How Taiwan isn’t rolling off everyone’s tongues when they speak of adventure trips in Asia is a bit baffling. In the brief time I’ve spent overall in this country, I’ve seen stunning landscapes, met inspiring people, and took part in memorable traditions. Hualien County, around 2-3 hours by train from urban Taipei, is one of such little-known places, but one I would urge all my friends to see.
Delayed by two hours from our red-eye flight, we staggered into the Hualien train station, a bit disoriented, mostly hungry. There, we found Vincent, our tour guide, waiting patiently. With a gentleness characteristic of all of the gracious hosts we were lucky to have on this trip, he assured us that now, nothing would be asked of us. Nothing, except to enjoy and soak in what Hualien had in store. In our first few minutes in this county, we felt LOVED.
The first order of the day was to fill our grumbling tummies. Vincent took us to a noodle house and walked us through the offerings from the all-Chinese menu. It wasn’t enough that our mouths watered as he spoke of hand-rolled pasta and dumplings; the way Vincent spoke fondly of memories of him and his son bonding over beef noodles sealed the deal. I couldn’t help but smile — we were in very good hands. Vincent even made a quick stop at the mochi house after the hearty lunch, to carefully hand-pick rice cakes into goodie bags for us. I repeat: we felt LOVED.
That set the tone for the rest of the day. The sky had a bit of overcast, but there was just sunshine in our spirits. All weariness disappeared as we eagerly set off to explore Taroko National Park. First, Vincent took us to the gargantuan map at the Visitor Centre, to explain where we were in the park’s hearth, and also to prep us with stories of the scenic spots we were about to see.
All around the park, the sights were simply breathtaking. I realized how grateful I am to the people of Hualien, who chose to shut down mining operations of the abundant marble, all to preserve the humbling beauty of their landscape.
By the end of the day, I was ready to pass out and sleep at what I thought would be a quaint inn. When Vincent drove us to our digs for the night, we were greeted by bright blinking spotlights and a roaring concert just a few paces away from our hotel.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper trip to Taiwan if we didn’t spend the night gorging on street food. Ziqiang Night Market was abuzz even in the late hours, full of people looking for a worthy supper, and kids staying up late for the street-side games.
We woke up refreshed the next day, excited for the river canyoning adventure that lay ahead. Our guides, Jim and Jim, were tasked to lead our merry group of troublemakers, as we slushed and drifted through the crystal-clear Sanzhan River. No goading was needed as we willingly clambered over the boulders to cannonball into the water, yelling happily as we leaped.
Ahh, yes, this is why we barrel through long, sleepless rides and treks. All for a peek of heaven, at a side of the world we have yet to experience. Thanks, Hualien County, for reminding us once again of what true and natural beauty looks like.
One thing’s for sure — we wouldn’t have had this much fun, if it wasn’t for Round Taiwan Round and Eye Taiwan Tours. Wandering through stunning Hualien County is a grand experience. Exploring with the folks of RTR and ETT made it more memorable, as we genuinely felt like friends being shown around, instead of simply being visitors. I would highly recommend taking RTR’s tour of Taroko Gorge, and ETT’s River Tracing Tour. As I browse through their offerings anew, I am once again itching to go back to uncover more of Hualien County’s gems!