After my month-long bicycle tour around the island nation of Taiwan with my friend Kevin, I decided to stay in the country for another 40 days on my own. Kevin flew back to his home in Australia and I traveled to the city of Taitung, where I took up residence on the third floor of a small hotel located near the Showtime shopping mall, KFC, Subway, and the Donutes coffee shop.
After cycling around Taiwan with Kevin, I knew that I wanted to come back and “live” in Taitung for the remainder of my stay in the country. Taitung is the city that stood out the most to me. I liked it there. There was a Mexican restaurant in town, the beach was just a short walk/bike ride away, and there was a big park nearby filled with bike paths, walking trails and several small lakes.
In the photo below you can see the owner of the hotel where I was staying (on the left) and his son (Justin – on the right). They were extremely helpful and understanding when I asked if I could stay in their hotel for more than a month. They even gave me a fairly significant discount off the price of my room because I was staying for so long, which I greatly appreciated.
Below you can see the small room that I was living in during my stay in Taitung. The room cost me 500 New Taiwan Dollars each night (about $15 USD) and was barely big enough to turn around it. I had trouble sitting down at the small desk most of the time, because there wasn’t room for the chair to sit in front of the desk. I usually had to sit at an angle, kind of working off the side of the desk.
Plus, there was almost never any hot water in the hotel. During my total 40 nights in the hotel, I had a hot shower only three or four times. The rest of the time I either took cold showers or I would fill up my bicycle’s water bottles with hot water from a hot-water machine out in the hallway, and then I’d pour that water over my head in much the same way that I would if I were showering out in the wild… like I did in Finland earlier this year.
Even though my hotel room wasn’t great and the hot water didn’t really work, the owners were super friendly, it was really all I needed, and everything in town was within walking distance.
From my hotel I could walk to all the local restaurants, the Donutes coffee shop (which became my favorite place in town… and I’d go there almost every night to get a pastry and sometimes an iced coffee drink), the beach, and even the local table-tennis club – which I’ll tell you about in just a moment.
Most days I would wake up around 9 or 10 AM and then either walk or go on a bike ride to some nearby beach, picnic table or park… and with my laptop computer in tow, I’d do about an hour’s worth of work while sitting outside and enjoying Taiwan’s colorful landscapes.
One of my favorite places to work was at this Tao temple on the hill just a short distance from my hotel. From inside the temple I had a really good view overlooking all of Taitung… and there were rarely any people ever around.
One day I rode my bike along the coast to the south of the city and found an abandoned graveyard that had been washed into the sea. All along the beach were concrete sarcophagi that had fallen from the sandy cliffs above and were now laying lopsided in the earth below. I imagine the bodies of the dead had already been removed when I sat down to work here one day, but I really wasn’t sure.
Another great thing about Taitung is that there is an incredible 20+ kilometer bike path that goes in a circle around the city. I probably cycled around this path at least a half-dozen times during my stay in the city. It was a fantastic little bike path that passed through several of the city’s most interesting places and was really well maintained. Further proof that Taiwan is a country designed with cycling in mind.
The best thing about Taitung… and the main reason I wanted to stay in Taiwan after Kevin left… is that the city contains a large table-tennis club. This club is located in the large red/orange stadium you can see in the first photo at the top of this page. The stadium is open pretty much 24/7 and you can go in any time you want and play ping-pong. There is almost always someone there, it’s totally free to play, and there are individuals there of all different ages and skill levels.
I ended up going to play table-tennis at this club just about every other day while I was in Taitung. Hardly anyone at the club spoke English, but I was able to show up with my paddle (which I’ve been carrying with me for the last year) and sneak into some games with the locals. The people there were friendly and accommodating. By the time I left Taitung, I felt like I had become friends with a number of the people I met at the table-tennis club, despite the fact that we were really not able to communicate with one another. Plus, my table-tennis skills improved greatly. The people in Taiwan are really good at table tennis… and I learned a lot by playing with and against them.
I would usually go to the table tennis club around 4 PM and then leave around 6 in the evening. By the time I’d leave the club it was usually dark outside. Luckily, the table-tennis club was located right across the street from a big art market, where every day there were artists selling handmade goods in small stalls and a number of giant art installations were in place for the public to enjoy. One of these giant installations was a string of hundreds of papers lanterns which had been decorated by school children and then hung from the trees in the area of the art market. It was quite a sight to see so many paper lanterns illuminated in the dark!
Sometimes at the art market there would be singers, musicians or dancers performing. The photos below are from one night when a group of aboriginal singers were performing.
Night time in Taitung was a fun time to walk around the city. Unlike some places in the world that grow quiet after dark, Taitung only became more color after sunset each day.
On Friday nights an entire street was blocked off for the weekly night market and local vendors would come out to sell food and all sorts of wild things.
For the first several weeks during my stay in Taitung there were political rallies going on each night. Fireworks were being blown up all over the place, large groups of people marched in the streets, car horns were blaring, and it was a wild, colorful time.
One day, while I was walking through the park down by the beach I ran into this young woman named Amber (shown below on the far left) who was riding her skateboard through the park. She told me that she worked at a local eyelash studio and asked me to come by one day and meet her co-workers, who all turned out to be super nice and friendly. Amber and I went out for ice cream a couple times while I was in the city, and we even rode skateboards together one night down on the beach.
About half-way through my stay in Taitung, I woke up one morning and I suddenly couldn’t near much out of my left ear. I went for several days not being able to hear much of anything – hoping that the problem would soon go away. But it didn’t go away, and only became worse as the days went on. At one point, my ear canal had swollen completely shut, my jaw was clamped shut and I was in serious pain! After nearly a week of this… and several sleepless nights, I went to the owner of my hotel and asked him to take me to a doctor.
With the help of the hotel owner, I was able to find a doctor in Taitung and get treated for my ear infection. It took the work of three different doctors, four doctor visits, a bunch of ear drops, and a high-powered vacuum to suck the junk out of my head to finally clear my ear canal and get rid of the nasty infection that had me walking around the city for two whole weeks – deaf and in pain.
After fixing the issues with my ear, I decided to conduct a mini 4-day bike tour from Taitung up the east coast toward the city of Hualien, and then ride back to Taitung through the Rift Valley.
The first day on the road was cold and windy. While it had been hot and dry for most of the bike tour around Taiwan with Kevin the month before, my last 3 weeks in Taiwan were cold and wet.
I spent the first night of my mini-4-day bike tour camped out in a grove of coconut trees just a short distance from the beach.
The next day I cycled further north up the coast before turning inland, climbing a short mountain road, crossing through a long tunnel, and the emerging on the other side of the mountain near the city of Yuli, Taiwan. Kevin and I had spent some time in this area during our bike tour the month before, so it was kind of fun to return to the same spot more than a month later and see the area in a totally new way.
I returned to the same bike path that Kevin and I had cycled down previously and just a short while later turned off on a road that I had not traveled before with Kevin – a road that took me up into the mountains, where I made camp at the edge of a remote farm/forest.
The next day I cycled a little further south through the Rift Valley before turning onto the 197, a remote forest/jungle road that twists and turns its way through the steep hills on the east side of the southern Rift Valley.
The road was dirt and gravel for about 10 full kilometers, but I love this type of cycling. I would have been quite happy if the road had been dirt and gravel the entire way back to Taitung. I took my time and made sure to stop at several points along the way to take photos and soak in my surroundings.
At one point during the ride, I came around a corner and in the middle of the road spotted two small animals I had never in my life seen before. I wasn’t sure what they were at the time, but after doing some research on the Internet, I’m pretty sure they were marmots. When the marmots saw me on my bicycle, they took one good look at me and then dashed off into the bushes… never to be seen again.
The last night of my mini-bike tour north of Taitung was spent camping in the forest just off the side of the road on the 197. It was a dark and slightly scary location to spend the night. It was windy and raining, but I slept well and was woken the following morning by a man with a weed-whacker working on the road just a short distance away from my tent. I quickly packed up my bicycle and hit the road, nervous that the man might discover me camped out in the trees just a short distance from where he had parked his car.
The bike ride back to Taitung was a good one and I didn’t want it to end. I knew that this would be my last bit of cycling in Taiwan.
I returned to the hotel where I had been staying before, checked into a different room on the third floor, and spent the next week working on the new Bicycle Touring Pro Adventure Podcast, playing table tennis with the locals, eating pastries at the Donutes coffee shop and preparing myself or the long trip back to China, England, Germany and Poland.
I had spent more than 70 days in the country, but the time sure had gone quickly. Before I knew it, my travels in Taiwan were over! 🙁