Tag Archives: Taroko National Park

Hualien, Taroko National Park and the Last Hurrah 

16 Mar

After spending many days in Taipei, we decided it was time to pry ourselves away and give Taroko National Park a try. We took the two hour train, which was perfectly spotless and timely, as expected in Taiwan, and arrived in Hualien early afternoon. We decided to stay in the city for a night before heading to the National Park the following day We weren’t sure of what to do in the city, but we figured we’d explore a bit. We walked to the hostel through a park, where we took pictures of Ollie with octopus statues. The hostel, Journey Hostel, was another exceptionally clean hostel in Taiwan and we instantly curled up in the duvets for a nap. I saw on maps.me that there was a street of aboriginal cuisine, which we figured had to be some sort of market, down by the water. We walked the two miles over and were too early for the market, which looked to be massive. So, we set off walking down by the water and then went for cheap beers and a few rounds of cards at the first place we saw that looked like it would be selling cheap beer cans. After a few beers there we headed over to the night market, which was absolutely fantastic and had the feel of a carnival, with lines of games with prizes. We started off with some steamed pork dumplings and then had amazing aboriginal sausage wraps: sliced slightly sweet aboriginal sausage paired with some greens and sliced cabbage and wrapped inside a piping hot roti-like bread. While having a few more beers, we tried another aboriginal classic, bamboo rice. Pieces of bamboo are stuffed with rice and other accoutrement, such as the shrimp option we had, and steamed. You have to hit the bamboo piece on a hard surface to crack it and split it in half to eat it. It wasn’t really anything special, basically like a dense rice roll. Filled with food and beers, we tried our hand at a few games. I attempted to knock down towers of cans with bean bags, failing miserably, and tried a basketball shooting game where I made just enough to get a measly tube of bubbles. Christine opted for a dice game, where she wouldn’t have to embarrass herself like I did, and also lost. The woman gave her a pack of tissues as a consolation prize, telling her she can use them to dry her eyes.

The following morning we caught an early bus into the National Park and took it to the last stop, Tinxiang. For most of the ride we were sitting on the floor and getting tossed around the crazy mountainous turns. When I finally pulled myself up to the widow for a look I was blown away by the most majestic mountains and marble I’ve personally ever seen. We arrived in Tinxiang town center, which has three small restaurants, a 7 Eleven, a police station and a visitor information center. We walked up to where we were staying, a church that Maggie had recommended to us. No one was around, and the guests that were sitting outside didn’t speak English very well. Eventually, the man who apparently runs the place came back and also didn’t understand English. I spent about 15 minute talking to him and another woman, who actually called a friend of hers to talk to me, trying to figure out what trails we should do that day and whether or not we needed permits for any of the trails on the map. We got no where in conversation and even asking for the toilet was met with confusion. We decided we should just walk to the information center. After talking to the adorable old man working at the there, we determined we would walk to Baiyang Waterfall Trail first, followed by a bus to Swallows Grotto, the most popular spot to visit. Walking around the park is magical, the mountains are basically vertical in the sky and made me dizzy if I tried to walk and stare up at them. The roads cut through mountains and wrap around cliffs. To get to Baiyang Waterfall, for instance, we had to go through an underpass and take a turn into a pitch black tunnel through the mountain that branched out of the underpass. This first trail was more of a scenic and relaxing walk and we got to do it with coffees in hand. We walked along the river, got to see the beautiful rock strata and cross a suspension bridge to get a better view of the waterfall that was split into three massive parts running down the length of the rock. There were plenty of Korean tourists around, who were inspired by my waterfall poses and eagerly tried to replicate them. 


We made our way back to the bus stop and took a bus down to Swallows Grotto, the main spot to view the marble gorge. The area is filled with swooping swallows that lay their eggs within the pot holes of the gorge. After walking around the area for a bit, we decided that we should try to walk back to the church, which was about five miles away. We were definitely tired, but we had time to kill. We started the walk back, stopping at some additional spots, including the Fuji Cliff and Cimu Bridge, the latter of which is surrounded by a few beautiful pavilions. By the time we made it back to the hostel we were exhausted after waking a total of 13 miles that day. We wanted to lay in bed and shower, but the man wasn’t there. We sat around outside for a while until I decided I was going to shower, with or without a bedroom. After a shower and a few episodes of the Good Wife he finally showed up. He couldn’t understand that we were asking for a bed, which he should have figured out because he hadn’t put us anywhere yet (our bags were in the lobby area). Even after acting out sleeping motions he wasn’t following. We eventually made it into the room and had some lay time before heading down to dinner, where I got a massive bowl of spectacular beef noodle soup, similar to that of the famous place in Taipei, but with more veggies, and less fat on the meat. We stocked up on treats from 7 Eleven and, after chocolate binges, passed right out. 

We decided one night would be enough in the park, mostly because we wanted another night in Hualien for the night market. So we packed our things up the next morning and brought them down to the park headquarters, closer to the entrance of the park, where they’ll hold your big bags for you while you’re out exploring. We chose a trail just by the headquarters, Dekalun Trail, that would allegedly take us three hours. It started off simple enough, but then the stairs appeared. We walked up so many stairs, ascending straight into the clouds and eventually the rain. There were monkeys creeping on us and our belongings, and plenty of beautiful butterflies everywhere. We even had a few large frog sightings. We started off-roading up the trail in an attempt to get to Dali Village, but failed to make it there because the rain started to pick up, and we didn’t want to be going back down in the mud. On the way back down I slipped on a massive rock and landed right on my hip which bruised up my leg and left me with a swollen ass. By the time we got back down, our calves were jelly from the stairs and we agreed that we’d done enough trekking and were ready to get back to Hualien. We caught the next bus out and, after booking our train back to Taipei for the following morning arrived back to Journey Hostel in the afternoon. I wrote and Christine napped as we killed time before our beloved night market. We had one stop before the night market, a wonton soup place that we had passed on our first walk to the night market that looked absolutely amazing. We walked in and asked the woman what kind we should get, she ordered it for us, Christine got us a few beers and we sat down to enjoy the soup. I don’t think I can ever have Chinese takeout wonton soup again. The dumplings contained pork and a shrimp, a full massive shrimp, and with the addition of some chili it was truly the most perfect meal. We grabbed a bag of beers from a Family Mart and headed over to the night market, where we both got the aboriginal sausage wraps again and sat down to enjoy them over cards and beers.

We took a 9:45 AM train back to Taipei, eager to return to the city we love. We of course took naps when we first got back and then headed out on the subway to Taipei 101 to eat dumplings at the famous Din Tai Fung and then climb Elephant Mountain. We wanted to head back to Tonghua night market for more food that night, so we went light on the dumplings. We split an order of steamed shrimp and squash xiaolongbao, vegetable and pork wontons in the house spicy sauce and steamed shrimp and pork dumplings. They were all absolutely delicious, but I’ve had just as good dumplings of all kinds in Taipei for a fraction of the price. After eating we walked over to Elephant Mountain in the drizzling rain and climbed to the top for a view of Taipei 101 and the city. Naturally, given the weather, the view was mostly shrouded in fog. We went back down to the bottom of the hill and had happy hour beers at a bougie business district restaurant, Nola, along with an order of fried tomatoes. We walked over to the night market to work up a stronger appetite and got another sausage in a rice sausage with some very spicy sauce before getting a large order of our beloved sweet potato balls. We bought some more tarts, blueberry cheesecake and chocolate cheesecake, but were so full from the sweet potato balls that they had to wait until the following day to be eaten for breakfast.    

I woke up early on the final day of the six month and a week trip to grab myself a coffee and do some writing before taking on the last adventure. It was pouring rain at the start of the day, but subsided by about 1:00 PM, which is when we headed out. We grabbed leek fritters around the corner and walked to 8 Percent for some final wacky ice cream flavors. I finally got some black sesame ice cream and Christine went for two cups, one chocolate earl gray and the other chocolate caramel whiskey. On the way into 8 Percent, we noticed the famous mango snowflake ice dessert plate next door, which we had read was an item on CNN’s 40 Taiwanese Foods We Can’t Live Without. Although fairly full, we knew we had to have it. The thing was massive, with oddly textured mango flavor ice shavings, topped with stewed mango chunks and mango sorbet. It was good, but not better than the ice cream we had previously. I tapped out early but Christine managed to finish the whole damn thing, it was a star performance. 

We hopped on the subway and went to the Maokong Gondola, the last activity we had planned to do. The gondola offered amazing views of the city and was a longer ride than I had expected. The day was terribly cold so the stop up in the mountains where we got off was fairly uncomfortable. We walked around for a few minutes and then went up the stairs to the top of the mountain. Christine bailed out just before the end but I forged onward through the cold, cloudy weather and slippery stairs, all for another fog-covered view point. We took a car back down to the subway entrance and made our way back to the hostel, stopping for some bottles of wine at 7 Eleven, some amazing noodles with a beef sauce on top and some steamed buns and dumplings. We got back to the hostel, poured ourselves wine and played some cards for the last time. We started looking up gay bars, which we were excited to go to after seeing them on the walking tour, and were astonished by the many different kinds and sexual inspirations. We decided on a more chill option and set off to find it. 

Naturally, we walked around for ages and were unable to find the bar. Instead, we went to the ones we knew about and were disappointed when they told us they didn’t take card. We didn’t want to take out any more cash on the final night. So instead, we went with plan B, which was karaoke at the massive, ten floor karaoke complex across the street, but they only had room options for six hours at a time, which seemed ridiculous. Slightly defeated, we got ourselves a beer at 7 Eleven and walked around in search of another, perhaps cheaper karaoke place. While Christine went inside to question another one, I heard singing coming from an unmarked basement. When she returned and heard it as well we decided to go down there and check it out. We found ourselves in a nearly empty lounge looking place, with one man singing. We asked if we were allowed to sing and she handed us the book which, while about two inches thick, contained only two pages of English songs. We bought four large beers, which was apparently the thing to do, and sat down at a table. 

We had chosen A Thousand Miles, naively hoping it would be Vanessa Carlton, and were given what we believe was an old country or. Christian song. We made our own words up to half the songs, sang Unbreak My Heart about 10 times and as the night progressed and we were the only ones left, we simply started playing our own music over the music coming out of the speaker and singing along. By 3:00 AM, we were no longer singing, just talking into the microphones, with Christine pretending to be a radio or podcast host. And while the place was closing, we thanked all our fans for listening to our show. We made it back to the hostel for three hours of sleep before having to get up to go to the airport for our flight back to New York. Both of us slept past our alarms, and I awoke at 8:45, when we were supposed to be out of the house by 8:00. We quickly shot up from bed, had a quick shower and headed to the airport MRT line, which brought our hungover heads to terminal two. We were at the wrong terminal, naturally, and had to get ourselves back to terminal one, and finally got checked in. We had a big breakfast to blow the last bit of cash we had and found ourselves on the plane to Korea, where our layover was, before we could even pause to think about what was happening. Terribly hungover, I threw up three times on the flight, which was a sure distraction for how sad I was to be leaving Asia and heading back home. After a three hour layover in Korea and some beef pho, we got on our second flight from Korea to JFK, where I sit writing this, with ten hours until that anxious moment the plane descends back in home territory.