July 2012. Taipei --> Hualien, by train. Weekend excursion.
There is something about the act of traveling that inspires photography. Unlike most normal people who sit tight and take advantage of train rides and bus rides to relax, I compulsively take pictures. Because when you are in constant motion, every frame is unique. Your perspective is constantly changing and each moment fleeting. The atmosphere morphs around a consistent experience in the vehicle. So there is a certain charm about slightly blurry pictures through slightly cloudy windows that embraces motion and travel that I just adore. With no time to think about the rule of thirds, there results a very raw and organic composition.
STOP 1: Random Beach (aka Cisingtan); lunch at a resort nearby
STOP 2: The main tourist attraction of Hualien, and one of the big attractions in Taiwan, Taroko National Park
Taroko National Park consists of various landmarks scattered throughout Taroko Gorge. There are many paths that you can take (at your own risk, mind you) that weave through the gorge, supposed to have historically been aboriginal paths. While going through the tunnels, I noticed that a lot of the other tour groups had colorful helmets on...but honestly, if a tunnel is going to collapse on you, I'm pretty sure a helmet will do you little good anyways. So it is in one's best interest to just be careful of which landmarks you choose to go to, as some are far safer than others. There are also several temples that you can hike to, and a lot of bridges (some seem pretty sketchy if you ask me) that are all historical landmarks and have various stories behind them. Overall, the Taroko National Park is a good place to tour, with a combination of beautiful natural scenery paired with cultural stories.
Stop 3: A (rather forgettable, compared to Toroko) Jade Sculpture Shop
Chinese culture is arguably centered around a jade obsession. After exploring Toroko, we were driven to a store that sold huge intricately carved jade sculptures that you could buy for a fortune (and ship for probably even more) to decorate your home. There are also a lot of smaller trinkets and decorative jade pieces that could be a good souvenir for far distance travelers.
Night: We are dropped off at the hotel for the evening, and eat a buffet dinner there. After cooling off in the beloved A/C, we set off to explore the quaint street life of downtown Hualien.
We were picked up after a buffet breakfast at the hotel by an even smaller van the next day and taken to an "attraction" that was basically just a beautiful quiet neighborhood with houses that were still being built. It looked like Taiwan's version of the Hamptons, except uninhabited and in a rather rural location (so probably really cheap).
Stop 2: Wood Workshop; yesterday was jade, today, impressive intricate and grand wood carvings were displayed, as well as museum like galleries that explained the historical significance of woodwork and the railway that runs through the now converted village.
Lunch was family style at a restaurant in a sugar factory near an aboriginal cultural village. There were a lot of small shops where you could buy aboriginal trinkets from purses to blankets to bracelets. After shopping around for a little bit and buying some snacks for the train ride back, we were picked up once again and ended up being transported by a regular SUV for the rest of the day.
Next we went to a little family owned farm thing up on a mountain with a trail that you could take to the top to overlook all of Hualien. We didn't end up taking the trail, but the old couple living there had a nice chat about the fact that I did not have blonde hair.
Coming to Hualien, I contacted an acquaintance from the "dragon boat" team that stayed at the same hotel as we did last summer in Taitung. He mentioned that they would be practicing at some lake somewhere. Looking at our tour guide plans I didn't see it...but since we had extra time left over, our personal tour guide swung by a lake. The lake. Whattt. I didn't end up seeing any dragon boat people, but it was still a beautiful place to enjoy the scenery.
Note: they were not in fact dragon boat-ers, I'm pretty sure they were a canoe team. but that didn't stop us from calling them the dragon boat boys
Stop 4: Liyu Lake
Our final stop of the trip was at a Japanese style home converted into a museum. It was pretty and had some history, but I still don't understand why there were sooo many people there. Just take a couple pictures of the colorful lanterns and walk through the gardens and building/gift shop and you're all set!
Soon enough, it was back to the train station we go! Good thing we came armed with local snacks (fresh black sugar mochi, sweet potato chips, etc), and of course, stocking up on tea drinks and hichew at the 7-eleven in the station while we waited for our train. The train ride back was just as beautiful, going through farms and hills and passing mountains and temples and towns until we reached my beloved Taipei, which, in all it's ugliness, is still one of my favorite places in the world.