The little planning that we (mostly Ana) had done for this trip centered around spending a few days outside the city with Theresa.
We’d heard good things about the east coast of Taiwan – in particular Taroko National Park. We booked train tickets to Hualien - the closest city to the park - and planned to rent a car upon arrival. The train ride was only a couple of hours long, and it cut through some pretty beautiful terrain.
The weather in Taipei had been rainy and gloomy, but as we edged along the coast towards Hualien, the clouds gave way to clear skies.
We didn’t spend much time in the city of Hualien itself other than to have a quick lunch of steamed dumplings and fruit juice.
After lunch, we set about renting a car. There was an Avis location next to the train station with a car available; this was lucky as I don’t know what we would have done had there not been one available.
I wasn’t sure how exactly I was going to negotiate renting the car given that the rental agency staff didn’t speak English and that my Chinese is incredibly poor. Thankfully, Theresa proved far more competent than me and was able to get us on our way pretty seamlessly. We rented a late-model Ford Fiesta Sport which was actually pretty fun to drive – especially along the tight coastal and mountain roads of the national park. It ran us about US$60 per 24-hour period which seemed pretty reasonable to me.
I was the only one in the group with an International Driving Permit, so I drove while Theresa and Ana took turns navigating. Having driven minimally in the mainland, I was pretty nervous about driving in Taiwan. Fortunately, drivers in Taiwan are quite courteous and safe and I got comfortable pretty quickly.
On our way out of the city we noticed a pristine, nearly-empty beach and stopped. We’d initially wanted to swim, but the tides and the surf were very strong so we settled for dipping our toes. We spent a few hours laying around reading, talking, and watching fighter jets take off from a nearby military base.
We’d booked a hotel at the base of Taroko Gorge for our first night on the coast. The hotel was cheap and pretty bare bones but it had a nice patio and included breakfast. We had a simple but delicious dinner at a restaurant near our hotel.