2016 was the year I flew East.
And my first experience of the Oriental culture was a month in Taiwan! 😀
Delving into the Taiwanese culture was fascinating. So many similarities with the Indian culture and also so much difference. Exploring this new culture was a complete joy and that too on bicycle!
My trusted steed the Trinx PS100 hybrid.
And Trinx is a Taiwanese brand! I bought it in Mumbai and then flew it to Taiwan. 🙂
Thanks to Faisal of Pro9 Studios for suggesting this bike. I was otherwise too confused about which cycle to buy. This Trinx hybrid is a real value for money!
The more well known Taiwanese cycle brand is of course Giant. And this mega corporation makes its presence felt in the cycling world of Taiwan.
You Bike: Giant has started the You Bike schemes in many of the bigger cities. It becomes an easy cycling facility for city errands and tourists alike. The pricing is different in different cities. However, special pricing is usually available for people taking the bike for the first time.
This would be useful for tourists. I of course had my own bike, so never used it, but I noticed wide spread availability and parking stalls across Taipei.
Formosa900: Giant is also the organiser of many cycling events. One of them is the Formosa 900 – a tour all around the island country – 900 km in 9 days. Here they rent the entire set of Giant gear ( participants can also bring their own gear), a Giant crew, support van and all other amenities are provided.
Apart from the Formosa 900 there are are other cycling events in Taiwan like KOM, cycle by the Sun Moon lake and so on. Read more about these events here.
These international standard bike brands ensure that even if you land up in Taiwan without any gear, you can rent / buy really good stuff and get going on your cycling adventure!
Here is a navigation list if you want to jump to a particular topic, otherwise just keep scrolling 🙂
- Cycling Routes
- Navigational challenges due to Language (Mandarin)
- Where to Stay? (Camping, AirBnb, Hotels)
- Places to explore
- My other blog posts on Taiwan
Cycling Routes in Taiwan
Owing to its cycle-friendliness and welcoming citizens, you can pretty much take off cycling around any part of Taiwan. If at all you are encouraged to not go somewhere, it will be due to your safety concerns, like the Su Hua highway which is not deemed safe for cycling.
Taipei River Bike path
200+ kms of awesomeness in the heart of the capital city! If you have less time and prefer staying in Taipei then this is a great place to get some good bit of cycling done. It is also very useful as a connect between places within the city or as part of a long distance route.
Formosa900: 900 kms in 9 Days
Taiwan being a small island, you can literally cycle all around Taiwan’s beautiful coastline. This is exactly what happens in the Formosa900 which is an annual cycling event conducted by the Taiwan tourism bureau in partnership with Giant cycles.
900 km all around the coastline in 9 days, sounds tough? But it is open for all types of cyclists – hobby, beginners, experts, travellers et al.
Thanks to Taiwan Tourism Bureau I was sponsored for this event (all views I express are of course 100% my own). And it was my first endurance event of any kind. I must say that this is one of the best ways you can get into endurance sports.
This was a great learning experience for endurance sports amidst friendly environment, beautiful scenery, warm hospitality and a exotic troupe of international media (bloggers/photographers) folks and students. 🙂
Here is the map for Formosa 900 route. This was not the exact route we took but is a good tentative route. And you can check out details for the next Formosa900 event here.
As this route goes all around Taiwan, for a smaller trip you can pick and choose smaller sections of the route. Research the various spots a bit more and you can choose a section which suits your interests.
I personally found the southern tip region the Mudan, Manzhou townships in Pingtung county really interesting. There were some ancient Chinese temples we passed and the towns looked very quaint. Would like to visit there again with more time in hand.
I will be posting my detailed blog of this event soon. But here are a couple of links from my team mates,
Northern Coastal Routes From Taipei
Google maps doesn’t allow a ‘Cycling’ route option for Taiwan. I can only choose a ‘Driving’ option. So don’t follow the road exactly as shown in this map, identify the local cycle tracks.
The clockwise Northern Coastal Route from Taipei can be,
Taipei – Keelung – Jiaofen – BuYenTing – ShuangXi – Fulong Beach – Sangdiaojiao lighthouse – Shifen – PingXi – Taipei
The Taipei to Keelung section I cycled in Formosa 900, so you can check the route for that part in that map. And the route I have shown for Jiaofen is a longer one because I wanted to see the Yin Yang Ocean spot where a golden colour discharge from nearby mines meets the azure blue ocean water. Thus creating a Golden Yellow & Blue dual coloured sea region.
What I wasn’t ready for was the steepest hilly climb ever – From Yin Yang Sea Spot to Jiaofen is 1200 ft in 2 km! That is crazy steep. *Died*
Because I wanted mountain practice before Formosa 900. 🙂
From Jiaofen you can go to another scenic spot further up the hill called Bu Yen Ting. Now here is the tricky part, you can’t search Bu Yen Ting on Google maps. Only it’s Chinese name 不厌亭 is searchable.
From there you can go towards ShuangXi. I haven’t cycled from BuYenTing to ShuangXi. But I think it will be an interesting ride.
From ShuangXi you can decide whether to go further on to the popular Fulong Beach and Sangdiaojiao cape lighthouse. Or turn back towards Taipei via ShiFen and PingXi, known for lantern flying.
This is the Northern coastal route from Taipei in Clockwise direction.
Another route that I wanted to ride, but couldn’t due to health issues was the anti-clock wise Northern coastal route from Taipei. Taipei – Keelung – Jinshan – Shimen – Tamsui – Taipei.
There are lot of other interesting cycling trails in Taiwan. Here are a few good links to the same,
Navigation Challenges Due To Language (Mandarin)
A special mention here for the navigation challenges owing to the language barrier in Taiwan. Chinese & Taiwanese language and script are predominantly used everywhere. It creates a very interesting culture that is not ‘English’ and I really appreciate it. But especially for cycle touring it does pose some significant challenges.
Google maps is often ineffective because place names, amenities and facilities are all in Mandarin. For example the scenic spot Bu Yen Ting, I highlighted earlier. You can only search it with the Chinese name: 不厌亭. This may also apply to local stuff like toilets, specific facilities, vegetarian restaurants or any shop names you may want to search on Google maps.
No ‘Cycling’ option on Google maps – I am not sure why this is, because long stretches of roads in Taiwan have dedicated cycle lanes in a lot of parts. But it is not possible to see these routes on Gmaps, the way I can for Europe.
Road directions, official sign boards most often have English translation especially on highways. Bus stops and train stations also have English instructions put up somewhere. So this makes life much easier. But we would miss any local signs for eg: “beware of dog” sign on local houses.
Communicating with locals to find directions and so on is a challenge, but it is offset by the very friendly people and warm hospitality. Remember: It is not enough to know the Chinese words verbally – because there could be a serious accent problem. Best is to write down important words (like toilet, wi-fi, medicines, vegetarian food) so you can show around for help.
Google Translate is a must. Simple things like connecting to free public wifi can be difficult as login instructions might be in Mandarin. In shops it helps for ingredient check and so on, in restaurants it helps translate the menu, also helps to chat with locals. Hence, I suggest you take a data SIM card when you land in Taiwan. This ensures you have access to online translation tools in any sticky situation.
Imagine that you want to buy something from the above food cart. But how do you find out anything about it – price/ingredients/taste/different types? The vendor probably doesn’t know any English. Your best friend is Google Translate and any Taiwanese nearby who knows a smattering of English 🙂
Police stations are generally friendly to cyclists, they often even have repair tools and Giant air pump and so on.
Don’t get worried by these language challenges as I keep saying Taiwanese people are possibly one of the most friendliest lot world over. And it is a country where I got the biggest welcome as an Indian.
General note: Always look out for updated information. Even one year old blogs will often not be relevant because Taiwan is very rapidly improving its cycling infrastructure.
Read about my cycling adventures in other countries across the world!
Where To Stay
Typically I prefer camping while cycle touring. In Taiwan the camping culture is a bit elusive. I think it depends on whether you find the right blogs or meet the camping bunch of Taiwanese. Not everyone camps.
They do have campsites, but they are often too ‘protected’ like roofed pavilions, in which we can pitch our tent. Westerners often don’t seem to like them as it is not like the ‘wild’ experience of camping, and they are also costly. Found this detailed article on the camping trend in Taiwan if you are interested.
I recently came across this site, which suggests that there are loads of camping places and they actually get over-crowded. I don’t know much about this, but you can check a few if you are there. And do let me know if you do 🙂
Camping on private grounds: Stop at a Taiwanese farm, school or house with a yard. Request them to let you camp there. That is something that can be tried with the help of Google Translate and maybe a written Chinese note “Can I camp here, please” or something. 🙂
I am not aware of the laws regarding camping in national parks or other public areas in the country. But I know of cycle tourists who have done this.
AirBnb is definitely a good option, as there are lot of listings. Plus most of these hosts know at least a little bit of English so makes it much easier for us to connect with their culture. This host also becomes your local contact for any help you need especially navigating the language challenges. I stayed at a bunch of AirBnbs while I was there and made a few friends, had some deep discussions about Indian culture as well as their culture, had some personal chats and more.
Cannot highlight enough the amazement at having these culturally diverse friends!
There are hotels available across the country. But they are more expensive than AirBnb, so I never booked one.
When I was with the Formosa 900 group, we stayed in luxury hotels. These luxury hotels are of global standards and you can count on a lovely stay. But of course they would be more expensive.
Hot spring hotels: There are a lot of hot springs in Taiwan and most people recommend staying in hotels that have a private hot spring pool. These hotels also provide the option of hot spring water through the tap, so you can take a private hot spring bath by yourself. There are also public hot spring pools in case you don’t opt for one of these hotels.
While it is a good idea to relax on vacation, I found that luxury hotels don’t provide much of a local experience. So I would suggest opting for AirBnbs or other local stays over such a hotel any day.
But it is your wish. If the culture change is too much for you then opt for hotels.
Cycle Friendly Infrastructure:
I had heard a lot about the pace at which China is developing its infrastructure. I only actually grasped this here in Taiwan!
The sheer size of the Taipei bike path, numerous bridges across the river, Youbike facilities, road rules are all put in place for a thriving cycle community. All flyovers and bridges have cycle friendly staircases and there are footpaths on both sides for pedestrians and cyclists.
Everything is overall very cycle friendly.
The only thing that makes things difficult is that some lanes in big cities are very narrow, owing to the limited island space. These lanes are then not cycle friendly, but there are most often alternate routes.
Disabled Friendly: Moreover because the society is disabled friendly as most developed countries are, this infrastructure for wheelchairs doubles up for cyclists too. In fact this is when I realised that for India to develop amazing cycle infrastructure, they need to club it with the disabled infrastructure and develop that first.
Cycle-friendly staircase: These were a novelty because I have not seen so many cycle friendly staircase even in Europe. Usually in Europe I used the elevator to move between floors. And at times the elevator is actually small considering my bulky cycle with panniers. So I found Taiwan more cycle friendly than Europe in many places.
Cyclists & Pedestrians: One of the key differences in the Taiwanese cycling culture currently is that the cyclists are clubbed with pedestrians a lot of times. In cities like Taipei a lot of the footpaths are shared by cyclists and pedestrians. The flip side of this is that during peak hours there are too many pedestrians so cycling makes no sense. But a lot of footpaths are starting to have dedicated cycle lanes.
The reason cyclists & pedestrians fall into the same bracket is because of too many scooters. In some areas you will also find dedicated bike lanes which are shared by scooters and cyclists.
Unruly traffic: Westerners often find the Taiwanese city traffic situation quite unruly. Sometimes scooters maybe coming in the wrong direction or cyclists moving too fast on the footpath can scare pedestrians. But for us Indians this is nothing compared to our road situation.
City busses as far as I know, don’t allow cycles. But as I had written earlier, when I was stuck on my first night, then the bus driver did allow me to board it with my cycle. And it is friendly for disabled which means friendly for cyclists too.
Taipei city trains are not so friendly. They do allow bikes on certain lines and on certain days. But there are too many caveats. There was a poster outside the train station about rules for bikes. And there are just so many rules! It is too tough to keep so many rules in mind. But I suspect that within a year these will be made a lot simpler. Taiwan is developing its cycle infrastructure at a very fast pace.
Inter-city trains on the other hand are friendly for cyclists. Old travelogues from cycle tourists, suggest that the Taiwan inter-city trains were troublesome and confusing for non-mandarin speakers. But this is not the case anymore. I took the train at 4 different locations and it was just fine.
I just take my bike and head to the ticket counter. Park my bike a little away from ticket line. I just ask the ticket person ‘Keelung. Jiaotache. (point to the bike)’
Jiaotache (JaaO-thaa-ch) is the Chinese word for ‘cycle’. So they easily understand that I want one ticket for Keelung with my Jiaotache. And I also point to my bike to avoid any confusion. This process goes very smoothly. Sometimes the ticket person can speak English, sometimes they can’t. It doesn’t really matter. The two word policy works: “<station name>, Jiaotaache’ 😀
Also keep in mind that,
- Station names are different sometimes in Chinese and English. For example, Keelung in English is Jillong in Chinese. But even Chinese speakers understand if you say Keelung.
- Not all stations are cycle friendly. How do you know which stations are cycle friendly? I don’t know. All the information I can find online is outdated so I don’t want to confuse you. Best you talk with the information help at the stations. They will help you even if they are not very good with English. They often have an English speaking staff person too. [For Taipei opt for Songshan train station and not the Main station]
When in Taiwan I say, rely on helpful folks! And not so much on online research.
I have often written that Germany is an awesome place to find helpful and knowledgeable shop staff and this makes cycle touring very easy there.
Well, with Giant stores and other infra, cycling in Taiwan is also easy. Only thing is language.
But shall we say that “the love of cycles bridges all other differences” ? 😉
I spent a month here in October & November. The temperature was a pleasant 30 C with light drizzle every few days. 30 C for me is very pleasant but others may find it hot.
The winter months Dec – Feb tend to get cooler, about 15 – 20 C and that too is really pleasant winter. Nothing too extreme.
Rest of the months are around 25 C. So overall nice climate. There are light rain spells, but for Indians this is nothing.
Winds: What really concerns cycle tourists are the winds. Taiwan being an island can get windy… and near the coast, often the wind is pretty hard ocean wind. So this is something to keep an eye out for. Typhoons are often nearby, so it can get pretty crazy.
Keep tabs on the met website, seems pretty user friendly.
I Love Cycling But What’s There To Explore in Taiwan?
There is lots of diversity all across Taiwan to interest everyone!
Hot springs: Almost all cyclists go ga-ga at the idea of chilling in the hot spring after a hard ride.
Tribal culture: This is something interesting, there are tribes living in Taiwan. And it is possible for you to live with some of them.
Oriental Architecture: Cycle around and observe ancient Chinese and Japanese structures
Natural Beauty: From azure blue oceans to stunning national parks. This island offers a lot in terms of scenic beauty.
Buddhist & Tao Culture: The religion is an amalgamation of the Buddhism and Taoism. The ornate temples will always catch your eye. Studying this side of their culture can be quite unique.
Warm hospitality: The best part of cycle touring – the friendly people hospitality
Food: Even as a vegetarian I enjoyed myself with fairly unusual and often very tasty food options. Here’s a food guide for vegetarian or vegan folks heading to Taiwan.
The choice of drinks in the supermarket really takes the cake. The other kids with us in Formosa900 actually planned to manufacture and sell this stuff in USA. 😀
Zen!! Go to Taiwan and experience some Zen! 🙂
Other posts I have written on Taiwan:
A very crazy first day: Taoyuan Airport to Taipei City with Bike
Need any other information? Or have any experiences to share? 🙂