A few days ago, I got back from my post-grad Asia trip. It is my last “summer break” before starting full-time work life, so I knew I had to take advantage of this time. I wanted to go visit family in Taiwan and since I was going to be in Taiwan anyway, I decided to check out a few more places while I was already on that side of the world. My six week itinerary consisted of Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. This will be part one of my post-grad travel series, so buckle up and welcome to my adventures!
First up, I want to introduce y’all to Hualien, Taiwan. Hualien 花蓮 is known to be a top tourist destination due to its stunning scenery which consists of both mountains and gorgeous seasides. It holds a special place in my life because it is my mom’s hometown and is where my grandparents still live to this day in the very same home where my mom grew up. Because of this, I have been lucky to be able to call this beautiful city home for as long as I could remember.
Here are some of my favorite things I did during my trip this year, as well as some of my favorite places to eat (because let’s be real, food is the best part of travel, am I right or am I right?)
What to do
Biking at Qixingtan Beach 七星潭海邊
Qixingtan Beach is the perfect place to hang out, chill, and enjoy the ocean breeze. It is located near the Hualien Airport, ~15 minute drive from the city center. Even on a cloudy day, the water was still a gorgeous turquoise. You can sit on the rocky beach and watch the waves, then turn around and admire the view of Hualien’s stunning mountains. We saw a lot of families on the beach (out to enjoy the overcast weather since it is usually unbearably hot and sunny in the summers), many who were enjoying snacks from the nearby street vendors. Roasted corn, fresh coconut juice, and grilled squid seemed to be very popular choices.
My cousin and I rented bikes and biked back and forth along the pedestrian walkway that lines the entire length of the beach. It is a fun and affordable way to enjoy the coastline. There is also a visitors center, a couple sit down places to eat (mango shaved ice, anyone?), a small aquarium, and even a museum dedicated to the making of bonito flakes.
However, be warned that the water is not safe to go into. When you see the crashing waves, you’ll understand why. This is a beach more suited for waterside activities rather than in-water ones. (If you want a beach to go swimming in, Kenting 墾丁 on the south side of Taiwan is where everyone goes!)
Hiking at Taroko National Park 太魯閣
Taroko National Park draws in tourists from all over the world, and for good reason. It. Is. Absolutely. Breathtakingly. Beautiful. The park is gigantic, and I’ve personally only seen a portion of it. They have an awesome multi-story visitor center where you can learn about how the Central Mountain Range formed and the geological history behind it. It is also a great place to go grab maps and refill your water bottle (fun fact: getting free water is super accessible in Taiwan, you can find handy dandy water filtration machines everywhere!) before heading out on one of the many amazing hiking trails the park has to offer.
Since I went with my relatives and younger cousins, we chose one of the less challenging trails: Shakadang 砂卡噹步道. The trail is 8.8 km (5.5 miles) roundtrip and is flat with very little change in elevation. However, do not underestimate this trail just because it’s easier! The scenery here is so STUNNING, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:
Just look at how blue the water is!
Some more photos:
Where to eat
Dinner with panoramic views at 好望角民宿
Usually when a restaurant has a good setting or view, the food is less than spectacular. But this place has the best of both! The B&B-turned-full time restaurant is located on top of a mountain near Farglory Ocean Park. The location is prime and I highly recommend going a little earlier to enjoy the sunset before heading in for a delicious meal.
Just look at these views!
Do you see the rainbow peeping out of the clouds? Seriously cannot get over how my mom grew up in such a beautiful place.
This is a full sit down restaurant that serves typical Taiwanese cuisine. It is best suited for large groups so you can order a ton of different dishes and try everything. Each dish was around $10-15 USD and the portions were huge! Our group of 14 ordered 8 dishes, with leftovers to spare. Every single dish was good, which is generally a rare case for restaurants.
However, the stand out dish was definitely the crispy skin chicken 脆皮雞. This roasted chicken had the most perfectly crispy skin while maintaining a juicy interior. Even the breast meat, which is a part of the bird that is commonly overcooked, was perfectly juicy! Pro tip: ask to have the chicken served whole and they will provide gloves for you to break it apart yourself. This ensures that the bird holds in all its juices after cooking (much like when cooking steak) and using your hands rather than chopping it up into pieces with a knife allows the meat to go along its natural grain, giving it a different mouthfeel.
See the group of people behind me? One of the guys sitting there was actually the old mayor who served during the time when my mom still lived in Hualien!
Dinner here was one of the best meals I had this entire trip. Don’t miss out.
Address: 974, Taiwan, Hualien County, Shoufeng Township, 山嶺9-6號
Tofu Flower at 中一豆花
Douhua (which literally translates to “tofu flower”) is one of my most favorite foods to eat while in Taiwan. This is because it is so hard to find GOOD douhua in the US! When it’s not made right, it can end up tasting like you’re just eating cold, uncooked tofu… not super pleasant. But when done right, douhua is soft, slippery and absolutely delicious and refreshing. In Taiwan, douhua is a super soft tofu served as dessert in a soup sweetened with brown sugar. You can add toppings such as boiled peanuts and boba. Sometimes they even put shaved ice in it to really combat that summer heat. In the winter, it is usually served hot. I like it both ways!
This place has the BEST douhua I’ve ever had, their tofu is sooooooo soft, nothing like the tofu you’re used to having from those square blocks from the supermarkets here.
Address: No. 2號, Minquan 5th Street, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan 970
Pork Noodles at 來成排骨麵
Centrally located in the shopping district of the city, this is a great place to grab a bite to eat. My mom grew up eating here! A bowl of noodles with pork is 60TWD ($2 USD). The pork rib meat is fried in a light batter before being served in the broth, adding extra dimension of texture and flavor. You can get a variety of different noodles, both in soup or dry, and even adjust how oily you’d like the broth. One thing that I always make sure to add to my order is the golden egg 黃金蛋 (30TWD or $1 USD per egg) which is basically a super flavorful half-boiled egg that is soaked in soy sauce after cooking, just like the ones found in Japanese ramen.
Like most small local restaurants in Taiwan, you order by marking up the little paper ordering sheet provided and bringing it to the waiter.
Address: No. 544, Zhongzheng Road, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan 970
Wontons at 花莲扁食店
When in Hualien, you have to try bianshi, a local speciality. It is basically Hualien’s version of wontons. These little pork dumplings are wrapped in super thin wonton skins, served in piping hot bone broth, and topped with fresh green onion and fried shallots. It is really fun to watch them hand make the bianshi with lightening speed and assembly-line precision. If you order a bowl to go, they will seal the top with a plastic film using a sealer just like the ones they use from boba, but larger. I thought that was cool 🙂 Makes it convenient for easy transport on your motorbike, the transport of choice in Taiwan. It is very affordable at around 60TWD or $2 USD per bowl.
There are several popular bianshi spots in Hualien and they all have their different house recipes that are all delicious in their own right. Do note that the Hualien-style bianshi broth is much lighter than most wonton soups and is meant to be dressed up with condiments provided at the table (such as chili oil, vinegar, and white pepper). The first time I had it, I found the entire dish to be very bland. But after giving it some time, I actually found myself craving its comforting, light taste.
This particular restaurant, like the the pork noodle spot, is generations old and business is still going strong!
Address: No. 311號, Zhongzheng Road, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan 970
Bubble Tea at 清心福全
Okay, now if you know ANYTHING about me, you know that I LOVE boba. So naturally I can’t do a post about Taiwan and not talk about bubble tea!
This one is from one of my favorite bubble tea chains in Taiwan, 清心福全. There were two locations that I frequented in Hualien City, and no, I do not know how many times I ended up going… They were doing a summer promotion with Gudetama which is why the boba is golden yellow. I like this place because their boba is always super fresh and perfectly chewy (or “Q” as the locals call it). This particular drink was also a summer special: a pu’er tea latte made with fresh milk with topped with boba. But I still think that the best drink they make is the classic bubble milk tea with 50% sugar and crushed ice (there are so many more ice level options in Taiwan!)
Address: Locations all over Taiwan
And that’s a wrap of my Hualien favorites. Stay tuned for future posts about the rest of my trip and thanks for reading!