Hualien: Ziqiang Night Market 自强夜市

Website: Hualien Government Website
Address: Hualien County Ji-an Village, intersection between Heping Road and Ziqiang Road (花蓮縣吉安鄉和平路和自強路口)
Enquiry Tel: +886 3 832 2141
Operating Hours: 17:00 – 02:00 (Peak hour from 20:00 to 00:00)
Budget: NT220 – 300 (we spent NT250 for 2 pax)

Quick List of food at 自强夜市
1. Chiang’s Family Coffin Boards (蔣記花蓮式棺材板)(NT$45++ for each sandwich)
2. “Too Wonderful for Words” Fruit Juice Shop (“妙不可言”果汁店)(NT15 – 20 per cup)
3. North Harbour Spring Rolls (北港春捲) 
(NT 35 – 40)
4. Lee’s Cantonese Porridge (李記廣東粥) (NT$60 to NT$100 per bowl)
5. Number One BBQ (第一家烤肉串)(NT10 – 20 per stick)

ImageWelcome to Hualien Ziqiang Night Market!

Zi-qiang Night Market (自强夜市) is a must-visit for foodies in Hualien City. Incidentally, the night market is small and not too crowded, and we preferred it to the overcrowded and noisy night markets in Taipei. Although Zi-qiang Night Market might be physically smaller compared to its gargantuan Taipei cousins, this Night Market has everything you need to satisfy your craving for affordable and delectable food.

1. Chiang’s Family Coffin Boards (蔣家花蓮式棺材板)

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Chiang’s Family Coffin Boards (蔣記花蓮式棺材板)

ImageMenu: If you look hard enough, there are animal caricatures in the Chinese Characters 

If you expected the Taiwanese to be a superstitious lot who shuns at the thought of selling coffins or ‘coffin boards’, then you’re probably wrong. ‘Coffin boards’ or colloquially knowns as 棺材板 makes for a good starter at Ziqiang Night Market. They are made from thick toasted bread, with the centre portion removed to make space for anything ranging from beef, pork or seafood stew. The external crust is left golden crispy, with a flap opening like a mini coffin. Not sure if this was how it got its name, but it sure is an innovative yet appealing innovation.

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ImageFlap opening like a Coffin Board – The Taiwanese in Hualien sure aren’t superstitious. 

Our Seafood Stew Coffin Board (南瓜海鲜)(NT50) was a mix of succulent prawns and fresh squid with tasty pumpkin broth. (Apologies for the picture because I had a hard time turning the flap over while London Girl went to purchase her fruit juice). It was really tasty and we finished it in no time. We would advise you to look for a seat and dine in, since there is free flow milk tea and drinks!

ImagePreparing the Coffin Board – luckily it’s just bread.

ImageHualien Scissors-hands

2. “Too Wonderful for Words” Fruit Juice Shop (“妙不可言”果汁店)

ImageLong queues at the Fruit Juice Stall – Too wonderful for words?

While I was waiting for the Coffin Board, London Girl went over to the nearby  “Too Wonderful for Words” Fruit Juice Shop (“妙不可言”果汁店) to purchase her daily dose of fruity goodness. I can probably understand why this shop is so named. The fruit juice here is simply amazing! The fruits in Hualien are really exceptionally sweet and tasty and to squeeze them into a cup of liquid form is simply heaven for fruit juice lovers. That said, we do caution that local bloggers have commented that sometimes you may end up with a diluted cup, but I’m sure that’s once in a blue moon. 

3. North Harbour Spring Rolls (北港春捲) 

Image黄昏市场老店:北港春捲

We were just making our rounds in the Night Market when we chanced upon this gem: North Harbour Spring rolls (北港春捲).

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The friendly boss: Very affordable at NT45 each.

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Our prize for queuing: Spring Rolls!

ImageClose up of our om nom Spring Rolls

4. Lee’s Cantonese Porridge (李記廣東粥)

Operating Hours: 16:00 – 00:30 hours

ImageLee can cook! 

ImageMenu at Lee’s Cantonese Porridge 

Craving for some light porridge after days of binging at Taiwanese night markets? Look no further, Ziqiang night Market has the perfect option for you – Lee’s Cantonese Porridge. With Abalone Chicken Porridge, Fish Porridge and Century Egg Pork Porridge ranging from NT 60 to 90, Lee is definitely bound to make your stomach happy.

ImageGarden Vegetables Porridge 田园蔬菜粥

Every bowl of porridge at Lee’s comes free with pork floss topping or a choice of other toppings, so it’s really value for money. We opted for the Garden Vegetables  Porridge (NT60) as a detox option, but was pretty full after the spring rolls and coffin boards. Honestly, we felt that the texture of the rice grains was not as smooth as we wanted it to be, but the broth was sufficiently seasoned. That said, if you want a healthier option in Hualien, do consider Lee’s.

ImageCheck out the generous portion of pork floss topping

5. Number One BBQ (第一家烤肉串)

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The massive insane crowd in front of Number One BBQ

If you’re a protein buff or just simply a carnivore, head down to Number One BBQ (第一家烤肉串) right away. Touted as the must-try at Ziqiang Night Market, the queue is incredibly long (waiting time of 30min-1hr or more) and we would advise you to get a queue number, walk around and come back for your food. As you would have guessed, we didn’t try this at all since we couldn’t even finish our porridge (had to take-away) and didn’t quite fancy BBQ food. Well, perhaps next time we’ll be back for some beer and BBQ!

Pls continue on to Hualien Part II: Itinerary (Day 7) (upcoming)

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Hualien Part II: Itinerary (Day 5)

Itinerary in a Nutshell:
1. Afternoon: Lunch around Hotel Bayview, cycling along Chixingtan
2. Evening: Chilling at Hotel Bayview

DAY 5: EASTERN HUALIEN & CHIXING TAN
1. Morning

After a wholesome and delicious breakfast at (Fu Hang Dou Jiang), we headed to Taipei Train Station for our next stop: Hualien. The recommended mode of transport between Taipei and Hualien is the Taroko Express (0850 – 1146am; NT418), where many bloggers recommend sitting on the left side of the cabin. However, since we were pre-allocated seats, we did not have a choice (and were in fact separated). Nonetheless, if you happen to sit on the left, you will enjoy a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean and witness how the scenery transits from high rise buildings to scenic waters and majestic mountains.

We arrived at Hualien Train Station at about noon, where the driver from Hotel Bayview was patiently awaiting our arrival. Since the hotel was quite a distance from the train station, such arrangements really saved us a lot of trouble.

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Hotel Bayview – Worth every penny

Upon check-in, Juan, the helpful and friendly boss of Hotel Bayview, gave us a short orientation of the hotel and recommended eats in the vicinity. We decided to take the bike and cycle to 鲍鲜楼, and we do not regret our decision.

2. Afternoon

鲍鲜楼
Address: 花蓮縣新城鄉七星街45號-1
Tel: 03 823 6606
Recommendations: 曼波鱼 (Mambo Fish) and Set Lunches

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The Wide Variety of Dishes available 

鲍鲜楼 offers a wide variety of ala carte dishes and we were literally spoilt for choice. We wanted to go with the usual “3 Dishes 1 Soup” combination and did some calculations. Finally, we decided that it would be more economical to order the Set Meal instead, which comes with a cold dish (Tuna Sashimi), stir-fried vegetables, the signature “Mambo Fish” that can only be found in Hualien and a soup.

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Ala Carte Menu

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Perhaps more economical to order the Set Meals

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Sashimi (生鱼片)

Starting off with the Cold Dish – this was our first serving of sashimi for the trip and we were looking forward to it because Taiwan is known for its fresh, high quality and yet affordable seafood. There were 6 slices of tuna sashimi and 3-4 slices of squid sashimi (relatively camouflaged due to the colour of the plastic plate), which were absolutely fresh and delicious. You probably wouldn’t go wrong here, since Hualien is a port city with a sustainable supply of fresh seafood.

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Seasonal Vegetables(时蔬青菜)

Rapidly stir-fried over high flame, this dish is simple yet yummy.

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Clam Soup(蛤仔汤)

The Clam Soup was seasoned with cooking wine and contained about 12-15 portions of claims. Not absolutely mind-blowing but reflects the superior culinary skills of the chef.

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Stir-Fried Celery with Signature Mambo Fish (洋芹曼波)

Finally came the star of the meal: Stir-Fried Celery with Signature Mambo Fish. This is our first time trying the Mambo Fish  (or ocean sunfish, Sharptail mola) and an eye-opener indeed. Apparently, although mambo fish is a delicacy in Taiwan, it is banned in the EU and rarely encountered. In recent years, it has grown to be the local delight of Hualien, after the county government’s efforts to promote it as the icon of Hualien. Mambo meat resembles a jelly-like substance of gelatin or collagen and tastes likewise.  It is soft, tender and very chewy.

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Mambo Fish Wall Painting

When we went up to the cashier, curiosity got the better of us and we asked the lady boss about how the Mambo Fish actually looked like – and so she kindly showed us her photos:

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The Lady Boss and her catches

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Close-Up: The humongous Mambo Fish

Yes – a mambo fish can weigh up to 1000kg and measures 3-4metres.

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The interior of 鲍鲜楼Image

Verdict: 3.8/5 (for displaying superior culinary skills in simple dishes, with the unforgettable mambo fish)

After the binging, we decided to take a look at 柴鱼博物馆, which required entrance tickets not worth paying for. We thus headed back to hotel and checked in (at about 2.30pm), since it would be too hot to cycle under the scorching sun at midday. At about 3.30pm, we headed out for our cycling trip along the gorgeous Chixing Tan:

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Dolphins – A common sight in the Pacific Ocean

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The Cycling Track

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Map of the Cycling Track

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Cycling along the coast is a breeze with the dedicated cycling track and you will appreciate the breathtaking beauty of Chixingtan (Seven Stars Lake) (only sunrise though, not sunset). We cycled for about 45min south from Hotel Bayview (turn right out of Hotel Bayview, and including some uphill and downhill), and encountered some herding cattle, surrounded by some unique structures.

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The Azure Blue Pacific Ocean

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The Maroon Surfer

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Marvel at the beauty of Hualien

2. Evening

After cycling for about 2 hours, we decided to head back to return the bicycles and proceed for dinner. As we did not want to cab out to the city centre or have western food at a nearby farm (we wanted to enjoy quintessential local food first), we decided to have dinner at Family Mart Convenience Store:

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Pork Ribs Bento: NT65

After dinner, we thought that it was time for coffee and headed to the 24 hours Self-Service Coffee/Wifi bar at the ground level. You may also wish to check out the rooftop balcony for sunset, but it closes at 8pm daily. We had an early night so that we could use the internet, wake up early for sunrise and rest for the Taroko tour the next day! 

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24 hours Self-Service Coffee/Wifi bar

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Complimentary Free-flow Snacks

Pls continue on to Hualien Part II: Itinerary (Day 6) 

 

Hualien Part I: Overview

Hualien Part I: Overview
I. Accommodation
II. Transport
III. Sights and Attractions

I. Accommodation

I must admit that I’m a difficult traveller – I want the best quality for the cheapest price. Who doesn’t, right? So for Hualien, we chose to stay at Hotel Bayview for the first night and Hualien 11 for the next 2 nights, lured by the positive reviews for both options.

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The Very Scenic Hotel Bayview (and spot the moon)

Hotel Bayview
Official Website: http://www.hotelbayview.com.tw/
Hotel Address: No 10, Mingtan St, Xincheng, Hualien
Tel: 03-823-2345
Email: hotelbayview@gmail.com
Price: 2088NT for Standard Double Room (Mountain View)
Room Tip: If possible, book early and choose the Sea-View Room with Balcony.

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Unexpected upgrade to double King-sized Bedroom

ImageWall-mounted LCD TV and Comfy Teak Sofas

ImageThe “Mountain View” out of the window
ImageComplimentary BeveragesImage

Shower Facilities

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Complimentary Bicycle Rental (from sunrise to sunset)

Comments and Review
We first read about Hotel Bayview on rubbish eat rubbish grow, and did some further research on Tripadvisor. For a start, this hotel is located near the famous Chixing Tan (七星潭), which is about 30mins’ drive from Taroko Gorge. Although it’s a distance away from Hualien Train Station and the city centre (about 15-30min drive), we felt that the view of the Pacific Ocean is totally worth the price and distance. Moreover, there is complimentary breakfast, bicycle rental and broadband wifi service (lobby and hotel room). Most importantly, Juan (the host) is extremely helpful and will assist you with the booking of tours or any other requests. the staff also offered to send us to Hualien 11 the following day, which we were deeply grateful for. There is thus no doubt that Hotel Bayview deserves the honour of Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice for 2 consecutive years.

Eating Places near Chixing Tan (七星潭)
鲍鲜楼
Family Mart
柴鱼博物馆
Hualien 11 (眺望云海)
Official Website: http://www.hualien11hostel.com.tw/room.htm; HostelWorld
Address: 花蓮市國富13街54號 (No. 54, Guo Fu 13th Street, Hualien City)
Email: lisahanling@yahoo.com.tw
Tel: 0982-939666 (Lisa Han)
ImageThe Queen-sized Bed
ImageThe Very Spacious Room

Comments and Review
At 1000NT/double/night, Hualien 11 is no doubt the cheapest accommodation for our entire Taiwan trip. They also provide free pick-up to and from the train station (available from 8am – 8pm) (but not transport to and fro the airport) and can advise you on activities such as whitewater rafting/trip to taroko gorge (available for arnd $30-40 SGD). Although the room was extremely spacious, LG was somewhat unhappy with the lack of lift facilities, since we had to carry our luggage all the way to the fourth floor. Moreover, although it is located in the city centre (15min walk from Ziqiang Night Market), it can be pretty secluded, as the driver for Hotel Bayview took some time to locate Hualien 11. All in all, we are not exactly complaining because the minsu host, Lisa, is extremely hospitable and accommodating, so we are actually getting value-for-money service.

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Decent Shower Facilities 

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II. Transport

From Airport to Airport or to City Centre

There are no buses in Hualien and taxi meters typically start at about NT110.

III. Sights and Attractions

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The Iconic Red Bridge of Taroko Gorge

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Admiring the marvel of Mother Nature – Taroko Gorge

Must-visit sites in Hualien include the Taroko Gorge and Chixing Tan. However, where possible, try not to visit these tourist attractions on weekends and bring your own food, as the food sold at these places tend to be expensive and unpalatable (as advised by RERG). We were also told that driving along Highway 11 would be a marvel, but since we did not dare to / could not drive in Taiwan (left-hand drive), we opted to cycle along Chixing Tan instead. Nevertheless, the scenery was breathtaking:

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Cycling along the scenic Chixing Tan 

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Sunrise at Chixing Tan