Thursday, October 22, 2015

Taiwan Travelogue: Day Four - Taichung to Hualien, Taroko National Park & Zi Qiang Night Market

Another early day because we're leaving Taichung and going to Hualien!

This is how early we are - not a person in sight.

Some useful info. You're welcome.

Taichung and Hualien are on the opposite ends of Taiwan, and separated by mountainous areas.
We had to travel by HSR to Taipei, and switch to TRA railway to Hualien, which would take at least 4 hours.
There's a TRA train direct from Taichung to Hualien, but that's gonna take you 13 hours so please don't. HAHAH.

Again, the signs are pretty self-explanatory - just make sure to check your train no. before boarding!

Favourite yoghurt drink in Taiwan.
This is the thick version - kinda hard to suck from the straw.
A thinner version is also available, and its the green symbol.

Levon loves the packaging HAHAH. #suckerforpackaging

A beautiful morning.

Taipei Main Station is a confusingly huge terminal, as it connects all 3 types of trains in Taiwan.
The signs are useful, and quite clear; but I would prefer to know in advance where to go,
especially when we would be carrying our huge luggage.
So I managed to find a map of Taipei Main Station for reference :D

If you're too lazy to click,
both TRA and HSR train platforms are at B4, and you need to go up to B3 to exit.
If you are transferring between the two, the ticket counters are at B3 too.
HSR automated counters are in the middle, and TRA ticket counters are all the way to the right.

TRA gantry and automated ticket counters.

If you booked your tickets online, you'll have to collect from the counter (:

Female waiting zone.
But what if you're the only one? :x

 On board Tzechiang Express towards Hualien

They really have alot of bridges in Taiwan.
Super fascinated with some of the designs, because it seems to bring out the character of the place.

Like this, reminds me of leaping trout in a river.

The old and the new.

Took a cab to our minsu in Hualien!

Omg the driver was so annoying.
He asked about our plans, then went on to criticize every thing;
we should be eating organic food and not the roadside rubbish,
Hualien need to spend five days to finish, one day so short why waste time in Taipei, blah blah. -.-

The Bear Timerland 
No.7, Lane 57, Nanjing St, Hualien City
花莲市 南京街 577

It's bear themed! :DDD
The whole house was decorated in a rustic, heartwarming feel - almost like you stepped into a bear's cottage.

However, it's located in a small alley which was quite dark at night.
What's more scary was the fact that we saw a car with its window smashed in. omg :x

Thankful for Singapore's security even at night.

The front porch.
These bicycles are available for rent!

Living room. Look at all dem bears! 
The one peeking out from the gigantic bear - so cute.


We're staying on the third floor!
There's no lift access, and because our luggage were sooo heavy, the owner kindly allowed us to keep it in the kitchen.

Luckily we're only gonna be here for a night because it was quite inconvenient to keep running down hahahah.

Ginormous bear greeting us as soon as we stepped in!
And look at that four poster bed omg. I've always wanted it :x

Bathroom. Very clean, but the tiles were slippery when wet, so be careful.

And right outside our door was an airy balcony, complete with swing chair!
Hammock was already occupied by the beary cute couple so we didn't disturb. :B

Oh hai bear. 

Basically it got molested by the three of us, 
then it kena dumped unceremoniously on the floor cause we needed to sleep without its fat ass in the way. :x

Photo credits to Levon

Photo credits to Bimb

Hualien is well known for its natural scenery - lots of mountainous regions, and the Pacific Ocean outlines its shores.
There are a few places of interest, mostly accessible via winding roads.
Some tourists are known to cycle around these paths, 
but keep in mind that there are steep slopes and rocky roads if you intend to do the same.

We inquired with our minsu owner for a driver to bring us around Taroko National Park (also known as Taroko Gorge),
who turned out to be the best driver we've encountered on this trip!

His name is Mr. Fonsfer Chung (from the namecard he gave, wah so unique sia the name),
but we called him 宗先生 throughout the trip.
He can be contacted via his phone no.: (+886) - 0917244156, or via Line/WeChat: fonsfer

Classic Mr. Nice Guy, very polite, and an awesome tour guide.
He made all the boring facts quite interesting and engaging for us.

NT2000 for the entire journey - which usually is from 10 am to 5 pm.
We could also pick the locations we wanted to visit - which was Qingshui cliffs, Taroko Gorge, and Qixingtan Beach.

*Due to recent hurricanes which affected Hualien, some of the attractions were closed.
You can find out the current status of the trails and roads here
A local driver is also highly recommended for this reason, because they know best which areas are safe. 

However, because we started late, at around 1.30 pm, our agreed timing was till 6.30 pm.
宗先生 was nice enough to extend the timing at no extra charge when he saw that we wouldn't be able to finish the attractions.
And with his planning, we visited more places than we actually told him about. :D

Before we started out, 宗先生 kindly drove us to a 7-11 on the way to stock up get some food 
- because there's nothing up in the mountains..
Like duh right? 
But shit I actually forgot to make a pit-stop, and we could have died of hunger if not for his reminder.
Levon would never forgive me LOLOL.

He also gave us a brief lesson on the geography of Taiwan - and what makes Hualien is a unique county, 
pointing out interesting sights on the way.

Like these.
Know what they are?

Watermelons! I kid you not.

and HAHAHA levon got a zoomed in shot - wtf looks like the watermelon is wearing (banana) dreadlocks.

I'm guessing and hoping this is the leaping trout bridge we saw earlier.

First stop - Qingshui Cliffs 清水斷崖!
We had a gorgeous view of the azure Pacific Ocean, and if not for the cloudy skies, it would have been even bluer.

Through the tunnels.

Next stop, Eternal Spring Shrine 長春祠
There's a trail to walk, and I was pretty excited about this because it included a suspension bridge.
Unfortunately, due to the bad weather, the trail was closed for fear of rockfalls ):

Eternal Spring Shrine was built in 1958,
to commemorate the heroic bravery of 225 people who died building the Central Cross-Island Highway.
Despite the dangers and risks of the unpredictable terrain,
these brave souls and their team persevered to cut out a path through the rocky mountains.

It is damn sad for those who perished, because it is almost impossible to recover bodies which fell off to the rocky ravines.

By the way, as further proof of why you should never visit Taiwan during typhoon season, look at this water.
Looks like diluted cement; a result of the heavy rain washing the silt and sand into the streams.

Because, omg, it's supposed to look like this.

Photo credit: Google


Changchun Bridge 長春橋 ,which also has a sad piece of history.
It is actually made from remnants of the original Jhuilu Bridge, which got washed 200 metres downstream after two typhoons.
Can you imagine, an entire bridge swept into the river?!

In fact, the entire section of the highway was abandoned in 1959, despite few attempts to repair it.
The foundations simply could not withstand the impact of several typhoons, due to the lower elevation of the area.

If you look to the left when on the bridge, you can see traces of the abandoned section in the far distance.

After crossing the bridge, descend down the flight of steps on the right to get to the entrance of the trail (if its open).
There's a memorial altar as remembrance to the victims.

We proceeded on to the Swallow Grotto (Yanzikou) Trail 燕子口 ,
and along the way, got a stunning view of the marble gorges Taroko is famous for.

At this section of the gorge, the walls are so narrow that they almost seem to touch.
It's the best trail to see the gorgeous natural marble patterns up close.

The Liwu river which runs through the gorge is most rapid here; you can imagine the power which shaped it.
The potholes in the cliffs are formed by long term erosion by the river - resulting in instant nests for swallows, hence the name.

Wah shiok la no need BTO one. 

The trail splits into two - one for pedestrians and another for vehicles.
宗先生 borrowed helmets for us so that we could walk through the caves.
So nice of him - he told us to take our time and he'll wait for us at the exit.

The extremely dark cave section - you'll need a flashlight or phone light to navigate.

Btw, can someone tell me what are these squarish blocks in the cave walls?

At the end of the tunnel, 宗先生 showed us a picture of a minority tribe woman.
I thought he wanted to tell us that they used to live here.

Then he was all "look at the rocks"
Damn cool la, if you look close enough you can see the Chieftain's Profile Rock

Along the road, 宗先生 pointed out a section of the highway which had collapsed due to an earthquake.
Making me very glad I'm not staying in such regions.

In case you're wondering, there is a public bus around Taroko, which was one of our options.
Due to our arrival timing, we missed the bus towards Tianxiang, and catching the next one would severely limit the places we could visit.

Anyway, after the whole trip we concluded that hiring a driver was the best option.
You definitely need someone who is experienced with the roads to navigate through the huge park.
宗先生 mentioned that some roads are very tight, so drivers need to know which turns are very close.
Some of the larger coaches even communicate via radio - so that they wont clash with each other.

Concentration is very important here - don't think you can read maps at the same time hor.

We casually mentioned to 宗先生 that we didn't get to walk on the Eternal Spring Shrine suspension bridge,
so he tried to find other alternatives for us! Awww.

One of them was Heliu Suspension Bridge 河流吊橋 , next to Yuewang Pavillion 岳王亭 - dedicated to Yue Fei 岳飛, of course.
Only 6 people can be on the bridge at once.

I know they need to take care of our safety la, but this is abit too ugly right :x

View from the bridge.
Look at that super tall and skinny waterfall!

Poor Levon, damn scared of heights but must follow us hahaha.
The bridge was also quite creaky so we didn't go beyond midpoint la.

Another suspension bridge near Swallow Grotto Trail, but you need to apply for a permit to go across.

Tunnels have traffic lights too.

Last scenery spot - Qixingtan Beach 七星潭 
Also known as Pacific Ocean at your feet. 

Seriously, the majesty of the expansive ocean is such a sight to behold.
It was actually getting dark, so again the bright blue wasn't showing, but its pretty awesome already.

The tide was also super strong - don't get too near, however tempting the sirens are :B


Fine pebbles - not sand - lined the beaches.

Oh and if you chance upon any stupid blogger telling you that it's okay to set fireworks here, please dont.
It's illegal, because their air base is nearby. 

After an awesome scenery trip, we finally bid 宗先生 goodbye at around 7 pm.
Damn cute, he was saying that his fierce tigress is waiting for him at home for dinner.

Upon our request, he dropped us off at Zi Qiang Night Market 自强夜市

Zi Qiang Night Market 
Ziqiang Road, Ji’an Township, Hualien County
花莲市 吉安鄉 自強路
Opening hours: from 5 pm to late night

First place we went, The First BBQ 第一家烤肉 
They specialize in bbq skewers, and the ingredients vary from innards to mushrooms - steamboat food.
This was highly recommended by many, and there is almost always a long snaking queue for this stall.
So naturally we had to try.

Picked out a few items yong taufoo style, and handed it over to the lady, who asked us to return in 45 min with this placard.
Which says the following:
"Although I'm not very popular, I am already very busy. As such, do not help me advertise anymore. We prepare your food with care, so please wait patiently for our delicious bbq skewers"

After more than 45 mins wait, Levon helped us collect the food.
We decided to take the placard seriously and not help them advertise, because 

Seriously, everything was burnt and smothered in too sweet black soya/bbq sauce.
I thought nothing could go wrong with bbq mushrooms, and yet they managed to prove me wrong.

More than 45 minutes for charcoal crap. wtf.

Thank goodness we didn't waste time waiting stupidly - we went to our next stop, Lee's Cantonese 李記廣東粥

Here's the full menu - each bowl ranges from NT60 to 70
Limited seats inside though.

Each bowl of smooth Cantonese style porridge is topped with crispy youtiao - om nom nom.

Bimb had her usual Century Egg & Pork 皮蛋瘦肉粥, 
while I tried smth new Spinach and Tiny Whitebait (white ikan bilis?) 翡翠吻魚粥

It was raining and we were craving for warm comfort food, so this was perfect :D

A bowl of porridge can definitely warm my heart, but fill my stomach, no way.

I left the other two queuing for fruit juice - Too Wonderful for Words 妙不可言果汁 - while I went to search for this!
蔣記花蓮式棺材板 Chiang’s Family Coffin Boards, which btw, are not really coffins.

棺材板 is actually a thick toast which has been hollowed out and filled with ingredients.
They provide free flow of red tea with each purchase too

They have a variety of fillings available - you can choose if you want sweet or savory.
Honestly I wanted to try more than one type because some sounded so interesting!

In the end I chose their seasonal flavour - Mango Chicken 芒果雞丁
The toast itself was buttery and fragrant, tasting a bit like french toast, along with crispy edges.
Towards the end it was slightly oily.

The mango and chicken in a creamy sauce was a nice combination of sweet and salty.
Maybe I shall experiment with this next time? :D

Oh ya and the fruit juice was Taiwan standard - meaning, how are their fruits all so sweet omg.

Last stop of the day, 北港春卷 Bei Gang Spring Roll

We were so stuffed we decided to tapao it back as supper - because no 7-11 nearby our minsu,
and its too dangerous to wander in that alley, but even more dangerous to let us stay hungry LOL.

Chose Tuna!
Inside were scrambled eggs, cabbage, tomatoes, and your choice of meat.
Not bad but I didn't find it very special.

And because we went to microwave the spring roll, we spotted the minsu's pet bear!

It thought we were gonna feed him so he woke up.
Levon even managed to get him to high-five us! Damn cute.

The pure agony of realizing the food is not for you..

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