Taiwan Travelogue 2013 – Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Welcome to “Taiwan Travelogue 2013 – Hualien, Keelung & Taipei “. In Part 2 of my Taiwan blog, we had a 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 the final leg of our 10 days trip as we descent from the highlands of Mt.Hehuan to the coastal city of  Hualien, then northward to the seaport town of Keelung and final destination at Taipei.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
My family portrait, was shot by my driver-guide, Ah Hui at Chi Shing Tan, a very popular beach at Hualien.

 Sunrise at Hehuanshan

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
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, check out of our accommodation at 4.00am and endure a 2 hours drive to the vantage point for photography. It took absolute determination as we had to overcome fatigue from the previous day’s 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.
Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
The beautiful colours of a new day. A cup of hot Milo prepared by our guide brought untold comfort as we waited in the -1°C dawn freeze for sunrise.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
 The spectacular Taroko Gorge is a huge national park that spans Taichung, Nantou and Hualien and a big portion of those the rocks are natural marble, which Taiwanese call “Da li shi”. You will realise why many of Taiwan parks have benches, walkways, buildings, etc built with marble. Talk about a gift from nature! And each time after an earthquake, part of Taroko gets a “free restructuring” as new rocks are pushed up the earth surface.
Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
Taroko National Park’s famed “Toad Prince” Pavilion. Can you spot the toad prince?

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

 The immense scale of the Taroko Gorge humbles all that visited her.
Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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 cut off overland routes from east to west. At the time of our visit, ongoing debris and clearance work using explosives were still in progress.

Chi Shing Tan Beach (Hualien) 

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
This is one of the most beautiful beaches in Taiwan, translated literally, it means “Seven Stars Bay”. The entire bay is filled with pebbles so you don’t get sand between your feet or inside your footwear. Hualien is a laid-back seaside town in the east of Taiwan. To visit Hualien, it is highly recommended that it be part of a round trip from Taichung and not an end destination by itself as very few drivers/guides 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.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

Enjoying the simple pleasures of life at the beach with our guide, Ah Hui, trying to form the highest pebbles stack with my family.
Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
Preparing to launch our own fireworks at a beach in Hualien. Yes, our personal fireworks. No approval is needed. Generally, fireworks are sold openly in the street market and can be released in parks and open areas. Just be mindful of the safety of 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 compliments by the shop owner. It was pure “liberation” that evening – no paperwork, no authorisation needed.

Street food moment at Hualien City

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

Each bamboo basket of 10 steamed dumplings is just NT30 (S$1.26). We ordered 7 baskets that evening with 3 bowls of big fish-ball 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 sumptuous full dinner. You can’t miss these stalls located at the main street junction where the night market is located.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

Hualien is a great place for beef lovers. I did not pay attention to the name of this eatery as our guide eased our way to a nondescript roadside eatery. You will love the food at Hualien – honest, simple, and affordable.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Zi Qiang Night Market

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

A BBQ food stall 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.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

The popular 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.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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 Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
Taiwan’s most BBQ sweet corn snack company – Ling Ji. Farm-fresh sweet corns are charcoal grilled with its husks till cooked, then de-husked and further barbecued, with your preferred choice of sauces.

Our ming su (homestay) in Hualien was a spacious intermediate terrace house. We did not meet the owner, who stayed elsewhere. Upon arrival, my guide retrieved the gate password from the owner and punched in the code at the auto gate. The owner dropped by to do housekeeping the next day when we leave for the day’s activities. The house comes fully furnished with a 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. The charges are based on per head, which in our case was a reasonable NT500 (S$21.25)per pax/night.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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 at certain time.

Ching Sui Cliff (Su Hua Highway)

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
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 northeastern 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 anglers along the port of Keelung. It’s the leisurely pace of life that city dwellers would like.

Dorado fish 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 fish balls are made from Dorado fish (see the signboard how what 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’s 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) who pioneered this type of ice cream dessert during her younger days many decades ago.

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 is clear, odorless, and colourless. This rare type of cold spring is only found in 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 the skin of our feet as we placed them 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 pays 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’ hearts 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, light 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 the Singaporeans are by the wishes written on the lanterns. But ours are just simple wishes, for great health, and happiness.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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, the shop owner will replace them with another one till your lantern ascends the skies, at no extra charge.

You can also pen your wishes on bamboo stems and hang them on the line along the railway.
Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
A 15-min walk from the railway brings you to the scenic Shi Fen Waterfall.  Do note entry charges (80NT) apply.

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, which 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.
 Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
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)

 Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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 in their itinerary.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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 the gold rush. Looks quite spooky really.

Lao Jie (Old Street), Jiu Fen

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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 should commence their walk from here by descending 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 most tourists converged on Jiu Fen, as part of their itineraries, 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 costs. This is the venue that inspired the winning 2003 Academy Award animated movie – “Spirited Away“, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

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 Ah Hui, tucked in the fresh salmon and abalone sashimi. You can choose to dine on at the standing counters upon paying and checking out (cheaper if 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 an 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.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
For all who have not visited Taiwan, I am sure will not be strangers 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.
 Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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 vote in favour of not meddling with nature, in a national referendum.

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

Tamsui (New Taipei City)

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
The Lovers’ Bridge at Tamsui. A nice peaceful venue for all other than lovers, of course. Accessible by an MRT ride, bus, or 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.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

Shihlin Night Market. Many reviews decried this night market as touristy and more expensive compared to most night markets. It was indeed so (the other night market snack is an average 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 fruit stalls which sell fruits at exorbitant prices. Overall, it’s still a fun venue.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

Ladies’ Delight venue- bags, bags, bags.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Traditional food is also available, like steamed meat pudding.

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Taipei 101

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
 The new landmark of Taiwan. It cost NT500 (S$21.25) to visit the observation deck. A great time to go would be in the 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

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei
A landmark not to be missed for its scale and historical significance. Entry is free.
Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

Taiwan Travelogue 2013 - Hualien, Keelung & Taipei

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

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

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 covered only about 5% of the island’s attractions. That means we have to return for more of this fabulously beautiful island.

Thank you for coming along with me for the pixels journey. For other vacation inspiration, please feel free to check my other travelogues


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    1. Jensen says:

      Thank u, have a great trip to Taiwan 🙂

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    1. Jensen says:

      Thanks Jurgen, its a paid theme with some customisation. Cheers

  4. Fok Wai Leng says:

    Hi Jensen,

    Will you recommend self drive instead of hiring a driver guide for the destinations you covered in your Taiwan travelogue?

    Wai Leng

    1. Jensen says:

      Hi Wai Leng,
      Thanks for your message. I do mostly self-drives on my trips but for Taiwan, I personally recommend hiring a driver (especially the driver/guide I hired – Ah Hui (FB page – https://www.facebook.com/backpackersvan/) .
      Reason is (1) Taiwan is left-hand drive (2) the mountain routes are windy and visibility can be bad when it fogged up – also slippery) (3) fatigue. (4) things change in Taiwan frequently. I would recommend self-drive in Okinawa, Australia, NZ , etc.But not Taiwan. Please feel free msg me at – https://www.facebook.com/jensenchua.photography/ if you need further assist. Have a great trip.

  5. 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) .

  6. 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.

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