Buy yourself a train ticket and experience the priceless beauty of Hualien. During harvest season, enjoy the beauty of Paterungan’s golden rice paddies and sea views. In summer, embrace the dazzling daylilies on Chike Mountain, a picture-perfect destination for keen photographers. While you can't take the magnificent scenery home with you, you can relive the memories of it forever. Set off for Huide Trail to witness the incredible sunrise at Qingshui Cliff, or head to Shimen Sea Cave to take your wedding photos. In summer, visit Totoro Forest at Danongdafu Forest Park for a fantastic firefly tour. The best part is that all these scenic spots are open to the public.

    In Hualien City, you'll see many old buildings constructed during Japanese rule and in the 1950s and 1960s. Since undergoing redevelopment, the city is just as exciting as the ancient capital, Tainan. Listen to Kuo Tzu Chiu's songs at his Japanese-style former residence. Browse in the bookshops housed in ancient buildings, and when you're feeling tired, grab a coffee at one of the quaint coffee shops nearby. With wonders at every turn, it's easy to keep your travel costs low here.

    1

    Shimen Mochi Cave

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    There's an interesting story behind the name of this sea cave in Shimen. Shimen Sea Cave looks like a Nissan Micra, which is marketed in Asia as the March, and the word "March" sounds phonetically similar to "mochi", a local Hualien dessert, hence the name "Mochi Cave". It became a popular attraction after the Hollywood movie "Silence" was filmed here. There are openings on all sides of Shimen Cave, and no matter what time of day you come here, the interior of the cave is filled with light. It's said that the locals can tell the time according to the angle at which the light rays strike the cave.

    The scenery outside the cave is pretty spectacular. The sea and sky are beautifully framed by two towering reefs by the shore. When the tide is high, tourists flock here to capture the moment when the waves crash against the reefs. During peak tourist season you have to queue just to get a picture. At the other end the sea is cut off by a reef. The clear water here reflects the blue sky like a mirror, making it a popular spot with visitors to Hualien. Many newlyweds like to use it as a backdrop for their wedding photos. The reef is slippery, so remember to wear good walking shoes when you visit here.

    Location: At the 50-mile (80 km) mark on Highway 11, Fengbin Township, Hualien County, Taiwan (Shimen Recreation Park)

    Open: Outdoor space: 24/7

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    2

    Chike Mountain

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    Chike Mountain in Yuli Township is a famous attraction showcasing Hualien's daylily fields. The fields are arranged randomly to complement the rises and falls of the hilly terrain. From August to September every year during the flowering season, the bright yellows and oranges of the flowers set against the stark blue sky create a breathtaking spectacle. Want a new desktop background for your computer? When you visit Chike Mountain, you'll find endless opportunities for great photos in the "Three Scenes of Chike". The second of these scenes is the huge turtle rock, a fascinating structure that looks like a turtle crawling ashore from a flower field. The third scene is that of the three giant rocks. These are three black igneous rocks that stand aloof in the flower field in a scene that looks like an oil painting by Mother Nature herself.

    The sight of daylilies being dried at the old Wang House is one you can see only at Chike Mountain. The Wang House is a traditional wooden siheyuan with a courtyard that has remained intact even after decades of use. Farmers lay out the daylilies on the roof and in the courtyard to dry under the blazing sun. As the golden flowers reflect the rays of the sun above, the old building looks as if it's been draped in gold. The local speciality is daylily tea, which is made from mountain tea leaves blended with daylilies. It has a sweet taste and is especially refreshing in summer.

    Location: Gaoliao, Guanyin, Yuli Township, Hualien County, Taiwan 981008 (take the road on the east side at 287K, Highway 9)

    Open: Outdoor space: 24/7

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    3

    A tour of urban art and culture

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    Many old buildings in Hualien City that have existed since the Japanese occupation have now been transformed into artistic and cultural centres. Liberty Square was once the site of the former Hualien Prison. After the prison was demolished, the prison walls and watchtowers from the Japanese occupation period were retained. It's now a cultural and art park where prestigious exhibitions are held. If you're a music lover, Kuo Tzu-Chiu Music Culture Hall is well worth a visit. Kuo Tzu-Chiu was a famous musician in Taiwan who lived in Hualien for many years and is known as the father of Hualien music.

    The culture hall is a four hundred-year-old Japanese bungalow. You can hear the elegant music of Kuo Tzu-Chiu playing in the hall while you browse the music scores, manuscripts and musical instruments on display. Hualien doesn't have any 24-hour bookshops, but there are delightfully quirky second-hand bookshops housed in old Japanese buildings. You'll also find interesting grocery shops and coffee shops tucked down the city's alleyways. Stop off for coffee, enjoy life at a more leisurely pace and see why the people of Hualien have it so good.

    Location: Liberty Square: No. 408-1, Zhongshan Road, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan 970013 Kuo Tzu-Chiu Music Culture Hall: No. 10, Lane 1, Minquan 7th Street, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan 970019

    Open: Liberty Square, outdoor space: 24/7. Kuo Tzu-Chiu Music Culture Hall: Monday‒Friday from 10 am to 4.30 pm

    4

    Danongdafu Forest Park

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    Located in the East Rift Valley, Danongdafu Forest Park offers one of the best views of the four seasons in all of Taiwan. The park has an area of 3,089 acres (1,250 ha), making it almost 48 times as big as Taipei Daan Forest Park (another famous Taiwanese park). More than one million trees have been planted here. One forest trail in the park seems to lead visitors into deep and mysterious places, much like the forest in the animated film "Totoro" (Japanese animated film by Hayao Miyazaki). Hence, the park is also nicknamed "Totoro Forest" by netizens. It's the earliest, and possibly largest, secret spot to watch fireflies in Taiwan.

    In spring and summer, you can see huge numbers of fireflies dancing in the thick of the forest. In autumn and winter, the deciduous pines turn from green to yellow, while the leaves of other tree varieties gradually turn red. Maple leaves are scattered all over the forest path and the rustling of the falling leaves makes you feel as if you're in an atmospheric television drama. The Visitor Information Center is surrounded by a vast plain with a view of the Coastal Range to the east and the Jianong River Valley to the west. Every year, the driftwood painting activity attracts huge numbers of participants. Hundreds of driftwoods in bright colours with interesting patterns stand on the plain and the sight is quite spectacular. The cycle paths are well planned and you can rent bicycles to roam and enjoy the park.

    Location: No. 31, Nongchang Road, Guangfu Township, Hualien County, Taiwan 976007

    Open: Tuesday‒Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)

    5

    The cliffs on the scenic Huide Trail

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    This trail was originally part of the former Suhua Highway and was transformed into a scenic trail after the Huide Tunnel was built. To get to Huide Trail, cross the Suhua Highway and exit the Huide Tunnel to the north. When you look down from the trail, you can hear the rumbling of the trains going through the cave. Trains travel back and forth through the Qingshui Tunnel and Chongde Tunnel. Many trainspotters wait here for the moment when the northbound and southbound trains pass each other at the tunnel entrance.

    The viewing platform of the trail is the best place to appreciate Qingshui Cliff. This majestic and steep cliff rises up from the Pacific Ocean. The Suhua Highway that crosses the cliff appears to be suspended over the sea, making it a pretty thrilling sight. You can see the water gradually change colour from dark blue to lighter blue to white where the waves meet the base of the cliff. Locals come here to watch the sunrise. Although the morning sun is blocked by the cliff as it rises from the sea, its rays fan out from the edges of the cliff to give off a magnificent glow. The trail slopes gently and the path is wide. The trees along the way provide shade, making this a suitable trail for both the elderly and young children to walk and enjoy the scenery.

    Location: 328 feet (100 metres) from the north end of the Huide Tunnel on Suhua Highway, Xiulin Township, Hualien County, Taiwan

    Open: Outdoor space: 24/7

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    6

    Xinshe Rice Terrace

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    There's a scene in Hualien that's said to outshine the one depicted in the famous painting "The Gleaners" by Jean-François Millet. Xinshe Rice Terrace in Fengbin Township is one of the largest coastal terraces in Taiwan. The endless stretches of rice paddies connected to the sea and sky provide a stunning image of the eastern coast. During the rice harvesting season, both the sea and rice paddies offer amazing views. Be it a newly sowed rice paddy that reflects the sky in its waters, the lush greenery of rice seedlings or a golden field of ripe rice ears, the juxtaposition of the paddies against the blue sky and sea always forms a delightful picture.

    Art installations by aboriginal artists, dancing scarecrows, chicken coops, children's swings and more are placed in the paddies to embellish this pastoral scene and enhance its artistic appeal. Xinshe Rice Terrace is also a popular check-in spot on both Instagram and Facebook. For hundreds of years, the Kavalan people have cultivated this land surrounded by mountains and seas and continue to do so. Come and visit Xinshe Rice Terrace to embrace life empowered by the land.

    Location: At the 27-mile (43.5 km) mark on Highway 11, Fengbin Township, Hualien County, Taiwan

    Open: Outdoor space: 24/7

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    7

    Pacific Park

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    The merger of the seashore parks in the north (Beibin) and south (Nanbin) in 2015 created Pacific Park, one of the largest parks in Eastern Taiwan. Both parks have an ocean theme but each has its own unique features. What they have in common is that they're great places for photography. Beibin Park is well-known for its 3D artworks and art installations. At the entrance you're greeted by a vivid and attractive depiction of a large koi leaping over the dragon gate. The "Universal Giant Dragon" is a huge 3D artwork that depicts the Dragon King of the Sea carrying the earth in its arms and escaping from the turmoil. This massive 3D artwork is 98 feet (30 metres) long. Stand on top of it to take your pictures and imagine what it would be like to be drawn into the sea. Kids can have their photo taken with the 3D clownfish, whales and other cute marine creatures.

    Do you find it hard to express your feelings? The bold "Marry Me" and "I LOVE U" public art installations in Nanbin Park are intended to help couples express their love without feeling awkward. Nanbin Park is also filled with lively and colourful figures of sea turtles, whales and other marine life. At night, lots of tourists come here to enjoy the views of the coast.

    Location: Haibin Road, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan

    Open: Outdoor space: 24/7

    photo by Qingwu Zhou (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    8

    Hualien Ji'an Shrine

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    The former name of Ji’an Township in Hualien was "Yoshino". During the Japanese occupation, the Japanese set up the immigration village and built the "Yoshino Buddhist Institute", which was an important centre for promoting religious beliefs at that time. At the end of the occupation, the Yoshino Buddhist Institute was renamed Ji’an Shrine and this shrine is now one of the best-preserved Japanese temples in Eastern Taiwan. The shrine is a traditional Japanese building with a tented roof. The main structure is made of wood with flowers and trees lining the paths, revealing a strong Edo influence in its architecture. Cultural relics such as altars and stone carvings of Buddha from the Japanese occupation period are carefully preserved and maintained at the shrine. The 88 stone Buddhas in the courtyard came from the 88 temples on the island of Shikoku, Japan.

    The solemn and majestic exterior of the shrine has been restored through conservation efforts. During the occupation, Japanese immigrants who fell ill would go around the "Mantra of Light" stone 108 times to pray to the gods to cure them of their sickness. Japanese festivities such as the Koi Festival and Aoba Festival are often held here. Every year on New Year’s Eve, the bells ring and activities to pray for blessings are held here. The bells ring 108 times to symbolise the departure of the old and the arrival of the new. Visitors can register to make an appointment to ring the bell and receive their blessings.

    Location: No. 345-1, Zhongxing Road, Ji’an Township, Hualien County, Taiwan 973042

    Open: Tuesday‒Sunday from 8.30 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)

    9

    Baqi Rest Stop

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    Baqi Rest Stop is said to be the most beautiful turning point on Highway 11. After driving south through the hairpin of Baqi Road, the view suddenly opens up as lush green mountain forest gives way to vast ocean. The Baqi Gazebo is shaded by trees and is one of the highest points on this coastal road. From the gazebo, you can see Jiqi Bay, Dashibi Mountain and Guihou Cape. This series of coastal landscapes offers pleasant views. When you look down from the lookout point, you'll see a short section of the road snake along the coast.

    After the sun sets, the sky glows with purplish-red clouds, while orange street lights light up the road. Photography enthusiasts love to come here to capture this beautiful interplay of light and shadow. Cyclists and truck drivers come to Baqi Rest Stop to rest and stock up on supplies. If you happen to meet some cyclists, give them a friendly wave. Baqi is 551 feet (168 metres) high and the mountain road is steep, so it's quite a feat to be able to cycle up to the top.

    Location: At the 19.6-mile (31.5 km) mark on Highway 11, Fengbin Township, Hualien County, Taiwan

    Open: Outdoor space: 24/7

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    10

    Incredible sea view from Hualien Harbour Landscape Bridge

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    Hualien Harbour Landscape Bridge is a landmark of Hualien Port. This large curved red bridge is complemented with a yellow and green bridge deck, creating a strong colour contrast that's even more prominent under the blue sky. With a length of 98.4 feet (30 metres), Hualien Harbour Landscape Bridge is a pedestrian bridge that connects the water recreation area of Hualien Port with the coastal cycle paths. Standing on the bridge, you can look at the ocean, listen to the waves and watch the ships come and go.

    Under the bridge, the waterways, railway tracks and roads are arranged side by side to form an aesthetically pleasing series of lines that's a favourite photo composition among photographers. You have to be very lucky to see ships, trains and container trucks on them at the same time as such occasions are rare. When you cross the bridge to the port area, you'll see the well-known port art gallery with its mosaic tiles and artistic giant postboxes. You can also admire the artworks while cycling around the port on a relaxing and leisurely bike ride. Head to the bridge first thing in the morning to enjoy the sunrise and soak up the vigour and vitality of the area. At night, it looks even more impressive when all the lights are on.

    Location: Gangkou Road, Hualien City, Hualien County, Taiwan 970024

    Open: Outdoor space: 24/7

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