The journey between Taipei and Hua lien takes about 2 hours via high speed rail. You can purchase journey tickets online or at the Taipei Railway Station (Different from the Metro Station).
Quick info About Trains in Taiwan
As there is a huge line of mountain range in the middle of Taiwan, trains do not cross the central of Taiwan. Instead, roads and railways circle the entire island. But not to worry, the railway network is extensive and highly reliable.
When I purchased tickets over the counter, all I had to do was to tell them where I wanted to go and they would do a quick check for me and suggest best routes.
However, to minimize surprise, you can also get a train schedule booklet from Taipei Main Station which contains train timing between any station across Taiwan.
Since our itinerary was so open, we simply flipped the booklet and looked out for names of places that sounded interesting and headed there. It was loads of fun to discover the unexpected!
Back to HuaLien
We arrived in Hualien at 9.30am and was duly famished after the ride. So the first thing we did was to head out to hunt down some local food.
Just across from the Hua Lien Station is a row of shops. There are many Muah Chee (glutinous flour balls) shops there and some even sell freshly made ones which I find to be much more delicious than packaged ones. The most famous ones being Zheng Shi Fu (曾师傅) and Ah Mei (阿美).
Along that row, we found a nondescript shop advertising Lu Rou Fan (Braised Pork Rice 卤肉饭) and Niu Rou Mian (Beef Noodles牛肉面) both of which are Taiwanese staples.
The sauce for the Pork Rice was really flavorful and the meat was sufficiently fatty. The beef noodles too came in a bowl of meaty broth and was just what we needed to start our day.
We then took a cab (cabs are pretty affordable in Taiwan) to the Hualien Railway Culture Museum (花莲铁道文化馆). Entrance is free and there you can learn about how Railway was used to open Taiwan beyond the main city of Taipei.
The station was built in 1910 in a Japanese style with a central garden within its walls. Some of the rooms even have tatami flooring.
In the past, train taking was a luxurious affair and passengers were served by staffs much like flights today. These are some of the staff uniforms.
At noon, our home-stay host picked us up from the museum and took us to our accommodation we could drop off our bag and wait for a driver to pick us up for our afternoon activity: Whale Watching.
Whale Watching is a popular attraction in Taiwan along the Eastern Coast. At this side, the coastline faces the great Pacific Ocean and the waters nearby have been known to be regular routes for dolphins and whales.
While waiting to board the boat, the captain gave us more information on what to expect. According to him, there is generally a 10-20% chance of seeing a whale and about a 70% chance of seeing wild dolphins.
With this in mins, I was really hopeful that I could be the lucky 70% that got to see something on the trip.
The boat went out into the open water and circled a few areas for almost 1.5 hours without any sighting. But most of the passengers on board kept a keen eye on the water, looking out for the signs of dolphin activities such as froth on the surface of the water.
All of a sudden, we saw a dark form jumping out of the water and quickly disappearing. The captain called out that dolphins have been sighted and the boat raced closer.
It was spectacular to see so many dolphins prancing near us!
After the dolphins swam away, the boat turned around and headed back to shore.
If you do go for this activity, do remember to bring some sea-sickness pills as I did witness some people throwing up during the trip.
The organizing company also provided transport back to your hotel but if you’d like, you can stop in the shopping area of Hualien instead (Known as the Hualien Golden Triangle).
We headed there and had dinner at a recommended eatery called Mr Goose (鵝肉先生). The food was simple but nice. It was not overly heavy on flavour but the taste of the goose came out quite well.
In Taiwan, one of the things you can always count on is the presence of a Night Market in city and town. Hualien itself is home to a couple of well-known night market.
For the first night, I wanted to head to Rainbow Night Market which is supposedly the new name for Nanbin Night Market which I visited and loved back in 2009.
Due to some administration changes, Nanbin Night Market was moved from the seaside to a place closer to the city centre at Zhongshan Rd.
Its location is more convenient then its predecessor and just across the road, there is a performance square where you can enjoy a performance by the Taiwanese Aboriginals every night.
The performance is also loved by the local children who come down often and danced around with the performers.
After the performance, I was ready for some SUPPER!
I felt that the new market lost its original appeal as it seemed too commercialized with proper standing stalls instead of the make-shift stands and retro games that gave Nanbin Night Market its uniqueness.
I ended the night at my fabulous home-stay room!