Two randomly picked days
The train from Taipei to Hualien apparently is a bit of a hassle: the website of the (otherwise modern) train system of Taiwan dates from 2012, is hardly usable and usually throws some kind of error when trying to book a ticket. Easier is to book a combo ticket: take the bus to Luodong, and take a local train from there. The bus was nice, and the tv’s continuously play instructional safety video’s, including what looks like the instruction lady trying to choke herself with a plastic safety bag (perhaps living in Taiwan isn’t as fun as it appears from the outside).
The train station in Luodong is pretty basic, and I just missed the connecting train to Hualien, so I kill an hour in the park close by to the station; a peaceful place with lots of vegetation, small lakes & ponds, and little Taiwanese women doing their walking rounds and Tai Chi. That’s actually one of the things I appreciate in Taiwan: everything is slowed down, more peaceful, and there is always a park within a 10 minute walk from where you are.
The local train takes you through the eastern part of Taiwan, with lots of mountains on the right side and the sea on the left side, it makes for quite a beautiful ride. A Singaporean backpacker described Taiwan as “the asian New Zealand”, and while I still have to encounter the jaw-dropping views I saw there, I start to see what he means.
Hualien itself is a bit boring; there is a night market with apparently decent food, but that’s around half an hour walk, and since I arrived pretty late I opt for a vegetarian Taiwain buffet. That’s a pretty common thing here, and there is a lot to like: it’s cheap (around 2 euro, compared to 5-6 euro for a more typical meat/fish dish), the quality is always surprisingly high, and it is (obviously) vegetarian. I spend the evening in a coffee shop booking flight tickets for the upcoming weeks, which proves to be a bit of a hassle as apparently I planned to leave Japan during “golden week”, their national holiday, where flights get surprisingly expensive. After a lot of googling & sky scanning (it’s surprising how much cheaper you can get then what all the flight engines suggest) I found a decent option with a couple of days in HongKong, which adds another cool (and unplanned) destination to the list!
The next morning I get up at 6 to join 2 older travelers I met the night before in the hostel to the national park of Taroko. Ben is from Kuala Lumpur, Tom from Canada, both in late 40, both having seen their fair share of the world. They prove to be surprisingly nice company, and we chat a bit in the bus ride to the park, while I try to finish my beef noodles ($90) on the road.
Taroko national park is nice, and has some pretty stunning views. I expected it to be actual hikes, but it’s more flat, paved, well maintained roads. Safety goes first (just as about everywhere in Taiwan), and the place is full with signs: beware of falling rocks, wear a helmet, this tunnel is 30 meters and you might don’t to use a flashlight, don’t climb here, don’t linger there, you can’t swim according to law 3.xx etc etc. I try to get off the beaten track a little by doing a hike that’s not in the tourist folder but does show up on maps.me (fabulous app for finding hikes), though apparently you need a permit to go there. There are a couple of hikes you can do in the park, ranging from 30 minutes to an hour and a half, and afterwards you have to wait for the bus to show up and bring you to the next destination, so there was quite a lot of waiting. Perhaps going there by motorbike would have been the better option after all. After having dinner with Tom, Ben and Lu (a Honkong guy who just arrived and is biking around Taiwan, apparently a very popular thing here), I call it an early night.
The next morning is slow breakfast, as the train to Taitung does not leave for another 2 hours or so and there isn’t much else to do. It is cool to put on flip flops in the morning and wander around the city. The small streets show you the “real” asia; groups of girls dressing up hentai-style, and old ladies preparing goose necks for the sales of that day.
The 10:20 train brings me to Taitung, which is famous for not a lot actually. I get into a bit of an awkward situation by trying to get into the wrong hostel (which explains all the locked gates in retrospect), but after finding the right one I drop of by bag and get onto a (kindly provided) free bike, and start the trip to the actual city of Taitung, which is about 8km. Most of the day is spent on the bike: in a large “forest park”, along the beach and in the city. In the city I eat lunch (after a bit of pointing and hand signs I apparently ordered rice noodle soup), and wander and read at the beach until night falls and the night market opens up. I expected it to be really touristy, but it is pretty good, prices are decent and while it’s not big, everything is there. I’m in an experimental mood, so I try 3 smaller dishes: the first being a sort of small donut thing with sweet potato in the middle, more of a snack really. Secondly a plate of stinking tofu; very popular in Taiwan. It literally smells like garbage, but the taste is OK, just nothing outstanding in my opinion. I top it off with another local thing I’ve seen a couple of times: it looked like fried dough balls (a bit like round “poffertjes”) with octopus in the middle, which actually tasted pretty good. After a bit of a stroll, I biked back to the hostel (which took about 45min, the bike wasn’t that well suited for my height) and spend the night chatting with some local Asian backpackers. One comes from KL, and as introduction hands out souvenirs from KL to everybody in the room; quite a cool gesture if you ask me!