Taiwan Cycling by Land, Sand and Sky
As I rounded the nineteenth corner of the road for that day on my rickety bicycle in one hundred degree heat, I was sure I wouldn’t make it. Each stretch went on for eternity, with an ever so slight incline that was just enough to make my legs scream. But the humidity was the worst. Water bottles immediately went warm and I felt almost blinded by the sun.
However, once in a while I’d pause to swing my head from side-to-side, gazing out at the placid sea and bamboo groves, residents speeding past on mopeds loaded with mangoes. It was another world in Taiwan, full of curious stares that turned to big smiles after a simple greeting in Mandarin. I made it through a 25-mile bike ride in that unforgiving heat and it ended up being the highlight of the adventure.
Taiwanese landscapes are perfectly laid out for cycling enthusiasts. Although the island nation is small, its environment is diverse, allowing for mountain, lake, sea and sky views that go on forever. In recent years, Taiwan has done wonders to keep cycle trails well-maintained and marked, so everyone from beginners to experts can enjoy the routes. I fall into the former category and had no trouble keeping pace, loving every minute of it the immersion in my first experience on the continent.
A First Go, Cycling in Hualien
I had no sooner landed in Taipei before I was whisked away in a small plane to Hualien, located on the Eastern coastline. Jumping on cycles, the trail located right near the airport was short and sweet, weaving next to the beaches filled with rocky sand and strong waves. Although slightly jarring at first, it soon became a thrill to spot the screamingly loud F-16s occasionally pass overhead from the local military airbase. Bikes are cheap to rent there and shops are located right on the paved trail. It was an easy introduction into cycling, as backpackers and residents all enjoyed the wide route with friendly greetings and a slow, leisurely pace.
Into the Woods by Cycle
More than 70 percent of Taiwan is covered in lush green mountains, creating a jungle-like atmosphere that is ideal for the rugged biker wanting to connect with nature. Taroko National Park is somewhat off the grid and has very few access roads – but once inside it’s virtually a playground for adventurous spirits. I was wary when I heard about recent rockslides, then grew slightly more nervous when the car had to navigate around a massive fallen tree blocking the one mountain road, but upon arriving at Silks Place my mind was put to ease. This resort seemingly carved into the side of a cliff is an incredible base for cyclists, and even have their own arsenal of equipment for guests to use. I glided through pathways passing by small temples, then I took a hike past waterfalls, into marble caves and ending at a precarious suspension bridge with panoramic views of jagged peaks and sunny skies. I could have spent my whole time in the park, indulging in the tea ceremonies, drives to the scenic highest summit, and funky dining choices – one that included some crispy fried worms as an appetizer.
Taiwan’s Lakeside Beauty
I’m an ocean girl and love being by the shore every chance I get. So I was surprised to fall in love with Sun Moon Lake in the middle of Taiwan, one of the most stunning, emerald green bodies of water I’ve ever seen. I could not wait to bike around its edge, but first a cruise along its glass-smooth surface was at hand for a gorgeous sunset experience melting over the mountains. The next day, I took an easy ride on the circling trail, recently named one of the most scenic in the world. The space is well maintained and the raised path follows along fishing areas, mangroves, wooded areas, and marsh-like environments. A pretty red and beige suspension bridge was built just for bikers, and the sleek new visitor center provides an easy point to take a break and learn more about the area.
Off to Taiwan’s Cycling Southern Coast
Heading south to the county of Kenting, I geared up for my final and longest bike ride, covering roughly 24 miles of paths through lagoons and along ocean roads. This is where the heat was cranked and some paths followed a snaking highway, but the journey was full of surprises, from a fun stop at a mango slushie seller to a video-game like ride through a bustling marketplace and fair, which almost ended in me taking a hit from a swinging car door.
No two trips were the same, and every path was something thrilling, whether it was through towering mountains, next to skyscrapers, or along the gray-blue ocean. I easily explored the best parts of Taiwan on two-wheels and think I still only scratched the surface.
Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel writer who has a few notches in her belt throughout North America, Central America, Asia and Europe. She currently resides just outside Boston, Massachusetts. While writing for a wide variety of websites and travel magazines, her preferences so far has been covering various unique festivals worldwide, trying strange foods at tasty restaurants and encountering eccentric landmarks. By far her favorite place to roam is southern Spain and her future dream trip is exploring the Fiji Islands.