June 9 – 11, 2012
I am writing this on the airport shuttle bus to Taipei Taoyuan International Airport on the tail end of my first last-second trip since coming back to Hong Kong. I initially wanted to spend four days somewhere in central China, but my buddy Fish, who studied in Taiwan, suggested Hualien, where he said is the most beautiful part of Taiwan. Since the two of us didn’t have time to do much preparation, Taiwan is probably the easiest place for a quick visit.
Unfortunately we couldn’t predict the weather. Over the past couple of days a severe weather system has brought a huge amount of rain first to the central and southern regions and eventually the entire island. Five people has died from the extensive flooding, schools and offices are closed and flights are delayed. Oh, and a magnitude 6.5 earthquake woke me up from my sleep two nights ago.
Under the relentless rain, all outdoor activities became a hassle. We managed to sneak in a bike ride here and a hike there that were far from enjoyable. We abandoned our plan to cycle for a full day and instead hired a taxi to Ruisui (瑞穗), a town two-hour drive away from Hualien City. Ruisui itself is famous for its hot spring and is often treated as the last stop of the popular East Rift Valley (縱谷) route. Why is this route popular I have no idea. We passed by mountains, wetlands, farms, ranches and museums, but all are so ordinary that I find it hard to justify the effort to reach them.
The next day we visited the main attraction in Hualien – Taroko National Park (太魯閣). We took the 7:50 am bus to Tianxiang (天祥), then walked east to Lushui (綠水), took the bus to the Yanzikou (燕子口) and finally to Shakadang (砂卡礑) by a combination of bus and foot. Some of the attractions like Jiuqudong (九曲洞 ) were closed because of the bad weather. All buses were suspended after noon which left us with no choice but to hire a taxi back to Hualien City.
For all its fame, Taroko Gorge is not very scenic – its uniqueness lays upon the gorge’s rock formation and the engineering feat that was the creation of the park’s road and trail systems.
Thoughts on traveling in Taiwan
Even with all the rain, the past four days has been a soothing experience. It is also completely forgettable. A sunny weather would definitely help, but I doubt my outlook on this trip would be altered much. Hualien is a decent base for outdoor activities like hiking and cycling. I can see its appeal if I live in Taipei. To fly from Hong Kong for this? Not so much.
As I have written before (Read more here), Taipei has many good attributes as a tourist destination – friendly locals (who are extremely proud of their city and want all visitors to see its best side), reasonable value, a relaxing atmosphere, and for me personally, no language barrier. After this trip to Hualien, I think the entire island more or less shares these same qualities. If I were to make a comparison, Taiwan would be like a poor man’s Japan – a convenient destination that consistently delivers but lacks the stimulating factor of Japan.
This is my forth time to Taiwan and first time outside of Taipei. I still appreciate what Taiwan has to offer but I will try hard to resist its lure of an easy trip from now on. There are simply many interesting places (albeit require more preparation) on the map that I haven’t been to yet.