Our third day in Taiwan was spent in a location east of the country. Initially I planned to go all the way south to Kaohsiung or Taichung so we can try the High Speed Rail but instead scrapped the plan for economy and timing reasons. We woke up around 7:00AM, had our breakfast and went off by 8:00AM. A number of taxis line up outside our hotel entrance so hailing one was never a problem. Holding a map in my hand, I diligently pointed out where we wanted to be dropped off and I'm glad the driver understood after looking closely with his eyeglasses on.
This is the Taipei Zoo and we got dropped off right in front its entrance after a less than 10 minutes ride and fare of NTD100. You can see a lot of visitors waiting outside early for the park to open by 9:00AM.
However, this is not where we intend to go. Right beside it is Taipei Zoo MRT station and that's where we rode a train going to Taipei Main Station (NTD35), transferring via Zhongxiao Fuxing.
As we approached the platforms, the train doors were closing and then left abruptly without passengers. We had to wait for another 5 minutes for another train to come and another 5 minutes since the train had to be cleaned before leaving since this is and end station.
Upon reaching Taipei Main Station, I immediately went to the TRA ticket booth, handed a paper to fill up but since I cannot understand Chinese characters, I ended filling the form with wrong information since I just guessed what the boxes meant and wrote down our names and age so the person behind the counter had to fill some information up himself. I made sure that we are early to claim our ticket early as they may release tickets if left unclaimed 30 minutes before the train departs.
I purchased the tickets by previously consulting the schedule from Taiwan Railway Administration website at http://188.8.131.52/TWRail_EN/index.aspx and booked it from http://railway.hinet.net/net_eng.htm. My original plan was to take Tze Chiang 1091, a Taroko Express that leaves Taipei by 8:00AM and arrives in Hualien by 10:08AM. For the return trip, I intended to take Tze Chiang 1096 that leaves 7:30PM from Hualien and back in Taipei by 9:45PM. Both schedules are both unavailable online, as well as those that runs a couple of hours before or after that schedule when I was trying to secure tickets. It was night time, 2 days before my intended date of trip so I instead have set an early alarm clock and booked early next morning as soon as the online ticketing started. The website only accepts ticketing between 6:00AM - 11:00PM and based on a tip, they clear up unclaimed ticket reservations every day. I was able to reserve tickets for Tze Chiang 1086 that leaves Taipei by 9:30AM, arriving in Hualien by 11:42AM and a return train of Tze Chiang 1078 that leaves Hualien by 8:00PM and arriving in Taipei by 10:30PM that very same day for this day trip. One tip I can give to online bookers is that to do it in advanced (7 days prior) because tickets get snagged really fast especially on weekends and more surely during holidays.
The train arrived 5 minutes before it's scheduled departure and left right on the dot so make sure that you arrive earlier at the station and on the right platform minutes prior.
The Tze Chiang 1086 service utilized a Taroko Express train, as marked in the schedule website. This means the train is actually faster than the regular Tze Chiang train and will arrive minutes earlier as compared to a non-Taroko Express train service. Inside, the interior of the train looks new and very neat.
One-way tickets costs NTD445 but booking it with a return fare automatically gives a 10% discount to travellers so I was able to purchase roundtrip tickets at NTD802. Not sure how they computed it though because a 10% discount will mean only NTD801 but I'll make no fuss about it.
Expect a view of the countryside enroute to Hualien (or back to Taipei) during daylight unless you will be sleeping the whole time. The whole travel appears to be scenic though I was seated by the window on the right side. We were initially told that scenes from the left window are more
beautiful but because of the late booking for a weekend trip, I'm just glad that we were able to secure our tickets.
Midway the trip, a girl comes out selling items like food and drinks and even collectibles to passengers.
The train is well advanced in terms of technology, the button that open doors from one car to the other is touch sensitive and likewise, the door for the lavatory is the same.
some scenes outside the window as we get nearer Hualien
We arrived exactly by 11:42AM as scheduled on the ticket. I took a chance to have my photo taken from one end of the train and then we hurried up to go out of the station.
the train station and the platforms
underground walkway to the rear exit of the station
For going around Hualien and our main destination, I hired the service of Mr. Lai-Fu Loo. He may be contacted via +886 9 2856 9081 which I used to transact with him via SMS. I tried to call him but unfortunately we had a hard time talking in English by phone so I reverted back to SMS again. He charges NTD2200 for the tour of around 8 hours and will pick you up and bring you back to the train station, perfect for a day trip like ours! After a few minutes, we are already on our way to Hualien City.
Mr. Lu brought us to this place to eat lunch. He insisted that we have our lunch there instead of bringing it to the park since it's already lunch time anyway. He ate with us but his wife have prepared lunch for him which he happily ate while telling stories about his wife. I'm not sure of the name of the place though so if you happen to know, please fill me in.
The fastfood serves packed lunch boxes similar to a Japanese bento, something that is popular in Taiwan as influenced by Japan. Here is the interior of the small fastfood and most of the people that came in ordered boxes in large number but to go. On the left, you can literally see stacks of the lunch boxes.
This is what I had for lunch - pork meat slices, vegetables, bean curd and marinated egg (#1 from the menu), all for NTD60. The pork meat and vegetables were very good while my mom who had chicken (NTD70) but basically the same sidings loved the egg. It comes with clear soup with vegetables and cold tea (self-serve). We didn't know these things and I'm glad that Mr. Lu helped us get the soup and tea although I was ashamed of practically being served by him. I'm also happy that we get to sample something that locals eat rather than going to a fancy place or another western fastfood once again.
After lunch, we left the place and proceeded to Taroko National Park, a 30-minute drive from where we ate.
As we got closer to the park, we came to a place where the road is surrouded by trees on the side that meats halfway in the middle. A very beautiful scene!