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What's It Like to Take a Taiwan Road Trip From Taipei to Hualien?

Learn about a Taipei to Hualien East Coast Taiwan road trip itinerary. Take a Taroko Gorge day trip. Discover Hualien attractions including Dongdamen night market before returning from Hualien to Taipei via Yilan.
Most visitors to Taiwan start in Taipei. Many don't get beyond the city to see Taiwan's National Scenic Areas but they should. We recently spent one week in Taiwan celebrating the wedding of our friends. 

During that trip we embarked on a 3 day trip from Taipei to Hualien by car along Taiwan's East Coast National Scenic Area. 

Read on to learn about our Taroko Gorge day tour and all the beautiful things to see between Hualien and Taipei. We'll even throw in a few Hualien attractions in the city itself.
Taipei to Hualien road trip Taiwan National Scenic Area

East Coast Taiwan Road Trip: Logistics

Let's take a look at how to get from Taipei to Hualien and where to stay once you get there.

How to Get to Hualien from Taipei

You may be wondering how to travel from Taipei to Hualien. Your options for getting between Taipei and Hualien (without driving yourself) include both bus and train. 

The train from Taipei Main Station to Hualien Station takes about two and half hours to get from Taipei to Hualien but then you are left without local transportation to get to Taroko National Park (the reason most people visit Hualien). 

You can also travel by private car from Taipei to Hualien. This was the option we chose. Our Taiwanese friend actually arranged for a private 16 seat bus and tour guide for our 3 day east coast Taiwan road trip. 

While you'll likely need to be able to speak Chinese to make that arrangement, there are a number of tours between Taipei and Hualien offered on Viator that you might consider instead.

How Far is It from Taipei to Hualien?

The distance from Taipei to Hualien City is just 170 km but it takes more than three hours to cover this distance. I noticed a fair bit of twisting and turning evident on Google Maps. 

Indeed, the roads hugging the east coast of Taiwan can be quite tortuous. Sit at the front or bring along medicine if you are prone to motion sickness. 

Fortunately, we were in a small bus and our driver was rather cautious so we didn't have any issues in our vehicle. There was a fair bit of construction on the road when we drove through so factor in some delays especially in the Hualien to Taipei direction.

Where to Stay in Hualien

Meci Hotel in Hualien City is a modest hotel and good home base for exploring Taiwan's east coast. Rooms cost the equivalent of about $50 USD a night at the time of writing. 

You'll find small functional rooms with private bathrooms that are clean and comfortable. We were excited to find free snacks and coffee in the lobby as an added bonus.

East Coast Taiwan Road Trip: Day 1 - Taipei to Hualien

Getting there is half the fun. Spend the first day of this three day east coast Taiwan road trip en route between Taipei and Hualien City. You'll find some beautiful scenery and unique cultural experiences along the way.

Things to See En Route from Taipei to Hualien

The drive from to Hualien from Taipei features the longest tunnel in Taiwan; a 13 km behemoth that is the 2nd longest in Asia, not to mention the 5th longest in the world. 

We were surprised and delighted to find brightly colored towers shaped like crayons outside a factory on our route. There are also at least a couple places to stop for a bathroom break, stretch your legs, and buy some Taiwanese snacks along the way.
Things to see between Taipei and Hualien on an East Coast Taiwan Road Trip
left: Chungte Recreational Area in eastern Taiwan
middle: Chisingtan Scenic Area on an east coast Taiwan road trip
right: Bus chartered for our east coast Taiwan road trip

Scenic Spots on an East Coast Taiwan Road Trip

On this road trip you'll be venturing into one of the National Scenic Area of Taiwan (Northeast and Yilan Coast). Make sure to stop at Chungte Recreational Area. 

Not only is Chungte a nice place to stop and stretch halfway through the journey between Taipei and Hualien but you'll also discover some amazing views of the mountains erupting from the ocean. 

Chungte Recreational Area is a landscape photographer's dream. Chisingtan Scenic Area is another worthy stop on the drive from Taipei to Hualien. 

Listen to the crashing waves and admire the smooth pebbly beach. There was just a touch of haze when we visited which lent a moody quality to the mountains in the distance.

Visit Cidal Hunting School Near Hualien

Our custom tour of eastern Taiwan included a visit to Cidal Hunting School which is run by the Amis people. The Amis are an Aboriginal people of Taiwan with a culture more closely aligned with those of Polynesia rather than to the Han Chinese. The vast majority of the population of Taiwan traces their ancestry to the Han Chinese.

Our lunch feast was served outdoors on picnic tables. Each dish was served up on bright green palm leaves. We ate using chopsticks from bowls made from coconut shells. 

We got to try some traditional activities with our Amis host after lunch. We learned how to make rope and water holders from materials found in nature.  

We watched a fire-making demonstration and then attempted to make fire ourselves. No one in our group was strong enough or could keep up the repetitive motion long enough to get a spark. At most we saw a tiny wisp of smoke. 
Hualien Attractions: Cidal Hunting School
Cidal Hunting School near Hualien: (left) picnic lunch (middle) making rope (right) making fire 

East Coast Taiwan Road Trip: Day 2 - Taroko Gorge Day Trip

Taroko Gorge is the top destination near Hualien and the catalyst for most east coast Taiwan road trips. We spent a day exploring Taroko National Park

Eternal Spring Shrine

Eternal Spring Shrine is located near the entrance to Taroko National Park and is an incredibly popular stop. Large tour groups descended by the bus-full on the shrine. 

It's just a short hike (less than 15 minutes) from the road to Eternal Spring Shrine. Definitely stop and see Eternal Spring Shrine but don't get discouraged by the crowds. Venture deeper into Taroko Gorge for a quieter and more authentic experience.

Hiking Shakadang Trail

Shakadang Trail is a lovely spot for a day hike in Taroko National Park. Don't let the warning signs scare you away:
"Beware of venomous wasps, snakes, and wild animals".
"Beware of poisonous bees and snakes".
"Please do not linger, beware of rockfall"
Take precautions and be aware of your surroundings but the stunning scenery and opportunity for quiet reflection makes hiking Shakadang Trail a 'must do' on a day tour to Taroko Gorge. Shakadang Trail hugs the gorge and the trail itself is hewn into the rocks in places. 

Plan to spend at least an hour here because it takes 30 minutes (more if you stop a lot) to hike from the main road (Route 8) through Taroko National Park to a group of vendors set up along the trail selling souvenirs and some light snacks. The trail is "out and back" rather than circular.

Lunch at Leader Aboriginal Village

There are not a lot of services within Taroko National Park so either bring provisions or plan to go off the beaten track for lunch. We ate lunch at Leader Aboriginal Village. 

Our driver must have nerves of steel. To get there, our bus took a steep and winding road up the mountain. We were served a set menu of local dishes in a room with huge windows looking out onto the park. 

Leader Aboriginal Village is located in an idyllic setting. Walk around outside to admire the mountains of the Taroko National Park and local artwork on display.
East Coast Taiwan Road Trip: Taroko Gorge Day Tour
Taroko Gorge Day Tour: (left) Swallow Grotto (middle) face in the rocks (right) stone marking the entrance to Taroko National Park

Swallow Grotto

Taiwan sits squarely in the Ring of Fire and is known for earthquake activity. A major earthquake actually hit Hualien County and the surrounding area on the day we landed in Taipei. 

We learned later that for a time the trains and metro into Taipei were stopped as a result of the quake. We were actually wondering if our road trip to the Taiwan east coast would even be possible. 

Taroko National Park closes to visitors after major earthquakes so park employees can make sure the roads and trails are safe. Some roads and trails further west and deeper into the park were still closed 4 days after the earthquake but the eastern part of the park was open for us to visit.

Earthquakes or no, there is still a strong risk of rockslides any time in sections of Taroko National Park. Before approaching Swallow Grotto, our guide stopped by a small hut at the side of the road and distributed free hard hats. 

I really appreciate this attention to visitor safety in Taiwan. We donned our hard hats and walked along Taroko Gorge at Swallow Grotto. Swallow Grotto is particularly stunning with marble boulders piled in the river below. Some of the rocks on the walls of the gorge seemed to resemble faces. 

East Coast Taiwan Road Trip: Day 3 - Hualien to Taipei

Time to reverse course and travel from Hualien to Taipei with a few diversions along the way to end this three day east coast Taiwan road trip. The return trip focuses on culture and art rather than nature and landscapes.

Yilan Park

Stop for a short visit to Yilan Park, the National Center of Traditional Arts. The Center for Traditional Arts aims to share and educate people about traditional Taiwanese arts and crafts. 

For example, did you know that black jade appears green if you shine light through it? Black jade can be made into exquisite jewelry. If you have enough time, you can even take the rough stone and polish it into a smooth gem under the guidance of a local artisan. 

Before departing, stretch your legs in the park surrounding the art buildings. Scholar Huang's Residence is a great example of period architecture in Taiwan. 

A Culinary and Nostalgic Experience in Luodong

Yilan Luodongjun Nostalgic Restaurant is located just a few minutes drive from the National Center of Traditional Arts. The restaurant was decorated with pop culture items from various periods of history. 

We saw old-fashioned telephones and a fun display of hats that you could model. The food was also tasty. We ordered a menu that came with about 10 courses for the table. Memorable dishes included marinated kumquats, a thousand year old egg, and pork with pineapple flavors. 

The Farm House

We were lucky to be traveling with friends who had family in Taipei. Many affluent residents of Taipei keep a weekend home in Yilan. The farm house sat among rice fields with a large home garden in the back yard. 

Our friend and her family are very musical. We got to listen to a variety of tunes on the piano and even managed to find room to eat some super-fresh corn on the cob that was picked five minutes before it was thrown into the pot to boil.
Things to see on a Hualien Yilan itinerary
left: Luodong Nostalgic Restaurant
middle: Scholar Huang's Residence at the National Center of Traditional Arts
right: scallion bun from Yih Shun Shiuan in Jiaoxi

Tangweigou Hot Spring Park

We finished up the day in Jiaoxi where a public hot spring is the centerpiece of an urban park. Tangweigou Hot Spring Park was a quick, free diversion on the drive back from Yilan to Taipei. 

Colorful bathtubs full of plants and flowers added to the charm of the park. This set-up was not what came to mind when I heard we'd be visiting a hot spring (I had imagined more of a traditional spa) but we enjoyed dipping our feet into the hot water with the locals.

Dinner on the Go

After a very filling lunch in Luodong, we opted for a small and easy dinner on the go. We grabbed a scallion bun from Yih Shun Shiuan near the hot spring in Jiaoxi and ate it while reminiscing about our three days exploring the National Scenic Area in eastern Taiwan.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Did you know that Japan is just a few hours by air from Taiwan? A visit to Taiwan can easily be combined with one week in Japan including stops in Nikko, Kanazawa, and Matsumoto

Where to Eat in Hualien

Taiwan is full of amazing things to eat. I'll leave you with some parting thoughts about where to eat in Hualien while you spend two nights in the area on this three day Taiwan road trip itinerary.

For A Sit-Down Meal in Hualien

We sat outside on a covered patio and ate a variety of Taiwanese dishes at a casual restaurant (link to restaurant on Google Maps). We felt incredibly lucky to be traveling with our Taiwanese friend and members of her family. 

We left it up to them to pick the menu for the evening. Pig intestines soaking in vinegar and boiled stinky tofu featured prominently on the menu. I'm glad we got out of our comfort zone. 

I ended up batting one for two on those dishes. I really liked the pig intestines. The tart vinegar and ginger flavors were excellent and the texture of the dish (a wee bit rubbery) was not too off-putting. 

The stinky tofu on the other hand was not to my liking. The steam from the soup the tofu was boiled in seemed to carry and amplify the smell. I just couldn't get past the smell to appreciate the flavor.

Taiwanese Bagels For Breakfast

Would you believe that Hualien City actually has a bagel shop? Visit Mouse Bagels for a Taiwanese take on a classic American breakfast. 

Instead of spreading cream cheese on your bagel, you'll find them stuffed with red bean or other Asian-inspired fillings.

Street Food at Dongdamen Night Market

No trip to Hualien City is complete without a trip to the Dongdamen Night Market. Picture seemingly endless rows of food stalls selling strange and delicious street food. 

The choices can seem overwhelming. We started by taking our cue from our local friends. This strategy worked really well and I really enjoyed the freshly prepared scallion pancake with a runny egg on top. Deep-fried king oyster mushrooms were another big hit. 

We ended taking a few chances on our own after that and enjoyed a Taiwanese burger, hollowed out French toast filled with beef and scallions (aka a "coffin"), and fried chicken. It was hot in Hualien in April so we couldn't resist dragon fruit and pineapple snow ice for dessert.
What to eat in Hualien: Taiwanese food and street food at Dongdamen Night Market
left: scallion pancake frying at Dongdamen Night Market in Hualien
middle: dragon fruit and pineapple snow ice
right: angry fish

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: What's It Like to Take a Taiwan Road Trip From Taipei to Hualien?
What's It Like to Take a Taiwan Road Trip From Taipei to Hualien?
Learn about a Taipei to Hualien East Coast Taiwan road trip itinerary. Take a Taroko Gorge day trip. Discover Hualien attractions including Dongdamen night market before returning from Hualien to Taipei via Yilan.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog