Hualien is the main city on the East Coast of Taiwan. Most people who only have a day or two to visit this part of the island usually spend a night here to arrange a day-trip to nearby Taroko Gorge, then head straight back to Taipei City.
If you have more than a day or two, you should definitely plan to spend more time in the area. There are so many amazing things to see and do along the East Coast of Taiwan, and Hualien makes a perfect "basecamp" from where you can discover beaches, the East Rift Valley, hiking trails, harbours, hot-springs, waterfalls, and even do some river-tracing.
Hualien is also where people begin the famous and scenic Highway 11 road-trip all the way down to Taitung City.
You'll love this port! It has an energy that's hard to find elsewhere in the city. Just walk around the docks and observe the harbor life unfold quietly between the colorful boats, fishing nets and the sound of the ocean. Fishermen from distant lands will give you curious looks while Taiwanese folks will invite you to join them for a beetle nut and a smoke.
East coast's residents take their religions very seriously. That's why you're guaranteed to see something interesting if you visit one of the many temples scattered around the city. Dongjingchan Temple is a particularly fascinating Buddhist shrine where you'll find golden Buddha statues and a sort of tranquility.
If you feel like being inundated with noise, smoke and visions of Tao pandemonium, head for Sheng An and Cihhui Temples. You're assured of witnessing an absolute Taiwanese mayhem if there's a ritual.
The main attraction here is the Still Thoughts Hall and it's majestic roof. It's got to be one of the most beautiful and photogenic structure on the island. The Tzu Chi Foundation is the world's biggest charitable Buddhist society. Check out the exhibition halls and make sure you don't miss the free vegetarian lunch, around noon, in the building behind the main hall.
Only a ten-minute ride outside the city, this long, quiet beach is a great place to enjoy expansive views of both the sea and the mountains. The beach is covered with black stones, not sand. It's not a really swimmer-friendly place, but I've gone for dips there in the past with my friends. You can cycle all the way up here from Nanbin Park on the Coastal Bike Trail.
Nine out of ten people who make it here come to visit Taroko Gorge and its deep marble canyons, rushing rivers and massive cliffs. Drive up the spectacular Central Cross Island Highway and you'll pass some of Taiwan's best hiking trails, grottoes, pagodas, high suspension bridges and attractive resort towns. Visit Taroko National Park now!
From the winding, precarious road, you can see these steep rock faces plummet dramatically into the turquoise water of the Pacific Ocean. The sheer Qingshui Cliffs are along highway 9, about 25km north of Hualien City, between Chongde and Heren.
Beware if you ride your scooter or bicycle there - the traffic is heavy, the air filthy and the truck drivers wired on beetle nuts. It's the only road on the island that can make me shiver.
Let's go to Jici! That's Jeff's mantra. He's been saying that every time I've visited him since 2002. I'm the kind of guy who likes change, but I've never actually objected to this habit - I'm always very happy to strap the surfboards on his car and head down highway 11 to play on this undeveloped strand.
Jici's black sand seashore envelops a crescent-shaped bay that's surrounded by green, lofty mountains. It's definitely one of the finest places to swim on the east coast and a cool place to surf. Takes about 30 minutes from the city. Bring food and drinks - you won't find 7-11s in that area.
One of the most amazing road-trip you've ever taken - guaranteed!
This journey takes you south, all the way to Taitung (Taidong), along Taiwan's magnificent coastline and through tranquil rice-paddied countryside. Don't rush it! Take your time and stop at the humble fishing villages, aboriginal towns and viewing platforms along the way. Don't bus it either. The experience will be so much better if you have your own wheels. There are some campsites along the way. Read about Highway 11 here.
There are many reasonably priced hotels and bed and breakfasts in Hualien that are of international standard. Cheaper accommodation like hostels and guesthouses can be found easily around the train station. If you want to be near the "action" at night, you should book a room near Zhongshan Rd. / Zhongzheng Rd. intersection.
The downtown area near the intersection of Zhongshan and Zhongzheng Road is packed with restaurants, food stalls, and teashops. At night, the area comes to life and it's fun to just walk around and sample different stuff.
My TOP PICK: Salt Lick BBQ Restaurant at #147 Zhongshan Road, downtown Hualien! Check it out, you cannot be disappointed, it's one of the best BBQ restaurants in the world! Yes, it's that good!
Bianshi and muaji are two names that come to mind when thinking about the area's specialties. Bianshi is a type of pork and shrimp dumplings in soup (wonton soup). There are many good restaurants in town that sell this tasty meal, but I always go back to Daiji Bianshi, at 120 Zhonghua Rd. This local canteen is right downtown and the soup they serve is huge. NT50/bowl.
Muajis are sticky rice cakes filled with sweets. You'll find them in the bright, yellow cakeshops on Zhongshan and Zhonghua Rd. Try the peanut and strawberry ones.
By Air: The city has daily air connection with Kaohsiung and Taipei. Hualien Airport is 6km north of the city. It has a rental car agency and a good information desk where Taiwanese people can help you in English.
By Train: Taking the train is the most convenient way to get here. One way from Taipei: fast/slow; NT455/345; 2hr/3.5hr. The fast train is called Taroko (Tailuge). Book ahead of time if you want to have a seat as this train is often crowded. The train station is in the northern part of the city (2km from downtown).
By Bus: Traveling in and around Hualien by bus is really confusing - lots of stations, tons of companies, changing schedules.... I recommend you take information from the people who work at the visitor center just outside the train station.
Anyway, I'll still do my best to show you the lowdown. I hope it makes sense...
The Hualien Bus Company has buses to Taroko Gorge, Taidong and Lishan. It has two stations: one is at the downtown terminal, the other is right in front of the train station.
To Taroko National Park Visitor Center: buses leave every half hour; NT75; 1hr; from 5:30am to 9:30pm.
To Tiansiang (Taroko): seven buses a day; NT145; 1hr 30min; first one is at 6:30am.
To Lishan: the only bus is at 9:30am; NT360; 5hr
To Taitung: five buses/day; NT450; 4hr; buses leave at 5:10am, 7:10am, 9:10am, 12:10pm, 4:10pm. In my opinion, there's no point in taking the bus to Taidong - the train is faster and gives you a much better experience.
You can rent a scooter by the train station. Expect to pay around NT350-450 per day. If you plan on taking trips down Highway 11 or up Taroko Gorge, get at least a 100cc. Make sure the back tire still has some thread. Bring your passport and international driver's license. Pony Leasing and Rental Group, by Ching Yeh Hotel, is supposed to be the easiest place to get one.
Buses run between the airport and the station downtown every 20 minutes; NT25.
Taiwan isn't just cities and factories. The island is home to Northeast Asia's tallest summit and to more than 240 peaks over 3000m. If you like nature, mountains and outdoor activities, you should take a look at this page.