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Monday, April 13, 2015

Day 18: Hualien, “The Private Garden” of Taiwan & Taroko Gorge

Day 18: Jiaoxi, Hualien & Taroko Gorge - 13.4.2015 

After another busy breakfast buffet at the Maple Leaves City Suites Hotel in Jiaoxi, Taiwan, we walked to the Jiaoxi Train Station. We had bought our train tickets with seat reservations to Hualien the day before and it was a comfortable ride for about 1 hour and 20 minutes until we reached Hualien Train Station. 


Our reason for the trip was to see the Taroko Gorge in the Taroko National Park, one of Taiwan´s biggest natural wonders and tourist attractions. We read, that you can visit the Taroko Gorge in organized tours, with buses or by hiring a cab for a day tour. We decided to hire a cab and soon found a friendly cab driver in front of the train station. We showed him our planned itinerary, which we had printed out in English and Chinese, and agreed upon a price for seven hours (2,500 Taiwanese Dollar or 70€). So off we went to our first stop at the gate, where the Gorge really starts, about half an hour away from Hualien.


After this first photo-stop, we continued to the beautiful Eternal Spring Shrine, which lies nestled in the huge mountains above a waterfall. It´s a breathtaking scenery all around. We walked from the parking area over a bridge to a pathway inside the mountain until we came to the shrine. Actually, you have a great view from every place in that area.


Next up was the exciting "Swallow Grotto Trail". After a short stop, where our cab driver got us helmets, we exited the cab at the trail entrance. The trail leads along a road and goes at times through the mountain. There were great views down to the river and we successfully avoided to be hit by falling rocks... Actually, in the whole area, there are warnings of falling rocks, which was kind of scary and so we were always happy when we entered another tunnel. At the end of the trail, our cab driver awaited us and we stayed a moment at a souvenir shop with cafe - where I bought a little jade souvenir. It's said that all of Taiwan's jade is from Hualien.


After a short stop at the Cimu Pavilion, we drove onwards to the little "village" Tianxiang for lunch. There we found restaurants, some shops, and public restrooms. Our driver obviously had a deal with a restaurant where he sent us, but we didn´t mind. My fish, however, wasn´t exactly spectacular and my friend didn´t expect eggs in his curry rice and diverted his attention to my lotus and bean soup (or something like that). We tried not to leave too much food on the plate, but I wasn't just a fan of stinky tofu which is a delicacy in Taiwan. We had to leave the table as soon as possible, afraid I might throw-up. Sorry! We then bought fresh pineapple next door.


From Tianxiang you can take the Xiangde Temple Trail up to the Tian Feng Pagoda. We originally had planned to do that, but there didn´t seem to be enough time, as we also wanted to walk the Baiyang Waterfall Trail. We opted for the latter and the driver brought us to a nearby parking lot, from where we walked up to the trail entrance, which is a tunnel, directly at the main road. The trail is a roundtrip of about 4 kilometers and you go through many completely dark tunnels, so you need a flashlight. Our driver had given us a flashlight, so we happily passed through the first tunnel and then walked through the magnificent scenery and more tunnels until we came to a suspension bridge. It was kind of scary, given my fear of heights, but I managed to cross it for a better look of the waterfall. The views in that area are great and we stayed for some time until we continued through another tunnel to the entrance to the Water Curtain, which is a waterfall inside a dark tunnel.


We watched the people preparing for the walk into the tunnel and realized, that we were underdressed, regarding the waterproofness of our clothes. We still decided to go inside and then had to walk on a very small stone path with water flowing onto it - it was a bit slippery. And of course pitch black, except for the flashlights. Unfortunately, it was also a little crowded and people had to share the path for the way to the Water Curtain and also the way back, so we tried not to fall into the underground river flowing next to the very narrow stone path. At the end of the short path, we came to the Water Curtain and of course got wet. But just after the Water Curtain was the end of the tunnel, where you can go outside the tunnel, before you have to return where you came from. It was actually an exciting destination and the whole Waterfall Trail was really a highlight amid the many highlights the Taroko Gorge offers.


Back at the parking lot, we met our driver and after an excursion to the public restroom continued to our last stop inside the Taroko Gorge, the Buluowan Plateau. We visited the Atayal Culture Exhibition and the Scenic Walkway, which offered more great views before we had to drive back to Hualien City.


In Hualien City, we bought train tickets for the next train to Jiaoxi. There was still time left before departure, so we walked around the train station area, where we bought some cookies and found a cafe. With more time at hand, we would have stayed in Hualien City, which has some attractions, like the Hualien Martyr´s Shrine, the Hualien Stone Sculpture Museum, the Ziqiang Night Market and an Ocean Park. There´s also a Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Bus, leading to the Hualien Sugar Factory among others. South of Hualien are some small towns, that may be worth a day trip, like Ruisui, where you find hot springs.


Back in Jiaoxi, we enjoyed our last night there, visiting the rooftop hot spring in the hotel and started packing, as we had to leave the next morning for our final stop on our Taiwan  journey, Taipei.


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