On the eastern coast of Taiwan sits the beautiful city of Hualien. The Spanish came here to mine for gold in the early 1600’s but it was not until around 150 years later, that the first permanent settlement began situated in the rocky coastal terrain. Hualien is a small city that is mainly known for being the starting point for anyone visiting Taroko National Park. Inside the park lies Taroko Gorge, which is a 19km long canyon that twists and turns through the jagged cliffs.
Hsinchu to Hualien is about a three hour train ride. The trek from Taipei to Hualien is especially nice as the train follows the coast for a majority of the ride. Be sure to get seats on the left hand side of the train for optimal viewing. My ride to Hualien was a bit rough. I was forced to endure the three hour ride sitting on the floor, in between cars, because I did not have a seated ticket. It did not matter too much though because the ride was late at night. My return trip during daylight was spectacular.
Taroko Gorge is a great place to visit. Not only did we get to see many different parts of the gorge, we also avoided the slow tour bus approach. This seems to be the standard way for many to see the park as multiple companies will try and get your business at the train station. We were lucky enough to find a great taxi driver who drove us to several beautiful beaches and other non-touristy areas that were located down slim mountain pass roads, too narrow for a bus to navigate. This approach was unbelievably cheap. We were astonished at our drivers rate to show us around for seven hours. Even though it is not common to tip in Taiwan, we gave our friendly driver some extra cash for his helpfulness. The smile on his face was priceless when he counted the money.
Note: Taroko Gorge is about 20 minutes from Hualien. The three main options to the gorge are: 1)to join a bus tour 2)private taxi 3)to rent a scooter. If you rent a scooter though you may be asked for a valid operating liscense.