Monday, January 4, 2010

New Years Hualien Expedition.

As a New Years getaway, we decided to head to Hualien. This was our first trip to the east coast of the island and it was quite a trip - taking us nearly 5 hours to get there. Though the trip was long, we made it a relaxing trip as we slept in after the new year and took our time getting there...we ended up taking a local train due to no seats left on the express trains. We were lucky enough to get a seat on the local train which took about 4 hours from Taipei.

The trip to Hualien is chocked full of beautiful scenery...that is when you're not spending long stretches of time inside tunnels as the train tends to go through the mountain rather than over or around. Upon arrival, we were amazed at the beauty right there in Hualien. We ventured around town the first night, stumbling upon an aboriginal tribal dance and a night market on the beach. We didn't stay out late as we wanted to get an early start the next morning at Taroko Gorge.

The next morning we were up early and boarded a bus headed for Taroko Gorge. The trip takes about an hour from Hualien, mostly due to the winding through town to pick up at other bus stops. Once we arrived at the entrance, we, along with other passengers, realized that we wanted to head further into the park. The bus driver was nice enough to drop us off half way to the next town...where we could catch the return bus.

Our first stop was Nine Turns Tunnel where we were properly outfitted with hard hats.

**side note** 15 km off the coast of Hualien is where the majority of Taiwan's earthquakes are centered. One little shake and these beauitful cliffs and caves could begin to crumble!

The park consists of a number of trails along the road. Unfortunately, there is no real sidewalk or path for pedestrians, so we were left to walk along the side of the road, stopping often to let cars and buses pass. Notice in the pictures, that often the road is not wide enough for two cars (sometimes without warning!) and traffic could be backed up for a mile or so while buses took turns using the one lane road.

The day turned out to be absolutely wonderful, we couldnt' have asked for better weather. At first we were in our fleeces, hats and gloves, but by the end we were in t-shirts and warm!

Upon arrival in Tienshiang we enjoyed a light meal and some relaxing in this mountain town. We spent some time getting to know some other travelers before we headed back to Hualien for the night.

We had dinner with some of our new friends at what is apparently the most popular dumpling place in town. The line went nearly all the way around the block. Unfortunately, while they were good dumplings, we weren't overly impressed and couldn't understand why these dumplings drew such a crowd?!

Our night ended with a visit to a local bar, which actually turned out to be a Karaoke Bar and enjoyed a few beers with some locals and learned a new drinking game - quite a good experience as they apparently don't have many foreign guests and all the other bar-goers kept joining our table and trying to talk to us!

With Sunday came rain, so we decided to do a bit of exploring. We took the train to a small town called Rueisui where we could find a hot spring. Upon arrival, we wondered around following signs that continued to change..."2km to Rueisui Hot Spring"...(500 meters later)...".83km to Rueisui Hot Spring"...this continued for about 2km until the signs disappeared all together and we were left at a bike path. We decided to follow the path for a bit and just take in the scenery - which included a flat farming area with mountains in the background.

Ten to twenty minutes of following this path, we saw another sign to a different hot spring. We decided to follow it and while we walked noticed that there was heat coming from the water in the ditch lining the road. We eventually ended up at a hot spring resort that charges a flat fee - NT$200 for an entire day. (Most hot springs charge by the amount of time!) The resort offered a variety of pools ranging in temperature from 35.5 to 43.5 degrees as well as an outdoor swimming pool if you wanted to cold option! It was a nice day to spend a cool, rainy day!

Once back in Hualien, we enjoyed a light meal and hot tea at a cafe and read our books until we were too tired - a hot spring sure can wear you out! Monday meant back to Hsinchu and back to reality. Though it wasn't long, it was a wonderful trip, we'll definitely be back to Hualien before we leave!

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