Biking in Taiwan: the scenic East coast

Photo 17-05-2018, 13 38 01The beautiful island of Taiwan, or Ilha formosa, is often overlooked by travelers in favor of its Chinese big brother but if you ask me, this undiscovered gem should be on more people’s destination list! If you were wondering where to get a taste of the mountains, the beach and modern cities altogether, without the hassle of getting a Chinese visa, look no further, Taiwan has it all! In the North and on the West coast of Taiwan, you’ll find Taipei 101, Taiwan High Speed Train, super-modern, innovative and buzzing metropolis like Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. The East coast and the South of Taiwan, however, offer a very different kind of lifestyle: spectacular mountain views, and green bridges in the Taroko gorge, fishermen night markets in Hualien, sand beaches along the East coast, surf hotspots in laidback Kenting and Dulan, Taiwan really has everything for everyone. And did you know that Taiwan seeks to become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage?

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Taiwan was the third country of my Asian trip, after South Korea and Japan and I welcomed the change with open arms. After the extreme politeness, cleanliness and order of Japan, I felt alive again in the organized chaos of Taipei. I noticed that the motorbikes in Taiwan were fast, much faster in fact than the scooters in Vietnam. And since people drive on the right side of the road there, I figured the best way to explore the island was on wheels. Fresh off the plane I remember thinking: “Taiwan feels more like my kind of scene, my kind of country. It’s less organized than Japan without being too chaotic but it feels more genuine, more authentic. I think I’m going to like it here. “And boy was I right!

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NOTES TO SELF:

10 May 2018: “I am thriving here, I love Taipei! After Japan I feel like I’m alive again. It’s full of small streets and street food. Everywhere the smell of street food, the smell of cooking meat and of frying pans surround me. It’s warmer too, it’s about 27° right now and it feels great. The subway is as easy as it is cheap. I paid 20 NT$ (0,60€) for a ride and I’m going to rent a scooter to go around the island. It should cost me 2800 New Taiwan Dollars (80€). Get in touch with Jeremy from Bikefarm.net (bikefarmbikes@gmail.com).

The 7/11 convenient stores in Taiwan, what a fantastic thing, because it is a thing there! To buy booze at 2 am, to recover from motorcycle fatigue sitting at the counter by the window, to use the restroom to wash the oil and gravel from trucks and tunnels off your face or to buy frozen dim sum or noodles, 7/11 is the place to go! Just grab a bag of frozen dim sum and they’ll heat them up for you at the register. Pick a sachet of sauce, the cashier will hand you some chopsticks and napkins. Quick, cheap, tasty and … sooooo convenient!!

I stopped on the side of the road between Dulan and Kenting where a bunch of rough looking bananas where laid out in a bamboo shack with different prices and a money jar sitting there. No one in sight. Bought some bananas and left 50 NT$ in the jar. That’s how honest and trusting the people are in Taiwan! Lovely.

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SCOOTER ROADTRIP FROM TAIPEI TO KENTING: 1300km on wheels along the East coast

HOSTELS:

  • Jiufen – On my Way Jiufen youth hostel
  • Hualien – Cozy House Hostel – clean, really modern, cheap, not much of a vibe, friendly staff
  • Dulan – The Travel Bug – really great place with hippie vibe – say hi to Nick for me. Workaway and volunteer work available here.
  • Kenting – Rainbow Wave Surfing Hostel – Awesomest hostel!! Workaway and volunteer work available here.

SCOOTER ROADTRIP ITINERARY:

Taipei – Jiufen: 3-4h – watch out for those ‘cars only’ highways! There’s no option to choose from on Google maps besides toll and highways so the GPS might direct you to a ‘no scooters allowed’ highway. I lost a bit of time doubling back because of that and having to find a country road instead. At night. Ugh, Google maps! Do try to get there before nightfall if possible as the views from the top of the hill in Jiufen are really nice! I thought Jiufen was nice but way tooristy (pun intended).

Jiufen to Yilan: easy 2h ride but do take your time along the North coast road! Stunning cliffs! Beautiful sights! And very pleasant coast line to ride along.

Yilan to Hualien: a couple more hours and an endless succession of tunnels and trucks. Not a whole lotta fun. Gear up and put your mask on because riding behind trucks = ew! I’m talking oil and gravel and lots of tunnels. There’s a lot of construction sites on that stretch of highway 9T – in May 2018 – and it can be intimidating to be on two wheels stuck between big trucks for miles in a tunnel. But it’s the fastest way to Hualien which has a nice night market too!

Hualien to Dulan: 4h-ish? Gorgeous coast road! I stopped at random near Niushan Huting where I had the sandy beach all to myself and went skinny dipping. Sea, sun, black sand beach, and sunburns for sure! Left the beach around 2pm and rolled into town in Dulan around 5-ish? Just before nightfall. A couple more tunnels but mainly just a very pleasant coast road all the way to Dulan. Stay at the Travel Bug if you can, awesome vibe really hippie chill and the beach is great, good spot for surfing and bumming around.

Dulan to Kenting: 4h-ish? Again, went to the beach until 2pm or so then left for Kenting and arrived just after sunset with a maaaassive sunburn. Gorgeous winding mountain road all the way down to Kenting on route 199, but gas up before you get off route 9 as the gas stations are scarce up there in the mountains. The Rainbow Hostel is awesome in Kenting. Hands down the best hostel in Taiwan! Very chill beach vibe down there, flip flops and snorkeling or beach bumming until sunset.

I went back the same way with a few alternatives like Kenting – Dulan via route 200 and then route 26. I wanted to avoid the tunnels and trucks between Hualien and Yilan on my way back so I went through the Taroko Gorge and up route 8 then 7 (with the funny Chinese sign) but it took me a full 12h of non-stop riding.

If you want to go from Hualien to Taipei through Taroko Gorge on route 8 you’re in for a show because it’s absolutely stunning BUT do it in 2 days. Stay in Yilan for the night if possible. I biked from 8am to 8pm almost non-stop, one of my hardest bike trips ever. Route 8 and then 7 from Lishan up North weaves through the mountain on a curvy mountain road that’s a lot of fun and breathtaking but split that in 2 days if you can. It’s physically and mentally draining to ride for that many hours a day.

Beach: Niushan Huting – best beautiful and remote beach ever, although the beaches in Dulan and Kenting are very nice too.

Tip: Watch out for speeding cameras. According to Nick from The Travel bug, don’t go over 70 as a general rule, you’ll be fine. No truer words, I’m still waiting to receive a fine. It’s been a year.

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