Wednesday 19th May – Taipei – Hualien
Our train leaves Taipei at 1030am, so we arrived at the station at 915am to ensure we didn’t miss our train. The scenery on this three-hour journey was lovely, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and Taiwan’s mountainous interior on the other.
We arrived at Hualien just before 2pm and were whisked away by a very happy taxi driver, who took us to the Dashhin Hotel for NT105 ($5). The hotel is fine, we have a double bed and a multi coloured bath that looks like it is made of a thousand guitar plectrums. It cost NT600 ($25) a night and has a small menagerie consisting of three cats and one yappy dog. After checking in we went to the Hualien Travel Service to arrange a tour for tomorrow to Taroko Gorge which the cost NT800 ($34) and Tony also booked his white-water rafting trip for Friday NT1000 ($42) and a whale watching tour for me for the same day at a cost of NT850 ($36). When we were, in McDonalds having lunch, we could feel the floor moving and with some concern realised we were experiencing an earth tremor. This
went on for a minute or so and was the weirdest feeling. In the evening, we went for a walk around town, it’s nicer than Taipei, quite a pretty little city. We went and had a drink in a bar but drinks were expensive ($8) for a beer, so we only stayed for one. When we were walking back to our hotel, we could hear the tune of an ice cream truck, but when we turned around it was a garbage truck. The garbos were friendly, hanging out the truck saying: “Hello-o-o-o!!” Everyone is happy here. Thursday 20th May – Hualien
Our tour bus was supposed to depart at 8.30am from out the front of our hotel but after waiting about 10 minutes our tour guide came running down the street as he had been waiting for us outside the travel agents. We picked up four more people on the way, all Asians, one guy and three girls, all were pleasant. Our first stop was a marble factory – Hualien’s biggest trade is in marble, where we saw some nice heavy and/or expensive stuff. They had a showroom, and on display were whole marble bathrooms which were super.
Taroka National Park
We then headed to Taroko Gorge stopping briefly at an Air Force base near the beach – there we took photographs of FA16’s – in artificial grass covered hangars.
We then went to the Taroko National Park and spent half an hour in the Visitor Centre before driving to the Gorge. It was a good tour because the guide would drop us off and we would walk along the scenic routes and then he would pick us up at the other end. The gorge was fantastic as it was all marble and clear water and we walked through lots of mountain tunnels excavated by the Japanese during the second world war. It rained for most of the day but didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the scenery. We had big lunch at a Taiwanese restaurant, about six courses for NT150 ($6) and then completed more hikes before leaving the gorge about 230pm. We visited another marble shop (again expensive but some nice stuff) and then visited a food shop (didn’t buy anything here, although the sweets/biscuits were okay) before being dropped back at our hotel around 4pm. Our best day in Taiwan so far. Friday 21st May – Hualien
Tony woke about 6am he is going white water rafting and his bus is due at 7am but didn’t turn up till 8. I tried to have a lazy sleep in but there was too much outside noise. For some reason (we don’t know why) the Taiwanese drive around the streets in vans with megaphones blaring, what they are saying I don’t know, whether they are advertising or campaigning, whatever it is, it’s bloody annoying, Asians just must be LOUD. I finally crawled out of bed about 1030am, I had a cold shower (we have no hot water) and wandered down to the travel agent to see if they could book train tickets for us. The same lady who booked our tours served me and I really think she is utterly useless as she shook her head about the tickets and gave me a timetable. This would have been well and good had we been catching a PLANE! I finally got a train timetable from our hotel’s reception.
About 120pm found me on a tour bus to go whale watching. Naturally I was the only westerner, everyone else was Asian, so I had no one to talk too
(not that I cared). We caught the boat at Hualien Harbour, after a brief safety demonstration (for Asians only – I had to sit outside); we were on board by 2pm. It was raining quite heavily and the sea was rough, I hoped I wouldn’t get seasick but about 20 minutes out I started to feel queasy. The rain and the waves were coming in both sides of our boat and completely soaked our guide. Of course, the commentary was all in Chinese so I didn’t know what was going on until everyone got excited and I knew they had seen something. It turned out to be a pod of dolphins and this was the highlight as we saw nothing else, I did see one flying fish, which came out of the water, flapped its fins BURRRRR and went back in, so at least I saw something I had never seen before! After about an hour I really didn’t care anymore, I felt sick and all I wanted to do was get back on land. It was worse when they killed the engines to look at dolphins, the boat rocked so much that on one side of the boat you
could see sky and on the other, sea! I wasn’t the only one, Asians were dropping like flies. Finally, at 330pm we headed back to shore, I think by this stage no one cared about whales anymore!
I arrived back at the hotel around 430pm and Tony was already there he had been back an hour or so. He had a good day, it was his first-time white water rafting and he had fun and sunburnt knees!! He said they went through some fantastic scenery but the rapids could have been bigger. He also was the only westerner, so had language difficulties, although one Chinese lad translated for him and the others kept throwing him cans of beer. It was still pouring with rain but we caught a bus to the train station to buy our tickets on the morning train to Taitung. This was all done so easily it was such a relief after China. Heavy monsoonal rain soaked us to the skin right through our raincoats as we made our way back to the hotel. Saturday 22nd May – Hualien – Taitung
We caught a bus to the train station boarding the train to Taitung
at 1010am. Luckily, we have the last two seats in the carriage and could put our backpacks behind us, this gave us plenty of leg room. We arrived in Taitung at 1230pm, and the first thing we did was try to book tickets to Tainan, there is no train that goes straight through, so we have to change trains at Kaohsiung. Tickets to Kaohsiung cost NT280 ($12) and tickets to Taitung had cost NT340 ($14). We then had to catch a bus to Taitung city, which is five kilometres from the train station. It took about 10 minutes before we were there, our driver kindly pointing out the road we were looking for. It is still an overcast day, but quite humid, especially when you are walking around with backpacks, it didn’t take long to find the hostel, which is a REAL hostel, it’s called Gringos and is funky. Our room cost NT600 ($25) and has its own bathroom.
After we had dumped our bags we went to the café downstairs and had submarine sandwiches for lunch, which were healthy and yum. We then walked to the local Buddhist temple and pagoda and had a look around, climbing up
to the lookout and enjoying the view of Taitung. As Taitung is located on the Pacific Ocean, we then walked through the town to the beach, which was a disappointment as the sand was gritty and pebbly and the shoreline covered with concrete pilings to protect the town from typhoons. Along the foreshore there were lots of shanties that had piles of mattresses out the front, to protect them from typhoons too, I guess. Taitung has lots of dogs wandering the streets and on the way back to the hostel, Tony trod in dog pooh, he wasn’t happy!! Our hostel has lots of books, so we grabbed some and retired to our room before coming down about 8pm to a delicious dinner of corn soup, potato and mushroom bake and salad for NT150 ($6), it’s the healthiest (and best) meal we have eaten for a long time (But I still hate
the breakfasts!!). Sunday 23rd May – Taitung – Kaohsiung – Tainan
I woke after a decent sleep but God these Asians are noisy at night! All sorts of noises coming from the streets, horns blaring, people with loudspeakers etc. We left for the train station just after
730am and walked down the road (which was deserted, we felt like ringing cow bells and waking everyone up) to the bus station and caught the bus to the train station easily. It didn’t take long and we were at the train station just after 8am. We boarded our train at 9am and were on our way to Kaohsiung, arriving just after midday we had to leave the platform to go buy our ongoing tickets to Tainan, which were quite cheap at NT69 ($3) as the journey took less than an hour.
We arrived in Tainan about 130pm, and it didn’t take long to find our hotel as it was almost exactly opposite the train station. Our room cost NT700 ($29) and is basic but has a bathroom. In the evening, we decided to go for a walk to see if we could find a bar, but once we found them they were all still closed, most bars seem to open at 9pm, it was only around 6pm. We wandered around the streets near the University and had a look at all the food stalls, we lined up with a whole heap of students at a self-serve restaurant, half-filled
our plates and then left them on the counter as we had changed our minds. We found a couple of Internet cafes and a big department store which had a food court in the basement, we ended up with fish and rice for dinner, which wasn’t too bad, except for the raw egg mixed in with my rice that got a bit sticky after a while.
On the way, back to our hotel we stopped in at the train station and bought our tickets (with a Taiwanese man’s help) to Keelung on Tuesday, these cost a bit more as the train journey is about 5 hours NT620 ($26). We went back to our room and watched cable TV it’s fun walking around the streets, apart from being run over by a scooter, you feel quite safe in Taiwan. Monday 24th May – Tainan
For some reason our room price has gone down overnight to NT600 ($25) but we don’t care! We are going to visit some temples today, but first we must send some emails. When we got to the Internet café we had trouble communicating with the kids on the desk (first time ever, must have
Taroka National Park
been especially thick ones) and ended up paying for two hours each though it didn’t matter as it only cost about $1 an hour. After that we went back to the food court and had Macca’s for lunch, before popping into a bookstore. There was a large selection of English titles, but we were after a Lonely Planet guide for Korea, which unfortunately they didn’t have.
It was then a 15-minute walk to our first temple, the Dongyue Temple, this one was most interesting as it deals with demons and Hell, at the front a man was praying with the help of two women who were obviously driving away evil spirits, and in an adjacent room there appeared to be an exorcism ceremony going on, with a man running around with a mask on, we couldn’t see clearly and were unable to take a photo. We spent a bit of time here and took lots of photos, especially one of the statue which looks exactly like Tony’s friend Tim. After that temple, it was a short walk to Chenghuang temple which wasn’t quite so demonic as the first. We then went to find Tientan temple but got a bit
lost until a man on a scooter gave us directions. This temple was nothing special aside from its enormous bell.
Feeling a bit templed out (nearly 3pm) we walked a fair distance back to our hotel, stopping at a department store and buying some cream puffs. We had pizza for dinner which cost NT220 for both a 6” and a 9” and was very nice, we had a satisfying day, it’s good to get out and sightsee. Tuesday 25th May – Tainan – Keelung
We caught our train at 1040am, loaded up with crisps, chocolate bars and drinks, as unlike China, Taiwanese trains don’t have vendors that come around constantly. At one station Tony jumped off to buy a paper, but the stop was only two minutes, so he had to jump on the nearest carriage (I though he had missed the train). Arrived in Keelung just after 4pm, our ferry doesn’t leave until 10pm so we have a fair bit of time to kill. We haven’t actually bought
our ferry tickets yet, we have reserved them, and so we walked to the ferry terminal to see if we could purchase our tickets. When we got there,
just after 5pm, the whole place was deserted save for one or two people. We were told to come back at 730pm when the ticket office opened. We passed the time sitting on the dock watching puffer fish in the water, I haven’t been feeling too good today, I have a fuzzy head, a sore throat etc. so I am not overdoing things.
When 730pm came, we were relieved to find our names on the list, but they only took cash, and I had been hoping to use my credit card, so Tony had to do a last-minute dash to an ATM. The tickets cost NT3120 ($126) and we got on as students. Neither of us knew what the ferry would look like, whether it would be big or small, whether we had seats? Tony has been on a few Asian ferries and said they roll mats out for you to sleep on, so we expected something like that. Just after 8pm we got on a bus with about eight other people and were taken to the dock where the ferry was. The ferry was huge, and not what we were expecting at all, it looks like a small
ocean liner (like the Spirit of Tasmania) and is quite luxurious, with bar, restaurant, coffee shop, video games room etc. We went through immigration on the boat, and we must be the only people on the boat as it seems deserted. We have a cabin with six bunks in it, but it appears to be just us two and a Japanese backpacker who seems nice, the cabin has a bathroom, a shower and even a TV. We didn’t think we would get anything like this; it’s great, even the bunks have curtains that go all the way around your bed so you have total privacy. The ferry is Japanese owned, so everything for sale is in Yen, I have Y10000 but Tony had to change his NT for Yen on the ship with the help of a crew member and a Chinese woman who had pocketsful of Yen. Dinner was served at 9pm, but of course prices are high and we had already eaten, so we didn’t bother.
We departed Taiwan at 10pm, and Tony and I went up on deck and watched us sail away from the shore and the lights of Taiwan. It seems so
strange to have such a big boat all to ourselves. I can feel the boat moving but it is quite smooth. I went to bed after 11pm closing the curtains!
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