Taiwan is a fairly small, mango-shaped island and the best way to travel around it is to start in Taipei and continue clockwise or counter clockwise. Which is what I did, and how I ended up in Hualien.

The city is located on a strip of land between the Central Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean. Locals consider it one of the most pleasant cities in Taiwan and tourists come here to enjoy the scenery, fresh air and to see the famous Taroko Gorge, where we headed after Hualien.

Today, Hualien is home to Taiwan’s largest aboriginal population. Until the Japanese started developing the country’s infrastructure a hundred years ago, Hualien was fairly inaccessible. So before this the city was pretty much cut off from the rest of the island, due to the rocky and mountainous East Coast.

In a few areas tunnels have been drilled through the rocky massif. Shops and local businesses are lined along the foot of the mountains and sometimes run for a few kilometres. These houses are the first to get crushed by any falling rocks from the mountains. The east coast road runs across the whole island from north to south.

In the past, visitors to Hualien had to travel there by sea, taking rowboats to the shore as there was no harbour. As a result, the area’s contact with the rest of Taiwan was fairly minimal. The lack of a direct entry point into Hualien allowed it to maintain its local Aboriginal culture and preserved the city’s unique features. Was the locals decision to modernise a good or bad decision? For me, the modernisation has contributed to the dilution of the area’s native population.

Road runs straight through the mountain by the shores.
The road carves straight through the mountain and runs along the coast.

If the road had never been built I would probably have had to make my way there via boat, like in the old days. By the way, since it’s located in the Pacific Ocean swimming in sea is not advised, people die every year trying to swim in these unpredictable waters.

At a pebbly beach.

On the way to the mountains I passed through dozens of tunnels and noticed that some of the roads branching off the main road were closed off and out of use. I climbed over the barriers and onto the damaged pathways to find myself standing on a cliff. About 200 meters below the rock I was standing on the fierce turquoise sea swirled aggressively.

Old cliff road and the sea smashing against the shore and churning up the sand.

When we finally arrived to town, it was pretty late so we headed to the night market to sample the deep fried sandwich we’d been advised to try.

Deep fried sandwich with chicken and chutney and bottomless tea.
Taiwan is full of buffets where you order and pay only for your main – meat and vegetables – with the sides, garnishes, drinks and desserts for free and all you can eat. Nice.

I don’t write about food, preferring to leave it to millions of other bloggers to discuss. But, let me just say that the food in Hualien is super tasty.

I’ve mentioned before the snack-type-food on sale at the night markets in Taipei and the same principle of the night market works all over Taiwan. Some markets have their own dedicated space, like for instance Balti Market in Tallinn or Borough Market in London. But these night markets open later in the evening with individual stalls lined up along a closed off road. During the daytime the same road is used by cars. Amazing!

Fried quail eggs. Sometimes fried on their own and served with sauces and seaweed. Sometimes fried in batter with shrimps.
Claw crane stuffed full of cute shit.

I also noticed, well only blind people wouldn’t have noticed, that wearing face masks here is a huge trend. I observed the same inclination for wearing masks in Shanghai and across the rest of China. As I’ve noted before, these masks are worn as a courtesy to prevent people spreading their germs. Here is Why Asian people wear face masks.

You might wear a mask if you work in a kitchen, as the mask prevents your own personal bacteria from getting into the food.
Butchers lining up in the night market.