|Biking Around Taiwan - A do-it-yourself Guide||navigate:back|
Every Taiwanese dreams of biking around Taiwan at least once. Some dream, some do and every hour one can see yet another group of cyclists on their way. The whole trip is around 650 miles on flat terrain and can be accomplished in 8 to 10 days. This trip will create everlasting memories. All it takes is determination and a certain level of physical fitness.
The article in front of you is a do-it-yourself guide on biking around Taiwan. It assumes no previous bike travel experience and starts with the basics of renting, buying and shipping a bike with an emphasis on the latter [jump]. It provides a check-list of what to bring on a multi-day bike trip [jump]. Wherever ones turns, there are traditional Chinese characters and Mandarin speaking people and so this guide prepares you for Taiwan with an extensive section full of survival tips [jump]. The second half of this guide proposes a fairly common route starting and ending in Taipei [jump] and concludes with a short tour diary [jump].
Do not fear, Taiwanese are very open to foreigners and help you getting around. Read this guide to the end and you will know what I mean. But first off, let's get started with the logistics of getting you a bike in Taipei and in no time you will be ready for your next adventure.
Caption: A stop on the scenic east coast.
Renting vs Buying vs Shipping a Bike
Renting a Bike: Bike rentals are quite cheap in Taiwan. Giant is a Taiwanese bike manufacturer with stores all over the country. Many of these bike stores rent out bikes. The addresses of the ones in Taipei are:
Giant bike stores rent out "life-style" and "sports" bikes. They come with odometer, lights, panniers, bike pump, lock, helmet, water bottle, tools, but no spare tire or levelers. Models and prices as of early 2016:
It might be a good idea to call one of these bike stores upfront (every Giant bike store I went to, including the one on Dunhua North Road, had at least one English speaking employee). What may work as well is going to a Giant bike store on the day of arrival, discuss the necessary logistics and spend the following days recovering from jet-lag.
Buying a Bike: An alternative may be buying a bike in Taiwan. This should work reasonably well if you are not too tall as most bike stores don't carry XL sized bikes. Bikes are cheap in Taiwan and it might be worth buying a bike and ship it back home. Compare Giant's US website with its TW pendant. The Giant Escape 3 (2016), for instance, is in the US US$ 390.41 (US$ 359+tax) and in Taiwan NT$ 7800 (US$ 243.75).
Shipping a Bike: Biking with your own bike creates a bondage with it and you may have gotten a professional bike fitting. For these reasons, I shipped my bike. I have one high-end bike (Trek Domane 4.7 - carbon fiber/ultegra) and one low end bike (Fuji Sportif 2.5 - aluminum/tourney). Being afraid of shipping my expensive bike, I chose to ship my cheaper bike, the Fuji. To do so, I moved all the goodies from the high-end bike, such as bright lights, SPD pedals and two bottle holders, to the Fuji. The next three sections elaborate this option.
Shipping a Bike
Most airlines don't explicitly list prices for shipping bikes and so they should go by over-sized luggage. Taiwan-based Eva Airline explicitly lists bikes as one baggage item independent of the size - they just need to be within the 50 lbs limit. So shipping a bike is basically for free.
Details from www.evaair.com/en-us/check-in-baggage-and-airports/baggage-information/other-optional-fees/ [as of 7/30/2016]:
Eva Airline's booking site has no option to "pre-advice" them. Their hot-line informed me to call right after booking. They then wanted to know the size and weight of the bike box and went with me over the packing instructions. I didn't regard it as necessary to contact them 24 hours prior departure, again.
Packing a Bike
Bike stores provide card board bike boxes. Loyal customers often get them for free while others may be charged around US$ 5. I followed the instructions and removed the front wheel, seat, handle bar and pedals. I also let the air out of the wheels. This seems to be very important as I was explicitly asked for that at the Eva Airline airport counter. I then put the disassembled bike in my new bike box.
Home-improvement stores sell padding material. I, on the other hand, collected padding material over the last half year. On the day of packing, I realized that's not enough. It filled up the bike box just by two third. For the rest, I used bike accessories, tools and clothes. In the end, the bike box was filled up and weighted 50lbs on my bathroom scale - half for my bike and half for all the rest. I taped the bike box multiple times with duct tape and wrote my name and address on it. Packing a bike is easier than it sounds and voila, the bike was ready to be shipped.
Getting the Bike to/from the Airport
San Francisco: It shouldn't be that difficult getting a bike to/from the airport in one's home-country. In my case, a friend owns a mini-van and gave me a ride to/from San Francisco airport.
Taipei: Taipei has two airports. The major airport is Taoyuan airport outside Taipei. Then there is also the much smaller Songshan airport in downtown Taipei. You are very likely coming over Taoyuan to Taipei. There are a few options for getting a bike from Taoyuan to downtown Taipei and back. On arrival, I went with the second option and for departure, I went with the first option:
Check List of Items to bring to Taiwan
Items I had with me and/or bought later in Taiwan.
Pro Tip: Don't forget to inform your credit card issuer to put a travel notification on it.
Back-Pack / Carry-Through Luggage:
Pro Tip: It turned out two Gatorade powder boxes are just about enough for the whole trip. I didn't spot any energy powder in Taiwan and so it might be a good idea to bring your own.
Pro Tip: Put smaller items into plastic bags so they are bigger than the hand-openings on the side of the bike box.
In Taiwan I bought:
I forgot/was not aware of bringing these items and bought them later in Taiwan.
Pro Tip: A biking net-scarf is tube-like scarf pulled over the head onto the neck. On demand, one can pull it over mouth and nose. A lot of bikers in Taiwan have one and besides looking cool, it filters bad air in cities and protects the face from dirt and rain.
Other Items to consider:
What I didn't bought or brought, but should have.
Survival Tips and Tricks
Taiwan in Numbers: Taiwan's currency is the New Taiwan Dollar and 32 NT$ are 1 US$. 100 km are 62 miles. Power outlets are US style and also 110V.
Chinese 101: Xie-xie means "thank you" and "you are welcome". It's so often used in conversations that I suspect it means a lot of other things, too. Gan bei means "cheers" and the mathematical pi symbol π with an additional horizontal bar on it is the traditional Chinese character for NT$.
Chinese Phrases: People are really helpful, but rarely understand English. Google-translate some phrases, print them out and store them in a water-proof plastic bag. I had printouts for "chicken with rice (or something similar)", "how do I get back to Provincial Road X?", "how much is a single room?", "where can I store my bike?", "where is the next laundry?" (and then show them Google maps of the neighborhood).
Police Stations: The police is actually your friend. Bikers get free water and can use restrooms. The local police stations tend to share a common layout: in the front is a desk with an uniformed police officer. On one side is a table and sofas where a non-uniformed officer sits, giving the whole police stations something of the atmosphere of a living room. For whatever reason, the other side is typically mostly empty. Upon entering the police station, just show your water-bottle and you are pointed to a water dispenser in some corner. For accessing the rest-rooms say "toilet" - this word is universally understood in Taiwan.
Bike Stores: Giant is Taiwan's major bike manufacturer. They operate a lot of bike stores throughout Taiwan and are typically quality stores (Google maps lists most of them). Then, there are independent bike stores which may or may not be quality stores.
Bike stores provide pumps to bikers. Every day, I went to a bike store to pump up my tires. Upon entering a bike store with my bike, I ask "could I pump up my bike?" and made a typical bike pumping movement to make sure I'm understood.
Taiwanese bike stores provide premium service. Free assembly is included in whatever you buy. I bought panniers and it was quite hard for the mechanic to get them on the bike as they interfered with the brakes. Glad, I didn't need to do that. Later, I bought new brake pads and it was quite hard for the mechanic to replace them as they now interfered with the panniers. Again, I was glad I didn't need to do that. Finally, I had two flat tires near a bike store and bought a new tire and tube. As a now loyal customer, I got even a second tube for free. The mechanic changed the tire and the two tubes and while doing so, he lubricated my chain and fine-tuned the front derailleur for no extra charge.
Laundries: On my first night, I washed my clothes with soap and dried them with the hotel hair dryer. That was a huge effort. The following nights, I washed then my clothes in laundries. If Google maps isn't aware of a nearby laundry, then you may want to inquire at the hotel reception, but remember to bring a printout of the phrase "where is the next laundry" with you. A laundry works in four steps:
Some people wait during washing and drying in the laundry, others leave. I left.
7/11: 7/11 is an American convenience store chain with an insanely high number of stores in Taiwan. Sometimes you stand in front of one 7/11 store and already see the next 7/11 store further down the street. When biking in America, one is biking from gas-station to gas-station. In Taiwan, one is biking from 7/11 to 7/11 as they provide rest-rooms and snacks.
Family Market: 7/11's competition is Family Market. They also provide rest-rooms and snacks. Most of the times, I went to 7/11, though.
Dining: On international travel, I patronage neither Burger King nor Mc Donald's. I see this as total surrender to American imperialism and try to eat in low and mid prized restaurants. Same here in Taiwan: I preferred low to mid prized restaurants displaying picture menus. Sometimes, it was not possible to connect a separate price list with the picture menu and these restaurants ruled out, too. I carried with me also a cheat-sheet with the translation of "rice with chicken (or something similar)". A last resort was always 7/11 or Family Market.
Fancy looking restaurants automatically add a 10% service charge to the bill. Cheap places don't do that and you are not expected to tip.
Small family-owned restaurants let guests use private rest-rooms. For reaching rest-rooms, I needed to walk through living rooms, twice. Once in a small town, I wasn't sure whether I'm about to enter a private living room or a convenience store. I guess, it served both purposes. What I like about Taiwan is that seemingly everyone can open restaurants a/o convenience stores.
Hotels: Budget hotels can be found often near train stations and that's where I typically looked for hotels. On my trip, only one hotel receptionist spoke English. The other receptionists seemed to understand the question "how much is one room" - or they simply assume you ask this question - and write down the price on a piece of paper. My hotels have been between NT$ 600 and NT$ 2200. The NT$ 600 hotel in Taitung was quite low end and the NT$ 2200 hotel in Keelung was high-end. You pay on check-in. For several days, I joined another biking team and they knew cheap hotels ≤ NT$ 700. When biking on my own, I randomly chose hotels and they turned out to be between NT$ 1500 and NT$ 2200.
Hotels in Taiwan provide simple breakfasts to be picked up at the reception. These breakfasts look very similar to sandwiches which 7/11 sells for NT$ 39 + milk tea for perhaps NT$ 19. Hotels also provide soap, bodywash, shampoo, hair dryers, towels, razors (but no shaving foam), tooth pastes and brushes. Just the high end hotel in Keelung also provided a laundry room and an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.
Twice, I stayed at someone else' place over night: For three days, I joined another biking team and on their last day, in their home town, one of them invited me to stay in his apartment. On another day, I was asking a random person for a hotel recommendation and he invited me to stay in his apartment. Both gave me their house key and bought me breakfast. Their hospitality and long conversations made me feel not like a tourist but a friend.
TV: Every hotel has a TV. There are more than 100 stations with four stations broadcasting Hollywood movies in English with traditional Chinese subtitles. Most other stations broadcast entertainment shows. While watching TV, I realized Taiwanese girls are strong. On the first evening of my bike ride, I've watched an entertainment show introducing a bodybuilding girl and on the following day, I've watched a few minutes of an actual movie about Taiwan's women tug-of-war national team preparing for, and winning, the world championships.
Bike Safety / Theft: One hotel let me put my bike in my room while the other hotels let me store my bike in semi-save places such as the hotel lobby or garage (often I couldn't lock my bike against anything but itself). Yet another time, I was happy not having shipped my high-end bike. My biking buddies didn't lock their bikes during 7/11 and lunch stops. Apparently, locals feel save not locking their bikes during short breaks.
Biking at Night: Most of the time, I arrived in the outskirts of my destination city at dawn. Cities are very lit and biking in night-time doesn't really make a difference.
Back-Pack vs Panniers: I started biking with a back-pack and switched after 1 1/2 days to panniers. On the way, I bought panniers and frame for only NT$ 1300. Having biked with both, I highly recommend panniers.
Tips on Biking in Rain
It rains a lot in Taiwan and you may need to bike in rain. I had bad luck and it rained seven out of ten days on my trip. I never biked in rain before and was running into multiple problems. Make sure to protect:
Head: A helmet with a biking cap was enough.
Upper Body: After experimenting a bit, the best approach turned out to wear a bike jersey under a water-repellent jacket under a rain-coat. 7/11 sells rain coats for NT$ 39. During rain, these were worn by every biker I've seen.
Legs: My long biking pants turned out not to be water-proof. It's very difficult to find clothes in my size in Taiwan. I finally found water-proof running pants from Adidas and wore them over my biking pants.
Feet: Normal shoes get quite wet and that's a big problem. In fact, that was the biggest problem on my trip. You have several options:
Valuables: I put my passport, wallet and camera in a plastic bag and stored it in my water-repellent rain jacket. Make sure to have a jacket with pockets and zippers.
Luggage: My panniers turned out not to be waterproof (now I know why they have been only NT$ 1300) and so I put all my belongings in plastic bags and in addition wrapped plastic bags around the panniers. The latter is also good for protecting the panniers from dirt. I didn't reuse these plastic bags as they got dirty and used for every rainy day new ones. Trash bags have the right size.
A typical ride around Taiwan follows these cities and roads:
Caption: Map of Taiwan.
The west coast is highly populated and the ride goes quite often through busy cities. You can either take Provincial Highway 61 or Provincial Road 1. Provincial Highway 61 has a physically separated lane for scooters + bikes. Provincial Roads have often a separate lane for scooters + bikes and are then easy to bike. If there is no separate lane, such as in downtowns and occasionally between Yilan and Keelung, bikes share the road with cars.
The east coast is little populated and the ride goes through great nature. You have initially the choice among Provincial Road 9 and 11. 9 is in-land and easy to bike. 11 is along the coast, more beautiful, but against the wind. Other Provincial Roads connect these two roads. So one can switch between these two roads back and forth and that's what I did. North of Hualien, there is then only Provincial Road 9.
What follows is an outline of my trip. Now looking back, I don't think it's necessary to precisely plan the whole trip ahead of time. Have a rough idea of the overall route and then take detours as it pleases you.
Segment #1 Taipei to Hsinchu (81.9 miles): From Taipei I took Provincial Road 15 up to Bali and biked along the coast on Provincial Highway 61 down to Hsinchu. I reached downtown Hsinchu via Country Road 122.
Segment #2 Hsinchu to Changhua (76.0 miles): From Hsinchu, I took Provincial Highway 61 down to Taichung. The night stay was not in downtown Taichung but a little bit further down in Changhua.
Segment #3 Changhua to Tainan (83.5 miles): From Changhua, I took Provincial Road 19 all the way down to Tainan.
Segment #4 and #5 Tainan to Taitung (7.9 miles locally): It was raining on segment #3 and I got knocked out making me lose two days. To make up for the lost time, I took the train from Tainan to Taitung. Otherwise, I would have biked Provincial Road 1 to Kaohsiung and Pingtung, then as much south as possible and simply take a hotel at the end of the day. The following day, I would have biked up north on Provincial Road 9 to Taitung on the east coast.
Segment #6 Taitung to Yuli (65.8 miles): Biking straight up to Hualien may be quite a stretch and most stay over night in the small town of Yuli. From Taitung, I took Provincial Road 11 along the coast and then Provincial Road 30 to connect to Provincial Road 9. Yuli is a few minutes north of the interconnection point. Provincial Road 30 was a steep road into the mountains.
Segment #7 Yuli to Hualien (56.6 miles): From Yuli, I took Provincial Road 11 up to Hualien.
Segment #8 Hualien to Yilan (3.3 miles locally): Provincial Road 9 is the only way to get from Hualien to Yilan. This segment is Taiwan's most dangerous road with multiple deaths per year and so I decided to take the train to Yilan. Looking back, I shouldn't have stayed in Hualien but taken the late-train to Yilan on the day of arrival in Hualien.
From Yilan, most take Provincial Road 9 straight to Taipei in one day. As I cheated by taking the train from Hualien to Yilan, I decided to take the longer route over Keelung, Shimen and Tamsui in two days.
Segment #9 Yilan to Keelung (57.2 miles): From Yilan, I took Provincial Road 2 to Keelung.
Segment #10 Keelung to Taipei (64.8 miles): From Keelung I took Provincial Road 2 all the way to Taiwan's northern tip Shimen and then down to Tamsui and Taipei.
Overall, I biked 81.9 miles + 76.0 miles + 83.5 miles + 65.8 miles + 56.6 miles + 57.2 miles + 64.8 miles (and 7.9 miles + 3.3 miles within cities) = 497.0 miles. Again, I skipped the very south of Taiwan worth around 150 miles.
Flight: My flight from San Francisco to Taipei was a little bit under US$ 800. I arrived at SFO 2 1/2 hours before departure and went straight to the Eva Airline counter. My bike box weighted 23.6kg - 600g over the limit. That wasn't a problem with my airline. Then I was asked to weight my back-pack. It felt heavy and little surprise, it was 50% over the 7kg limit. That wasn't a problem with my airline, either.
On the flight, I watched "To The Fore" - a Taiwanese movie about a cycling team. I then looked over the other passengers' seats to watch their movies in parallel. For lunch, I caused some confusion as the flight attendant didn't expect a Caucasian to have pre-ordered a Hindu meal. I requested also an additional regular meal and to my surprise, I liked the Hindu meal better than the regular meal.
During the flight, I was sitting next to a Taiwanese named Raymond and his 91 year old mother. This lady tried to talk to me in Chinese from time to time and once I made her smile by saying "gan bei" before drinking a can of "Taiwan Beer Classic". Raymond told me he biked with two or three classmates from Hualien to Kaoshung in 1979 - back then it was not possible to bike around the whole island. Spontaneously, they rented bikes and started their trip without any preparation. That trip created everlasting memories and they still talk to this day about it. Those where the days, I guess. I also impressed him reading the complementary Taiwanese language newspaper. Well, I was just looking at the pictures, of course.
Time was flying (pun pun pun) and I arrived after around 13 hours at Taoyuan airport. Photo, finger printing and I was past the border. Over-sized luggage needs to be picked up at the "luggage service" close to the common luggage pickup era. I took a mini-van taxi to my hotel and carried my, for the receptionists, mysterious luggage straight in my room.
First Days in Taipei: I like about Taipei the clash of East and West. Traditions live next to high tech - Buddhist temples are located next to skyscrapers. I believe Taipei is a very exciting city, albeit it rains there too much. Please see general travel literature for more information on Taipei.
Upon arrival, it was heavily raining and I reserved a few days for recovering from jet-lag. The following day, I assembled my bike and headed over to a cheap sports store, Decathlon. Everything was less than half the price of US bike stores and I happily bought a lot of bike accessories. On the first non-raining day, I started my adventure.
Bike-Ride Day 1: Taipei - Hsinchu over Bali (81.9 miles): I left Taipei around 9:00am. After a few hours of riding, I joined north of Taipei, in Bali, a random group of bikers for riding with them Provincial Highway 61 down to their final destination Tainan. That have been two teachers and four students from a cooking school. Due to knee problems two of them left shortly after. Only one of them, a teacher, spoke English. Sometimes a smile says more than 1000 words and I could also communicate with the rest. They have been so nice and helped me quite often. On our first stop, at a soup kitchen, they invited me to try octopus. That was so sweet, but nothing for me and I reluctantly declined.
The first night stay was in downtown Hsinchu somewhere close to the train station. Hsinchu is known as the Taiwanese Silicon Valley due to all the tech firms. The East City Hotel was chosen by my biking buddies and was only NT$ 700 per night. I got a nice looking room on the first floor and could even bring my bike inside. The room had a light smell which became undetectable after a few seconds. After a shower, I washed my bike pants and jersey with soap and started drying them with the hotel hair dryer. My biking buddies knocked and asked me to join them to a nearby laundry. Had I known this earlier... During laundry we walked over to a nearby low-end restaurant. One student left and returned with beer from 7/11 (outside food allowed). For dinner, we all shared one duck with plenty of chow-mein. Back in the hotel, I watched TV for a few minutes and went to bed with a smile.
Bike-Ride Day 2: Hsinchu - Changhua (77.0 miles): The following morning, I picked up a simple breakfast at the reception. We intended to leave at 8:00am, had I not had a flat tire. After replacing the tube, we could finally start the ride.
On the way we briefly talked with seven guys and three girls from an university's bike club at a 7/11 stop (jersey logo C*N*U/bike). They have been also on their way around Taiwan. On this day, I also switched from back-pack to panniers.
Lunch was in a small township on the way. The restaurant owner invited me to his living room for having a look at his woodcut collection. During lunch, my biking buddies have been permanently gazing in their smart phones and after some time they wondered why I never do that. I'm surprised that this was noticed.
In the late afternoon, we were close to Taichung. One of my biking buddies' best friend lives a little bit further down in Changhua and that's where we chose a low-end hotel with a Chinese name, only. It was only NT$ 600 per night and little surprise, it was the only hotel without breakfast. We were asked to store our bikes in the hotel garage. This meant we had no convenient access to our bikes, and more importantly panniers, over night.
In the evening, we met this friend for dinner and ate hot-pot. Back in the hotel, I asked my biking buddies when we are going to do laundry and they all looked very surprised as why I would want to do that. Reversed roles - yesterday, it was the most normal thing for them and this time, they showed zero interest.
Bike-Ride Day 3: Changhua - Tainan (83.5 miles): We checked out at 8:00am and headed over to a small restaurant for breakfast. I leaned my bike against the roller shutters of the neighbor's garage. During breakfast, the neighbor raised the shutter and my bike fell on his truck damaging it. The neighbor didn't notice that and I was pushing my new friends to leave this place as soon as possible.
We intended to have an easy bike ride with a lot of sightseeing stops and only bike to Chayi but weather forecast predicted rain for this and the following day. We wanted not to bike two days in rain and decided to bike to Tainan straight in one rainy day.
When it started to rain, everyone but me knew what to do: my biking buddies wrapped their panniers with plastic bags (I received some plastic bags, too), pulled sports pants over their biking pants (I had nothing to pull over), started to wear these 7/11 waterproof rain coats (I had a rain coat which turned out not to be water-proof). Some already wore plastic sandals while others biked with street shoes (I continued biking with shoes and socks - the latter turned out to be a mistake as they soaked a lot of water).
My biking buddies come from Tainan and when reaching it in the evening, we separated. One of them invited me to stay in his apartment and I happily accepted. I stored my bike in his apartment. We left for laundry and had hot-pot with some of his friends.
Bike-Ride Day 4 and 5: Sick in Tainan and train ride to Taitung (7.9 miles locally): I wasn't prepared riding in rain and caught cold. I took medicine and stayed over night and the following 1 1/2 days in bed. I basically lost two days and decided to travel by train to where I intended to be two days later: Taitung on the east coast.
First, I took a train from Tainan to Chaozhou (NT$ 122 for myself and NT$ 61 for my bike) and from there a further train to Taitung (NT$ 216 for myself and NT$ 108 for my bike). My biking buddy helped me buying tickets and the whole process was in-transparent to me. For details on how to take a train in Taiwan, see my train-ride on day 8.
I arrived in Taitung on the evening of day 5. Near the train station was nothing but a few hotels and a 7/11 look-alike grocery store. It turned out that this is the "new train station" opposed to the "old train station" in downtown. My hotel of choice was the quite good looking Long Xing hotel for NT$ 1900 per night. I could leave my bike in the lobby and was able to lock it against something firm. My room number was 805, but it wasn't located in the eighth floor. In fact, there was only one floor. Eight is a lucky number in Taiwan and so they prefix in this hotel all rooms with an 8.
Bike-Ride Day 6: Taitung - Yuli (65.8 miles): After picking up my breakfast at the reception, I checked out around 9:00am. I headed over to the Giant bike store for buying new brake pads. They didn't have any for my bike, though. Instead, I met a lady renting a bike. She was a firefighter from London intending to bike up to Hualien. That was also one of my stops and so we teamed up. She wore a London Marathon t-shirt and she told me is doing ultra triathlons as well. Oh, I was so glad having had the better bike.
This day was the only really sunny day and the east coast is commonly known for being very picturesque. Everything was just about perfect! We biked Provincial Road 11 - 100 meters to the left was a huge, almost vertical, mountain range and 100 meters to the right was the actual coast. I couldn't decide which view was better, the coast with all the beaches and palm trees or the massive mountains with their peaks reaching into the clouds.
We had a quick stop around lunch-time for buying sandwiches. Biking up all the way to Hualien is quite a stretch and we decided to stay the night in the small town of Yuli. It's not directly on the coast and we needed to take a turn onto Provincial Road 30 and biked into the mountains for a good hour. That were exactly these mountains that reach up all the way into the clouds and I needed to stop every 10 min for a few seconds to re-gain strength.
In Yuli, I wanted to see a bike store for buying brake pads. My biking buddy changed her mind and decided to bike to the next town Ruisui and stay there over night. Yuli's Giant bike store was under construction and two non-English speaking locals tried to help me finding another bike store and walked with me through the city. After 10 min, I realized they were not looking for a bike store but for the "Giant Street". At that moment, a scooter driver came by asking me in proper English if I need help. You bet, man! He led me to a bike store and translated for me. I asked him also for a hotel recommendation and he invited me to stay over night in his house. We had dinner on his bill ("this is my country and I so I pay"). In the morning, he needed to leave quite early to work and left in the living room a huge breakfast. Besides having dinner in the evening, we chatted in his living room about Taiwan for an hour and did some sightseeing/window shopping for another hour. It was interesting to learn about Taiwan from an educated Taiwanese.
Bike-Ride Day 7: Yuli - Hualien (56.6 miles): When I wanted to leave Yuli at 8:00am, it just started to rain and I waited two more hours. No help, I was biting the bullet and started biking in the rain. This time, I took Provincial Road 9 up to Hualien. This road is not along the coast but in-land and the shortest segment. Close to Hualien, I took a rest at a bus stop and a car with two very young girls stopped. They told me they have already seen me twice on their way and a long conversation started. Before we separated, they asked for a group picture - selfie style.
In Hualien I stayed a little bit further away from the train station as usually. The hotel Gallery 6 B&B was NT$ 1500 per night and here I could keep my bike next to the reception.
The neighborhood was quite boring. That was ok as I spent the whole evening trying to do laundry, anyway. This hotel had a washing machine, but no drying machine. A laundry is only one minute further down the street. I inserted NT$ 40 into the drying machine and came back 40 min later but the clothes have still been wet. One other drying machine had finished laundry and the clothes there were still warm. My initial conclusion was that these laundry machines work in general. The correct conclusion would have been that only that other laundry machine works. So I tried my laundry machine again with same result 40 min later: my clothes were still wet. The other drying machine was empty by then. This time, I was smarter and used it now ... and 40 min later, my clothes have been really dry. By the way, this was the only laundry without a coin-changing machine and I needed to walk three times to a nearby convenience store for buying random things just to get NT$ 40 change. Note, I needed to make sure I get back 4 NT$ 10 coins and not, say NT $50 coins. So, armed with NT$ 100 bills, I needed to buy items for NT$ 0 < prize ≤ NT$ 10 or NT$50 < price ≤ NT$ 60. After laundry, the evening was almost over, I watched some TV and went to bed.
Bike-Ride Day 8: Train ride Hualien - Yilan (3.3 miles locally): In the morning, the receptionist brought a simple breakfast and left it in front of my door. I slacked around for a while and checked out at 11:00am. The next stop was Yilan. It can only be reached via Provincial Road 11. This segment of Provincial Road 11 is regarded as Taiwan's most dangerous road with multiple deaths per year. This is due to rock-sliding and speeding trucks on very narrow streets. Several Taiwanese recommended me to take the train and that's what I did.
It was only a two hour train ride from Hualien to Yilan (NT$ 143 for myself and NT$ 72 for my bike). The ticket had the destination "Yilan" spelled out in traditional Chinese. The screen with upcoming departure times showed the time and platform numbers in Arabic and the destination cities in traditional Chinese. So, I needed to match all characters on my ticket with all characters on the screen. A match occurred on the destination city and I could learn from the screen the departure time and platform.
Upon entering the platform, one needs to present the tickets to a security guard for having them stamped. Upon leaving the platform in the destination city, one needs to return the ticket to a security guard. Alternatively, one can get the tickets stamped (invalidated) and keep them as souvenirs. Just make the typical stamping movement on the tickets and the security guard will stamp them.
I arrived in Yilan at 3:00pm and checked in the nearby Ta Chen Hotel for NT$ 1300 per night. Here I could leave my bike in the lobby. My room had a light smell which became undetectable after a few seconds. What was different in this hotel was my room had windows towards a hallway which in turn had windows towards the street.
That was the only day I had time for sightseeing. I stepped out and walked through downtown, visited a temple and the night-market. The night-market was straight out of the hotel. For night-markets, some streets are closed for traffic and hundreds of food and clothes booths open at night. It's quite challenging to order something, though. If you can't read traditional Chinese, you can really starve along all these food booths. It's often not obvious how to order something or figure out the price, at least. I'm quite happy having been able to order at four places.
This was also the first day I had time to think about my trip. Knowing it will be over in only two days made me quite sentimental.
From Yilan, most take Provincial Road 9 straight to Taipei. As I cheated by taking the train from Hualien to Yilan, I decided to take the longer route over Keelung, Shimen and Tamsui in two hops.
Bike-Ride Day 9: Yilan - Keelung (57.2 miles): In the morning, I had breakfast and checked out at around 9:45am. Breakfast was actually a Mc Donald's coupon over NT$ 33. It's a one minute walk over to Mc Donald's and I got a small sandwich and coffee. That wasn't enough and I bought several sweet breads at a nearby bakery for a second breakfast and for on the way.
It was raining again and after hesitating, I finally started my second-last segment along the coast on Provincial Road 2. On the way, I went to 7/11 and left a wet trace from the entrance to the dining area. An employee instantly jumped up and walked behind me cleaning up the floor. While sitting in the dining area, an elementary school kid handed over a small Chinese New Year's present to me. Although she was pushed to do so by her mother, I think this was pretty sweet.
At noon, it started to rain very heavy and I took a break at a bus stop for two hours. The rain didn't get better and I was forced to continue biking nevertheless. Due to this break, it became dark way before Keelung. To add insult to injury, I got a flat tire six miles before my hotel. I removed my front light, laid it on the ground to have some light for changing my tube, well, in heavy rain at night.
It's only a 40 min bus ride from Taipei to Keelung and a friend from Taipei wanted to come over and spend the night with me. She suggested the upper class "Harbor View Hotel". It's NT$ 2200 for two persons with view towards the harbor. The rear view would have been NT$ 300 less. I could leave my by now very dirty bike in the shiny lobby.
I washed my clothes in the hotel laundry. My friend and I went out for dinner and a walk along the harbor.
Bike-Ride Day 10: Keelung - Taipei over Shimen and Tamsui (64.8 miles): I enjoyed the breakfast buffet while my friend took the bus to Taipei to be back in office at 9:00am. She also carried my panniers to Taipei so I could have an easier ride. I checked out at 11:00am as the "Harbor View Hotel" was the best hotel on my trip and I wanted to stay there as long as possible. That turned out to be a mistake because it started to rain an hour or two after I left.
Keelung is quite close to Taipei and I decided to take the long way along the coast over Shimen and Tamsui. This time, it was raining extremely bad. At the same time, I was also sad that all this was about to come to an end very soon.
On this last segment, I had major issues with my bike. After a few miles, I had a flat tire and swapped the tube. Remember, I had already a flat tire in the evening before. I had now only one spare tube left. Then every hour or so I had another flat. I started to believe that all this can't be due to punctures. The very north of Taiwan is not very populated and I didn't find any bike stores - Google maps only sent me to long gone bike stores. I pumped up my bike every half hour and somehow made it into Tamsui. It's much more populated and I found a Giant bike store. Being so close to downtown Taipei, I just wanted to pump up my bike to the max with a real pump - I can't do that with my hand pump. Back on the street and two minutes later, my tube exploded with a loud bang in a the middle of a busy and noisy street - two lanes to the left of me and two lanes to the right of me. A nearby police officer became upset about me walking my bike in the middle of that busy street. Back in the bike store, I bought a new tube for NT$ 250. The mechanic did not only change my tube, but also lubricated the chain and fine-tuned the front gear for no extra charge. Back on the street and this time three minutes later, my tube exploded with a big bang, again. I walked my bike back to the same bike store and the mechanic suggested to replace my tire as it was worn out on the edge (after only 2600 miles!). I payed NT $950 for the tire and got a tube for free. No further problems from then on.
Caption: Back in Taipei in the evening of the last day.
The traffic in Tamsui and Taipei was painful. I biked around almost whole Taiwan and wanted not to get injured in the last five minutes and so I walked my bike the last half mile.
Final Thought: My bike got a lot of scratches on this trip - scratches which tell a story. Had I known what I go through, I wouldn't have done it. Glad I didn't know because now I'm so proud of myself. Taiwan, I'll be back!
#biking around Taiwan #cycling around Taiwan #everlasting memories #travel #biking #cycling #biking in rain