Hualien Taiwan – Completely laid-back and even paced, full of natural wonders and delicious food – that’s how the locals would describe Hualien. If you’re traveling to Taiwan for the first time and want to do some exploring outside of the main tourist city of Taipei, Hualien, which is located only 2-hours away by train, is the perfect accompaniment for your trip. Where as Taipei is all about high-rise buildings, enormous shopping districts, and the hustle bustle of a city that never really sleeps, Hualien’s rolling mountains and quiet streams will make you view Taiwan in a different light.
We’ve got a soft spot for Hualien, as it completely blew us away with how much more stunning you first imagine the county to be. Below we’ve listed some activities that you simply cannot miss if you’re planning to skip the main tourist hub and head straight for the coast.
How To Get There
The most convenient way to get from Taipei to Hualien would be to catch a train. You can book it online, or else head into any of the convenience stores such as 7-11 or FamilyMart to book them also. Please note that with online bookings, you will need to most likely provide a passport number. The train ride will take just over 120 minutes, and will cost $440NT (14 USD) for an adult.
You can also book a private car transfer from Taipei. It can be cheaper and more convenient with a private transfer, specially if you are a family or a group of friends traveling together.
Where to Stay
Hualien Taiwan Guesthouse – Light Stay B&B
Light Stay B&B is exactly as the name suggests – a no-frills stay for those who aren’t after grandeur and lux, but don’t want to compromise on quality and comfort. Unlike most B&Bs, this place does provide private bathrooms. It’s located in an amazing area, only 3-minutes walk from Hualien Railway Station, and 35-minutes drive away from Taroko National Park. As expected, there is an expansive kitchen if you want to cook and a gorgeous shared lounge that fosters an atmosphere of relaxation after a day of exploring and exchanging stories with fellow stayers, however, there are many unexpected touches that make this guesthouse a clear winner amongst others: it’s combined with a British Bar, all rooms come with air-conditioning, TV, and separate seating area, and the private bathroom also comes with free toiletries. For those who are after the absolute bare minimum, there are dormitories available here also.
Why Guests Love It: “Very easy and fast to walk from train station, homely feel, the bed and pillow are soft and very comfortable, room deco was soothing, clean and airy.”, “Awesome place, clean, very comfortable beds, nice crew members, very good location.”, “Cute B&B, clean and spacious, and the owners were super helpful and kind. Breakfast vouchers are given to a café around the corner with a variety of options.”
Book It Now: Light Stay B&B
Hualien Taiwan Hotel – Best Hotel
With a name like that, you really shouldn’t look any further if you’re after a comfortable stay on the coast. As the name suggests, Best Hotel provides quality amenities and facilities throughout its accommodation. From its modern-styled rooms complete with air-con, flat-screen TV, and tea and coffee, bike rental and free parking, on-site restaurant and gym, and free Wi-Fi throughout, you’d be hard-pressed to find another hotel quite as complete as this one.
Why Guests Love It: “Polite service, quick check-out, clean and big room, comfortable stay, nothing to complain. It is THE BEST hotel we have stayed in Taiwan.”, “Everything was perfect! Big, clean and spacious room with a great view!”, “Everything is very good. Location, facilities, breakfast are satisfied”.
Book It Now: Best Hotel
What to Eat
Hualien is constantly full of surprises, and the food variety here is no exception. If you’re a bit of a foodie, then there are a few things we highly recommend seeking whilst visiting this area, because they don’t quite do it as good elsewhere.
Scallion Pancake with Deep-Fried Egg – this is a street snack food that defines the entire street food scene of Hualien. Difficult to find elsewhere in Taiwan (and even if you do, chances are they don’t even come close in quality, taste, or texture), this deep-fried concoction consists of a chewy batter mixed with spices and green onion, fried with an egg inside. The first bite will send you straight to heaven, but it’s when you reach the middle that you really encounter an otherworldly experience. The egg yolk’s perfectly placed so that it doesn’t cook, and a bit into the centre makes the yolk explode in your mouth (and possibly clothes and anyone else standing beside you). Be careful because it comes straight from the fryer and will be quite hot!
Spicy Wonton – this classic Asian dish is found in all corners of the world, and all recipes are deemed ‘the original one’ but Hualien’s version is undeniably special. In Taiwan, they call it ‘bian-shi’, and it is basically lightly seasoned pork mince wrapped in egg pastry and steamed. The spicy wonton here as quite the rep, so we recommend you go for it!
Things to do in Hualien Taiwan #1 – View the Taroko Gorges at Swallow Grotto within Taroko Gorge National Park
It’s pretty much absolute – the number one reason why people visit Hualien is because they want to catch a glimpse of the famous gorges which line the mountains and cliffs within Taroko Gorge National Park. The beauty of the gorges precedes them – imagine stunning whorls and swirls of rocks and cliffs moulded by thousands of years of erosion, viewable from multiple suspension bridges, that go on and on (and on and on) for miles and miles. That’s probably why Taroko Gorge is part of our 9 best things to do in Taiwan!
It’s relatively touristy, but it’s an activity you definitely don’t want to miss out on. From our experience, the best way to experience this beauty is through a tour, and trust us, there are plenty to choose from. However, we highly recommend to book this one, you won’t be disappointed. The guides are knowledgeable local experts who know the ins and outs of the area, and can even show you some secret locations that only they seem to know about. Otherwise, if you are going to go at it on your own, you may need to need to hire a rental car, and depending on where you go, you may need to pay extra fees.
There are plenty of trails to take that will really immerse you in the beauty of the gorges, so be prepared to spend much more time there than you originally thought!
Access: If you’re not going to book a tour, you can easily get into Taroko Gorge from Hualien via multiple transport methods, such as public buses from Hualien (but be wary of their departure times – we recommend heading there a few days earlier to check and confirm), taxis (this is an expensive but flexible way of entering the park), and scooters (daredevils, this may be the option for you! There are plenty of scooter hire places around Hualien Station if you’re interested).
Things to do in Hualien Taiwan #2 – Qingshui Cliffs
Visiting Qingshui Cliffs is a must if you’re heading towards Taroko Gorge National Park; it’s along the same highway. What makes Qingshui Cliffs stand out is its position overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean: there are many areas where you can stop and marvel at the view, but at certain viewing platforms, the azure blue of the sea against the looming grey marbled cliffs and rich green of vegetation growing along the cliffs edge is just breathtaking. There are many routes around the cliffs so you can pretty much stop at any of the many car parks along the area and walk a bit to get to a vantage point for photos. This activity won’t take up too much of your time, and you’ll honestly appreciate stopping for the view the moment you lay eyes on it. For your information, this tour is also covering the Qingshui Cliffs.
On another note, if you’re after a full-blown adventure, then you can certainly participate in activities such as ATV-riding right up to the cliffs base! This will allow you to experience the cliffs from a different perspective.
Access: From Hualien Railway Station, catch a train to Heren or Chongde Station. Otherwise, from the HRS, take a Hualien Bus bound for Chongde and alight at Chongde. The cliffs are accessible from there. We highly recommend renting a car and/or booking through a tour so that you have the flexibility to driving to different vantage points (or get taken to secret locations by the guides!).
Things to do in Hualien Taiwan #3 – Shakadong Trail
The famous Shakadong Trail (aka. ‘Mysterious Valley Trail’), is known for its stunning trail through marbled rocks and boulders along a pristine clean river. The trail itself is extremely well-kept and easy to traverse, so anyone from a toddler to an elderly will be able to go from the beginning until the end and back again with a little bit of time. The greenery along the way is absolutely stunning – in winter, it contrasts with the icy blue of the water and swirling greys and browns of the rocks to create an epic scenery to walk along, and in summer, it provides some much needed shade from the sun.
At the end, the trail opens up to a larger body of the river and the beauty of the stunning colour of the water really shines here. Remember to take a moment to absorb it all in.
Address: Shakadang Trail, Xiulin Township
Access: From Hualien Station, you can hop on any of the Bus 1126, 1141, or 1133 to the entrance of Shakadang Trail at Shakadang Bridge. However, make sure you are aware of their departure times, as some only leave once a day.
Things to do in Hualien Taiwan #4 – Zhuilu Old Trail
Zhuilu Old Trail is arguably one of the most challenging hikes across all of Taiwan, but it’s also a contender for one of the most rewarding. If steep step inclines and dense vegetation is your kind of thing, then make sure you book yourself on this hike. It’s an extremely popular one amongst locals and domestic tourists, and for good reason. It’s quite scenic along the way, with plenty of places for you to stop and marvel at the beauty of the views, and there are plenty of rest stops on the way up (you’ll definitely need it). However, it’s crown jewel has got to be the view at the top when you arrive.
Instead of one big viewing platform, you’re taken to a cliffs edge that stretches for 500m along the side before you actually reach the end. The cliff’s edge is a mere 90cm wide, meaning only one person should be traversing on the path at the time, and, get this, there are absolutely no rails to handles to hand onto, so there’s pretty much nothing between you and the 700m drop to the bottom of the mountain. You’re literally between a rock and figuratively a hard place. Don’t let that deter you from this hike though, because as long as you stick to the rules and play it safe, you’re guaranteed a view and experience you’ll remember for a lifetime. The fog around the surrounding mountains adds a layer of mystique to the trail, and there’s something quite surreal about peeping over the 700m cliff edge without a single barrier to hinder your vision.
Along the way, you’ll see anyone from children to the elderly doing this hike – it’s challenge doesn’t discriminate. There are strict regulations to adhere to, however, and so we highly recommend doing this through a tour (EyeTravel Taiwan are a big player in the game, and they know their stuff). Otherwise, there are permits that you need to apply for, and for environmental sustainability reasons, only a limit of 96 people are allowed to enter a day, so for the peak seasons, you should book in advance!
Website (to apply for permit): https://npm.cpami.gov.tw/en/
Things to do in Hualien Taiwan #5 – Qixing Beach
A stop along the way of traveling through Taroko National Park is Qixing Beach, a gorgeous body of water that opens up to the Pacific Ocean. It’s not a place where people go swimming, per se, as the waves are always extraordinarily rough and dangerous. It’s a rocky beach, with black pebbles littering the ground all the way out to the ocean, which is a unique experience for some. Many locals and visitors pack picnics here, as the view is quite serene and relaxing, with waves crashing and not too much sand being blown around as with most beaches.
Many people make this a stop along their exploration of the coast, but for those are after a leisurely day, you can easily rent a bike from the rental store at Qixingtan, and ride along the Two Lakes Bikeway.
Access: From Hualien Railway Station, you can take a Taiwan Tourist Shuttle towards Qixingtan. Otherwise, you can rent it directly from outside Hualien Railway Station and ride it towards Qixing Beach.
Things to do in Hualien Taiwan #6 – Dongdaemun Night Market
What is Taiwan without night markets? Without further ado, let us introduce to you one of Hualien’s most famous (and rightfully so) night markets: the Dongdaemun Night Market. For those of you who have visited Taiwan before and are well-versed in the usual settings of Taiwan’s night markets, you’ll really appreciate the cleanliness of this one; and for those of you who are yet to experience them, let’s just say, this one will really set the standard for you.
Dongdaemun Night Market is well and truly a foodies dream. All the typical Taiwanese street foods will be present here: hundreds of skewers on display, ready to be prepared and eaten on the spot, candied strawberries sold by the dozen, fresh shucked oysters and fried chicken – all the perfect accompaniment after a long day of exploring. You’ll find stalls of Taiwanese bubble tea to wash everything down, or maybe it’s fresh watermelon juice you’re after? That’ll literally be a few stalls down. Toys, electronics, a stage with entertainment – Dongdaemun Night Market has it all.
Access: The easiest way to get to Dongdaemun Night Market is via a short 5-minute taxi ride. Otherwise, there are plenty of buses from the Hualien Railway Station that will take you there.
Hours: 5:30pm – 11:30pm
Things to do in Hualien Taiwan #7 – Hehuanshan
For the adrenalin junkies who want nothing more than to exert all their energy into exploring the wilderness and going to where the air is freshest, Hehuanshans is where the party’s at. Instead of being one singular mountain peak, Hehuanshan consists of a series of condensed, well-known mountains, all perfectly acceptable for hiking and thus making this an outdoor junkie’s paradise. There are many trails to choose from, From Hehuan Main Peak, to the North Peak, and even West Peak. However, we’ll note down the easiest trail here so that you understand what the standard is and make your decision on which trail to take from there.
Mt. Shimen is a popular hike of Hehuanshan. To get to the beginning, you’ll need to drive to the car park at Wuling, and from there, ascend only 800m in altitude before reaching the top. Depending on how fit you are, this may take roughly 60minutes or so. It’s not too strenuous, and there are plenty of elderly hikers and young children who can also take this route. If you’re prone to stopping and taking pictures every couple of metres, then be prepared: the views and flora here are quite stunning, so you’ll need to take into consideration all the time you’ll spend capturing beauty before you even get to the top.
Access: No public transport will be able to take you here. You will need to hire a car, a taxi, a scooter, or (for the extremely brave and fit) a bicycle. You will need to park here.
Things to do in Hualien Taiwan #8 – Coastal Highway 11
Between Hualien and Taitung county is the famous East Coast Highway 11, a spectacular road trip that takes you along some of Taiwan’s best beaches and nature sceneries. Along the way, you’ll pass some rural villages and fisherman towns that have still retained their old-school charm, and untouched soils that will make you feel like there’s a piece on earth still undiscovered by the masses. The air is cleaner, the time is slower, and the freedom to do whatever you want will permeate through your senses all day, every day, until you’re left a laid-back, carefree nomad who’s living for the moment (if you weren’t already). If you’re a big fan of any of the following, you’re in a good time: gorgeous beaches, rolling mountains, surfing, swimming or snorkelling (or any water sports really), intimate guesthouses, hiking, and sun sun sun.
Some of the standouts of locations along the highway include: Qixingtan Beach (mentioned before), Baqi Lookout, Jici Beach (one of the best beaches in Taiwan), Tropic of Cancer, and many more. It’s also important to note that the drive can be done in a full day (depending on your itinerary, so you’ll be back in Hualien before you know it. Otherwise, stay at one of the coastal accommodations for a relaxed drive and lazy morning the next day.
Access: The beginning of the highway starts at Ji’an Township in Hualien, and runs along the eastern coast of Taiwan.
Hualien can easily surprise even the most well-travelled individual. As much as people believe they’ve seen Taiwan through the eyes of Taipei, Hualien, only 2 hours away by train, can shed light on another side of Taiwan that you can only dream of. Whilst we’re definitely not trying to take away from the allure of Taipei City’s extraordinary nightlife, Hualien adds another layer of welcomed intricacy to Taiwan’s already mysterious and exciting appeal. Nature buffs, this one’s for you.
PS: If you are looking for more travel destinations in Taiwan, feel free to check out these blog posts too: Taiwan Travel Blog.