Bicycle Touring Around Taiwan
In January of 2020, we spent a month bicycle touring around Taiwan – starting and ending in Taipei. Cycle tourism is huge in Taiwan, and making a loop around the entire island is seen as a rite of passage by many Taiwanese citizens. Taiwan Cycle Route No. 1 was inaugurated in 2015 to facilitate cycle tourism, and the government put a lot of effort into developing resources and infrastructure such as cyclist rest stops.
The Taiwanese tourism board has put together a great bike tour planning packet that you can download here.
We arrived in Taipei around 4:30 in the afternoon after a 13 hour flight from Vancouver. We had a little bit of difficulty getting a van big enough for our massive bicycle boxes. The first taxi stand said they only had vehicles large enough for the boxes alone with no room for people. The second one we approached got us a large van that fit us and the boxes with room to spare, for $20 more than a regular taxi. Not terrible.
We got in to our hostel, Meander Taipei Hostel, and went out to the nearby Ximen Night Market for dinner. The first thing we ate in Taiwan was rice flour noodles with beef broth and intestines. The broth was good but the intestines were chewy, and we weren’t really used to the texture.
We spent a few days in Taipei running errands, sightseeing, trying lots of new food, and getting over jet lag. We went to several different night markets and fell in love with brown sugar boba tea.
Big cities are usually a pain to ride out of, but in Taipei we were able to get on a bike path right next to our hostel and ride it for 17 miles north to the next town. It was possibly the most relaxed and wonderful start to a bike trip that we’ve had, thought we did have to hike our bikes up a flight of steps to initially get on the bike path.
From Taipei we headed toward Tamsui and rode along the northern coast, starting out with some short days to get our legs warmed up. We hiked around the colorful rock formations of the Mysterious Coast and splurged on a nice hotel with a hot spring-fed bathtub, as this area is famous for its hot springs.
We ventured through the Futuro UFO village that was a whole neighborhood of (mostly) abandoned futuristic-looking houses, and then stayed a night in Keelung, which had a bustling night market with amazing food. The ride going into and out of Keelung was pretty intense traffic-wise.
We stopped to see the Houtang Cat Village after leaving Keelung, which was a little way off the main route and up a steep climb. The village is pretty much taken over by cats, which lounge around all over town and wait for people to feed them. There’s also a bunch of cat street art and themed cafes.
Jiufen and Towns Along the Northern Coast
Getting to Jiufen entailed another steep climb, this time with a fair amount of traffic and especially annoying buses. The views were great though, and the drivers were very respectful despite their density. We got a lot of thumbs ups and shouts of encouragement, although one guy shouted to cheer us on and his dog interpreted that as the signal to attack. It ran down a 30 foot embankment and harassed us, but it didn’t actually do anything.
Once we arrived in town we had to locate our hotel, which was a challenge unto itself. It turned out to be down the Old Street, a tight corridor packed with tourists and businesses. We had to walk our sweaty selves and bikes down the tight alleyway, pushing through the press of tourists.
We got to our cute little bed and breakfast and locked the bikes up outside in the rain – it was too nice inside to bring them in as it also operated as a teahouse. After showering and doing laundry we headed out into the town. We started out with some desserts – a peanut and ice cream spring roll with cilantro and a taro filled puff pastry. After that we wandered around more, saw the famous A-Mei Teahouse, gawked at the paper lanterns Jiufen is famous for, and of course ate more food.
Wild Camping Misadventures
We decided to wild camp for the first time near Dong-ao. We followed an old GPS waypoint we found online to a campsite near the main highway, supposedly next to a cold spring. It was difficult to locate and eventually turned out to be locked up. We tried another side road and found a super creepy graveyard, complete with strange clucking jungle noises and little cherub things on the tombs.
Andrew loved it and wanted to camp nearby but Jenny vetoed. After that we headed down to the beach, where we setup camp in the sand well above what we thought was the high tide line. It rained all night but turned out to be a super pretty spot in the morning.
The eastern coast of Taiwan is the highlight for many cycle tourists – the coastal highway is cut high into the cliffs and there are beautiful beaches as well as the magnificent Taroko Gorge. The scenery didn’t come easily though. The highway through this section can be busy, and there are numerous tunnels that are pretty scary to ride through on a bike.
We stayed a couple nights in a hotel so that we could ride up into Taroko Gorge without our luggage. Despite being a popular destination, the traffic through the gorge really wasn’t that bad, though the tour buses cut it pretty close sometimes. The marble cliffs were amazing, and flying down the canyon at the end of the day was spectacular.
Shortly after leaving Taroko, we hopped onto an awesome bike path along the coast that brought us into Hualien. As usual, we wandered around the night market and sampled a variety of delicious foods.
East Rift Valley
The East Rift Valley is an important agricultural area, and we rode along countless rice paddies, which were very scenic. We rode through the famed Mr. Brown Avenue, which was the filming location for a popular coffee commercial. Most of the rice paddies were full of yellow flowers at this time of year, and it was a beautiful area.
We went all the way down to the southern tip of the island to explore the Kenting area. We stayed at a hotel in a beach town and went out to a cool bar in the back of a truck for Andrew’s birthday. When we told the owner of the bar that we were biking around Taiwan, he casually mentioned that he was the first person to skateboard all the way around the island.
We went to a few really pretty beaches on the southern end of the island, though it wasn’t quite hot enough to want to go swimming.
The western side of Taiwan is very urban, but the roads had good shoulders and it wasn’t as bad as we were expecting traffic-wise. The most annoying thing was the constant stoplights, where you’d go a short distance and have to stop over and over again. We visited Kaohsiung and stopped in Tainan for New Year’s Eve. Tainan is the old capital of Taiwan and it was a great place to walk around, and there was a beautiful paper lantern festival going on when we were there.
We visited a famous ice cream parlor in Taichung which did not disappoint and saw lots of cool street art. Jenny got a nasty eye infection around this point, and it was painful to be riding a bike in the wind. We wound up taking a train the rest of the way into Taipei, where we were able to get some antibiotic eye drops from a pharmacy.
Taking our bikes on the train was pretty brutal – bikes weren’t allowed on the high speed train, so we had to take a local train which stopped every 5-10 minutes. There was a guy sitting down in the bike zone who refused to move until a Taiwanese cyclist yelled at him near the end of the journey. We were also standing right next to the bathroom and saw a feverish-looking guy vomit. This was January 2020 and we were just starting to hear about COVID, so kind of wild in retrospect.
We spent a few more days in Taipei before heading home, so we got to go to our old haunts minus the jet lag.
Taiwan was an amazing place to bicycle tour. The cities and night markets were a ton of fun, and there was also lots of beautiful nature to experience. The government has put a lot of time into making the country bike-friendly, and those extra amenities go a long way. We can’t wait until we’re able to go back to Asia!