Cycling tour of Taiwan

Lovely readers, I’m back. I’ve got a few new bruises but no scars. Rain was forecast through the end of our trip, and we learned how much we really don’t like riding in the cold rain, so we piled into a train in Taitung and came home a few days early. It’s nice to be home and dry.

I’m going to list out our daily trip data so any other bikers in Taiwan can giggle at our amateurness. Also, I learned a lot reading about Swanky Frankie’s trip around Taiwan, and any information I can add to the blogosphere, I’m glad to contribute.

Day One, Feb. 8

Yonghe City, Taipei County to Daxi, Tauyuan County via Provincial Hwy 3
Departure time: 11:40   Arrival time: 5ish
Riding time: 3:04   Average speed: 14.4 kph

Distance: 43.3 km   Odometer: 84 km (including bringing the bikes back the night before)

The first day of our trip got off to a late start after we stayed up until 3 a.m. packing the night before. Not the best idea. We finally got out the door and into the streets of Taipei, not really knowing where we would end up that night but headed south-west.

Riding through Taipei is seriously unpleasant, but soon enough we were on the highway and into Taoyuan, where the traffic thinned out. Shannon got nicked by the mirror of a passing BMW but suffered no damage. Otherwise the ride was a nice start. We did encounter one hill that had us huffing and puffing, but that was certainly only the beginning.

Daxi is listed in the guidebooks for its old streets with ornate Chinese baroque architecture. We cruised into town around dinner time and ended up staying the night at a budget hotel recommended by someone in the restaurant. Colin expressed concern about making it around the island going only 40 km per day, but Shannon and I maintained that we’d really only had half a day of riding.

Heping Road in Daxi

Heping Road in Daxi

Day Two, Feb. 9

Daxi, Taoyuan County to Sanwan, Miaoli County via Prov. Hwy 4 to Prov. Hwy 3 to Country Road 41 to County Road 142 to Prov. Hwy 3
Departure time: 8:15   Arrival time 6ish
Riding time 4:46   Average speed: 15.8 kph

Distance: 75.95 km   Odometer: 160 km

Hearty breakfast in Daxi, then a hilly ride along Prov. Hwys 4 and 3 to get to Lion’s Head Mountain Scenic Area. Before that, we stopped in Beipu for a big snack of lei cha (a filling tea made from a paste of different seeds) and moon cakes (flaky pastries filled with red beans, taro root, sweet potato, and green bean). Colin started to feel sick but couldn’t pin it on any one thing. We pushed on to Lion’s Head anyway, literally pushing our bikes up some of the mean hills (with very pretty scenery).

Shannon with our moon cake snacks

Rice fields just south of Beipu

Of course it's blurry because I was shaking from exhaustion...

We were all relieved when we made it to the visitors’ center and could sit, but the longer Colin rested, the worse he felt. We sat there for about two hours, and with the rest and a bit of water and food, Colin said he wanted to try to make it to a closer campsite the friendly guide had suggested.

A few more hills carried us out of the park—I topped out at 48 kph coming down the final slope—and landed us in Miaoli farmland. We had only an hour of daylight left and weren’t even going to make it to the closer campsite. Instead, the clerks at a 7-11 directed us to the local junior high, and Shannon and I stocked up on tuna and chips for dinner.

The guard was a bit unsure, but finally let us into a classroom set up with ping pong tables. Shannon and I set up “camp” while Colin crawled into his sleeping bag. A few confused people stumbled upon Shannon and I having dinner, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that sleeping at schools is actually pretty normal.

We set up the tent to ward off any mosquitoes, and you can see a sick Colin already curled up in his sleeping bag

Day Three, Feb. 10

Sanwan, Miaoli County to Sanyi, Miaoli County via Country Road 5 to Country Road 17 to Country Road 14 to Prov. Hwy 13. Sanyi, Miaoli County to Taichung, Taichung County via train
Departure time: 10ish   Arrival time: 5:50
Riding time: 3:36   Average speed: 13.6 kph

Distance: 49 km   Odometer: 208 km

By this time, we’ve heard a few times that most people start down the east coast and go up the west. That would make days like today a lot more bearable. We started out climbing some rough hills, and then even after the hills stopped, we struggled against slight but steady incline into Sanyi. Even freeway overpasses became great obstacles to overcome. Also, foolishly, I wore a tank top and suffered a sunburn. You’re all surprised.

One of countless Taiwanese people on our trip

Pretty bridges along Prov. Hwy 13

We each had one of those things around Colin's mouth and nose--very functional as headbands and ear warmers

We were famished by the time we rolled into Sanyi, and Colin had worn out all the energy he’d accumulated from our night on the school floor. Shannon and I scouted out some fried chicken, noodles, and delicious passion fruit teas. When the hour break didn’t revive Colin, he suggested training the remaining distance to Taichung. Not eager to continue the climb, Shannon and I immediately agreed, and we were in Taichung in time for dinner.

Day Four, Feb. 11

Taichung, Taichung County to Ershui, Zhanghua County via a road following the HSR to Prov. Hwy 1 to County Road 137 to County Road 146 to Prov. Hwy 1 to County Road 141. Ershui, Zhanghua County to Sun Moon Lake via trains and buses
Departure time: 9ish   Arrival time: 4:30
Riding time: 3:14   Average speed: 17.7 kph

Distance: 57.57 km   Odometer: 266 km

We skirted the Tiger Mountain Scenic Area on the bikes, fearful of the hill-climbing it would require. As a result, the ride to Ershui was pleasant and fairly quick.

While Colin popped in to get us tickets up to Sun Moon Lake at Ershui’s train station, a gal from the visitor’s center came out and told Shannon and I that she’d seen us biking when she was driving to work. Her name was Ling and she was hospitable to no end, helping us find a place to store our bikes overnight and grabbing us snacks and drinks to take on the train.

It was about an hour’s ride up to Shuili, where we hopped on a bus to Shuishe Village on the lake’s edge. We then took a boat across the lake—the largest in Taiwan, made by the Japanese to generate hydroelectric power, never mind the people living in the area where the lake now sits—to Itashao Village, where we camped for the night. Camping in Taiwan is so much fun—it’s really rowdy and not at all the escape to nature that most camping in America is.

We're on a boat

Sun Moon Lake, with Cih En Pagoda, which Chiang Kai-shek built for his mother, in the distance on the left

By the time we set up camp and showered (hot showers!), it was already dark. We dined on cheap noodles in Itashao and made it an early night so we could get back to Ershui at a reasonable hour.

Day Five, Feb. 12

Sun Moon Lake to Ershui, Zhanghua County via buses and trains. Ershui, Zhanghua County to Chiayi, Chiayi County via County Road 141 to Prov. Hwy 3 to Prov. Hwy 1 (with squiggle) to Prov. Hwy 1
Departure time: 11:21   Arrival time: 4:45
Riding time: 3:07   Average speed: 18.3 kph

Distance: 57.42 km   Odometer: 323 km

Rain woke us around 4 a.m. and Colin scrambled out of the tent to fix the ground tarp—or something, I was pretty out of it. We watched the sky turn from black to gray over Sun Moon Lake, then shared a bus back to Shuili with a bunch of Taiwanese grandmothers. The next train wasn’t for an hour, so Shannon and I hunted out breakfast at the morning market.

Daybreak. The floating flower beds attract bugs, which attract fish, which attract fishermen

Itashao dock

Ling met us in Ershui with information on getting Shannon+bike back to Taipei in a few days. Again, she came with snacks and all sorts of helpfulness. Unfortunately, she had no power over the weather, which started pouring down as soon as we had our bikes loaded back up. We scrambled into our color-coordinated rain gear and wore it the rest of the ride, though more for the splatters since the rain didn’t last too long.

Our goal was the hot springs at Guanziling, but we didn’t quite make it. The bus schedule out of Chiayi would have only allowed us about an hour to explore the area and soak before we’d have to return. Instead, we found a budget hotel near the train station and a hot pot place (cook your own food in a pot of boiling both) for dinner.

Day Six, Feb. 13, day before Chinese New Year

Chiayi, Chiayi County to Tainan, Tainan County via Prov. Hwy 1 to Country Road 174 to Prov. Hwy 17
Departure time: 9ish   Arrival time: 6ish
Riding time: 5:32   Average speed: 19.2 kph

Distance: 106.58 km   Odometer: 430 km

Early in the ride we crossed the Tropic of Cancer, though you could hardly tell by the sky, which was thick with gray clouds all day. The ride, at least, was flat and easy, taking us through small towns and lots of farmland and bird farms (when it didn’t smell of burning pulp paper, it smelled like a chicken coop), and we had little traffic and a bike path just for us along the 1.

Tropic of Cancer! After passing under this archway the sky instantly turned blue and the water in our bottles turned into daiquiris

Pineapple hats!

Shannon got a flat tire, and luckily she and I were riding together since I had all the tools in my bag. She had it patched in less than 30 minutes and we were back on the road, but not before a few curious townspeople came by to see what was going on.

Our bike rental guy would be so proud

Just before reaching Tainan, we detoured to see the Salt Hills on Country Road 137. They are awesomely strange.

Almost 2,000 tons of salt left over from when Taiwan used to produce their own salt. Note the kids sliding down as though in snow

What lives on Salt Mountain? Salt tigers, duh

Santa's Village at the base of the mountain and pony rides in the top left

We cruised into Tainan just before dark and arranged for a super-cheap room at Asia Hotel. They were setting up for a Chinese New Year banquet and didn’t have time to show us the room, so we didn’t learn it had only one bed until after it was paid for. Shannon offered to take the floor, and we set up a nice nest of spare comforters and blankets.

We thought tonight was supposed to be the big night—we were hoping for a parade or at least fireworks. We got nothing but empty streets and closed shops (though we did manage to find a restaurant serving both danzi mian and coffin bread—specialties of the town). Even most of the temples were closed.

From the locked gates into Chihkan Tower

We figured we’d at least swing by the Altar of Heaven to see if we could improve some of the luck we’d been having so far on our journey. It was packed. A line stretched for blocks leading up to the temple, making us think at first that we didn’t stand a chance of going in. However, the line wasn’t actually moving and we soon figured that those in line were waiting to get the luck as soon as the new year began. We strolled inside and it was like the post office at Christmas time, with people scurrying about and temple workers standing in front of boxes filled with, I can only guess, pulp money for different families to collect and then offer to their ancestors. We didn’t actually ask anyone—we felt out of place enough as it was.

Day Seven, Feb. 14, Chinese New Year

Tainan, Tainan County to Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung County via a boardwalk along the Strait to Prov. Hwy 17. Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung County to Maolin National Scenic Area, Kaohsiung County via train and bus.
Departure time: 9:30ish   Arrival time: 7ish
Riding time: 3:08   Average speed: 17 kph

Distance: 57 km   Odometer: 487 km

We grabbed breakfast from a morning market, including a delicious fluffy red bean cake, then opted for the coastal route out of Tainan. It was wonderful to see even the slightly littered and almost completely abandoned beach. We rode through a lively wharf area, then peddled quickly to Kaohsiung.

That's China over our shoulders

We planned to go from there to Maolin, where there are supposed to be butterflies and hot springs. At the Kaohsiung visitor’s center, we were told rain was forecast for the evening and that there wasn’t actually a very direct way of getting to Maolin. After a lot of discussion, we decided to go ahead anyway.

A train took us to Pingdong, where we caught a bus to Daxi, and then finally a taxi to our campsite. Our driver told us that the hot springs had been wiped out by Typhoon Morakot last summer and that they were 16 km away anyway. Foiled again.

The campsite was really nice at least, with a friendly owner who led a night tour through the nearby area. Colin made friends with a Taiwanese family who invited us to join them for karaoke, and after a few rounds of the owner’s 58 whiskey, the three of us got up and butchered “The Banana Song” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Yikes.

Day Eight, Feb. 15

Maolin National Scenic Area to Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung County via private car, bus, train
Departure time: 8ish    Arrival time: 1ish
Riding time: about 20 minutes

Distance: 5 km    Odometer: 492 km

We woke early because the best butterfly-viewing time is supposed to be daybreak. The owner’s son drove us to the place, pointing out typhoon damage that had been invisible the night before. We blearily staggered to a butterfly-viewing pavilion, but no one told the butterflies where we were. Somehow they’re all attracted to the area at the entrance to the valley, so on our way out we got some good pictures.

Waiting for the butterflies to wake up

We hitched a ride with a nice guy who showed us even more Morakot destruction before taking us to the bus stop.

Back in Kaohsiung, we said goodbye to Shannon, who had to cut her part of the trip short so she could return to America. Since it was already mid-afternoon, Colin tried to get us train tickets to Kenting but was told that was impossible. We heard that from the train people a lot, actually. The two of us debated getting as far as possible with what daylight we had left, but instead agreed to stay in Kaohsiung. I’m happy we did, because finally we saw some Chinese New Year festivities along Love River.

Running through this kind of felt like making the jump to hyper-speed

It's now the Year of the Tiger, and half of Colin's Chinese name is "tiger." Oh yes, there will be many forced tiger poses this year

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2 responses

  1. Hi Valerie, I just stumbled onto your blog while researching about taiwan as I am planning my own trip. Awesome pictures and great biking you guys did! Love the salt hill and your caption that says” floating flower beds attract bugs, which attract fish, which attract fishermen”.

    Just saying hello 🙂

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