The island nation of Taiwan is a small, but crowded place filled with friendly people, good food, affordable accommodations, and some of the best cycling infrastructure in the entire world. Taiwan is truly a land built for bicycle travel!
Click here to read about (and see photos from) my month-long bicycle tour in Taiwan… and then watch the video below to hear my friend Kevin and I discuss our favorite bicycle touring moments in the country.
How To Get There
If you’re coming to Taiwan from a foreign country, you’ll likely fly into Taiwan’s capital and largest city – Taipei. This bustling metropolis of 2.6 million people is the thriving commercial center of the island and is the most modern location in the entire country. Young people are everywhere. There are shopping malls, restaurants, night markets and entertainment galore.
From Taipei, you can cycle straight out of the city (which is easier to do than you might think) or jump on a bus or train that will take you and your bicycle to one of Taiwan’s most bicycle-friendly locations.
If you plan to take the train, make note of the fact that there is usually only one train each day that can accommodate full-size bicycles, so be sure to buy your train ticket(s) at least a day or two in advance… and be sure to get a ticket for both you and your bicycle.
Bringing your own bicycle to Taiwan is a good idea – especially if you plan to spend several weeks or months cycling around the country. If, however, you want to fly into Taiwan and then rent a bicycle for the duration of your stay once you get here, that’s easy to do as well. There are a number of bike shops in both Taipei and around the country that will gladly rent you a bicycle for your stay. If you can, try and arrange this rental agreement before you arrive… and be sure to inquire about whether or not the company you rent from also provides racks and panniers on their bicycles. If not, you’ll want to make sure you bring your own panniers from home so you can easily attach them to whatever bicycle you are provided with for the duration of your time in Taiwan. Most of the quality rental bikes in Taiwan are hybrids and/or mountain bike models with road tires and a few road-riding modifications.
Things To See and Do In Taiwan
Most of the people who come to Taiwan for travel or bicycle holidays spend a few days in Taipei and then head east toward the country’s less-populated coastline. Taiwan is a country that is very much divided by the mountains that run vertically down the center of the island. The west coast of the country (the side that faces China) is where the majority of the population lives and works. This is where much of the industry and much of the country’s population lies. On the opposite coast (the east coast), the towns are small, there are farms and lots of open space. In between these two extremes is a steep, mountainous, jungle-like terrain filled with a variety of plant and animal life.
If you’re coming to Taiwan to cycle, you’ll probably want to stick to the island’s eastern coastline (at least for the beginning of your journey). If, after cycling down the east coast (which can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks, depending on how fast you want to go), you can then cycle up the west coast. By that time in your travels, you’ll be prepared to navigate the busy streets of western Taiwan after having spent the last several days and/or weeks in the country.
If you’re interested in learning what attractions, cities and locations are worth visiting in Taiwan, please see the following articles for tips and suggestions and what to see and do in the country while you’re there:
- Full Circle: One Month Cycling Around The Island Nation of Taiwan
- Lonely Planet: Things To Do In Taiwan
- 10 Things Taiwan Does Better Than Anywhere Else
- Top 10 Attractions In Taiwan, China
- Trip Advisor: Taiwan’s Top Attractions
When Is The Best Time To Go To Taiwan?
The best time to go cycling in Taiwan (unless you’re one of those people who likes extremely hot weather) is in the wintertime, during the months of October through February. At this time of year, average temperatures range from 19-27 degrees Celsius (66-80 Fahrenheit) during the day and from 14-22 Celsius (57-72 Fahrenheit) at night.
Rain is less common in the wintertime, although it can still occur. It’s hot during the day, and many local cyclists cover themselves up from head to toe in tight-fitting black Lycra in order to protect their skin from the sun. Temperatures drop slightly at night, but a jacket is rarely ever needed during the winter months.
Packing a light rain jacket is recommended, however, as rain showers are common… and if you plan to cycle into the mountains, which reach as high as 3,000+ meters (10,000+ feet), cold weather, rain, fog and even snow can be encountered. Be ready for it!
Bike Paths & Additional Cycling Infrastructure
You won’t believe it until you actually get there, but Taiwan has an incredible number of bicycle lanes, bike shops, rest stops (built specifically for people traveling by bike), cycling events, and additional bicycle infrastructure. Locals and foreigners alike make it a common practice to get outside and cycle around the island – whether it be for just a short day trip, a week of riding with friends, or for a month-long bicycle tour around the entire island.
If you plan on cycling in Taiwan, you’ll likely find yourself riding on one of three very different road types:
1. If you want to bike on one of the larger highways in Taiwan (which is perfectly legal and often the only way to go in some instances), you will usually be treated with a wide and luxurious bicycle path. This special bicycle lane is usually (but not always) shared with motorcycle/scooter traffic, so be careful not to take up the entire lane, as faster-moving vehicles will want to occasionally pass you. In many instances, however, there will be one or more lanes for larger vehicle traffic (trucks and cars), then a special lane for slow-moving motorcycles and scooters, and then an additional bicycle path to the right of all of that.
2. If you opt to cycle on smaller country roads or up into the mountains in the center of the country, you’ll likely be cycling on a paved road with little to no shoulder. But don’t worry, because these smaller roads have light vehicle traffic, which makes cycling on them both easy and enjoyable. Plus, drivers in Taiwan are used to seeing cyclists, so they look out for you and know how to slow down and/or move over when they see you in the road up ahead.
3. Finally, if you cycle into any of Taiwan’s cities, you’ll find yourself riding through a chaotic mess of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. From afar it might look as though there is no order to the madness in the city streets of Taiwan, but you’ll quickly learn that there are a few basics rules to cycling in these hectic city streets.
Tips For Cycling In Taiwan
In the cities and on crowded, high-traffic roads, slower traffic should keep to the right while faster traffic should pass on the left. If you’re on a bicycle, you’ll want to be on the right-hand side of the road for much of the time. Just watch out for pedestrians walking in and into the street, scooters backing up without looking, cars and trucks pulling out in front of you, car doors that might open suddenly, and vehicle traffic that is passing you from behind.
Rather than waiting in the middle of the intersection to turn left at crowded city intersections, you’ll want to make a two-point left-hand turn by cycling straight through the intersection and then waiting at the opposite corner for the light to turn green, then cycling through the intersection in your intended direction. You will see signs instructing people on motorcycles and scooters to turn this way as well… and there are special white boxes painted on the ground at some intersections where motorcycles, scooters and bicycles alike are supposed to stop and wait while they make their two-point left-hand turns.
Don’t be surprised if you see people on bikes, motorcycles or scooters going through red lights, driving on the wrong side of the road (sometimes coming right at you!), or making illegal left-hand turns in places where they aren’t supposed to. These actions may not necessarily be legal in Taiwan, but they are extremely common.
Finally, it should be noted that people in Taiwan are incredibly good at avoiding one another when walking, cycling and driving. If there is any one rule to follow when cycling in Taiwan, it is this: Don’t run into anything in front of you. Whether it is a person, another cyclist or an individual driving a car, truck, motorcycle or scooter, your job is to avoid hitting anything in front of you.
What Should You Pack? What Kind Of Bike Should You Ride?
If you plan to stay in hotels and/or hostels during your travels in Taiwan (which is what most of Taiwan’s bicycle tourists tend to do), then you’re going to be conducting a type of bicycle touring known as “light touring.”
Light touring is a type of self-supported bicycle touring in which you ride a bicycle carrying just a small amount of gear (usually carried in one or two panniers) on the rear rack of your bicycle. Instead of carrying camping equipment (which weighs a lot and takes up a lot of space on your bicycle), you will be able to significantly reduce the weight of your bicycle and gear by carrying only the basics you will need for your time in Taiwan – a couple changes of clothing, a pack towel and personal toiletries, and any navigation and/or entertainment items you might wish to carry.
For a detailed sample “light touring” packing list, please see chapter two of The Bicycle Touring Blueprint.
As for the type of bicycle you choose to ride in Taiwan, it doesn’t really matter all that much. While a touring-specific bicycle might be ideal, many of the locals riding around Taiwan do so on a wide range of road and mountain bike models.
The roads and bicycle paths in Taiwan are mostly paved and in very good condition, so you don’t need a bicycle capable of handling off-road riding, unless of course, you’re going to make a point of seeking out that type of cycling. In most instances, a bicycle equipped for several hundred kilometers of road riding is all you need. If you plan to cycle into Taiwan’s mountains (which are beautiful and highly-recommended), then you’re going to want to make sure the bicycle you use has enough low gears to get you up the hills you are sure to encounter. Other than that, you really only need a bicycle that is capable of mounting a rear rack and a couple small panniers.
Taiwanese Food & Drinks
People in Taiwan rarely cook at home. Most meals are eaten on the street or at restaurants and cafes around town. Street vendors and small local shops/restaurants are everywhere in the cities and are easy to find. Most menus are written in Mandarin Chinese, but a few of the more modern restaurants will have an English menus available (if you ask for one).
The most common type of food in Taiwan is Chinese and/or Taiwanese food, which consists of lots of white rice, vegetables, tofu and meat. Buffet-style dinners are popular in Taiwan, but don’t be surprised when you find that your meal is served cold (rather than warm, as you might normally expect).
In larger cities, western fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC and Domino’s can be found. The food at these locations is, as you might expect, pretty much identical to what you would find back home and the prices are about the same as well.
Due to the lack of appropriate acreage for raising cattle in Taiwan, dairy products are rare and extremely pricey, which is why many fast-food chains don’t offer their customary milkshakes, and why foods like pizza and quesadillas are both rare and overpriced throughout Taiwan.
In addition to the local cuisine and the modern western fast food chains, there are some more unique and obscure dining options to be had. In some of the country’s larger cities, Mexican food, Italian food, Greek Food, Hawaiian food, Indian food, and even South African food can be found. You have to do a fair amount of Internet research in order to find these special local diners, but they can be found with a little digging.
If eating out isn’t your thing, then you better get used to eating at 7-Eleven and/or Family Mart – two nearly identical shops that can be found on practically every street corner in Taiwan. These small gas station-style convenience stores sell junk food like soda, candy bars, potato chips, and coffee. At these locations you can buy a magazine, heat up a bowl of noodles, get your blood pressure taken, use the restroom, make photo copies, and a whole lot more. In many of Taiwan’s smaller towns and villages, it is the local 7-Eleven that serves as the heart of the community… and is sometimes the only place in town to get food or drinks of any kind. If you plan on traveling in Taiwan, you better get used to eating and drinking at 7-Eleven and/or Family Mart.
Hotels, Hostels & Camping Accommodations
Finding a place to stay each night is easy in Taiwan. Hotels, hostels and campgrounds are plentiful… and there are lodging options available in various price ranges (all the way from totally free to thousands of New Taiwan Dollars each and every night).
If you plan to stay in private hotel rooms during your travels, you can expect to pay anywhere from $700 New Taiwan Dollars per night for a single person or $1500 New Taiwan Dollars for a double room… up to much higher prices (usually between $2500 NTD and $4500 NTD), although some extremely fancy hotels charge a lot more than this per night.
While the price of hotel rooms in Taiwan may be on par with what you might find in much of the United States and even parts of Europe, don’t expect all hotels to be the same. The quality and cleanliness of hotels in Taiwan ranges greatly… and price isn’t always an indicator of the type of room you’re going to receive.
When inquiring about a hotel room in Taiwan, it is customary to ask to see the room before you agree to pay the quoted price. If you don’t like the room (or the price of the room), don’t be afraid to either leave the hotel or ask for a better room/price. Also, be sure to ask (and sometimes even test) to make sure that the hotel in question has hot water. Not all hotels in Taiwan do!
In additional to the standard hotel rooms you might expect to find anywhere in the world, Taiwan also has a number of hostel options for those traveling on a budget. Hostels are common in Taiwan, with most offering dormitory-stye accommodations at a rate of anywhere from $300 – $600 New Taiwan Dollars per night. Some (but not all) hostels include a small breakfast.
If you’re prepared to camp, there are a number of good options for you when cycling around Taiwan. Few cities have established campgrounds (but if you can find one, they are usually well-equipped with bathrooms and hot showers), but are also a little overpriced (usually charging $400 New Taiwan Dollars or more per tent each night).
If you want to camp for free, there are some wild places where camping is allowed. It should be noted, however, that there are several places throughout the country where camping is not allowed. Many of the beaches, parks and other public areas are not open to camping. So if you choose to camp, make sure that doing so is both safe and legal.
If you can’t find a good, safe place to pitch your tent for the night, you might try asking if you can stay at one of the many Tao or Buddhist temples that are scattered throughout the country. You probably won’t be given a free bed for the night, but you will be given a small area in which you can pitch your tent.
How Much Does It Cost To Travel In Taiwan?
While traveling in Taiwan is certainly more costly than other places in much of Asia (such as popular backpacker destinations like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia), the country as a whole is quite affordable, especially if you compare it to other Asian island nations like Japan.
Meals in Taiwan range from as little as $50 New Taiwan Dollars (less than $2 USD) for your typical Chinese/Taiwanese food… to as much as $400 New Taiwan Dollars ($13 USD) for fancier dishes or western-style meals. Drinks and appetizers will obviously increase the cost of your meal bill each day.
Your average hotel cost between $700 and $1500 per night for a single person and between $1200 and $2500 per night for two people.
Hostels cost as little as $300 to $600 per night in a dormitory-style accommodation where you’re sharing the room with as many as 3 to 11 other people… and prices go up from there for larger, more private room options.
Camping costs are free in many parts of the country, but if you opt to stay in an established campground, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $600 per tent… and as much as $2000 per night if you stay in one of Taiwan’s rare RV parks.
Taking the train in Taiwan is both easy and affordable. Because the country is so small, even the furthest of train rides won’t set you back much more than $800 New Taiwan Dollars (about $25 USD).
On a whole, traveling in Taiwan is pretty comparable to traveling in the United States, Canada, parts of central Europe and much of Australia/New Zealand.
Taiwan Is Waiting For You!
If there is any one thing that makes traveling in Taiwan a worthwhile endeavor, it is the people that you will meet while you are there. In my travels to more than 50 different countries all around the world, I’ve never encountered an entire population as friendly and as welcoming as the Taiwanese people.
If you come to Taiwan, expect to be greeted with smiles and waves. If you ride a bike, local cyclists and drivers alike will go out of their way to cheer you on and give you a “thumbs up” as you pass. Locals are quick to help in any way they can, whether it be giving you directions to a nearby hotel or restaurant, or stopping to chat and ask where you are from and how you are enjoying your time in Taiwan.
Whether you are an experienced cyclist with thousands of miles/kilometers under your belt or a total newbie who’s looking to get started with this whole “bicycle touring” thing, Taiwan is a great place to be. There’s a little bit of everything in this country – flat coastal riding, steep mountainous terrain, beaches, jungles, cities and more!
While there are a lot of wonderful, positive things to say about the nation of Taiwan and why you should come to this small, but special island off the eastern coast of China, the best part about this place is the people. The cycling is great, the food is good, and the prices are affordable… but the people of Taiwan are, by far, the best thing about this small country!
Additional Questions or Concerns About Cycling in Taiwan?
Do you have any questions about traveling and/or bicycle touring in Taiwan that you want to ask me? Is there anything you think I should discuss about cycling in Taiwan that I left out… that I should include in future updates to this article? Leave a comment below with your questions and/or concerns and I’ll write you back with a response just as soon as I possibly can.