Today began our travels to Hualien, a city located on the eastern side of Taiwan. After a fancy hotel breakfast complete with an omelet, smoked salmon, and tropical fruits, we packed up for an overnight trip and left for the bus station. After much research on transportation methods between Taipei and Hualien, the best route for us was to take a bus to Taipei City Hall Station, and then purchase a combo (bus/ train) ticket to Luodong and Hualien Station. At the first station, I anticipated the bus would be either on time or late from my Japanese bus experience. However, much to my surprise, it rolled in front of the bus stop a few minutes early- good thing we had been early too!
We arrived at City Hall Station with no problems and successfully purchased our combo tickets for 260 NT about $8.50. We traveled an hour to Loudong through many tunnels, past incredible greenery, and next to the beautiful sea . At Luodong station, we upgraded our tickets to the express train and waited. As we waited, I watched a food vendor make tiny cake sandwiches that were cooked in hot metal divots similar to those used to make takoyaki. I ordered a cake filled with red bean paste and mom sampled a cream filled one. Since our desserts were hot off of the griddle, their crispiness was delightful, and their insides, decadent.
When our express train arrived about an hour later, we boarded our last leg to Hualien. Again the scenery outside was lush green, but this time I enjoyed a nice nap until we arrived. Our total travels from Taipei to Hualien took less than 4 hours and every part went according to plan- phew! The last detail was to find our Air Bnb guide and settle into our accommodations. Soon after we exited the station, we were hailed by our host and driven to our room. A translator told us everything we needed to know for the night and gave us some suggestions for the rest of the day’s activities. By this time I was textbook hangry, and overwhelmed with finding a place to eat at. Eventually I picked a dumpling shop called Gongzheng Baozi with good reviews and in the direction of the area we wanted to explore at night. We packed up and headed out.
We walked along one of the main streets of Hualien for many blocks. When we finally we made it to the dumpling place, I was completely famished and ready to eat. The storefront was filled with workers making dumplings and baos (steamed bins), while stacks and stacks of wooden steamers billowed steam into air. Luckily when we arrived there were not many people in line so we were able to order and sit down right away. We got a basket of 10 dumplings, pork soup and 2 xiao long bao (Chinese dumplings filled with soup and meat)…. All for less than $3!!! (I still can’t believe how cheap it was). Our food came in a steaming basket and we quickly indulged in everything. There were special dipping sauces, one of which a delicious garlic soy sauce that made the meal absolutely incredible. The soup was thicker than usual which I enjoyed, but the xiao long bao were more doughy than expected. All of my hunger and bad feelings were washed away with this meal since it hit the spot perfectly.
A couple of stores away from the dumpling place, we ran into a milk tea shop. I love this sweet flavored drink coupled with chewy tapioca balls, so I was excited to try an authentic version. I ordered a green tea drink with pearls (tapioca balls) and mom got a passion fruit version with small jellies and passion fruit seeds. The lady making my drink forgot to add my pearls which was a little disappointing, but I didn’t feel like sending it back for another. I enjoyed the refreshingness of my drink, but liked mom’s tropical one much more. Although the passion fruit seeds were hard when bitten into, they had great flavor and were well accompanied with the small jellies. Bellies full and drinks in hand, we continued walking down the long main street until we reached the water’s edge. At this point we switched direction and walked along the water.
We stopped by a nice park, and passed a 3D art space where paintings and installations seemed to leap to life. We walked all the way to Shuguang Bridge before turning around and retracing our steps. It was great to be by the water’s edge and stretch our legs from the long travels.
As we walked, the sky grew darker and the clouds began to appear from the mountainside. The weather was still extremely comfortable though, which I was glad for. One part of the walk gave us great views of the city rooftops surrounded by a large mountainous background.
After walking a good portion of the shoreline, we headed back inland in order to explore the Dongdamen night market. This market was a bit different than Shilin in that it was made up of a few different themed cross streets rather than one long road. However, there were still tons of stalls selling a wide variety of food, and games for visitors to play. I first tried an oyster to fulfill a seafood craving, then slurped down delicious, bright pink, fresh squeezed watermelon juice. It was so refreshing and I couldn’t believe the sweetness of the juice.
A stall owner handed my mom and I samples of deep fried soft shell crab and shrimp which we surprisingly enjoyed. We planned on getting some later on in the market but sadly didn’t run into any other sellers. The last treat we sampled was grilled corn on a stick. We watched as a lady slowly turned the corn as it cooked and periodically glazed a dark, sweet, soy sauce over the kernels. The corn was yummy, but we both agreed that we liked the juicy sweetness of California corn better- this one didn’t quite have the same pop as we were used to.
After rounding out our snacks at the market, it was time to start heading back to our room. We passed by an old railway walking path where a few sellers lined the streets, and I picked up dumpling noodle soup for a late night meal. The day was so jam packed with eating, walking, and the beautiful coastline, it was time for another well deserved sleep!