Hualien, Taiwan

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Most of the population of Taiwan is concentrated on the island’s west coast, where Taipei, Kaohsiung and the country’s other large cities are located. The east coast, however, is an entirely different world. Even with a population of only around 110,000, Hualien is the largest city in eastern Taiwan. Here, rugged, verdant mountains meet the deep-blue Pacific Ocean and you’ll find the most spectacular scenery on the island. Pebble and black-sand beaches sit next to cerulean seas, and there are big waves ideal for surfing. Numerous biking trails make it easy to explore the coastline as well as Hualien itself, which is home to many Tao and Buddhist temples and shrines. There's also a rich aboriginal culture thanks to several ethnic tribes that reside here, including the Ami. Watch them perform traditional dances and songs at the Ami Cultural Village, then peruse the handicrafts for sale. The city has several busy markets—perfect for tasting local specialties like coffin bread (a kind of potpie encased in toast) and the local variation of mochi, the famous rice flour sweet. But what most visitors come to see is the lush Taroko Gorge and its dramatic cliffs, waterfalls and marble canyons.