Saturday, April 19, 2008

Day 5 Thursday - Taroko Gorge, Hualien County

Woke at 6.20am and set off for Taipei TRA station to catch the 7am train to Hualien after purchasing our choice breakfast in the row of shops in front of Keyman Hotel. Really glad we stayed here this time as there were breakfast places open this early. Soymilk was VERY hot and just the right sweetness and the freshly made 煎包Jian pau that comes in 2 flavours: cabbage and Chinese leek. The carrot cake looked delicious but the stalls haven’t started frying them yet so we skipped it in favour of another stall selling dumplings and the 10 potstickers + 1 omelette/toast set (NT40!). I noticed that we seldom take pictures of our food as we were too busy enjoying them.

Reached Hualien at 9.57am to meet our cabby Mr Looi who had called beforehand to say that he would be at the rear station in red shirt and coffee colored trousers. There was a Taroko exhibition held in the passageway leading to the rear station. Not sure if it is a permanent fixture. Spent sometime reading it as that’s where we were going.

When we got there, he enquired if we were interested in going to Cingshui Cliffs for an additional NT500. That was our original intention so naturally we said yes. Were told there were 2 families he will be guiding that day so he got two drivers to ferry us around while he concentrated more on the role of a tour guide. He was a very energetic person with a great sense of humour but I suppose due to the excellent reports by the forums, he was alternately swamped with enquiries from minsus/readers and bouncing around like Indian rubber between cars. As mentioned by previous groups, he took us to buy lunchboxes at the shop selling the famed fried huge chicken thigh reported on someone’s blog that had others requesting to try it. I think he found it extremely funny as he couldn’t help chuckling whenever he mentions the fried chicken to any of the families. That’s more than five times I think.

As the other group hasn’t had their breakfast he got them both breakfast and lunch (have no idea why the meals can’t be combined). Since the fried chicken is so famous, we bought a set to try. Its not fantastically good, only so-so when we got down to eating. I suppose you have to eat it hot for it to taste good. For me, I chose the Hongshaorou set that had no bones in it to make eating simple.

We set off to Little Cingshui before moving on to the real Cingshui Cliffs which provided a majestic view of the black rocks sweeping down to cerulean blue Pacific Ocean. The Cingshui Cliffs is the one where you can spot the beach. I heard there is a pebble beach but I couldn’t spot it or any path leading down so we just snapped some shots of the blue blue sea. You can also see a train tunnel where the Taroko train would past at around 11.45 according to Mr Looi. Sure enough, the train came. Our cabby was quick enough to fire up or camera to catch a picture of the train gliding past. It was good weather so far and we left for the Shakadang Trail or the previously named Mystery Valley. The trail starts with a flight of caged scaffolding stairs (straight out of Jurassic Park) along the side of the red bridge that does not look particularly stable. Along the way down were cautionary signs warning us of killer bees and snakes. Luckily there were no dinosaurs. Very dry riverbed. I was told that at the end of the trail there are some carefully preserved old huts but due to time constraints we only walked a little way in before heading back.

Next, we stopped at the parking lot we alighted the other time. It looked somewhat different from the last time but we couldn’t put a finger to the changes as we weren’t sure if the toilets existed previously. We passed by more towering rocks and the Ning An Bridge and paused near the new Zhui Lu Suspension Bridge that is not open yet to the public. Right across the suspension bridge, high above is the old Deer Trail Bridge that is closed to visitors. It seems that the Japanese built this during the Occupation to hunt for the rebel aborigines. It looks like there is some war skirmishes that occurred in Taroko. We also went to the Swallows Grotto燕子口which needed no introduction before stopping at a coffee house overseeing the Indian Head for a picnic lunch.

After lunch, it was onto the Tunnel of Nine Turns九曲洞, Cimu Bridge慈母桥 and Huoran Pavillion 豁然亭 @ Tiensiang before a hike (~40mins) on the Baiyang Trail白杨步道where we passed through a series of tunnels (7 in total) cut through mountain rocks and a suspension bridge spanning the beautiful Baiyang Waterfalls (where Looi took a picture of us swallowing the waterfall). Some of the tunnels were in a straight line so we were able to traverse them following by the light at the end of the tunnel (sorry for any comparison to death) while others were pitch-black and have to be navigated by flashlight.

The hike was easy-peasy and the scenery along the way more than make up for our efforts before we reached the last tunnel before Water Curtain水帘洞being the “Number 1 Exciting!” & “Number 2 Exciting!” respectively (to quote Looi). I privately thought the order should be reversed.

The Water curtain was basically a work of Mother Nature created by a heavy seepage of spring water from the roof of the cut tunnel. Unfortunately, this also means that the porous roof is extremely susceptible to the danger of roof collapse. As such, the other water curtains (yes there are more) down the trail are out of bounds. It also signifies the end of the trail.

Note: The Eternal Spring (Changchun) Shrine Trail is closed for construction from 18th Feb to 31st May, 2008.

After this excitement, we lingered around the Baiyang Waterfalls to dry off before heading down the trail for Hualien.

At Hualien City, our driver Mr Li took us to the usual places, reported by others before so I won’t go through the details, to buy muah chee, wanton etc. The wanton portion was huge I think about 10-12 big pieces per piping bowl of wanton which costed NT180 for 3 bowls. This is ~ SGD$2.80! Where can you find so many sized wanton for $2.80 in Singapore? They tasted different from the Singapore kind, not fantastic but good. What I find the most interesting was the way they hot-sealed the paper bowls for takeaways like bubble teas. I suppose this is a more secure way to ensuring that no leaks from the sides as compared to plastic lids but I find it difficult to open the hot bowl of soupy wantons. All these were quickly slurped up in the train station.

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