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Around Taiwan on a bicycle

The idea of a Taiwan trip has been on our mind for quite some time. We have heard from many sources about the great food culture, the friendliness of the people, and the natural beauty of the island. Each time I looked into travelling to Taiwan, a bicycle tour kept coming up. That is because in recent times the island has become a cycling paradise, with the presence of, inter alia, a 1,000km bike path (Cycling Route No. 1) that runs the perimeter of the island.

After living through the pandemic lockdowns, an active vacation was in order. Cycling around Taiwan seemed like a great idea. Even though we are not experienced cyclists, we took up the challenge. Equipped with padded shorts, helmets, and cycling gloves, we grabbed our small duffel bag (have to travel light!) and set off on another adventure.

We rented bicycles from a local Taipei-based company, Bike Express Taiwan. (We do not normally post sponsored links. This note is to express our gratitude to the proprietors, Lois and Peter. If not for their help and guidance, this trip would not have been possible.) Our plan was to spend two weeks in Taiwan and cycle as much of Route No. 1 as possible.

Day 0 (Saturday): We arrived in Taoyuan International Airport on a direct flight from Abu Dhabi. From there we took a taxi to our hotel in the heart of Ximen, a night market district in Taipei. We had chosen to stay in this neighbourhood to serve both as a convenient point to explore the street-food scene, and for easy access to a cycling path along the Tamsui River, which would serve as our starting point for the around-the-island cycling journey.

Our culinary experience on our first night included the infamous stinky tofu, braised goose with noodles, red bean mochi cakes, and Cantonese-style “white cut chicken”. Less adventurous options are also available, aided by the wide selection of offerings at the ubiquitous 7-Eleven and Family Mart convenience stores. 

In fact, the Family Mart door jingle would become our theme music of the trip as we made multiple stops each day there. These establishments also carry my favourite go-to snack when in East Asia: onigiri. I refer to them as “rice triangles” as they are made of rice usually found in this shape. Our evening tour also netted us a bottle of concentrated mulberry juice, which we used for much of the trip with dilution of water.

Day 1 (Sunday): We visited the Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914文化創意產業園區) with its abundance of craft stalls and creative souvenirs produced by local artists and designers. From there we explored the nearby Jianguo Jade Market (建國玉市), with its massive collection of jade in all its forms, and the Jianguo Weekend Flower Market.

To conclude our day, we made the obligatory visit to Taipei 101. Despite the hazy conditions, we were still able to enjoy an impressive panoramic view of the city from the 91st floor of the building that laid claim to being the world’s tallest from 2004 to 2010. Besides its fame for its height, Taipei 101 is also notable for having the only tuned mass damper (TMD) – a device used to reduce structural sway in skyscrapers – on display to the public.

That night Lois and Peter dropped off our road bicycles at the hotel. After quickly repacking into the bike pannier bags, we went back to the Ximending Night Market. This time, we tried and were rewarded with a Taiwanese hotdog speciality — wild boar sausage wrapped in a grilled rice sausage and loaded with tasty condiments.

Taiwan Cycling Route no 1 Map from Taiwan Bike Single portal by the Ministry of Transportation 

Day 2 (Monday): We set off in the early morning under a light rain with the aim to reach Hsinchu in the south, a journey of about 100km. Thankfully, we had only a bit of urban cycling to do before reaching a dedicated bike path, which happened to run by a bird reserve. When the rain intensified to a downpour, we took shelter under a highway overpass. This gave us a chance to regroup, have a snack, and change into our rain gear. When the precipitation eased, we continued on our way traversing through the countryside and alongside rice paddies.

We stopped for lunch in Daxi, the location of the oldest street in Taiwan. After that, we continued to our final destination: a converted love motel motel on the outskirts of Hsinchu. We arrived just as the day turned dark. Luckily, the check-in process was smooth and the adjoining garage to our suite made it easy to park our bicycles and unpack. Being away from the city centre, we did not expect much entertainment that night. However, when we went out for a walk in search of food we came across a roadside budaixi – literally “cloth bag show” or Taiwanese puppet opera / glove puppetry – where it seemed like we were the only audience! This was a big highlight for Kai, who had known about this art form since childhood but had never seen one in person.

Day 3 (Tuesday): We decided to stay in Hsinchu to allow our bodies to recover and adjust to a new routine. We booked a more comfortable hotel in the city centre, a leisurely 15km ride from the motel. Before going to the hotel we made a stop at a glass museum and learned of the the history of the industry in Hsinchu. After checking in to the hotel, we took advantage of its spa facility to get a foot massage. This was followed by a complimentary nourishing bowl of chicken-mushroom soup served in their cute library/cafeteria. At night we explored the city and ended up at a cozy Japanese-inspired restaurant for a serving of scrumptious fried rice.

Day 4 (Wednesday): Well-rested from the night before, we embarked on a 120km ride to Lukang with a stopover in Miaoli County for a Chinese BBQ lunch. Route No. 1 followed the coast and we passed by many fishing harbours and the Gaomei Wetlands. The wind was at our back and helped us make good time on the long journey.

Once again, we chose to spend the night in a motel (this one also a converted love motel) for the convenience of having an en suite garage. We started exploring Lukang by evening, stopping for dinner at a goose restaurant. However, the goal of the night was to reach the historic Old Street. Although most of the shops were closed by the time we arrived, we actually enjoyed the charm of having the empty street to ourselves. On the way back to hotel we indulged in more foodie treats, including duck offal parts and herbal pork soup.

Day 5 (Thursday): Budai, a fishing town renowned for its fish market and seafood, was our next destination 90km south. As the day progressed, the overcast morning sky gave way to a hot sun with little room for us to hide from the heat.

Route No. 1 is dotted with hundreds of oyster farms along this portion of the path, and local restaurants serve these oysters in abundance. We made a stopover for lunch at Taixi for a turkey rice lunch and some bubble tea.

Notwithstanding the heat, this part of Route No. 1 was uneventful… until I got a flat tire near Dongshi Township. This was our first-ever experience changing a bicycle tire. Thankfully, the rental company had provided us with spare tubes and basic repair tools.

We managed to change the inner tube following instructions found online. However, the outer tube was so badly damaged that we could not continue the journey. With no known repair shop nearby – the closest was 15km away — we were getting nervous as there seemed to be no viable solution to resume our journey. (I was on the cusp of trying to line the outer tube with folded paper currency and sewing it with dental floss, as suggested by some.) Throughout this, we had been in contact with Lois & Peter, so that they were aware of our situation. In the meantime, Kai went on a wild goose chase trying to find a tire or parts at nearby shops with a local school teacher who came to our aid when he saw us by the side of the road.

Lost in translation (and communication), we finally figured out that Lois had been coordinating a rescue for us, including contacting the nearby school trying to source a spare tire for us – hence the presence of the school teacher that came by to see us. Eventually, Kai met up with agents from a nearby mechanic shop (contacted by Lois) at the same school to get us a working tire. We were thankful to everyone involved for their selfless efforts. Within under an hour, we were back on the road, even managing to catch the last rays of the setting sun at the bridge to Budai Harbour. That night we indulged in seafood, including a dish of gigantic fish roe.

Thanks to Kai’s resourcefulness (and thank goodness he speaks Mandarin) and Lois’s great coordination efforts, what could have been a serious misadventure turned out to be a good (and memorable) cycling day.

Day 6 (Friday). Our next destination was Taiwan’s second biggest city, Kaohsiung some 100km further south. Although we had to deal with rising temperatures, the road conditions were decent, and it did not take us long to reach Tainan City, where made a lunch stop at an all-you-can-eat Wagyu beef shabu-shabu restaurant. In addition to the great food, we also enjoyed the experience of being served by a robot waiter, and using the ice cream machine to fill our koi-shaped cones. 

We resumed cycling at 3 PM, mindful to avoid the peak heat. We entered Kaohsiung via the picturesque Lotus Pond just before sunset and caught sight of a dragon boat team practicing their manoeuvres on the water. We reached our final destination within Kaohsiung (Yancheng District) shortly after sunset and looked forward to exploring its famous night market. Unfortunately, we discovered that the famous Yanchengpu Night Market opens only on Saturdays. Nevertheless, there was still good food to be had and we dined at a pork noodle restaurant that seemed popular with the locals.

Day 7 & 8 (Saturday & Sunday): Our next destination along Route No. 1 was Checheng, some 100km away. We took a midway break in the town of Fangliao, where we had a leisurely lunch and finally sampled the local oysters.

Our abode for the night in Checheng was away from the town centre, nestled among rice fields and with a view of a nearby temple. We had to cycle into the town for dinner and ate at a goose restaurant that night. (We liked the place so much that we went to the same restaurant the next day for a goose hot pot meal.)

Checheng was the last major spot on the west side of the island before we would have to cross a mountain ridge and the famous Shouka Pass to reach the east coast and the open Pacific waters. In anticipation of the upcoming challenge, we decided to rest in Checheng an extra night. On our spare day, somehow a chain got loose on my bike while riding and I ended up bruising my shin. We had to deal with this unfortunate entanglement, which took us a bit of time. After dealing with the repair, we visited a nearby port with an art gallery featuring an exhibition by Japanese contemporary artist Asako Otsuka (大塚 麻子).

Day 9 (Monday): We started the day with a 400m ascent towards Shouka Pass. Fortunately, our path was mostly shaded by trees or the side of the mountain as we snaked up towards Shouka Pass. Before the steep part of the climb, we stopped over at a nature park (Fragrant Forest) for a short break and hike. It was during this time that feral cats managed to steal my sandwich from my bike, ripping it from the pannier bag. Despite the mischievous act, I could not help but to forgive them as they appeared to be quite skinny and in greater need of the snack than me.

We continued on our journey and soon had to deal with the ascending elevation. But thankfully the road was mostly empty and the route scenic. In hindsight, this part of our journey was my favourite to traverse, second only to the first day of cycling when we biked in the countryside away from the main thoroughfares. The mountainside ascent was so beautiful that when we reached Shouka Pass, I immediately felt sad that the climb was already over. From that point on it was a speedy downhill ride to the east coast. But before we made it to the bottom, we stopped to see a budaixi theatre truck parked by a temple. Unfortunately, there was no performance this time, but it was still great to be able to see the beautifully decorated budaixi stage up close and in full daylight.

Our lunch stop for the day was at an aboriginal roadside restaurant and it was there that we had our first try at smoked plum juice. (Plum in all is forms, including in beer, seems to be a local favourite ingredient/food.) And we would need all the energy from our lunch as the weather had become inclement once we reached the east coast, and the cycling became much tougher. The wind grew strong and blew against us, and we had to battle against numerous hilly ascents. The force of the wind was so strong that we even had to pedal going downhill! At least the views of the ocean were incredible and gave us some motivation to keep pedalling. However, by the time we reached Taimali (~90km), we were thoroughly exhausted.

Day 10 (Tuesday): Given that we had only three more days with the bicycles, and that we were supposed to return them in Taipei, and us wanting to explore Taroko Gorge and Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園), we decided to take the train from Taimali to Hualien. This would save us about two days of cycling. So after a quick breakfast in town we rode our bikes to Tamaili Station to figure out the logistics of travelling with bicycles on trains in Taiwan.

Although the ride from our hotel to the train station was just 1km in distance, it might have been the toughest part of the route to date! A combination of a moderate uphill climb and the exhaustion from riding against the Pacific winds the night before had taken a toll on us.

We caught an early train to Hualien (only some trains allow bicycles on board, and we had to pay an additional half-fare for our bikes) and arrived in the mid-afternoon. We spent that evening walking around the city and discovered that Hualien is popular among foreigners, as we saw more foreign faces in the city and its night market than during all our Taiwan trip. That night we also had to figure out how to top-up our SIM card to continue receiving data on our phones. It was not an easy task!

Day 11 (Wednesday): Our final destination for the day was Keelung City, but the main goal was to visit Taroko Gorge. In the morning we set off along a coastal path that offered breath-taking vistas of the Hualien Port and nearby beaches. Once we got to Taroko Gorge, we spent half a day hiking along a trail adjacent to a mountain stream. Kai received an unexpected pedicure when he dipped his feet in the water and discovered that the fish had an appetite for the dead skin on his feet — me not so much when I dipped my feet in the water; it seemed that the fish prefer dim sum to pierogies. We took lunch at an open-air restaurant that served aboriginal-inspired Taiwanese cuisine, including pork belly, pork ribs, and the famous Taiwanese wild boar hotdog.

Upon finishing our hike, what had previously been moderate drizzle turned to heavy rain. But that did not deter me (and I eventually convinced Kai) from further exploration. We ventured through a series of tunnels on our bikes to reach the Changchun Shrine. Despite being soaked, we were content with our wet cycling adventure. We then headed to Xincheng Station to continue our train journey. We were able to change into dry clothes before boarding for Badu. From Badu Station we cycled in the night towards our hotel in Keelung City. Total cycling distance for the day was a manageable 45km.

Our accommodation in Keelung City was in the heart of the night market. We arrived on our bikes just in time for the dinner rush. It was an incredibly memorable moment, surrounded by the lively hustle and bustle of the vibrant street. This was by far the best of the night markets we had visited on our Taiwan trip. The ambience and authenticity was special. Among other delights of the market, we tried a drink made with frog eggs and spicy stinky tofu served on a skewer. With just one night in Keelung, our only regret is that we did not have enough time to enjoy and explore the sites and sounds of this vibrant place. 

Day 12 (Thursday): The final destination was Taipei to return our bicycles and conclude our cycling adventure. However, the main attraction for the day was to visit Yehliu Geopark, known for its unusual rock formations that look like wild mushrooms.

The route from Keelung City to Yehliu was relatively short and enjoyable, hugging the coastline and offering scenic views. Although the geopark was quite touristy, it provided a nice break from our routine, and we took advantage of the park to do a long hike in which we encountered a large (over 1.5m long) snake. Although Taiwan has ten species of venomous snakes, this one appeared not to be one of them and it was more frightened of us than us of it. We also saw many beautiful butterflies and heard the sound of joyfully-chirping birds.

After finishing our tour of the geopark, we took lunch at a seafood restaurant and ate local fare, including Taiwan crabs and sea urchins. Following our meal, it was time to make our way back to Taipei. Given the tight schedule, we opted to do urban cycling along a busy highway instead of a slower cycling path along the river. By this point, we had grown accustomed to navigating city traffic, so we pedalled diligently through the chaos of Taipei rush hour. It was a very special moment when the Taipei 101 appeared from the horizon. Eventually, we arrived at Songshan Station at 6 PM, the agreed-upon time for returning our bikes. Songshan Station also happens to be the 0km marker for the Route No. 1 cycling path around Taiwan, so was an appropriate place to finish our cycling sojourn of Taiwan. Total cycling distance for the day was about 55km.

We shared our excitement and highlights from the trip with Lois and Peter when they arrived to receive the bikes. We had mixed feelings of relief and regret/sadness as we bade farewell to our “steel horses”. They had served us well throughout the journey, and the memories we made along the way will stay with us forever.

Feeling a bit naked and awkward without our bikes, we took a taxi to Ximen back to the same hotel we had previously stayed at and toured the Ximending Night Market once more. We had a comical experience on our second tour of the hotel, as the new room assigned to us was in a confusing part of the hotel. We scratched our heads and got lost in the labyrinth of hallways (and the Benny Hill theme music played in our heads) each time we returned to our room.

Total cycling distance for our adventure was about 750km out of a 1,000km circuit around the island. But we also thoroughly enjoyed the experience of riding on the train — it was a perfect complement to our adventure on two wheels as Kai is also a big fan of train travel.

Day 13 & 14 (Friday & Saturday): Two more days back in Taipei. We used our remaining time to explore more of the city, including Kai discovering a hole-in-a-wall chicken rice restaurant, and us wandering around the Songshan Cultural & Creative Park area. It felt unusual for us to be without our bikes, and without a distant destination to pedal to. On our ride to the airport on Saturday, we already began to feel home sick for Taiwan.

Thank you, Taiwan!


A general note about Taiwan is that many/most lodging quarters seem well prepared for cyclists, including having dedicated spaces to store bicycles. This is also true of trains, where there is a well organised system to handle commuters with bikes. We were also grateful about the driving culture in Taiwan that is super respectful towards cyclists. At no point did we feel in danger or threatened by inconsiderate drivers when we had to share the road with automobiles.

April-May 2023

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