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June 2017

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Leaving my last Workaway in Keelung I was feeling it was time for a break from volunteering. The next stop on my east coast route of Taiwan was Hualien. Everyone had told me this was a place for the scenery. Without looking much into what to do in Hualien, I booked the train ticket and made my way south.

I booked into a hostel called Big Bear Hostel conveniently located in walking distance from the train station. The weather is humid with the lightest of rain when I arrive. Settling in I venture out to get a hold of my surroundings. In Keelung I was used to wandering outside and finding an array of markets full of every kind of vegetable, fruit and meat that you could desire. Walking from my street into the main city I’ve yet to come across fresh produce. Instead there are the neon lights of 7 11 and family mart everywhere. Choosing a local restaurant for food, I head back to the hostel in the evening to meet the other travelers.

Beginning to explore Hualien

I wake up fairly late having decided not to set an alarm and realize it’s not raining. The sun though has yet to show itself from the what to do in Hualienclouds. My “what to do in Hualien” list includes finding myself on a beach. It may not be a tropical beach but Chishingtan Scenic area was less than an hours walk away to a stony but pretty looking coast line.

There are of course buses to take you to this beach in around 10 minutes or alternatively, Hualien is much easier to rent a motorbike than Keelung, providing you have an international license. I always choose to walk though as it allows me to see the locals of the area and discover unexpected charms of a place. Passing temples and shop owners I follow the road and come across what is either a prison or an air-force. Which ever it may be it creates a stark contrast of barbed wire cutting into the now blue skyline. Lined with mountains and palm trees the road makes me think of pictures of California.

Pebbles and currents

what to do in HualienBreaking from the main road I head towards the pink and white colored houses that are perfectly reminiscent of seaside towns. The area is so quiet I almost think its abandoned until I see the odd person sitting in their darkened store. I follow the sound of crashing waves and begin the unbalanced walk over the stones that make up the beach here. The water is beautiful. It’s been so long since I have seen blue waters.

The few people that are here are fully clothed and getting only their feet wet for a short time for photographs. I take some pictures for myself but soon I consider undressing to my bikini. I sit for a while. I’m not hugely confident that this is a beach for sunbathing. But I am here, and after calling myself a coward I race to remove my own dress so quickly that hesitation is unable to take hold of me. Moving straight to hide in the waves I quickly realize the sea deepens suddenly and carries the strongest current. I wouldn’t recommend using this beach for swimming.

what to do in HualienWhether it was the rush of excitement or the fact I have been absent of a beach for so long, I neglect to put any sunscreen on. Nearly two hours later I’m walking into a store for a cool drink and met with quite a gaze from the shop owner who motions towards my arms. I return to the hostel hidden under an umbrella and once I shower I realize how much damage I have done. I resemble a lobster in the transition of life to the boiling pot! The next few days involve fainting, drinking huge amounts of water and applying copious amounts of aloe gel onto my skin.

What to do in Hualien when it rains

After a few days recovering, still very pink, the heavens have opened to days of rain. My current state is appreciative of these cooler days. Yet finding what to do in Hualien, a city known for its scenery, in the rain isn’t the easiest. Had I the energy I would have ventured to Taroko gorge. The aboriginal tribe who reside in this area have aptly named this place. Taroko, in the language of Truku that belongs to the tribe, means “magnificent and splendid.” I may have only seen pictures but it is a place I regret not being able to make it to.

what to do in HualienNot up for anything to strenuous I walk in the rain in search of a place called Pine Garden. Along the way I come across Martyr’s Shrine. Perched high on a small hill at Meiluen Shan Park, the colorful roof of this beautiful architecture shone through the clouds and rain. After the Chinese Civil War, the shrine was built to honor the fallen Kuomintang soldiers. I was fortunate to have this place all to myself. I take some time to enjoy the peace of this area. After a while I walked up past the shrine to explore some gardens.

The command center of Pine Garden

what to do in HualienFollowing the road that leads around the shrine I continued on to find Pine Garden. Overlooking the Hualien harbor I reach an extremely well preserved and charming example of Japanese military structure. Situated at the highest point of Hualien city, Pine Garden was a strategic point that allowed the Japanese forces to command their battleships and fighter aircraft’s without difficulty. Today, it is a prestigious cultural hub dedicated to poetry in the beautiful city of Hualien. There is an eerie atmosphere behind its walls that leave some believing the building is haunted. Reach the top floor though and you will only find a gallery of unique artwork.

what to do in HualienAfter exploring the main building there is a coffee shop in the garden where you can rest for a snack. There is also two gift shops of charming trinkets that make great gifts or personal mementos. If you continue on the road past Pine Garden you will come across a store of artwork and wood carvings. Reaching the main road there are further monuments to take in and steps to take you down to the harbor.

I slightly ruined my Hualien trip for myself by punishing my skin in the sun. There is so much more to explore here and it is a great location to use as a base for bus trips to surrounding areas. Hualien will certainly move to my list of areas to revisit on my Taiwan travels.

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what to do in Hualien
Bunker at Pine Garden

what to do in Hualien

jiufen from keelungTaiwan’s summertime is notorious for its volatile weather. After a few days of consistent rain in Keelung I had exhausted most things you can do here on a rainy day. Not one to stay stuck indoors for too long I decided to find out how to get to Jiufen from Keelung. I figured why not move to a town for a day in the rain.

Although I enjoyed the day I do recommend you attempt to visit when it is nice weather. The views would have been stunning if it wasn’t for the mist and sea of umbrellas. There are areas to hike to make this a day packed with versatile activities. Enthusiasm wanes when you area wet through though.

Jiufen from Keelung

jiufen from keelungI am not one with an amazing sense of direction. Keelung fortunately has an amazing Information center at the bus station with many employees speaking English. To get to Jiufen from Keelung is so straightforward. You take the bus 788 all the way to the last stop. The cost is 30 NTD and the bus announces the stops in English also. You will arrive less than a minute from Shiqu Road (aka Jiufen Old Street).

The streets and alleys are narrow and today packed with tourists. The area was reinvented as a tourist destination in the 1990s following its attachment to several movies. The most well-known perhaps is Spirited away, where several of the buildings seem to have acted as inspiration for the movie. The other being A City of Sadness. This was the first film to openly discuss the 2-28 massacre and the White Terror era.

History of Jiufen and  Jinguashi

A beautiful town with a darker history. In 1893 gold was discovered in Jiufen. Following the Japanese control of Taiwan in 1896, the area developed into a prosperous gold mining town. During WWII the Japanese built a POW camp in Jiufen. Allied soldiers captured in Singapore were forced to work the mines in appalling conditions which resulted in many men dying. There is a Museum of Gold in Jinguashi that is worth visiting to better understand the history of the town. The museum is housed in an interesting location in the former offices of the Taiwan Metal Mining Corp. Many relics can be seen here including a giant piece of 999 pure gold weighing in at 220kg.

jiufen from keelung

What you should see in Jinguashi

jiufen from keelungComing all the way to Jiufen from Keelung meant I wanted to see more than the alleys and museum (both still would have been worth the trip). However Jinguashi offers more than this. Shuttle bus, taxi, walking, which ever is your preference, it’s not far to make your way down to the Golden Waterfall following a wander around Jiufen old street. Due to the  abundance of heavy metal elements deposited in the riverbed, the water flows a beautiful golden color. The cascading water is in stark contrast to its natural green setting. If you follow the stream down you can walk all the way to the Yin-Yang sea.

jiufen from keelungBefore you reach the sea you will enter a car park that is overlooked by the remains of Shuinandong Smelter; a refinery plant built during the Qing Dynasty and then was used by the Japanese during WWII to refine gold. Wandering down to the front this is not an ocean with a beach. But following the wall along I was lucky enough to make it down to where fisherman were out in the rain waiting for their catch. This area really is a place of natural beauty that makes a perfect break from the city.

jiufen from keelungMy timing to return to Keelung was poorly planned. I suggest going early to Jiufen from Keelung and either returning early or later in the evening. The traffic made the journey nearly two hours rather than our simple 30 minute ride to get there. I would also avoid bringing too much with you to carry as the narrow alleys don’t provide much in the way of space. All that being said, Jiufen is not a place to miss when you are in the North of Taiwan.

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jiufen from keelung