Cycling in Southern Taiwan

Text / Tom Foley
Photos / Tourism Bureau

I recently planned and went on a solo, six-day, multi-mode circumnavigation of Taiwan, including Green Island and Siao Liouciou island. On bike I !??third-um-navigated!?L the island from Taitung to Kaohsiung.

Overall the trip was quite enjoyable, aided considerably by the great weather of constant sun and cool breezes.

Total distance traveled: 1,111 km
By bike: 336 km 
By boat: 75 km 
By train & bus: 700 km
				

Pre-Trip

I purchased my bike at Sean's Bikes in the district of Shilin (Shihlin) in Taipei. Fresh from the shop my bike had a rear rack on it, but I later added some other items. The initial accessories included a headlight, taillight, left-side mirror, pump, front fender, and basic tools. After some local riding, I ended up adding handlebar extenders and a gooseneck (stem) extension that raised my handlebars about 4 inches. That last item was a lifesaver as it really cut down on the stooping/back pain and weight on my hands during the trip.

I planned to camp most of the time, but had left all of my camping gear packed away in the States. So I decided to go as light as I could, considering I had no support vehicle chasing me with the heavy stuff. From two different outdoor-sports shops I purchased a very compact and lightweight sleeping bag, two "saddlebags," and hip pouch, along with a small gas stove, air mattress, and tent.

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Transportation

The reasonable options seemed to be bus or train. In general, buses are good for this sort of trip because it is easy to ship your bike on the same bus that you travel on with very little fuss and no advance planning. However, as I unfortunately found out, buses do not go directly from Taipei to Taitung. It seemed as if a transfer in Hualien might have worked, but I felt this was too complicated. I opted for the train. The downside to the train was that I couldn't ship my bike on the same train that I traveled on. I needed to ship my bike out of Taipei at least two days before I wanted to pick it up in Taitung (shipping details at end of article).

I purchased my train ticket a few days prior to my trip. The Zihciang train, the fastest express, took about 5.5 hours to get from Taipei to Taitung and cost about NT$800 one way.

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Taitung

Upon arrival in Taitung, I made my way to the station's freight-handling section. I showed the clerk my claim receipt for the bike, pointed it out myself, and took it outside. The next hour or so I spent right there, installing the remaining accessories on my bike, stretching my legs, and loading the gear in a balanced and secure way. I asked a taxi driver for directions to Fugang , the town just north of Taitung where the ferry departs for Green Island. It was a short and pleasant ride of 10 km or so.

In Fugang, I had a few things to do: find the ferry ticket office, a place to sleep, and some food. Once in town, I followed a sign to the harbor where I saw a large sign advertising a slick-looking passenger boat. The building nearest the sign turned out to be the ticket office for the ferry. I bought a one-way ticket to Green Island for the next morning's first trip at 9 a.m. The one-way ticket was NT$400, the bike an extra NT$100

I rode around the harbor and back to the main coastal highway. On the way, I spotted a nice little campground on the south side of the harbor, up on a hill. It overlooks the ocean and has showers.

Next morning's trip to Green Island proved interesting. We departed Fugang Harbor under dark early-morning skies on the trip of approximately 23 km. The ocean didn't appear to be choppy and the boat appeared to be large enough to be unaffected by any waves. Well, as they say, "looks can be deceiving." The sea turned out to be choppy enough and the boat small enough to make for a bumpy ride. I had to go upstairs and out to the back deck to get fresh air to avoid hurling on my shoes. There I watched a gaggle of young nursing students doing the funniest thing. Standing as one, about 10 of them, they locked arms for the duration of the trip. The "clump" would sway left and then right as the boat surged over the waves, giving a whole new meaning to "togetherness." The trip took about 55 minutes and ended in the main, protected harbor on Green Island.

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Green Island

The scene at the docks was something to see. Tons of people waiting for the boat to arrive - hoteliers with signs to flag down and claim their visitors, travelers to Taitung, others with items to ship to mainland Taiwan. It was like the crowd at a day market. Passengers all got off the boat and everyone streamed on. Trucks, taxis, and scooters raced down the dock; within minutes the place was empty, and the boat turned around and headed back to Taitung.

I rode my bike around the island clockwise, following the 17-km perimeter road, starting from the harbor. While still near the harbor I passed a small airport, several nice overlooks, and a mix of houses along what was otherwise unused road.

Sometime in the afternoon the weather changed, becoming sunny. Just what I'd been hoping for. As I rode around the island, I passed numerous scenic spots - too many to mention. There were a few very small villages scattered along the perimeter road. At about the three-quarter point, on the south side of the island, there was a hot-spring spa, Jhaorih Hot Springs , the main attraction open-air saltwater pools right on the ocean that look like tidal pools.

A short distance beyond this attraction was the island's only campground. As a nature-loving person, I can't say enough good things about this campground. The view was outstanding, the grounds were reasonably maintained, and the showers were hot. As I recall, the camping fee was NT$320 (off season) for a small, open-ended, wooden A-frame structure with a picnic table and grill area. I had this campground completely to myself. On that beautiful full-moon night, I overlooked the ocean from my hillside camping spot. Wow, what a view! I went for a night hike and the moon was so bright that a flashlight wasn't required, even on wooded trails. Superb!

The next morning, I ate my breakfast while exploring the tidal pools of the ecologically protected area below the campground, before packing up and riding the remaining few kilometers back to the ferry harbor, thus completing my island circumnavigation. The ferry office was near the dock and well marked. Bought a ticket and boarded the boat for a nice ride back to Taitung.

East Coast

I rode south along the east coast out of Taitung along Highways 11 and then 9. The scenery along the ocean was outstanding. Somewhere in the vicinity of Siadasi , I stopped for a mid-afternoon break and a swim at the beach. The nearby eatery owner was kind enough to let me use his garden hose afterwards to get the salt off. I stopped for the night along a nearly deserted stretch of Hwy 9 about 10 km north of Dawu to camp on the beach under another stunning full moon.

I continued south to Daren and the beginning of coast-skirting Hwy 26, which proved to be a short, north-south artery that came to a dead-end after about 5 km. What I found at the end of the road was the small seaside village of Nantian . As I rode into town, I came across a dirt baseball field where about 10 kids of all ages were playing. They all stopped and gathered around me. After their initial curiosity was satisfied, I asked them to continue playing so I could watch. They hesitated longer than expected. A brave child helped me to understand that they could not play baseball as I asked because they owned no ball. As a matter of fact, their "bat" was half of a broken broomstick. At my instigation, we all looked for baby coconuts and used them as balls to play.

I decided to head past the highway's termination point to investigate the possibility that some way through existed. As I rode along, a group of boys followed me on their bikes. I soon found my choices were to brave the beach, maybe walking my bike for about 5 km to where Hwy 26 resumed, or backtrack up Hwy 26 north and then go through the mountains for about 20 km to link up with the coastal road once more. Although I thought the beach route would be possible and regretted bypassing the exploration, I decided to go the hard way - up the mountains.

The route was grueling. One S-turn after another. I'm not in top shape and the bike was fully loaded, so I ended up pedaling in first gear and stopping for breaks nearly every half-kilometer. Despite my normal road speed of 20 kph or more, the initial 7 km or so climb took me almost three hours.

When I got to the intersection of Hwy 9 and Route 199, I was surprised to find a large group of cyclists. As it turned out, they were the National Taiwan Cycling Team (as I recall their title) and they were riding around Taiwan in the opposite direction. I had a great chat with several of the members, thus including some Taiwanese cycling celebrities in my book of memories. A fun-loving and generous bunch, one of its members had cycled around Taiwan more than ten times and another had cycled around the world with his family.

The trip along Rte. 199 and Rte. 199 A back to the coast was beautiful, and so deserted that it was a little unnerving. After an hour or so of riding, I reached a small town on the coast just before dark, stayed in a cozy hotel, and grabbed a bite to eat in a place that I'm fairly sure had never seen a foreigner.

Kending

The next morning I got an early start, about 7 a.m. Riding peacefully in the cool morning air was exhilarating. I rode pretty hard to arrive at Eluanbi , the southernmost point of Taiwan, for a late lunch. After this I continued toward the town of Kending. It was hot enough that I needed to cool myself down, despite drinking water and sports drinks like mad. I stopped near Sail Rock , a large chunk of uplifted coral and a well-frequented snorkeling spot. While cooling off I met a couple of young, crazy French brothers. They were jumping off the larger rocks into the ocean, and showed me the way. I stayed in the water or the shade of Sail Rock - which can be reached on foot - until the sun abated around 4 p.m., then started out again and rode into the town of Kending proper. There I got an ice cream and hit the road once more, quickly leaving the famous coastal-resort town behind me

West Coast

There was a palpable change as soon as I approached the west coast - scenery, attitude, atmosphere... everything. The east coast is picturesque, clean, and quiet. The west coast is the opposite in nearly every regard. The closer to Kaohsiung I got, the more distinct this contrast became. I rode and rode up highways 26, 1, and 17, with a brief stop for dinner la carte at a grocery store, before arriving at Donggang about 11 p.m. Donggang is the town where one catches the ferry to the island of Siao Liouciou, which was my plan for the next day. I stayed in the Donggang area for the night.

Other than mosquito bites, the night passed uneventfully. The next morning, I biked around the camping area on the way out and discovered that it was close to a large bay that is being made into a very nice recreation spot as core of the Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area . I will definitely come back again in the future for a closer inspection.

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Siao Liouciou

I made my way down to Donggang Harbor and stopped at the ferry building to purchase a round-trip ticket to Siao Liouciou. This place is known for being the only Taiwanese island made of coral. It lies about 7 km off the coast. The boat ride there is really quick, maybe 15 minutes. On the way I met a couple of guys who were into pigeon racing. They live in Kaohsiung, and were going to Siao Liouciou to release their birds for a practice flight. They allowed me to observe and help. The birds would fly up, perhaps first circle a bit, then invariably head straight for Kaohsiung. Very cool.

As I rode around Siao Liouciou, a few things jumped out at me. First was the number of temples. I'd heard that the people on the island were religious, but seeing is believing. I lost count of the number on what is a tiny island. Second was the number of harbors. The island is only about 7 km around, with about the same number of protected harbors. Locals make their living predominantly from fishing, which explains the proliferation of harbors and temples. The island was beautiful and peaceful.

Having made the short trip around the island, I returned to the harbor for lunch prior to departing for Donggang. From Donggang I rode the last 30 km or so into downtown Kaohsiung. While there were a few interesting sites along the way, the ride was mostly one of endurance.

Bus to Taipei

Most of the long-distance bus companies in Kaohsiung seem to be located downtown near the railway station. I went to the first company that I saw advertising trips to Taipei. My ticket, including my bike as luggage, was about NT$500. I walked in, exhausted, 20 minutes before departure without a reservation, happy to just get on any bus. That said, the long six-turned-seven-hour trip back to Taipei was nearly as nausea-inducing as the boat rides in choppy seas. The bus pulled in to Taipei about 11:30 p.m. From the station I pedaled the last 10 km of my trip, and after a reasonably quick ride found myself safely back home.

Overall, I'd say, my grand tour was a positive experience.

Postscript

After my trip was over and I rested a bit, I went shopping for baseball equipment. I ended up sending gloves, bats, and balls to the kids that I mentioned earlier in the village of Nantien. I hope they have many great ball games together. Maybe one of them will make it to the World Series and I'll get to feel cosmically instrumental!

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