A true blue Malaysian ventures into the hauntingly beautiful Hualien County in Taiwan, only to find herself coming a full circle back home in one of the most unassuming places in the world.
By Ellyse Ng Lee Suan
Time passes quickly here. Just last night, I arrived in Taipei, and this morning, I awoke in a comfortable hut with spectacular mountains as its backdrop. In a land where its wonderful hospitality precedes its reputation, I have flown 3,138 kilometres to arrive in another place I could call home. Let me explain.
Hualien County is known for its breathtaking natural beauty. Speak the words “Taroko Gorge” and any Tom, Dick and Harry would be able to wax lyrical of its dramatic cliffs and towering mountain tops. But aside from admiring Mother Nature’s best works, Hualien is a land of many homestays – each remarkable and unique in its very own way. Warm and cosy with personal touches, I recalled feeling right at home the moment I step in through their doors. I never remember the hotels, but I will always remember the homestays. After all, home is where the heart is.
Leader Village Taroko
The ‘hut’ I mentioned earlier was called Leader Village Taroko Hotel. Located right within the Taroko National Park, it’s the closest one gets to the resplendent mountains and lush forests, yet be completely surrounded by modern amenities such as the television, Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and even a rain shower. I slept in the quietness of nature and was greeted by glistening morning dews as the sun rose upon the beautiful land. The atmosphere was rugged and raw – a refreshing change from the usual hotels ‘with a view’. The ‘leader’ of the village greets everyone with a warm handshake during meals, and performs with the neighbourhood aborigine children right after dinner, entertaining guests with traditional dances and exciting stories. It was quite a treat to stay up and listen as he weaved colourful stories about the aborigine tribes and the challenges encountered to build the winding roads of Taroko National Park by his forefathers. Rich with history and culture, the ‘village’ provided much more than just a night’s rest for me. Just like myself, the international array of guests from all over the world sojourned to this serene hideout for a getaway encircled by nature’s best!
Room rates from NT $3100
A bed and breakfast in Hualien City, the charming wooden vicinity opened its doors to reveal the secret behind its unique name. In the air, I smelled the faint scent of cypress notes, and the owner again welcomed us warmly with a jolly smile and a firm handshake. The overall outlook was excellent – clean and modern with floors of warm honey wood hues. Aromatherapy candles lit up the lobby as the house glowed golden from afar, the pine-like therapeutic scents complementing the interior perfectly. The rooms were spacious, and the beds were equally clean. A little surprise awaits every guest in the form of its homemade local blends of cypress in its shower gel, shampoo and body lotion. Cypress House is a short distance from the Ziqiang Night market, and comes complete with a koi pond and even a sauna! I recalled spending many hours chatting with the guests and new-found friends by the koi pond, feeding the fishes and exchanging life stories – reminding me of campfire nights back home during high school. The night was spent basking in the lovely cypress notes that lingered in the air.
Room rates from NT $2095
Drive along Hualien’s Highway 11 and you’ll spot the unmistakeable Wanderlust Homestay from afar. Blue and white is its theme, and the building’s unique curves and structure is almost as good as its location (facing the Pacific Ocean no less). The owner designed the building according to his ideal dream home, and the warm blue and white combination was chosen to feel ‘one with the ocean’. Aside from offering great views, this homestay offers privacy like no other. With only 4 rooms available for rent, I loved enjoying a quiet breakfast facing the great ocean and basking in the homely warmth of the personally decorated interiors. Even the rooms are nautical-inspired, each with its own theme and decoration. A surge of warmth came over me as I was reminisced about my childhood home, where random knick-knacks and toys decorated my room – holding on to my fleeting youth. According to the jovial owner, 35 couples have exchanged matrimonial vows here, and it’s been fully booked up for the entire year. My stay here was indeed a rare and treasured experience.
Room rates from NT $2880
Hai Wan No. 32
Right at the ocean’s doorstep, is Hai Wan No. 32. The humble abode could’ve fooled me if it wasn’t for its immaculate green lawns and well-placed wooden deck furniture in the outdoor eatery. The interior halls were made of luxurious marble slabs, and the rooms were decked in wooden panels. The rooms were larger than life, and for me, the best part was soaking in the bathtub facing the Pacific Ocean. I dined in the outdoor eating area, as the waves crashed against the coastline — I spent hours just sitting there and listening to the soothing sound. I can’t remember the last time I felt so peaceful and serene.
Room rates from NT $3800
Niu Ao Hwa (New Zealand & Australia) Hot Spring Resort
I’ve always loved hot springs, so when this homestay offers my very own hot spring tub in my room, I was absolutely delighted! Dinner commenced in a common area where international guests mingled with each other, and the homemade dinner was absolutely wonderful. The gracious owner told us his story of him venturing from Taipei City to the simple town of Hualien, of his dreams of building a homestay with its very own hot spring, and of his well-rooted family. Afterwards, it’s back to my own room for my very own hot spring time! The resort pumps water from the natural hot spring in the vicinity and the spacious tub with hot spring water was the perfect indulgence for my tired bones. If you’re one to mingle, there are public and mixed bathtubs available for groups of 2-4, as well as communal pools for men, women and mixed. Needless to say, a substantial amount of time was spent in my personal tub. Ah, sweet life of indulgence.
Room rates from NT $2200
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