If it wasn’t for learning Chinese and watching Taiwanese dramas (guilty pleasure), I probably wouldn’t have heard about a city of Hualien, or even consider Taiwan as one of my top priorities to visit in Asia. Hualien (花蓮) is a city located eastern side of Taiwan, a city that you shouldn’t pass when exploring Taiwan.
At the hostel where we were staying at for two nights, we found some brochures about Taroko National Park which ultimately jumped up to our priority because we’re both nature lovers. While attempting to read the hostel owner’s lips, we were recommended to take the bus or taxi to Taroko from Hualien bus station. And of course, as budget travelers, we opted for taking the bus to save money.
When we arrived at that station, we were lost where to go; We asked around “bus?” by mouthing it or typed “bus?” on note App. We eventually found the information center who then refer us to an office nearby for bus tickets, gesturing and pointing somewhere to the right side of the building. We weren’t sure where exactly was the “right side,” but managed to find a building where the one small bus was pulled over in the front of.
With limited communication, we wrote down in English, asking about public buses to Taroko. The employee gestured where we need to take the bus. We attempted to ask questions, but the employee kept on nodding and pointing to the bus in the front of us. She showed us the brochure how much it would cost, and we didn’t had full access to every information. So, we paid the price that fit our budget.
However, little did we knew that it was actually a tour bus
and we personally don’t like tours.
Perhaps we both didn’t get the part if she mentioned that it was a tour bus. Or perhaps she ultimately suggested us that for their business (which they certainly took us for an advantage if they did).
We generally don’t like tour guides because, first, they give us limited time and don’t like to be rushed through; secondly, it’s just out of our budget most of the times; thirdly (and most importantly), it is not Deaf-friendly* We cannot hear and understand the tour guide, regardless whether it is in English or other spoken language.
When we got onto a small bus, we spotted several visitors in the bus but didn’t realize it was a tour group until we noticed that the man was speaking on the microphone. He started speaking in Mandarin Chinese. When he noticed us, he started speaking in English. Lilo and I were signing to each other, realizing that it was a tour bus. The guide started speaking to us, speaking into the microphone and pointed his right ear,
“oh, you guys cannot – cannot hear?”
we shook our head. His body language changed: uncomfortable. unsure. that expression – ah, fuck. He started scratching his head, smiling apologetically. A girl in the front of us spoke back in Chinese to him, then looked at us, smiling. She grabbed her phone, started typing. When she finished, we read that they planned to tour us in Chinese, not English – the ship had sail anyways if he spoke it in English. That really didn’t mattered to us though, because We only can catch few things here and there. I bowed and reassured the guide wasn’t his fault.
We wished that we were given more time with an employee who would be more patient with us before deciding which type of transportation to take to Taroko – and that we researched ourselves with more time.
While we were on the way, a girl introduced herself by communicating through her phone. It turned out that she and the others are all visitors from China. She also briefed us about their safety rules and how long the tour would take. We couldn’t thank her enough for her help.
When the bus pulled over to a stop, as we were lining up to get out the bus, the guide verbally announced in Chinese and English of our first stop and how long we had to explore – missing the chance to read his lips. As we got off, we were instantly breathless:
Throughout the tour, the guide was explaining about Taroko National Park which we didn’t have the accessibility to. We relied on limited information plaques throughout the park.
We constantly need to watch the bus to ensure that it wouldn’t leave since we cannot hear the verbal announcement when it is time to get back inside. Lilo also asked one of the visitors from the bus, lip reading and gesturing “how much time do we have here for this stop?” by pointing her finger to the ground and tapping her left wrist. We were given about 10 to 15 minutes top (for the rest of the tour, we repeatedly approach the guide or other people for information).
On a particular trail, the guide approached us, gesturing his hands on his head, tapping it which we realized he was referring to “helmet.” He pointed to a specific trial, telling us to use it at all time. Although we never find out from him why we must wear helmet, we were aware that it was due the risk of falling rocks.
Eternal Spring Shrine looked breathtaking; there were something more up trail above the temple, which we unfortunately didn’t have the time to look into it because of the limited time we had (15 minutes top, for real?). We constantly needed to look behind our back, watching our tour bus to make sure it didn’t suddenly disappeared.
For about our forth stop, we found out that we have about 45 minutes to hike…round trip. We have no idea how long the trail was, but fortunately, we just followed our group to make sure that we stay on track.
In the tunnel, we saw a group of people stopping in the middle, looking up and using their flashlights. We weren’t sure what was going on; we saw black dots up on the cave, but I still couldn’t distinguish it with my poor eye sights and flashlights kept quivering around. When I took photos, Lilo signed “bats!!!” as she directed her flashlight to her face so that I can see her sign and shocked expression.
“What?! That’s AWESOME!” I responded excitedly.
I’m pretty fond of bats and find them really fascinating, and Lilo isn’t really fond of them, haha. So after our realization, we left them alone because who wouldn’t be moody when awaken from their beauty sleep? I mean, just look at this face right up close.
I’m sure many of us can relate to this bat.
Toward the end of the trial (I think?), we reached our last stop. We wanted to go through wet cave where you would need to wear poncho, water shoes (or take off the shoes) but for some reasons, the guide would not let us go through it with other groups. We were confused and wondered why we weren’t allowed to go through the wet cave. The guide kept muttering something, all we got was “time” and “not safe.”
Not only we were disappointed but the group were as well, we wanted to continue hiking further past the wet cave but the girl who was talking to us earlier told us that the guide insisted that we needed to leave because we had one more stop for the day:
Unfortunately we don’t know what’s the name of this beach, but let’s call it the rocky beach (if anyone know where is this, please tell me!). It was my first time visiting the rocky beach. I felt like a child saying this but I thought it was so cool! Considering that I’m coming from California, I was shocked to see this and and how children were playing around barefoot! So I gave it a try…
yeah, that didn’t worked out so well. I tried walking on it and just couldn’t even last 5 steps.
“my shoes, please.” I fell down to the ground.
“Lilo! Pass my shoes!”
Lilo exploded in laughter, who was obviously enjoying my struggle. At the end of the day, we thanked the girl who briefed us earlier and exchanged our numbers instead of Facebook (China prohibited Facebook).
After all these images, should I explain more why you shouldn’t pass this place up? If these images of Taroko National Park doesn’t convince you, then I don’t know what would. You’d feel like a tiny ant in vast mountains, perfect for sightseeing and adventure. I’d love to come back here again to explore more further with scooter! I wish I had known about renting scooter at the time we were there, but I heard that it is the most inexpensive choice comparing to public bus, taxi and tour bus.
Although we did not opted for a tour and wished to explore at our own pace, we were in awe with Taiwan’s beauty. When you look at the map of Taiwan, you probably think it was too small and wondered “what is it there to do anyways?” However, if you research about Taiwan, there are vast of beautiful nature sites and a lot of wonderful and friendly people!
“Now you realize that you’ve underestimated Taiwan?” I asked Lilo.
She smiled guiltily, “haha yeah, Taiwan is a must visit!”
- You can purchase the train ticket at Taipei Main Station to Hualien, approximately 3 – 4 hours away.
- You can take taxi, public bus, bus tour or rent a scooter to Taroko National Park from Hualien, which is approximately about 40 to 50 minutes away.
- Explore the Eternal Spring Shrine, the Swallow Grotto, Jinheng Bridge, Shakadang Trail and look out for marbles!!
- Bring snacks, poncho and comfortable hiking shoes and/or water shoes.
- You can buy snacks at 7-11 stores nearby the Hualien station.
- If you love to explore at slower pace and see many things, I recommend visiting for two days.
- Visit the Information Center at Hualien Station, do ask 0233402348 questions!
Are there any national parks that you recommend?