Most Hongkongers are familiar with nearby Taiwan and its capital, Taipei, but there is more to the island than the locals’ kind hospitality, bustling night markets, and amazing street food. One area that truly showcases the beauty of this island is Hualien. The main city on the east coast of Taiwan is a gateway to the gorgeous Taroko National Park, and the perfect base to connect with nature and rediscover your inner Zen. P.S.: be sure to pack your trainers, workout clothes, and sunscreen for your 24 hours in Hualien.
Taiwan’s 7-Eleven is a foodie’s heaven with an abundance of goodies you can’t find in any Hong Kong convenience store. You can create your own piping hot oden (a one-pot dish) for breakfast and choose from the hot pot station’s variety of squid balls, fish cakes, and radish, and throw in a couple of Taiwanese marbled tea eggs. The savoury hard-boiled eggs are soaked in an aromatic tea broth, adding a burst of flavour to your customised brekkie. When you pay at the cashier, pick up a one-day bus pass (NT$250/HK$62) so you can get to your next destination.
Wait at the orange bus station next to Hualien railway station for the tourist shuttle (Bus 1133A) heading to Taroko National Park. It takes about an hour to get to the park, and with the pass, you can hop on and off at any bus stop along the Taroko Route.
The national park is one of nine on the island, and features magnificent gorges, cliffs, and rivers. Covering more than 920 square kilometres, there are plenty of trails for both amateur and seasoned hikers. Entrance is free but certain ecological preservation zones and climbing areas require access permits.
It takes more than a day to explore the entire area, but you’ll be able to cover most of the attractions in half a day. Some of the must-visit sites – which won’t cost you a cent – include Changchun Shrine (which sits on top of a natural spring), Swallow Grotto, Taroko Tower, and Cimu Bridge.
Walking around the park will surely work up an appetite. Make your way back to the city centre and head to Gongzheng Street. There, you will find stalls selling an assortment of buns and Taiwanese staples such as minced pork rice and oyster mee sua (vermicelli noodle soup), but skip those and go straight for Hualien’s speciality: xiao long bao. There are plenty of xiao long bao (soup-filled meat dumplings) stalls in this area – two of most popular ones are Gongzheng Baozi and Zhoujia Steamed Dumpling. You might need to queue for at least half an hour, but it’s totally worth the wait. For about HK$6, you get a basket of 10 delectable dumplings, each bursting with flavourful broth.
For dessert, pop over to any of the nearby shaved ice stalls and indulge in a bowl (or two) of refreshing shaved ice. Other than the popular mango version, you can choose from a variety of interesting flavours such as chestnut, taro and peanuts, and even sweet potato, drizzled with condensed milk and caramel. Many stalls create their own limited edition or seasonal flavours, such as sesame with black peanut and shaved ice with sakura shrimp, which are sure to pique the interests of dessert fanatics.
Next, head over to Hualien Cultural and Creative Industries Park. A former wine factory that has been transformed into an art and culture centre. Here, you can pick up unique handmade souvenirs, chill out in a quaint cafe, or catch live performances in the outdoor multipurpose park while soaking up the scenery.
After you’ve rested your feet, you should be ready to tackle Hualien’s largest night market – Dongdamen Night Market. Located in the heart of the city, the popular food hub is open seven days a week, between 5.30pm and 11.30pm. You’ll find a mix of classic Taiwanese dishes such as oyster omelette and “small sausage in big sausage” (grilled sausage wrapped in sticky rice), as well as an array of fried snacks and some interesting fusion dishes.
A must-try is Chiang Family’s coffin toasts: thick slabs of deep fried bread, hollowed out and filled with a savoury filling. Another is Lao Pai’s scallion pancakes that you can add a sunny side-up egg to. When you’re stuffed full, you can walk off your meal through the stalls and be wowed by vendors showing off their culinary skills as they prepare more mouth-watering snacks at lightning speed.
Edited by Nicole Moraleda