomorrow's
flight to Kaohsiung. The lady on the phone confirms that
the luggage allowance is just 10kg (cabin luggage 7kg) and
that the seating is rows of 2+2 seats. Must be a Twin
otter kind of plane.
Outside there is a tourist map of the Ruisui area. Ruisui
may be a small place, but there are quite a few things one
can visit besides the hot spring: there is a sort of theme
park (Fuyuan forest amusement park, a cow farm, river
rafting, a tea plantation and a fruit orchard tourists can
visit and more).
The only problem is that right now there is a lack of
taxis at the train station. We buy some groceries at a
Family Mart store, then finally manage to get into a taxi.
We explain to the driver where we
want to go to. The driver brings us to the Hong Ye hot
water springs. These are commercial establishments, with
small basins enclosed in rooms. Probably these are meant
for couples or individuals and are designed to protect the
privacy of people who probably bath naked.
It's not what we are looking for however. We were looking
some kind of swimming pool type of place, with larger and
open-air pools. After some discussion we manage to find
such a place.
It's a short taxi ride more into the mountains. The place
is sort of a resort centered around the hot spring. It's
perhaps possible to spend the night there, although there
is no restaurant. In any case there are rooms.
The hot spring area
consists of three basins, each about 5m x 4m. One basin
contains cold water, one water at a temperature of 44°C
and one at 42°C. The 44°C one is too hot, it's possible to
stay inside only a few second. We spend most of the time
in the 42°C one. I guess hot springs are too hot in the
We are the only guests, i.e. have all three basins for us.
The hot spring owners explain that people usually come in
At 3pm we take a taxi back into Ruisui town. We
have some food in a small restaurant near the train
station. According to the taxi driver all restaurants are
next to the train station. Some local people in the
restaurant scrutinise very closely our kids. An elder lady
is positively surprised that our kids speak Chinese with
We then catch the 4:13pm train back to Hualien. This time
the trip takes over an hour and we are in Hualian after
5:30pm. Shirley wants to shop a bit in a night market. We
ask a couple for directions then take a taxi to the place
they tell us.
This is, well, sort of a basic night market. It's mainly a
restaurant area with several restaurants and food stalls,
fruit juice places, sort of a flea market atmosphere.
There is also a fun corner with coin machines. Even a
place making pizzas with a wood oven.
At 7:30pm we finally get into a taxi back to the hotel.
-> Qingshui cliffs -> Kaohsiung
Hotel Wenpin, Kaohsiung. 3480 TWD for
a nice big room with adjustable A/C, big flat screen TV,
carpet floor, nice furniture (table, chairs), cupboard,
fridge, big toilet with shower. The hotel is a few km
from the centre of Kaohsiung.
Weather: overcast in Hualien in the
morning, some rain. The temperature is 26°C. Hot (28°C)
and sunny with a thin clouds layer in Kaohsiung (no rain
We get up at 8am, have breakfast, pack our stuff and at
10am get into the taxi we have booked yesterday and will
bring us to the Qingshui cliffs. The Qingshui cliffs are
about 30km north of Hualien, a few km north of the Taroko
gorge valley entrance. The
scenery here is quite impressive, as steep and high rock
walls plunge into the sea. There is no public
transportation to the cliffs, so visitors have to either
charter a taxi or rent a car.
Our first stop is a 10:40am in a spot along the road with
a small parking area, a few km south of the Qinghsui
cliffs. Here several taxis and a tour bus are waiting for
a number of tourist groups, busy looking at the scenery
and taking photos.
After a few minutes in this place, we drive to another
viewing spot a few km further north. This is reached by
driving along a small side road which branches off the
main road. The main coastal road is actually quite narrow
in this area, which is surprising because it's the only
coastal road connecting Hualien with Taipei and there is a
lot of heavy traffic (trucks, buses). If anything happens
to this road, Hualien is essentially cut off from Taipei
(unless you want to drive along cross-island highway
passing through the Taroko gorge).
The view here is equally impressive, as there are steep
rock walls plunging into the sea in this spot.
After a few more minutes we continue to the third spot,
the one which is marked as the Qingshui cliffs in Google
maps. We cross a tunnel with uneven walls. It's a bit
surprising that such an important road is so narrow. I
wonder why they haven't built a motorway along the coast.
Here there is just one small parking area along the main
street. We stop very briefly for a few pictures, then
drive to the Hualian airport.
The airport lies a
few km north of Hualian along the coast. It's relatevely
modern and of medium size, actually surprisingly big for
such a small city. The airport has connections to Taipei,
Taichung and Kaohsiung. Check in is only possible one hour
before the flight.
Between 12 and 1pm we have some lunch, then check in for
the flight. Mandarin Airlines declares a weight limit of
10Kg per person (luggage), but they do not seem to enforce
it, because we are over this limit and they do not make us
pay for the extra weight.
We then proceed to the gate area. At the security check
they do not bother for the water bottle in Shirley's
The airport has four gates. There are not too many people
today on the flight to Kaohsiung. Actually there are not
that many people in the entire airport. It's a bit
oversized for the traffic it has.
The flight takes off on time at 2:05pm. During the flight
I was hoping to get some views of the central mountain
range and was hoping the plane would be flying above the
clouds, but unfortunately the clouds obstruct completely
Later it becomes clear what the reason is: the central
mountain range is acting as a block for the clouds front.
All the clouds from the east are being dammed up by the
montains. In fact the weather in Kaohsiung is much better
than the one in Hualien: the sun is shining and there is
just a thin clouds layer.
We get out out of the plane at 2:50pm, then quickly
retrieve the luggage and proceed to the exit. The airport
is just a few km south of the centre of Kaohsiung. We take
a taxi (270 TWD) to the hotel.
Kaohsiung, or let's say the area between the airport and
the centre. makes a good impression. Modern, clean,
We get settled in the hotel, then leave around 4:40pm. We
take a taxi to the British Consulate Residence at Takou,
which is supposed to be one of the highlights of
Kaohsiung. Interestingly the Falun Gong people protesting
the Tiananmen massacre (which the LP guide describes) are
The consulate residence building is a
disappointment. It's an austere red brick building with
nothing which could be of interest. The nearby Chinese
temple is way more interesting. But there are crowds of
people (almost all looking Chinese, probably Taiwanese
tourists) coming here to watch this thing, entire tour
groups. With all the people coming and going, getting up
and down the staircase is a real challenge.
After a brief stop at this place we get by taxi to the
ferry to Cijin (Qijin) island, a long and thin island
delimiting the Kaohsiung bay. The
end of this island is a tourist area with some attractions
(a lighthouse, a fort) and a shopping/dining area and a
beach. All of this relatively unimpressive, but the view
over the bay and the skyline of Kaohsiong is good and
there is a nice Chinese temple, where people come for
At 6:50pm we cross by ferry back to Kaohsiong, then take a
taxi to the 85 building, the second highest skyscraper in
Taiwan. The idea would be to get to the mall and have
dinner in the food court. Turns out that there is no mall
in this skyscraper and also no food court.
After asking some locals we are directed to another
building, a couple of hundred metres from the 85 building
with a shopping mall and a food court. There we have some
dinner and then return to the hotel.