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Getting around

Part 3: Hualian, Kaohsiung

Map of route in Taiwan
24-25.3: Munich -> Beijing -> Taipei
26.3: Taipei -> Hualian
27.3: Hualian -> Taroko gorge -> Hualian
28.3: Hualien -> Ruisui -> Hualien
29.3: Hualian -> Qingshui cliffs -> Kaohsiung
30.3: Kaohsiung -> Tainan
31.3: Tainan
1.4: Tainan -> Guanziling
2.4: Guanziling -> Alishan
3.4: Alishan
4.4: Alishan -> Lugang
5.4: Lugang -> Taipei
6.4: Taipei -> Beijing
7.4: Beijing -> Munich

27.3: 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 opposite coast.

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 until 5pm.

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 hours.

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 flowing.

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 traffic.

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 standing).

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.

28.3: Hualien -> Ruisui -> Hualien
Ocean hotel, Hualien
Weather: again overcast the whole day. Some rain around 3pm. Relatively warm, no jacket is needed.

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 the kids.

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 44C and one at 42C. The 44C one is too hot, it's possible to stay inside only a few second. We spend most of the time in the 42C one. I guess hot springs are too hot in the summer.

We are the only guests, i.e. have all three basins for us. The hot spring owners explain that people usually come in the evening.

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 each other.

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.

29.3: Hualian -> 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 26C. Hot (28C) and sunny with a thin clouds layer in Kaohsiung (no rain there).

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 backpack.

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 the view.

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, elegant.

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 still there.

 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 northern 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 prayers.

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.

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon