Monday, April 4, 2016

How to go to Hualien (花蓮) - Combo Tickets - Qixingtan (七星潭) [Taiwan Day 946: I've Been to Hualien Part 1 “The beach without a grain of sand” - April 3, 2016]


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“I've Been to Hualien” is a series of travel adventures focusing on one of Taiwan's province on the east coast – Hualien. Many tourists in Taiwan go here just to see the Taroko National Park thinking that the gorge is the only place that they can see. They go back home telling their friends and loved ones that they've been to Hualien without ever visiting its other exciting places. There are Japanese villages that had been forgotten by time and a theme park that is just beside the Pacific Ocean. You can fly in the sky by paragliding and be adventurous with a river rafting and river trekking activity. Watch dolphins swim freely in the ocean and enjoy taking videos of running ostriches in a big ranch. Dip your bodies in a hot spring with the feel warmth of being in a nostalgic Japanese town. There are just many places to visit proving that Hualien is more than just Taroko. Ride the train and travel with your friends or just be alone. It won't really matter because there is always something waiting for you in this province. Come and explore its many tourists attractions and say proudly that “I've been to Hualien”.
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From left to right: Susi, Ali, Mrinal, Fisoliya and me

The opening salvo for this Hualien Special is a trip to Qixingtan beach. Four Travel Buddies joined me and they were all excited to see Eastern Taiwan. Susi (Indian) and Ali (Pakistani) were first timers in my travel adventures while Mrinal (Bangladeshi) last joined in Taiwan Day 883 (My Long-Lost Brothers). Fisoliya (Zimbabwean) was the lone female among the group and she joined to do a comeback appearance in my Taiwan Day Adventures. She won the 2015 Travel Buddy of the Year and I paid for all of her travel expenses as her prize for winning the prestigious award. My entire travel team woke up very early and met at 6am just to reach the Taipei City Hall Bus Station where our journey to Hualien would start.
 
The combo tickets are available at Taipei City Hall Bus Station, Xincheng Station and Hualien Stations.

The combo ticket

The additional NTD 73 ticket that we paid for an express train at Luodong Station.  It took only 1 hour to reach Hualien instead of the usual 1.5 hours.

Going to Hualien was difficult due to the scarcity of train tickets from Taipei to Hualien but the problem was easily solved by buying combo tickets. This mode of transportation going to Hualien is done by boarding a bus from Taipei City Hall Bus Station to Luodong Station in Yilan province and then transferring to a local train going to Hualien. The price of the combo tickets was NTD 209. Just tell the lady at the counter of Taipei City Hall Bus Station that you are going to buy combo tickets to Hualien. What's the advantage of buying combo tickets? You will get discounts in the bus fare and for the train trip. We upgraded our tickets at Luodong Station to a Tze-Chiang Limited Express since the last local train before 8am already left. An additional fee of NTD 73 was requested from us at the ticket counter in the train station.

It took 1 hour for the express train to reach Hualien. Some trains take 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach Hualien and for this “slow” express train an additional fee of NTD 23 is only needed. It really depends on the total travel time on how much will you add more for your combo tickets. I was so lucky to get a seat number printed on my ticket and I slept comfortably while the train goes inside a tunnel.
 
The Hualien Bus Company building where we were supposed to wait for the bus going to Liyu Lake.

We reached Hualien at 9:21am and after getting out of at the Front Exit of Hualien Station opportunistic taxi drivers wanted to get our attention. One of these drivers is a man named Mr. Hong. Let's just call him Uncle Hong. He was insisting to ride his taxi for a fare of NTD 500 where he would take us to Taroko National Park visiting all the spots there and also the famous Qingshui cliffs for one whole day. My original plan was to go to Liyu Lake first and then Qixingtan and I got a bit irritated by Uncle Hong until I just saw the Taiwan Tour Bus going to Liyu Lake just passed by. My friends and I were waiting at the wrong Taiwan Tour Bus stop and that was the reason why we missed the bus. There are actually two bus stops for the two separate lines of the Taiwan Tour Bus. The Taroko line is in front of the Hualien Visitor Information Center which you can find by just walking out of the Front Exit of the Hualien Station and walking to the right side. You can easily see the visitor center and the Taiwan Tour Bus (Taroko Route) marker just stands there. The Taiwan Tour Bus (Hualien Route) going to Liyu Lake was in front of the orange colored building of the Hualien Bus Company. My group should have walked to the left side of the train station after we got out of the Front Exit. Uncle Hong succeeded in destroying my travel plan so we were forced to go to Qixingtan first and ride his taxi for a fee of NTD 200 (NTD 40 each). The bus fare going to Qixingtan was only NTD 24. We were five people so the taxi fare was a bit cheap but if you are travelling alone then a NTD 200 taxi fare to Qixingtan would be really expensive. Nevertheless, we arrived safely at the famous pebble beach.
 

 





The Taiwanese way of opening a hole in a coconut

It's not yet the summer months in Taiwan and the crystal blue waters of the Pacific Ocean was not obvious in the photos that I got but the cloudy sky made at least the temperature comfortable to all the visitors in the beach. We strolled at Qixingtan’s pathway were vendors selling different kinds of food can be seen with the coconuts as the one catching the most attention from the visitors. I paid NTD 100 to buy one and I was so curious how will the Taiwanese vendor open a coconut and a put a straw inside. I was surprised when a kid just assisted me. He then punched a small hole in the coconut. Voila! He put a straw and gave it to me. In the Philippines, a large kitchen knife called 'itak' is used to cut open a coconut with one big slash so I was a bit surprised with the Taiwanese way of opening a hole in a coconut.



















fighter jets flying from a nearby military base

I brought my coconut near the beach where my Travel Buddies were having fun taking photos of themselves with the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean. The waves crashed into the beach and as it returns to the sea it carried pebbles creating a sound that only Qixingtan will only have. Everybody heard the song of the ocean as fighter jets flew from the nearby military airport like guardians in the sky.





Nobody was swimming in the ocean and people just went to the beach on that day to enjoy the scenery. You have the Pacific Ocean in front of you and at your back are towering of mountains of Taiwan at a height of 3,000 meters so it was not really surprising to see large rounded pebbles to gather around the shoreline of Hualien. It is the geology of Eastern Taiwan that created this magnificent work of art. I don't know what happened to the sands but it was simply missing. My Travel Buddies even explored to the far side of the beach and what they found were just rounded and smooth pebbles. haha! Qixingtan is really the beach without a grain of sand. (To be continued...)

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