Bicycle touring in Taiwan was Kevin’s idea. I met Kevin in the summer of 2012, on a week-long bicycle tour across the Swiss Alps with a company called Bike Switzerland. Kevin and I were the two vegetarians on the tour, so that was our sticking point. We kept in touch over the last couple years via Facebook, so when Kevin asked if I’d be interested in joining him on a month-long bicycle tour around the island of Taiwan, I did a quick look at my calendar and almost immediately committed myself to the trip. Almost a whole year later, I was there!
It was a long, tiring experience just to get to Taiwan. I had been in Romania for the last month, so I had to fly from Romania to London, England, and then from London to Shanghai, China… where I had a 21-hour layover. I rented a hotel for the night in Shanghai and then got back on the plane the next morning for my final flight to Taipei (Taiwan’s capital and largest city).
When I landed in Taipei, I was pleased to be greeted at the airport by a young woman named Kiri, who was there to pick me up and deliver me to her hostel in the center of Taipei.
After a short 30-minute trip across the city, we arrived at Kiri’s House, where Kevin was already waiting. He had arrived in Taipei the day before and already had his bicycle assembled. He was ready to go… but the only thing I was ready to do was go to sleep. I was exhausted!
After taking a shower and passing out on the bed for just a few short minutes, Kevin and I walked down the street and stepped out into the crowds of Taipei. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like walking around Taiwan’s most crowded city (population: approximately 6.9 million), but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.
The streets were crowded at times, and a little chaotic, but not nearly as bad as I thought they would be. There was much more order to the chaos than I imagined there would be, and the people didn’t seem to even notice us two foreigners walking around together. In so many other countries I have been to, I am almost instantly mobbed the moment I hit the street – being asked for money and food… and stared at as some type of alien curiosity. But not in Taipei… and not in Taiwan. Throughout my time in Taiwan, I was treated with the utmost kindness and respect. I was only hassled (in the nicest of ways) one or two times and have nothing but kind things to say about the people of Taiwan.
Kevin had scouted out a vegetarian restaurant just a few blocks away from Kiri’s House, so we walked there and enjoyed the first of many rice and veggie buffet meals we would eat together in Taiwan. I struggled with using chopsticks for the first time in my life, and laughed when the owner of the restaurant made a special effort to give me a big “thumbs up” after I finished eating my meal.
It was pretty late by this time of night and I was thoroughly exhausted. I could barely keep my eyes open or walk in a straight line. I hadn’t slept much more than three or four hours over the last five or six days, and all I wanted to do was go to bed and sleep for hours. So Kevin and I walked back to Kiri’s House, rode up to the third floor in a tiny little elevator, and then I immediately passed out in my rock-hard bed.
I was surprised at just how early I woke up the following morning. I had expected to sleep until noon (or well beyond that time), but I was up at the crack of dawn. The jet-lag I was experiencing had obviously not finished with me yet. But because I was up, I decided to get right to work.
After eating breakfast, I immediately set to work on reassembling my bicycle and preparing all my things for the next 30 days of cycling around the island. I had packed my bicycle inside a tiny, stripped down bicycle box, so it took me nearly two hours or more to get my bike back together.
After the bike was assembled, Kevin and I returned to the streets of Taipei. I bought a new Taiwanese SIM card for my phone and we did some window shopping in the city’s nearby stores. We meant to go to a crowded night market during our first full day together in the city, but I was too tired, and by the time we ate dinner (at another nearby vegetarian restaurant), I was more than ready to call it a day. I was still extremely tired, incredibly jet-lagged, and a bit weak from either dehydration of a lack of food (maybe a bit of both).
When I woke the next morning, I could tell that I was far from feeling my normal self, but it was time for us to take off, cycle out of the city and begin our bicycle touring adventure around the island nation of Taiwan. We carried our loaded bicycles down the stairs and out onto the street, where I made Kevin stop for a moment to pose for a photo… and then we began our ride.
We had only been cycling for about 30 seconds before pulling out onto one of Taipei’s larger city streets when a policeman on a motorcycle pulled up beside me and motioned for me to pull over. I couldn’t believe it! I had only been bicycle touring in Taiwan for about 30 seconds and I was already getting pulled over by the cops! “If this is what cycling in Taiwan is going to be like,” I thought to myself, “I’m not sure I’m going to like this place.”
I pulled my bicycle up onto the sidewalk where the policeman had pointed for me to pull over, but when I stopped on the sidewalk as instructed, the policeman on the motorbike just rode away and left me standing there scratching my head and wondering what in the world had just happened.
Kevin and I were both extremely confused, but after a few moments of thinking it through, we came to the conclusion that the policeman didn’t want us riding our bicycles in the shoulder of the street, but wanted us to to ride up on the sidewalk where there was indeed a small, but difficult to navigate, bicycle lane.
Getting out of Taipei on our bicycles wasn’t exactly a whole lot of fun, but it was actually a whole lot easier than I thought it would be (despite our initial run-in with that policeman on the motorbike). We made our way south from Kiri’s House to highway 9 and after just a few kilometers found ourselves well out of the city center and cycling uphill into a mountainous jungle-like environment.
As we left Taipei, Kevin and I both noted how there were so man Taiwanese flags strung about the city. At first we thought that this was just how things were done in Taiwan, but we soon learned that the reason the flags had been hung (not just in Taipei, but all around Taiwan) was because China had recently celebrated it’s National Day of celebration and so Taiwan had put up their own flag as a sort of “F$*# you!” to the Chinese government. (Please note that this is not how the situation was explained to me by the locals here in Taiwan, but instead, how I interpreted it based on their telling of the story.)
Highway 9 leading east out of Taipei was a nice mountain road with a great deal of motorcycle/scooter traffic. After not having cycled for the last month (because I was in Romania without my bicycle) and still feeling the affects of jet-lag from my long flight, I struggled my way up the hill. When I reached the top, Kevin was waiting for me.
At the top of the mountain we sat at a hillside cafe. I ordered a large bowl of ice cream and Kevin had a coffee. We sat staring out at the mountain landscape for just a few minutes and then we jumped back on our bikes. Kevin was raring to go… and I was ready for a nap. I felt so tired and so incredibly weak. I could barely stand up. But I knew that since we were basically at the top of the mountain, it would be a relatively easy ride back down the hillside to the coastal city of Toucheng, which is where we planned on spending the night.
Even though it appeared as though we had been at the top of the mountain when we stopped for that ice cream and coffee, we were far from the top of the pass. There was a good downhill stretch of road, but there was still quite a bit of uphill cycling as well.
Even though I was enjoying the scenery and trying my best to take in my new surroundings, I was mentally and physically struggling. Kevin was blasting ahead of me and I was seriously slowing him down.
Eventually, however, we reached the top of the pass and it was a long, downhill ride along a series of switchbacks down into the center of Toucheng, Taiwan. I was so happy to have made it! All I wanted to do was find a place to stay for the night and spend the rest of the day sleeping. I was hot, sweaty and tired.
Toucheng was a colorful little town. Far smaller than Taipei, it was a great introduction to the type of towns we would soon be spending most of our time in as we cycled south and around the rest of Taiwan.
The streets of Toucheng were crowded. Scooters buzzed in every direction, pedestrians walked down the middle of the street, and everywhere you looked there was a small store or stall selling something (i.e. fruit, Chinese food, hardware, tea drinks and more).
Kevin and I searched around the city for an affordable place to stay, but when nothing immediately popped up, I suggested we camp at the local beach. An online review said the campground was free, so we made our way across the city to the strand, where we pitched our tents and were then asked for 400 New Taiwan Dollars each (the online review had been wrong about the price… and we were each 400 Dollars poorer).
It was a noisy night at the campground. People walked past our tent at all hours of the night, parties raged on in tents nearby and then it began to rain early in the morning. I woke the next morning feeling just as weak and tired as I had the previous day. I was not looking forward to the bike ride I knew was ahead of me. I could barely lift my feet… and yet, I somehow mustered the strength of lift my leg over the top tube of my bicycle and pedal my heavy steed down the road to the nearby train station.
Rather than cycle along the beach from Toucheng to Hualien (a road we had been told was narrow and busy with scooters, cars and truck traffic), Kevin and I decided to take the train and skip over this small stretch of highway. I think Kevin was happy to avoid riding on a potentially dangerous/stressful stretch of road, but I was happy just to have some time to rest.
Taking the train in Taiwan was easy. While there was only one train that day that could accommodate our bicycles, the wait for the train was short, and once it arrived, we easily rolled our bicycles onboard.
Once in Hualien, we instantly set our sights on finding a place to stay for the night. Using Kevin’s trusty Lonely Planet guidebook, we navigated a short distance across the city center to a hostel called “Amigos,” where we booked a room in a 4-person dorm for 550 Dollars per night. The photo below shows the entrance/main lounge of the Amigos hostel.
After securing our bicycles and other belongings, we hit the streets of Hualien on foot and began our search for yet another vegetarian restaurant. While Kevin looked for the restaurant, I ran around taking photos of the people, the architecture, the traffic and the city’s incredible signage.
Kevin and I both liked Hualien, so we decided to stay there for an extra night. I was happy about this, not just because I liked the city, but also because I needed some more time to rest and recuperate. I was still feeling a bit weak and tired at this point, but I was beginning to recover. I felt so good during our second day in the city, in fact, that Kevin and I decided to ride our bikes north up the coast for about 30 kilometers to the entrance of the Taroko Gorge and Tailuge National Park.
We spent a short amount of time at the entrance to the Gorge, and then we turned back around and cycled back into the center of Hualien. It was around this time that I began to realize just how much cycling infrastructure there was in Taiwan. There were bike paths and rest stops all over the place. Taiwan was designed for bicycle touring!
Coming back from our bike ride, Kevin and I cycled back into the city via a crowded city street and then made our way back to the Amigos Hostel, where we showered and then went out for dinner – another night of vegetarian Chinese food (something I would quickly grow sick of eating during my time in Taiwan).
The following day, we packed up our belongings and said goodbye to the kind people working at our hostel. The ride out of Hualien was an easy one, but wow was it hot that day!
Cycling along highway 9 (a road we would end up spending much of our time in eastern Taiwan on), we rode south and then cut over to nearby Liyu Lake (the second largest lake in all of Taiwan).
We had been told that Liyu lake was truly something worth seeing, but I was surprised at just how small the lake really was. We were able to cycle around the entire thing in about 10 minutes or less.
It was a nice lake though, and we stopped along the way to take a few photos in this iconic location.
After leaving Liyu Lake, my energy levels sunk and I found it difficult to cycle even a few hundred meters without wanting to stop and rest in the shade. But Kevin kept me going. If he hadn’t been with me, I would have just set up camp, laid down in my tent and slept for three days straight. I felt horrible. But I just kept pedaling… and when I wasn’t pedaling, I was using my time to take photos and drink lots of water.
Even though I felt like s%(t on this particular day, I was truly enjoying the scenery I found myself cycling through. There were palm trees, mountains, rice fields and scooters. There were Tao temples and friendly locals and giant spiders everywhere I looked.
After a long, slow and sweaty day of cycling, we finally arrived in the tiny town of Guangfu. We rented a small hotel room near the train station, ate some more rice and veggies at a Chinese buffet-style restaurant, and then went to sleep. I had survived the day, but was unsure if I would be able to keep this up for much longer. I was feeling tired, depressed and defeated. Worst of all, I felt bad for constantly slowing Kevin down and forcing him to wait for me. I needed a new approach to bicycle touring in Taiwan… and I needed to make that change quickly!
After a night of rest and relaxation in Guangfu, we woke the next morning and began pedaling south along a well-kept bicycle path that ran south of the city. Now well into the heart of the Rift Valley, I decided to focus on my cycling and forget about taking photos for just a moment. I put my earphones in, blared my music, and largely ignored Kevin for most of the day (sorry Kevin, but I was trying to get myself back into “the mood”).
Listening to my music worked. I pumped away and sped down the road, dancing along to the songs I was hearing in my head and ignoring most of the small hills and heat we were having to deal with throughout the day. After several hours of this, we had just about reached our destination for the night – the town of Yuli, Taiwan (population 25,636).
Before entering the town, however, we stopped to take a few quick photos… and then we cycled up a small gorge on the eastern side of the city where we spotted our first group of monkeys in the trees hanging over the roadside.
Kevin knew I was tired and far from feeling well at this stage of the trip. I had really been struggling for the past few days, and so when Kevin suggested we take a day to rest in Yuli, I agreed that it would be a good idea.
Our day off the bikes in Yuli was not a wasted day, however. Instead of cycling to the next town down the road, we cycled up a short canyon road on the western side of the city, where we found a waterfall, some more monkeys, and an old metal suspension bridge.
On the far side of the suspension bridge was a small concrete building that was probably once occupied by Japanese soldiers. Near this forgotten structure, Kevin found a glass bottle buried in the ground and he dug it out to find that the glass was entirely intact.
Not sure if the bottle was new or old, worthless or valuable, I carried the bottle back to our hotel room and used the Internet (and my friends on Facebook) to discover that the bottle was made by the Yomeishu company (a Japanese firm)… and that the characters on the bottle (which mean something like “life, fate, destiny”) are written from right to left, which is no longer the case with Japanese today, so the bottle may date back to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan prior to WWII. However, the Yomeishu company is still in business to this day and they may have chosen to print the letters backwards in an attempt to make the bottle look like their antique products of the past. If you can help me date this bottle, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article. I’d love to find out how old/valuable this thing might actually be. I still have it in my possession.
After our rest day in Yuli, I was feeling a bit better and we hit the road once again. We cycled south out of the city on a bike path that took us over a long bridge and to the western side of the Rift Valley. Then we cycled south for a while before crossing back over the eastern side of the Valley and continuing south.
Our plan for the day was to cycle to the nearby town of Haiduan, but we reached the city so early in the day that we decided to continue cycling onward and up into the mountains along highway 20 to the tiny town of Wulu, situated high in the Taiwanese mountains.
The climb from the Rift Valley floor to our mountain hotel in Wulu was a long one, but it wasn’t nearby as bad as I thought it might be. Even though the road was narrow, windy, and sporadically covered with construction vehicles and personal, the scenery was spectacular and there was a lot to think about during the long climb up the hill.
Once we reached Wulu, we checked into the only real hotel that could be found there and paid the most we would ever pay for an accommodation during our entire bike tour in Taiwan (2,500 New Taiwan Dollars). I waited outside the hotel with the bicycles and the butterflies while Kevin went inside to inquire about the price and other hotel details.
After securing our bicycles, checking into our room and each taking a shower, Kevin and I walked around the hotel property.
There was a small, red suspension bridge that stretched across the gorge from the back of the hotel to the cliffs in the distance. Walking across the bridge was a scary proposition. The bridge swung and bent to the side as we slowly walked across – a torrent of water rushing down the gorge below us.
On the other side of the bridge was a trail that climbed up the steep hillside to the road far above. I decided to climb to the top of the trail while Kevin went back to the hotel to use the hot spring that was made available to hotel guests.
Back at the hotel, Kevin and I were served an impressive (and relatively expensive) vegetarian meal consisting of several small Chinese-style dishes.
At around 8 PM that night, we were told that there was going to be a small performance for the guests of the hotel. There was a bus full of people staying at the hotel with us, so the show was largely for them, but Kevin and I were invited to participate in the festivities as well.
Several small children danced to native music and then the adults were invited to join the dancing fun. One of the young girls demonstrated how rice was pounded into a sort of sticky dessert, and then an archery contest was held at the end of the night. Kevin did the dancing and I excelled with the bow and arrows.
In our hotel room at Wulu were some pink, girly bed spreads, which I posed with for the following photo.
I think Kevin and I both would have been happy to stay in Wulu for another night had it not been so expensive there. But because it was such a pricey place, we decided it was time to head down the hill the following day, return to the Rift Valley and cycle south into the much larger city of Taitung.
The ride from Wulu to Taitung was a good one. I was feeling so much better at this point of our bike tour. My legs were no longer so weak, I wasn’t nearly as tired anymore, and I was enjoying the cycling again as well.
About 20 kilometers before Taitung, Kevin and I got separated from one another. Kevin was in front of me and he continued cycling straight down a stretch of highway 9 when I turned right in order to follow along the established bicycle path. It took more than an hour of waiting before Kevin finally found me again, waiting for him under a tree where his route and my route merged at their eventual end. Because Kevin didn’t have a smartphone with him (and I did), we weren’t able to communicate during this period. We eventually found one another, but technology certainly does make these situations easier when they occur.
Cycling into Taitung was a blast. There was a long, straight road that ran downhill into the city center… and once there, we went straight to work on finding a place to stay for the next three nights. We found a hotel right near the train station in the center of the city. The beach and practically everything we would need for our visit to the city were all within walking distance of our hotel. We paid for the best room in the place and shelled out 600 Dollars each (1,200 total) for our simple accommodation on the hotel’s third floor.
That first evening in Taitung, we went to a local establishment called “Kasa,” which Kevin’s Lonely Planet book said offered Mexican food (something that I desperately miss from home when I’m traveling). So, I convinced Kevin that we should go to this restaurant during our first night in the city. Sadly, when we got there, we discovered the place was more of a bar than that of a restaurant and the only Mexican-style food they had on order was a sad plate of tortilla chips covered in melted cheese. It was a huge disappointment.
After eating our overpriced (and slightly burnt) chips, Kevin and I wandered around the city – the highlight of which was stumbling across a small night market where all kinds of foods were being cooked and sold by local street vendors.
During our first rest day in Taiwan, Kevin and I rode down to the beach and then cycled north to a nearby cove where we found a spot in the sand to just sit and read for a while. I read an ebook on my smartphone and Kevin read a book he was able to pick up for free at the Kasa restaurant we dined at the night before.
After several hours of reading on the beach, we cycled back into the center of Taitung, took a shower, and prepared ourselves for dinner.
Using the Internet and the recommendation of a Taitung local, I found out that there was another Mexican food restaurant in Taitung. It was across the city and kind of far away from where we were staying, but I was insistent on checking it out… and I’m so glad I was, because the food turned out to be really, really good. In fact, it was the bext Mexican food I have ever had outside of the United States and/or Mexico. My burrito with a side order of beans (shown below) cost me 240 New Taiwan Dollars, which is pretty expensive for a meal here in Taiwan, but was totally worth it to me, as I’ve been desperately craving Mexican food for the past several months.
Later that night, Rian and Dylan from EAT. SLEEP. SURF. arrived in Taitung. I had reviewed their 4-part documentary series about bicycle touring and surfing in Indonesia several years prior… and now they just happened to be in Taiwan producing a new TV series about bicycle touring and surfing in this country. We just happened to be in Taiwan at the same time, so I had been sending them messages via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, insisting that we meet up at some point during our travels. Luckily, we were able to make that happen in Taitung!
I joined Rian and Dylan for dinner during their first night in the city and then went out to breakfast with them the following morning.
After breakfast, we packed up our bicycles and rode down to the beach, where the guys shot a short video segment with me for their bike/surfing film. I don’t know if I’ll actually be included in the film, but it was fun to see how these two traveling filmmakers worked.
After shooting some video for their movie, I insisted that we take a few photos together with my camera. In the photo below is me (in the blue on the far left), Dylan (in the white next to me), Rian (in the brown T-shirt) and Kevin (in the orange jersey on the right).
With only a few days left to travel in Taiwan, Rian and Dylan decided they could not hang around in Taitung for a full day. So after our filming was finished, we returned to the hotel where the guys packed up their bicycles, said goodbye and then cycled out of the city.
The next day, Kevin and I also left Taitung. I liked Taitung so much though (and I was so happy to have found some good Mexican food there), that I decided I would return to Taitung after my bike tour with Kevin was over and that this city would be my home for my second month of travel in Taiwan.
The bike ride south from Taitung was a good one. It was hot and the scenery was nice, but I didn’t take any photos until we arrived in the tiny beach-side community of Dawu.
At the beach in Dawu were two religious temples (one was Tao and the other was Buddhist). Not far from these two beach-side shrines was a small park with a giant rope swing constructed out of four thin bamboo rods and, of course, a long rope. I was the first to try the crazy contraption, thinking the bamboo shoots would surely give way under my weight. But the bamboo held and the swing was a lot of fun. Kevin tried the swing next, and then we stayed in the park for another hour or two while I snapped some photos of me with my bicycle and then read a chapter or two from the ebook on my smartphone.
Because Dawu was so small, we weren’t able to find a place to stay in the city. We had been told that there might be a hostel of some kind in the neighboring town to the south, but I was determined to camp at the small lake that was situated just a few short kilometers outside the city.
After cycling up to the lake and seeing that there were not only bathrooms available, but a beautiful bike path around the small lake and a few potential camping spots as well, Kevin agreed to camping on the lake that night. We set up our tents beside the small gazebo you see in the photo below and then sat outside our tents, staring off into the dark as the sun set over the hills and we eventually crawled inside our tents and went to bed.
We were woken early the next morning to the sound of fishermen zipping around the lake on their scooters. I slept well in the evening, but in the morning, when people started walking past our tents, I worried that someone might come by and tell us that we had to leave. If Kevin hadn’t been with me, I never would have camped in such an exposed area… but no one ever came by to reprimand us for camping on the lake, so my worries were totally unjustified.
After packing up our bicycles and leaving our small lake behind, we cycled south and into the mountains. It was a long, hot and sweaty uphill climb. It was a strenuous 80 kilometer ride over the mountains and then back to the beach along highways 9, 199, 26 and 200, but it was some of the most scenic and enjoyable cycling of the entire trip. All along the route we found other local cyclists (out for the day or carrying small, lightweight packs) who waved and smiled and cheered us on as we climbed up the hills.
At the end of the day we pulled into a sleepy little surf town and found accommodation at a colorful surf-inspired hostel called the “Winson House.” We paid 600 New Taiwan Dollars for a bed in a 6-person dorm and were fortunate enough to have only one other person in the room with us on our first night at the hostel.
We decided to stay at Winson House for two nights because the location was so idyllic, so during our rest day in town we just hung out on the beach, I did some work on my computer, we rode our bikes to the nearby 7-Eleven in order to get some food, and then we ate out at a small restaurant just a short distance down the road.
The Winson House was quite the place to be in the mornings. People would come from all over to get breakfast and socialize with their friends. Travelers on scooters and bicycles also found the Winson House a hospitable place to be.
After two nights at Winson House, and some well-needed rest (on my part at least), we continued on our way. The goal for the day was to reach Taiwan’s southern-most point and then continue cycling over to the west coast of the island.
The bike ride was a good one. There was a slight tailwind and the road was like a rollercoaster, allowing us to quickly ride up and down the small hills we encountered along the way.
Once we reached Taiwan’s southern-most point, we encountered a whole host of local and foreign tourists. Some were on bikes, others were on scooters, but most came in cars. In the photo below you can see a young man from China that we met just a few hundred meters from Taiwan’s southern-most point. Like us, this young man was also cycling around Taiwan, but he was doing so in a slightly shorter time span (about two-and-a-half weeks).
Note how he is dressed: covered from head to toe, despite the fact that it is 30+ degrees Celsius outside. This is how most of the local cyclists in Taiwan dress – and most of them cover up their faces as well with a black or colorful face mask that makes me hot and sweaty just to look at.
After riding our bikes down a short pedestrian/cycle path, Kevin and I finally reached Taiwan’s southern-most point. I took a selfie of us both at the small monument that has been erected at this location of the island.
Back on our bikes, Kevin and I cycled north, riding up Taiwan’s west coast through the small beach town of Kenting and into the larger city of Hengchung.
In the city, we found a hostel near the center (the yellow corner building you see in the photo above) and spent the rest of the day exploring the city on foot and eating dinner at a local Chinese-style buffet restaurant. Here are some of my nighttime photos from the city of Hengchung.
Kevin and I had been talking about how, as much as we liked Taiwan, there wasn’t very much to do in the country from an entertainment standpoint. Once we arrived at our destination each night, we had to entertain ourselves. That’s why, when walking the streets of Hengchung, I became quite excited to hear music and singing in the distance. We followed the sounds and soon thereafter discovered a small stage where a young boy was performing. The music wasn’t great, but it was something (at least) to keep our minds occupied for a very short period. During our entire time in Taiwan, this was the only time we ever saw any kind of public performance or outside entertainment. The country needs more of this in my opinion. There are so many things like this that are easy to do and that locals and tourists alike would surely enjoy.
The next day, Kevin and I left Hengchung and cycled north up the coast to the city of Fangliao. Once in the city, we stopped for a moment to take this photo of us cycling past a large and colorful Tao temple.
Then we set to work on finding a place to stay for the evening… which was more difficult than we imagined it might be. Using the power of the Internet, we finally stumbled across a place that faintly resembled a hotel. The kind old woman that ran the place didn’t seem to speak a word of English, but we managed to secure an over-priced room for the night and quickly made ourselves at home. The inside of our hotel that night was far from luxurious… and the outside wasn’t so great either. Just check out the view from our hotel room’s
jail cell window balcony in the second the photo below.
That night we ate dinner at another Chinese buffet. They didn’t have much of a vegetarian selection, so I mainly just ate a bunch of white rice… and Kevin ate only a bit more than I did.
Maybe because I was tired or maybe because there was so little to see/ do along our route the next day, I only took a few photos. We stopped at this small waterfall for a moment and looked up at this natural beauty with a horde of locals… and then continued on our way to the city of Qishan.
Qishan was a small, but rowdy city located beside a twisting river… and it was one of my favorite places on our bicycle tour around Taiwan. The thing I liked most about this city was the long pedestrian street where there were thousands of people just cruising up and down the road, shopping and socializing with one another.
I didn’t feel like eating more rice and green beans that night, so I left Kevin on his own and I spent several hours reading my book on the bridge that crosses the river on the east side of the city. On my way back to our hotel, I grabbed some french fries and ice cream from the local McDonald’s.
We woke super early the next morning and left town in a hurry. I was in a bad mood (probably just from waking up too early) and struggled to get in the cycling mood. The first part of the day involved some pretty heavy city cycling, and later in the day we began to climb up into the hills.
At some point along our route, I stopped to take a photo and insisted that Kevin continue down the road, as I knew it was going to take me a good fifteen minutes to stop, set up my tripod, pose for the photo, etc. So Kevin went on his way and then I took the photo you see below.
After snapping that picture, I loaded my bike back up and continued on my way, expecting to meet Kevin at the turnoff of the 174 and the 175. But when I got to the turnoff, which was just a short distance away, Kevin was nowhere to be found.
Kevin and I had been talking about how we needed to turn right onto the 175 at this point, but because Kevin wasn’t at the turnoff, I wasn’t sure if he had turned on the 175 as we had planned… or if he had somehow missed the turn and continued straight on the 174. The intersection wasn’t well signed, and I knew that Kevin would probably have waited for me at the intersection if he knew that that was where the turn was located, but I had also told him to continue cycling without me, so there was a chance that he had just continued on the 175 as we had discussed.
Because I didn’t know where Kevin went, I decided to wait at the intersection of these two roads for about 20 minutes… and if he didn’t show up in that time, I would just continue down the 175 as we had discussed earlier that day. Even if Kevin had gone the wrong way, I knew that he would figure out which way I went and I was pretty sure we could easily meet up later in the day where our paths would once again collide.
Just in case Kevin had gone the wrong way and did decide to cycle back up the 174 and return to the intersection where he was supposed to turn, I decided to leave him a note to let him know where I went. I tore a piece of paper out of my journal, wrote Kevin’s name in big black marker on the outside of the note, and then scribbled a message on the inside of the paper to let him know that I had waited for him and had then continued down the 175. I taped the note to a telephone pole at the intersection of the 174 and the 175 and hoped that Kevin would see it if he returned to this location.
After turning onto the 175, the road became a whole lot more enjoyable. There were small hills to climb, but lots of fast little descents as well. It was well past 2 PM at this point in the day, but it took me that long just to wake up and get in the mood to ride my bike. With Kevin and I cycling on our own now, I was free to cycle at my own slow pace… and I rocked out to music while zipping up and down the mountainside.
Around 4 PM I stopped for a food and water break in a tiny mountain town (I think it was called “Pingling”… or something like that), and I waited for Kevin some more while I was there. I was sure that Kevin would either be waiting for me here… or that I would see him suddenly come up the road behind me. He’s a much faster cyclist than I am, so if he was behind me, there was a good chance that he would catch me.
Around 4:30 PM, I left the tiny mountain town of Pingling and continued north on the 172 toward the city of Jhongpu. This was the city where Kevin and I had agreed we were going to cycle to that day, so with more than 18 kilometers still to go and the sun about to set, I knew I had to get going. Kevin was still nowhere to be seen, but I hoped that I would, at the very least, be able to find him once I reached the city of Jhongpu.
The 172 out of Pingling was steep and windy, but it was a pleasant road with very few cars. Even though the sun was about to set, I stopped to take a couple photos of my surroundings… and while I was doing so, I looked back down the road behind me and I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was Kevin… in his bright yellow bicycle jersey! I shouted Kevin’s name and jumped up and down. Laughing hysterically I shouted down at him, “Where were you? I thought you were going to wait for me at the turnoff to the 175?”
Kevin went on to explain that he had missed the turnoff to the 175 and had continued straight down the 174 in the wrong direction. Only after he had covered a considerable distance did he realize his mistake. And even with all the time it took me to stop and wait for him, take photos, write him a note to tell him which way I went, etc… he was only able to catch up to me after several hours of intense cycling. I guess I’m not quite as slow as I thought I was 🙂
Now back together, Kevin and continued cycling up the steep and windy 172. The road seemed to go on forever, but we eventually reached the top of the mountain pass and then zipped downhill for several kilometers along one of the most enjoyable stretches of road I have ever encountered. The sun now setting and the city still several kilometers up the road, we knew we were going to pull into town well after dark.
After finally reaching the city, we began an immediate search for accommodation, but there were no hotels to be found in the tiny town of Jhongpu. We went to the police station and asked if they would help to point us toward a hotel or hostel of some kind, but they were unable to help in any significant way.
While Kevin was inside the police station, I sat outside watching our bikes and using my smartphone to research possible hotels and hostels in the area. After a couple minutes of searching, I was able to surmise that the nearest hotel was only about four kilometers up the road and in a nearby town. With our front and rear lights now flashing in the dark, we rode cautiously up the busy road, found two overpriced hotels, and then pulled into the strangest little RV park either one of us had ever encountered.
It’s really difficult to describe our accommodations that night… and the photos below don’t really do the place justice.
Inside this small RV park were dozens of tiny trailers decorated with flowers and all sorts of wild designs. There was a playhouse for both children and adults filled with all kinds of creepy oversize toys and playthings. There was music playing throughout the park and decorative Christmas-style lights hung from the trees overhead. A mannequin in a Santa Clause outfit welcomed us to the park as we pulled in… and a skinny young man wearing a bright blue polo shirt sat idly behind the welcome desk.
We paid about 2,000 New Taiwan Dollars to sleep in the RV you see in the photo below and were happy paying this high price after the long and stressful day we had just had. We had cycled more than 100 kilometers through the mountains… gotten separated… and arrived at our destination well after dark. It was a little stressful at times, but it was also one of my favorite days in all of Taiwan.
Inside our small trailer, Kevin took the bed and I slept on the pull-out couch. We were both pretty tired that night (Kevin from the cycling and me from having woken up so early that morning), so we went to bed early and woke the following day feeling fairly refreshed.
We ate breakfast at the RV park (which was included for free with the price of our accommodation) and then left the park sometime around 10 AM.
We only cycled about 50 kilometers that day. The road was largely through the cities, but the terrain was flat and easy to tackle.
We spent the night in Jhushan Town, where we ate dinner at a beautiful little vegetarian restaurant and I grabbed some more french fries from the nearby McDonald’s before calling it a night.
The next day, we set our sights on Sun Moon Lake. It was just a short 40+ kilometers bike ride, but there was a big, steep hill we had to overcome to get there. Luckily, the hill wasn’t nearly as big as either of us had imagined… and we arrived at Sun Moon Lake in the early afternoon. On the western side of the lake was a beautiful little bike path that wound its way along the shoreline… and at some point during our ride into the city I said to Kevin, “I think this is the best bicycle path I have ever encountered.” Kevin agreed. The bike path was incredible… and the views of the lake from the path were quite spectacular as well.
On the northern side of Sun Moon Lake, Kevin and I began our search for a moderately priced hotel. Most of the hotels we tried at first were priced around $3,500 USD per night, but we finally found a hotel that offered us the penthouse suite on the very top floor for only 2,200 New Taiwan Dollars (about $72 USD) per night.
Our room was massive and it had a fantastic view of the city and lake below.
Just down the road from our hotel was a small vegetarian restaurant, where we dined with the local Buddhist monks and were fed some delicious Chinese food from a old woman who took our order in broken Spanish (not English or Mandarin Chinese).
With time to spare, Kevin and I decided that we should spend three full nights at Sun Moon Lake. We would allow ourselves time to sit back and relax, while at the same time exploring the various locations around the lake – one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist attractions.
During our first rest day at Sun Moon Lake, we ate a complementary breakfast at a nearby hotel and then wandered out to the lake shore (which looked more like a scene from Switzerland than from anywhere in Asia). I then returned to the hotel room to do some computer work while Kevin cycled to a nearby temple.
In the afternoon, Kevin and I cycled all the way around Sun Moon Lake. The first stop on our bike ride around the lake was the giant Wenwu Temple. Kevin had gone to the temple earlier in the day on his own, but I wanted to see the temple as well. So Kevin waited with the bicycles at the entrance to the temple while I ran inside to take a quick look around.
It’s a 30 kilometers bike ride around Sun Moon Lake and it took us about two hours to complete. The ride was a lot more strenuous than I thought it was going to be. The whole time I was riding around the lake, I was trying to imagine what this bike ride would be like for someone who was new to cycling or had not been on a bicycle in a very long time. The 30 kilometer bike ride around Sun Moon Lake wasn’t much of a challenge for Kevin and I, but it wasn’t totally easy either.
The other thing I was kind of surprised about when it came to cycling around Sun Moon Lake is just how obstructed the lake is by trees and brush. There were very few times during our bike ride when we were actually able to see much of the lake.
Because we left so late on our bicycle ride around Sun Moon Lake, we didn’t get back to our hotel until just before dark. We then showered and went to dinner at the same vegetarian restaurant we had eaten at the night before… and then we called it a day, retiring in our penthouse suite on the 10th floor of our lakeside hotel.
During our last full day at Sun Moon Lake, we took it super easy and avoided the bikes entirely. We ate breakfast at the hotel, I did some computer work, and then we took a long walk up the western shore of the lake – from our hotel to the nearby visitor center. Along the way I stopped to take pictures of the tourists in the area – many of whom were also out walking, riding bikes, or taking wedding photos.
At the Sun Moon Lake visitor center they were setting up for a big bike riding event in which people from all around Taiwan come to Sun Moon Lake to ride their bicycles over a 5, 30 or 50 km stretch of road (depending on how fit you are and how much you want to challenge yourself). At the visitor center was also a small exhibit on the history of bicycles and some information on the natural ecosystem surrounding the Sun Moon Lake area.
Do you see that really big hotel in the photo below? Now, do you see the short, narrow hotel just to the left of it? That much shorter hotel was where we were staying… in the room at the very top of the hotel.
I didn’t want to leave Sun Moon Lake – partially because I liked it there… and partially because I knew how demanding the next few days of cycling were going to be. We had to cycle from Sun Moon Lake to the nearby city of Puli (elevation: 445 meters) and then climb a steep, windy road up to a high mountain pass at an elevation of 3,250 meters. What I didn’t know was just how many cars, trucks and scooters would be on the road with us.
I didn’t take a single photo that day because I was so focused on getting to our destination, and because there really wasn’t a whole lot to take a photo of. The road was pretty uninteresting and there was so much traffic zipping past us that we barely had a moment to stop and take in our surroundings.
Around 3:30 PM, we arrived at the small mountain town of Ching Jing and checked into a Veteran’s hotel across the street from a Small Swiss Garden – a popular tourist attraction for people driving this road. You can tell from the photo below that Kevin and I both were pretty exhausted after making it to our destination that night.
After each taking a shower, we walked around the hillside surrounding our hotel and found some food to eat for dinner before retiring in our hotel room.
I was excited to discover that our hotel that night had a ping-pong table, but after waiting at the table for more than an hour hoping someone would come along and want to play a game with me, I eventually called it quits, returned to our hotel room and went to sleep.
The next day we woke up to find that the sky was clear and the air was warm. We thought we were going to have the most wonderful day climbing our bikes to the highest road in all of Taiwan… but that is not how the day turned out.
Only a short while after leaving our hotel and cycling north up the road, the air turned cold, the fog rolled in and the traffic increased greatly. Before we knew it, we could hardly see the road in front of us. While we struggled up the steep terrain, cars, buses and motorcycles would zip past at an alarming pace. They’d emerge from the fog, zip around an unseen corner, and then disappear just as quickly as they had come.
The cold and fog was bad, but it seemed like the road kept getting steeper and steeper. There were a couple small sections where we had to get off our bikes and walk – because the road was so steep or we simply couldn’t see where we were going. You can see in the photo below just how thick the fog was… as it makes everything just a meter or two behind Kevin completely disappear.
Suddenly, just a couple kilometers from the top of the mountain, the clouds lifted and the sun came out. In an instant we went from not being able to see the road in front of us, to being able to see the beautiful green mountains surrounding us.
The last two kilometers was a struggle, but we eventually made it to the top, and we celebrated amongst hundreds of local tourists who had driven (not cycled) to this high mountain pass. There was a sign at the top marking the elevation: 3,250 meters (10,662 feet).
After resting for a few moments at the top of the mountain, we did a quick brake check on our bicycles and then zipped down a steep, windy road toward the eastern side of Taiwan. We only went about 8 kilometers, however, before arriving at a small metal business clinging to the hillside, where the woman inside ran out to meet us and offer us a bed for the evening. 300 New Taiwan Dollars got us each a spot to lay our heads for the night in a dormitory style accommodation.
Shaking, cold and exhausted, we were quick to take a hot shower and then get something to eat. The woman running the place didn’t have much food on hand, but she was able to cook us some rice and give us two large oranges she had available.
After eating, Kevin and I returned to our dormitory accommodations and crawled into bed (even though it was only just after 7:00 PM). We were both extremely cold and tired. The last two days of climbing in the mountains had been fun, but it had also been a whole lot of work. We wanted nothing more than to sleep and be warm.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Even though I was totally beat from the previous two days or cycling, the hard bed had left me tossing and turning all night. When I woke the next morning, I had to pack up my panniers (which were an absolute mess) and then carry all of my belongings back up to the road. This would be our last full day of bicycle touring in Taiwan. We had more than 100 kilometers to cover… and we both knew that it was almost entirely all downhill. We were both pretty tired, but we were also really looking forward to the road ahead.
Taiwan’s highway 8 did not disappoint. There was a small uphill section at the beginning of the day, but after that it was almost entirely all downhill (more than 80 kilometers of downhill cycling). The road was a long, twisting mess than seemed to drop forever and at the same time never really go anywhere.
I worried about the brakes on my bicycle holding out, so I did my best to use them as little as possible. I only ever slowed my bike down when going around sharp corners or when stopping to take a photo.
Unlike some of the other major mountain passes I have tackled on my bicycle tours over the years, this mountain road was in extremely good condition. Not only was the road surface smooth, but there were several spots along the way where construction men and women were working to further improve the roadway.
At one point we were stopped and held up at a construction site for about 30 minutes while we waited for the road to be cleared so a long string of vehicle traffic could go past. While we waited we made friends with the 33-year-old woman who was in charge of getting cars and trucks to stop for the construction workers. She offered us some betel nut (which we declined) and some of the beer she was drinking on the job (which we also declined) and asked us about our bicycle touring adventures in Taiwan. She did all of this, of course, in Mandarin Chinese, with the only English words she said being, “I’m sorry. I don’t know English.”
As we neared the bottom of the famous Taroko Gorge, I stopped to take a few photos along the way, but more than anything, I tried to simply enjoy the experience I was having. It’s not every day that you get to cycle for four straight hours down an 80 kilometers road that goes entirely downhill.
Once we entered Taroko Gorge, the traffic picked up and there were a number of short and long tunnels that we had to ride through. The cycling was fast and fun (and a little windy at times). If you look closely at the photo below, you can see Kevin cycling under the rock overhang on the left-hand side of the picture.
I was kind of glad when we finally reached the bottom of the Taroko Gorge, but also kind of sad that the experience was over. I would have loved to have ridden back up to the top of the mountain (in a bus or car) and then cycled back down again.
Instead, we continued straight down the road toward the nearby city of Hualien. We had cycled this path before, so we both knew where we were going. The road back to Hualien was straight and easy, but it was a lot longer than I remembered. As we entered the city limits, three large fighter jets flew right over our heads and we stopped to take a photo in front of one of the many election posters we had been seeing all across the country during our month-long bicycle tour together.
It felt great to be cycling into Hualien, knowing that this was the end of our bicycle tour together. But it was also a little sad knowing that this would be the end of our experiences together. It had taken me a while to warm up to this bicycle tour (I spent the first several days of the tour in a terrible mood and lacking the energy needed to ride a bicycle over hundreds of kilometers). But as the tour went on, I grew stronger and felt happier with where I was and what I was doing.
Kevin was a great bicycle touring partner. He was physically strong, incredibly patient (he was constantly waiting for me), and he never complained. I had a blast riding with him… and I hope I didn’t annoy him too much during our travels together.
Kevin and I spent our last three nights in Hualien, Taiwan together (eating at our favorite vegetarian restaurant, searching the city for Mexican food, going to see the movies Gone Girl and Interstellar, and a whole lot more) before he took the train back to Taipei in preparation for his flight back to his home in Australia… and I took the train south to the city of Taitung, where I would spend the second month of my travels in Taiwan.
Thank you Kevin for suggesting we go on this bicycle tour together. Thank you to the people of Taiwan for showing us such a wonderful time… and for being so incredibly kind. And thank you readers for following our cycling adventures, lending your support and giving us your own Taiwan travel recommendations. Our month-long bike tour in Taiwan was a truly memorable experience and I look forward to future cycling adventures in other new, interesting and exciting parts of the world.
Does traveling by bike like this look like something you might like to do yourself one day? If so… be sure to visit the website at www.bicycletouringbook.com and join the thousands of other people who have learned to conduct their own bicycle touring adventures with the help of The Bicycle Touring Blueprint and the Bicycle Touring Pro.