For a Shortcut to the Heart of Taiwan, Ride a Bike

CAOLING BIKE PATH

The story is one that people working in Taiwan’s tourism industry hear again and again. A visitor had stopped to look at a map, take photos, or adjust a bicycle chain when passers-by came over to offer assistance. The end of the story is always: “The people here are incredibly kind and friendly.”

You don’t have to be a cyclist to enjoy this kind of hospitality in Taiwan. But when it comes to the kind of interactions that can transform a vacation into a more meaningful and memorable journey, those who choose to explore the island on two wheels have a head start.

On the one hand, Taiwan is home to a growing fraternity of recreational cyclists. Wherever you go, you will meet Taiwanese who ride in their free time. Your hometowns may be on opposite sides of the world, but the simple fact you both get around by pedal power creates common ground in an instant.  

On the other hand, riding a bicycle means you are highly visible. International visitors report that local motorists not only slow down and give them space, but also shout words of encouragement like jia you (literally “add oil,” but meaning “I’m cheering for you!”).

Many people describe fleeting encounters with other travelers who rush off, only to return minutes later with big cups of ice-cold tea or juice for their new friends. Not that thirst or hunger are ever serious threats in Taiwan. Throughout the island, thousands of roadside vendors sell variations on bubble milk tea, snacks like tempura, and filling dishes such as beef noodle soup. Convenience stores offer coffee, ice cream, cookies, and chocolate.

Of course, not everyone who enjoys riding a bike aims to complete a multi-day epic trip along Taiwan’s highways and byways. If you would like your vacation to include a day of cycling, and prefer to do it on a dedicated bike trail, study the “Top 10 Routes” webpages on the bilingual Taiwan Cycle Festival Portal. The 10 routes vary hugely in terms of length and terrain, but at each one you will find bike rental businesses and sources of information. 

Three of the routes are very close to central Taipei. Some hotels in the capital are equipped to loan bicycles to guests, so you could actually start and end your ride in your hotel’s lobby.

Alternatively, Taipei’s excellent metro and bus networks can get you to and from the various riverside bike paths. The network of YouBike shared bicycles adds another layer of flexibility. YouBikes can be unlocked with a credit card or an EasyCard linked to a local SIM card, and returned to any of the nearly 200 rental points.

The routes in and around Taipei can be combined with visits to some of the area’s most popular tourist attractions. Tamsui, for instance, is one of the country’s most historic towns. Highlights include a redbrick fort built by the Dutch in the 17th century, a slew of 19th-century landmarks, and tasty local snacks.

RIVERSIDE BIKE PATH IN TAIPEI

Within striking distance of the capital, the Old Caoling Trail Circle-Line Bikeway is an excellent way to explore Taiwan’s scenic northeast coast. The 20-kilometer-long bike path heads from Fulong Railway Station (little more than an hour from Taipei by express train) into Yilan County. Looking toward the Pacific, cyclists will see uninhabited Guishan Island.

Of course, 20 kilometers is not nearly enough to satisfy hardcore bicycle enthusiasts. Those willing to pedal an additional 50 kilometers southward across the Lanyang Plain can reach Dongshan Township, location of another “Top 10” route.

Trees have been planted along the 24-kilometer-long Dongshan River Bicycle Trail to provide shade, but if you feel like you’re overheating, head to the nearby water park, which stays open until 8 p.m. There you can cool off and play in various pools, water slides, and fountains.

Further down Taiwan’s unspoiled east, the Chishang Dapo Pond (Canal Circle Line) and Blue Line Bicycle Trail introduce tourists to the sublimely beautiful East Rift Valley National Scenic Area.

Three more “Top 10” routes can be found in central Taiwan, among them a cycle trail that enjoys a considerable international reputation. CNN’s positive coverage several years ago is one reason why many people flock to the Sun Moon Lake Bicycle Trail. But its enduring popularity is linked to that of the body of water it surrounds.

SUN MOON LAKE BIKE PATH

Sun Moon Lake, the surface of which is 748 meters above sea level, is surrounded by green mountains. The lakeshore is dotted by temples and other points of interest, including a chapel where Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek used to worship.

If you bike all the way around the lake, the total distance is a mere 29 kilometers, but travelers are advised to take an entire day to get the most out of the experience.

When approaching or leaving Sun Moon Lake, many tourists make a stop in the quaint little town of Jiji. Some do so to ride the century-old scenic branch railway line that runs parallel to the Zhuoshui River. Others rent bikes and set off along another of the “Top 10” routes – the Jiji Green Tunnel and Round-the-Town Bicycle Trail.

The so-called “Green Tunnel” is a stretch of Road 152 shaded by camphor trees planted during the 1895-1945 period of Japanese colonial rule. Even on the hottest days, cycling beneath this canopy is a pleasure.

JIJI GREEN TUNNEL

Down on the lowlands, on the outskirts of the city of Taichung, the interconnected Dongfong and Houfong bicycle trails count as another of Taiwan’s 10 finest cycling destinations. Both were constructed by repurposing disused railway lines. Trains, like many cyclists, avoid challenging gradients, so even the somewhat less fit can enjoy themselves here.

If you plan to fly into Kaohsiung and limit your trip to Taiwan’s south, consider spending half a day at Dapeng Bay, where a delightful bikeway encircles one of the country’s largest lagoons.

Cyclists can detour to nearby bird-rich wetlands and picturesque villages like Jialian. Those with an interest in engineering will want to see the sail-shaped, cable-stayed folding vehicular bridge that crosses the mouth of the lagoon.

At Dapeng Bay, as at many other places around Taiwan, less energetic tourists can rent electric scooters instead of conventional bicycles. They are light and easy to control, and no license is necessary. Helmets are provided.

Before setting out on a bike ride of any length in Taiwan, visitors should ensure they are adequately protected against the sun and have a canteen or thermos flask. Even in winter, sunburn is a possibility. Like other countries, Taiwan is trying to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics. Water bottles can be refilled for free at visitor information centers, police stations, and many temples.  

For all kinds of travel information about Taiwan, visit the Tourism Bureau’s website, or call the 24-hour tourist information hotline 0800-011-765 (toll free within Taiwan).

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