Sometimes you fall in love with a place not because of what it has, but also because of what it lacks. Hualien doesn’t have Taipei’s shopping or Cingjing’s grandeur. It’s just an underdeveloped sleepy coastal town with locals going about their own business. And I love that.
The roads were strangely empty, tourist spots weren’t jam-packed with people, and the night markets were so wide that you didn’t need to rub shoulders with anyone. Perhaps some might think that this is a sad place to be, but I kinda like how it gave me a peek into what Taiwan must’ve been like all those years ago. Before the internet, budget flights, and the pressures of urban life.
We chose to stay in the suburbs along Qixingtan beach instead of the city because Dad loves being by the sea. And as this is a rather popular destination, I expected it to be busy. But it turns out that the town is rather shabby — but has a nice kampung vibe to it.
I didn’t plan much for Hualien as I got tired of trying to decipher Mandarin websites when I was researching back home. So we just got a private driver/guide recommended by the friendly concierge girls. It cost SGD134 for a full day tour along Hualien’s coastline.
Our guide is a middle-aged man who doesn’t possess the overt politeness common among younger locals, but it was soon obvious that he only has our best interests at heart. He asked whether we had done any homework before arriving, and if there’s anything particular we wanted to see. So I just rattled off some popular spots, and he explained that in the eyes of a local, those really aren’t the best spots. And this is why hiring a local is better than self-driving!
So I left our day in his hands, and he didn’t disappoint. He brought us to the well-known sights, and threw in obscure spots which you probably can’t locate on Google Maps. And seeing that I had my parents in tow, he always reminded us to take our time to explore each stop, and assured us that there was no rush to get to the next point. And when it neared the end of the 8-hour mark, he still asked us if we wanted to see more, saying that it’s our enjoyment that’s a priority, not his time. SO TOUCHED. Of course we tipped him.
The best moments during travels are the quiet ones. The ones where you can sit and think, what a beautiful world. And the ones where everything is so still you can just focus on one thing — like observing this fisherman navigate the river banks.
It didn’t make me go WOW as it’s only a short walkway and not very high up. It did, however, provide some interesting perspectives.
At the end of the rewarding day tour, our lovely driver dropped us off at Dongdamen night market 東大門夜市 for dinner.
The last taste of Hualien I had was this sickeningly sinfully shiok Spring Onion Pancake 香煎葱油饼 which you must, must have if you’re in Hualien. It’s drenched in oil, chilli, some sweet sauce, and the runny yolk from the sunny side up oozes and mixes with all of that with each bite. So good.