My most favourite country on my six-month tour through Asia – I probably mentioned it already – was Taiwan. The small island impressed me with the close proximity of sandy beaches and almost 4000 metres high mountains. Outdoor fans have plenty to enjoy: from biking over hiking to surfing and bathing in hot springs. Apart from the West coast the country is sparsely populated and thus a top-notch destination for adventurers and nature enthusiasts.
The real gem is the circumnavigation of the island with a bicycle. For the 900 kilometres long ride you need about 10 days. The best thing is that you can rent high-quality bicycles from Giant for small money. Accomodation is not quite on a budget, but Taiwan offers a broad network of campsites that are free of charge. On top of that it is allowed to camp on school yards for free during the week-end.
Why you should cycle through Taiwan
The beautiful thing about cycling for me is that I move forward quite quickly and still am able to enjoy the landscape left and right of the road.
Cycling is probably something that everyone knows how to do – so why not using it for a longer bike trip? The trip along the East Coast of Taiwan was my first multi-day cycle ride, which I can only highly encourage you to do.
- The landscape is fabulous: the deep-blue ocean on the right side, the almost 4,000-metres-high, breathtaking mountains on the left.
- Seperate bicycle paths: Taiwan honestly is a very bike-friendly country. Even on major roads you can find dedicated bicycle paths, seperated from the car lanes. And if there are not, you will at least find bicycle lanes on the road.
- I discovered my personal passion for bike tours only when trying it. When I go by car, all the scenery just rushes past me; when I walk on foot, it takes a while until I get a glance in the next valley; but when I ride a bike, it seems like I found a good average.
/* What else happened
I’m already back home now for more than 6 months, started my Master studies, try to built a life in Stuttgart that’s worth living, follow my passion… But my life doesn’t seem quite alright without moving around and the travel bug bit me again. Only three weeks ago I booked two flights. Due to some rather unfortunate events in the past quarter, I felt the urge to visit two old friends who are very dear to me. Everyone should foster long-lasting friendships. I want my friends to know how important they are to me.
The flights are going to Tenerife and the United States, from where I partly write this post. The entry to the United States unfortunately took way longer than usual. Although immigration normally is no problem for German citizens, problems occured because I had travelled to Iran within the past five years. And this is the reason why I officially had to apply for a visa.
The visa application cost me a lot of time and money. It’s those moments when I realise how privileged I am as a German citizen to enter countries without having to apply for a visa. I could tell a whole story about the visa application, maybe later…*/
Back to the topic of today’s post. Last year around the same time [November], still on the go through Asia, I prolonged my two-week stay in Taiwan to pursue a crazy idea: I wanted to cycle along the East coast of Taiwan and eventually climb from sea level up to 3275 meters on Hehuan Wuling. This just seemed like my thing and the sad reality still haunts me that I eventually wasn’t able to have a try at this insane ascent (and to fulfill my goal) due to severe weather [Spoiler alert. More about this in the individual post.] I was however able to master another self-set challenge later in my Asia trip, that was to climb the 4075 metres-high mountain in Iran in -20°C.
In the near future, I will share my experience with different aspects of a bike trip through Taiwan, starting with recommended routes and the bike rental in this post. In the coming articles I will discuss (free) accomodation and the perfect packing list. Finally I plan to describe the daily stage with text and pictures. If you have questions at any of the sections, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Cycle through Taiwan: the itinerary
The island of Taiwan has a circumference of around 900km and can be cycled round in around 10 days. Those, who consider cycling along the rather flat coast line as too easy, can attempt the ascent from the Tarokko Gorge (0 m) to Hehuanshan (3275 m).
Since it’s a very bike-friendly country, you have unlimited route options from easy to difficult levels. The road to Hehuanshan is considered as one of the most difficult routes in the world.
For further route options, I will list some suggestions in a link list at the end of this post, among them an ebook about “Cycling around Taiwan”. The weather is mild year-round so that you can cycle in every season, although you should be aware of the Northeast monsoon from October to March.
Since I didn’t do the whole circle, I will only go into details about my specific stretch. The cycling tour will start in Taitung, where I will rent my bike. For a “warm-up” I will cycle from Taitung along the East Coast up to Hualien via Highway 11 (an easy 3-days ride).1 The latter city is famous for the nearby Taroko Gorge, where you can marvel at a 19km long canyon, that I want to ride along to venture on the mountains.
“Venture” in the true sense of the word. This is where my personal challenge begins, the ascent (and the fun), when following the road up to 3275 metres of altitude. My plan is to follow the Hehuanshan Road (Highway 8), the highest automobile pass in Taiwan (not for beginners).2 Its highest point is in Wuling, from where you can gaze at the 3422 meters high Hehuan Mountain. I will then descent to Sun Moon Lake (Highway 14甲) and further to my final destination in Taichung, where I will meet a crazy American expat living in the forest on his own subsistence farm.
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1 I have read that the strong headwind can make your ride along the coast a pain in the a**. During winter, the wind comes from Northeast. In that case, if you bike from Taitung to Hualien, you ride against the wind. (I do recommend to cycle in this way.) On my tour I also cycled exactly this direction but didn’t notice a strong resistance. If you’ll notice however that the wind makes your progression difficult, you can opt to ride along the valley side and not directly along the coast (Highway 9 instead of 11). This way will lead you through rice fields and is beautiful to look at (see picture below).
2 Highway 8 is not for beginners, because the last stretch involves a climb of more than 10% inclination. On top of that, the descent is even more dangerous: Because the slopes at the west side of the mountain are quite steep, the speed you go down with is really high, so good controlling skills of the bike are required and you might need to take breaks to cool down your breaks.
* * *
Ride anti-clockwise around the island.
From my personal experience and from the people I have talked to, the best direction is to cycle anti-clockwise, especially if you plan on doing the whole loop. In that case you would start in Taipei, pass through the hectic, densly-populated West (with major cities such as Taichung and Kaohsiung) to gradually reach calmer areas in the South and East of the country.
Start your day’s stages early in the morning.
Independent of where you decide to sleep, try to start as early as possible. In this way you assure that you reach your day’s destination before sunset and it’s further a good way to avoid afternoon showers. In my case, I usually woke up at 6am and started riding my bike latest at 6.30am (it was already bright). I then usually took my breakfast around 9 or 10am on my first break at 7Eleven along the road.
How to rent a bike to cycle through Taiwan
The really big advantage why you should consider a bike tour in Taiwan, is the cheap price of bike rentals:
1500TWD/3 days + 200TWD/additional day
Giant lends you a high-quality bike for 1500TWD (~42€) that you can use for as long as you want. The first three days are included, from day 4 you only have to pay another 200TWD (~6€) for each additional day. The bikes can be rented in almost every city in Taiwan and can be returned at any other participating store at no extra cost.
Giant is the world’s biggest bicycle manufacturer, based in Taichung, Taiwan. The bicycles are of highest quality and are used by professional bikers around the globe. The road bike that Giants rents out is worth around a 1.000€. Instead of a road bike you can also choose a mountain bike that is even cheaper to rent (1200TWD/3 days). I decided for the road bike because I needed a light bicycle for the mountain stages.
A further advantage ist that Giant also lends you waterproof panniers and a lock to go with the bike without any additional expense.
The website with the best information regarding the bike rental is Andrew’s Taiwan in Cycles: “Giant Bike Rental: Biking Taiwan on Borrowed Time”. The article also gives you a good overview of all participating stores with addresses (addresses are in Chinese characters).
- Book your rental bike at least one week in advance, so that Giant has the chance to arrange a bike for you from a different store if not in stock.
- It could be a good idea to rent your bike one day prior to departure if you plan to start early in the morning.
(The shops open from around 9am to 6pm.)
- Make sure that your bike is equipped with lights and reflectors.
- Taiwan is safe but you don’t need to try your luck: The lock is not a heavy duty one so make sure the bike, even when locked, is not very far from you and always lock it on a pole. You can usually place it somewhere inside the guesthouse’s compound overnight.
Happy biking then. More infos coming soon.
And, not to forget, happy new year!!
Last but not least, I want to thank Amy Tseng to inspire me through the tales of her own bike tour to try out my own. Furthermore, I want to give thanks to Ti Yung and Andy Hadjivasiliou who helped me to prepare for my first multi-day bicycle tour ever.
Trips / Routes:
The whole circle (900km):
- Paul und Queenie: http://www.durbanbay.com/2012/06/around-taiwan-final-overview.html
- Different routes: http://taiwanincycles.blogspot.tw/2012/08/great-taiwan-bike-routes-and-maps.html
- Itinerary of a friend who I met on the road: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1JFI4BJEylUe0hrqKHgHS8fmCbqk&hl=en_US&ll=23.201098848934688%2C121.62116154083128&z=9
- Frozen Fate: http://frozenfate.blogspot.tw/2011/11/cycling-taiwans-east-coast-hualien-city.html
- A cruising couple: http://acruisingcouple.com/2013/04/cycling-taiwan-east-coast/
Hualien to Sun Moon Lake via Wu Ling:
- Giant bike rental: http://taiwanincycles.blogspot.tw/2016/03/giant-bike-rental-biking-taiwan-on.html
- Alternative to Giant [Chinese]: http://cafe.frogfree.com/bike/html/bikerent.html
Accomodation (soon treated in a seperate article):
- Explorer on a budget: How to sleep on a budget (or for free) in Taiwan
- Couchsurfing: https://www.couchsurfing.com/ (free accomodation)
- Explorer on a budget: How to get your couchsurfing request accepted
- Warm Showers: https://de.warmshowers.org/ (“Couchsurfing” for bikers, free as well)
- Itinerary and recommended guesthouses on the stretch from Hualien to Sun Moon Lake (Excel Sheet by Ti Yung)
Wind / Weather:
- Wind differences (how strong the wind is): https://www.windytv.com/?23.046%2C121.215%2C13