Taiwan Travelogue 2013 – Hualien, Keelung & Taipei (Part 3/3)

Taiwan Travelogue - Attractions in Hualien, Keelung Taipei Jensen Chua Photography

Taiwan Travelogue – Hualien, Keelung and Taipei 

In Part 2 of my Taiwan blog, we had great dining experience at some famous Taichung eateries – Lai Lai Soya Bean Milk, Chun Sui Tang and Ding Wang. The amazing Miyaharu (Gong Yang Yan Ke – a delightful local specialty and snack shop ), Mushroom Garden and Lavender Cottage at Sinshe county. The gorgeous Sun Moon Lake, Rainbow Village, Qing Jing Highlands and the fabulous mountain scenery of Taroko National Park.  This blog marked our descend from the highlands of Mt.Hehuan to the coastal city of  Hualien, then northward to the seaport town of Keelung and last destination at Taipei, which is the final leg of our ten days trip.

My family portrait, shot by my driver-guide, Ah Hui at Chi Shing Tan, a very popular beach at Hualien.

 Sunrise at Hehuanshan

In the previous blog, we got to experience the sunset at Hehuanshan. Now, we get to enjoy the awesome sunrise. This required us waking up at 3.00am, checking out of our accommodation at 4.00am and enduring a 2 hours drive to the vantage point for photography. It took absolute determination as we had to overcome fatigue from the previous day activities, leaving the warm cosy bed and brave the -5ºC morning freeze. But our reward was gazing at stars-filled skies and mesmerizing colours of dawn, which was just beyond description.
The beautiful colours of a new day. A cup of hot Milo prepared by our guide brought untold comfort as we waited for sunrise.

Here comes the sun, bringing some slight relief from the sub-zero chill. At the right of the picture, you can see Songshue Lodge, the sole government-run and highest hotel in Taiwan at 3,150m. It has a long waiting list if you intend to book a stay there.

Taroko Gorge

 The spectacular Taroko Gorge is a huge national park that spans Taichung, Nantou and Hualien and a big portion of those the rocks are actually marble, which Taiwanese call “Da li shi”. So you realise why many of Taiwan parks have benches, walkways, buildings, etc built with marble. Talk about a gift from nature! And every time there is an earthquake, part of Taroko gets a “free restructuring” as new rocks are pushed up the earth surface.
Taroko National Park famed “Toad Prince” Pavilion. Can you spot the toad prince?

 The immense scale of the Taroko Gorge humbles all that visited her.

With all of her natural beauty, Taroko is not without risk at times. This was the site of a major landslide in May 2013 that paralysed land travel from east to west. At the time of our visit, on-going debris and clearance work using explosive were still in progress.

Chi Shing Tan beach (Hualien) 

This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Taiwan, translated literally, it means “Seven Stars Bay”. It’s an entire bay of pebbles so you don’t get sand between your feet or inside your footwear. Hualien is a laid-back seaside town on the east of Taiwan. To visit Hualien, it is highly recommended that it be part of a round trip en route from Taichung and not an end destination by itself. That is because very few drivers/guide will undertake the 4 hours drive (1 way) from Taichung to Hualien just for a day trip. Taiwanese have this joke about Hualien – “Hao-Shan, Hao Sui Hao Wu Liao -Nice mountains, nice beaches but very boring”. The key setback of Hualien is its “awkward” distance from Taichung and Taipei.

 The wide expanse and awesome blueness of the Pacific Ocean. You will want to stay here longer than usual.

 Enjoying the simple pleasures of life at the beach with our guide, Ah Hui, trying to form the highest pebbles stack with my family.
Preparing to launch our own fireworks at a beach in Hualien. Yes, our very own fireworks. No license is needed. Generally, fireworks are sold openly in the street market and can be released in parks and open area. Just be mindful of safety to people in the vicinity.

Just 20 seconds of fireworks with 20 types of flare patterns. The cost is NT250 (S$9.90) per pack of 20 launches. We launched 2 rounds of fireworks with some sparklers given with compliments from the shop owner. It was pure “liberation” that evening. No permit, no paperwork, no authorisation needed.

Street food moment at Hualien City

Handmade dumplings, steamed buns, soya bean milk are some of the specialities of this 2 stalls. Looks the same but the one on the left is the most famous in Hualien.

Each bamboo basket of 10 steamed dumplings is just NT30 (S$1.26). We ordered 7 baskets that evening excluding 3 bowls of big fishball soup. A basket of 10 pork buns (xiao long bao) is just NT50 (S$2.15) Our group of 5 spent just about S$10 for a delicious full dinner. You can’t miss this stalls located at the main street junction where the night market is located.

Hualien is a great place for beef dish eateries. I did not pat attention to the name of this eatery as our guide eased our way to there. You will love the food at Hualien. Honest, simple and affordable.

One of the most delicious beef dishes you will find in Taiwan, right here in Hualien.

Zi Qiang Night Market

A BBQ foodstall in ZhiQiang Night Market. This stall proclaims itself as the No.1 BBQ food stall in Hualien. Looking at the wide range of food items and the healthy queue, it’s not an empty boast.

The famous morbidly named “Coffin Bread” – a thick slice of bread is deep fried/toasted and can be ordered with options of stuffing in the bread’s hollowed centre. We had black peppered pork.

The Taiwan version of what we called “popiah”. Not bad but the Singapore version can hold its own place in the popiah race if there is one.

Taiwan’s most BBQ sweet corn snack company – Ling Ji. Farm fresh sweet corns are charcoal grilled with its skin till cooked, then the de-skinned sweet corn is further barbequed, with your preferred choice of sauces.

Our ming su (homestay) in Hualien was a 3000sg.ft 5-bedrooms intermediate terrace house. We did not meet the owner, who stayed elsewhere. Upon arrival, my guide called the owner on his mobile phone, retrieved the password and punched in the code at the auto gate. The owner will drop by to do housekeeping the next day when we leave for the day’s activities. The house comes fully furnished with TV, WiFi, washer/dryer, fridge, water dispenser, etc. Upon checking out, we just leave the payment on the table. The owner even left 2 bags of famous local snacks on the door as gifts. Such is personalized Taiwanese mingsu service.  The charges are based on per head, which in our case was a reasonable NT500 (S$21.25)per pax/night.

A last look at Hualien as we travel up north via the Ching Shui Cliff coastal highway. In the picture above, you can observe camouflaged military aircraft bunkers in the background, just beside ChiShingTan beach. Military buffs can spot warplanes taking off and landing on certain timing.

Ching Sui Cliff (Su Hua Highway)

A picturesque drive on the Su Hua highway as we make our way to the seaport of Keelung.

 The whitish portion of the sea comes from run-off in the streams or groundwater that traverse the marble quarries that dominate the inland.

Keelung City

Keelung, officially known as Keelung City, is a major port city situated in the north-eastern part of Taiwan. A compact city which you can explore on foot with a few cool attractions like a nice food market and fish market. Keelung is ideal for a half-day trip if you have 2-3 hours to spare.

Hobbyist fishermen along the port of Keelung. It’s leisurely pace of life that city dwellers would like.

Dorado fishes spotted for sale at the Keelung fish market. In some parts of the world, it’s called ‘Mahe Mahe’.

Many fishball vendors shops dot the Keelung fish market fringe. One of the most popular is that of Ah Rong Fishballs. The fishballs are made from Dorado fish (see the signboard how the fish looked like), handmade, cooked on the spot and served piping hot.

Certainly a tasty and healthy snack, just NT30 (S$1.26) for a bowl of 5. Slightly firm, chewy and served in a hot clear MSG-free broth.

Taiwan famous ice cream roll dessert with shaved peanut brittles. According to my guide, this lady was Taiwan’s no.1 “La Mei” (hot beautiful girl) during her younger days many decades ago, pioneering this type of ice cream dessert.

What? Cilantro herbs added to ice cream? Yes, it’s this that adds the unique flavour to the ice cream, served wrapped with rice paper.

Chilling out at the Keelung beach. When a family plays together, they stay together.

Suao Cold Spring (Yilan County)

The Su’ao cold springs have a temperature of less than 22°C and the water from these springs are clear, odorless and colourless. This rare type of cold springs are only found at a few places around the world, like Italy and Japan and it is suitable for bathing and consumption. You can see a layer of “fizzles” on our feet as we placed it in the water. The spa looks somewhat run down and was quiet during our visit (we were the only visitors). It is most popular in the hot summer season when the whole spa is swarmed with visitors escaping the heat.

A typical mobile roadside BBQ stall. The place of business is fixed, legally registered and the owner pay taxes.

Fruits stalls in Taiwan are typically brightly lit, attracting customers like bees to a flower.

Ping Xi Branch Rail Line (Shi Fen)

Ping Xi Railway with it Wishing (Sky) Lanterns will endear itself in visitors’ heart as a fun and memorable venue. Just choose from one of the many shops selling the lanterns (NT200/S$8.50) for all types of wishes – 4 coloured sides lanterns or NT150/S$6.40, for the 1 coloured lantern). Write in all your wishes, lit the lantern and send it to the skies. The further and higher the lanterns go, the better the chances your dreams will come true.

Better school results, health, happiness, more holidays, more iPad time, Strike Toto, Strike 4D, buy a condo, get COE, etc. You can tell who are the Singaporeans are by the wishes written on the lanterns. But ours are just simple wishes, for great health, happiness.

A single lady wishing for the stars and everything great in life. All written on the lantern.

Airborne! The lanterns are lit up with joss papers soaked in kerosene and stuck into the receptacle within the lantern. If the lanterns did not get airborne properly for some reason, the shop owner will replace it with another one till your lantern ascends the skies at no extra charge.

 You can also pen your wishes on bamboo stems and hang it on the line parallel to the side of the railway.
A 15-min walk from the railway bring you to the scenic Shi Fen Waterfall.  Do note entry charges (80NT) applies.

Houtong Cat Village

Houtong, a small town in New Taipei City that has become famous for its large feline population in recent years. The town encircled by hills was once a Taiwan major coal mine and now houses a museum to showcase its mining heritage.  But visitors come mainly to photograph the 120 or so cats, who laze around “their village” and get all the treats (some even pick and chose treats!). In the pic above, a couple of cats were squaring each other in an “alpha male or hierarchy rite” purring and staring into each other’s eyes.
 
During cold wintry spells or nights, the village cats will gather together on the “Cats” bridge. Since it was fairly cool and sunny when we visited, we spotted only 1 at the bridge.

Cat lovers will appreciate this visit to the village. Remember – the cat biscuits are not as well received by the cats. So buy the canned food instead, if you want more cats to come to you.

Golden Waterfall (Jiu Fen)

 

Jinguashi is located in the Ruifang Township of Taipei County, the area became famous for its gold mines. Situated between the mountains and the coastline, the local scenery is exceptionally beautiful plus the abundance of historical relics from the mining day. At the right moment during sunset, this waterfall will be bathed in the golden hue of dusk, hence its name.

Evening came to the beautiful town of Jiu Fen, where the quaint old alleys along the hill, with many tea houses and eateries that will excite any visitor. Indeed, my guide commented that all visitors to Taiwan seemed to converge on Jiu Fen at some point to their itinerary.

Shuinandong Smelter, located above Liandong Bay on the Coastal Highway, was the ore sorting and smelting plant for the Taiwan Metals Mining Corp. It is built into the hillside and old miners and local people usually call it “13 stories.” Built in 1933, the Shuinandong Smelter (13 stories) is a landmark bearing the passing of a bygone era of gold-rush. Looks quite spooky really.

Lao Jie (Old Street), Jiu Fen

Dusk comes to Jiu Fen. From this path at the highest point of the Old Street, is where we began an adventure in the quaint old street. Those with old folks or who have weak knees would do well to commence their walk from here, strolling down the street.

 Jiu Fen, is one of the most interesting places to visit in northern Taiwan. Its old streets are filled with exotic eateries, tea houses, local produce, etc. But be forewarned, since all tourists to Taiwan converged on Jiu Fen, as part of their itineraries. So you may experience claustrophobia and definitely frustration.

Visiting during early weekday evenings would be a wiser option and even better during wintry months from Nov-Jan. The hot summer months are best avoided, at all cost. This is the venue that inspired the winning 2003 Academy Award animated movie – “Spirited Away“, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  Take a rest, have tea and snack at one of the quaint eateries.

Custom-made clogs for my daughter, ready in just 5-7 minutes.

Delicious red-wine fermented meat pudding in a chewy dough. I love it!

Cute figurines and memorabilia to buy home.

Peanut vendor at Jiu Fen – one of the tastiest peanuts I tasted ever! Bought a few bags. But was told by my wife it’s available in Singapore Chinatown (but only during Chinese New Year).

Addiction Aquatic Development

This amazing eatery warrants special mention and is definitely worth a visit when in Taipei. Located at the Taipei Fish Market on Minzu East Road near Songshan Airport, a section of the traditional fish market was revamped by Mitsui Food and Beverage Enterprise Group and transformed into one of Taipei’s most memorable places to eat.  Many of the older traditional market stalls are still around and they are a great sightseeing spot before heading on to the chic Addiction Aquatic Development to enjoy the freshest sashimi and sushi.

The freshest abalones at very reasonable prices. During off-peak hours, diners get to enjoy great discounts!

My family and guide, Ah Hui, tucking in the fresh Salmon and Abalone Sashimi. You can choose to dine on your purchase at the standing counters upon paying and checking out (cheaper, self-serve) or feast within the eatery (also on a standing pedestal, with service).

For non-seafood lovers, you can feast on roasted meat dishes in al fresco setting or steamboat within the aircon enclosed dining section. Certainly an unbelievable set-up. There’s also a wine section, interior decor, supermart, etc. You will be “addicted” to this place.

As a parting shot with our guide, Ah Hui brought us to this “secret” location near Songshan Airport, where we could observe landing commercial airliners, just 30m directly above us… truly an awesome finale to our guided trip.

Yehliu GeoPark

For all who have not visited Taiwan, I am sure will not be stranger to the following picture of the Queen’s Head, a naturally formed rock structure. An awesome venue to visit, especially when you are in Taipei city.
 

All hail the Queen! But alas!The rock has developed a crack at the base. And time is ticking as in a matter of time, it will collapse, if the Taiwanese voted in favour not to meddle with nature, in a national referendum.

Long queue just to take a picture with the Queen’s Head, expect at least 30 minutes!

Tamsui (New Taipei City)

The Lovers’ Bridge at Tamsui. A nice peaceful venue for all other than lovers, of course. Accessible by a MRT ride, bus or via a ferry to the vicinity.

Tamsui Old Street (Lao Jie). Another night market to fire up a night of street food and shopping. Plenty of opportunities for you to part with your NTs.

Shihlin Night Market. Many reviews decried this night market as touristy and more expensive compared to most night markets . It was indeed so (other night basic snack is NT30 per order, but it is NT35-40 here) but just be ‘price-alert’ when you are at this venue.  And stay away from the fruits stalls which sell fruits at exorbitant prices. Overall, it’s still a fun venue.

Ladies delight venue- bags, bags, bags.

BBQ stinky tofu, awesome not to be missed snack. So tuck in if you go there.

Traditional food are also available, like this steamed meat pudding.

Ai Yu Iced Jelly- a refreshing dessert to cool down your throat after all that street food which are mostly deep-fried, roasted or BBQ.

Taipei 101

 The new landmark of Taiwan. It cost NT500 (S$21.25) to visit the observation deck. A great time to go would be at late afternoon so that you take in the day and evening view. 2 for the price of 1.

The trick to take in the whole building is shooting at least 4 streets away.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

A landmark not to be missed for its scale and historical significance. Entry is free.

The hourly change of guards is an interesting event to observe Taiwanese military protocol and discipline.

View from atop the CKS Memorial Hall. An awesome view of scale and grandeur.

Scoot Airline, a popular choice to visit Taiwan with reasonable flight ticket, B787 Dreamliner aircraft and flight schedule. 

So there you have it, the final part of my Taiwan travel blog.  I hope that readers had a great time getting reference points for future Taiwan trips if you have not been there. After my 10 days in Taiwan, my guide estimated that we have perhaps covered only about 5% of the island’s attractions. That means we have to return for more of this fabulous beautiful island.

Thank you for coming along with me for the pixels journey. Do share your Taiwan vacation too, if you enjoyed your Taiwan adventure. 

Comments

  1. Sherissa Tan says:

    Is there any reason why the photos in Part 3 of this Taiwan Trip is missing. I have no problems viewing Part 1 & 2.

    Thank you.

    1. Jensen says:

      Hi Sherissa,
      Thank you for highlighting this to me. I’ve now inserted the pictures 🙂 Hope my blog helps in your planning of your Taiwan trip.

  2. Wendy Lim says:

    Fascinated by your travelogue. Would you be able to share how you engage a driver to bring you around in Taiwan? Tks.

    1. Jensen says:

      Hi Wendy,
      You may contact Ah Hui via his Facebook Messenger. His FB ID is Backpacker Van 背包客車. His hp is +886955809933. My suggestion is via the FB Messenger as he’s on the road most times. His Line app is also manned by his assist Amy. I only engage Ah Hui and no one else, for his service and reliability. Do let him or Amy I referred u for faster response. (i dun get any commission, juz helping a driver/guide who have since become a friend) .

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