A Practical Guide to Bicycle Touring in Taiwan

Intro

Taiwan was recently ranked by Lonely Planet as one of the top destinations to discover in 2012.  We couldn’t agree more.

Great scenery, reasonable prices and a variety of climatic zones make Taiwan an excellent bicycle touring destination.  Surprisingly, Taiwan sees few foreign visitors.  This is one spot in Asia well off the banana pancake trail.

Taiwan is a sweet potato shaped  island just off the coast of China.  It is home to around 23 million people, most of whom live on the west coast.

The center of the country is very mountainous, with 100 peaks over 3,000 metres. The highest is Jade Mountain (Yu Shan 玉山) at 3,952 m (12,966 ft).

Not only is this the highest mountain in  Taiwan, but all East Asia.

When to go bicycle touring in Taiwan

You can go bicycle touring in Taiwan pretty much year round.

The climate varies depending on elevation and whether you’re in the north or south.  Fall and spring are probably the best times to visit overall.  Rain can fall at any time of the year, so make sure you’re prepared.

Summers can be sweltering hot, but would be a good time to escape to the mountains and tour on one of the three cross-island highways.

We cycle toured Taiwan in late November and the weather was almost perfect.  A little rainy and cool in the north, but warm and sunny further south.

Our Verdict

Taiwan is a good choice for a short bicycle touring holiday or as part of a longer Asia tour.   Biking Taiwan can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it.  If you want a challenge, hit the mountains and cycle one of the cross island roads.  If you want to take it a little easier, stick to biking the quiet roads of Taiwan’s east coast.

All in all, cycling Taiwan poses few difficulties.  You rarely have to cycle long distances without services, roads are in good condition and the country is safe enough that you can camp just about anywhere.

Highlights:

  • A dip in one of Taiwan’s many hot springs.
  • A visit to picturesque Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) – nestled at 762 m (2,500 ft) in the hills of Nantou County.
  • A ride through Takoro Gorge and a night camping in amongst the stunning limestone formations.
  • A food-fest worthy of a hungry cyclist at any of Taiwan’s numerous night markets.

 

Route

Circumnavigating Taiwan is easy and very popular with local Taiwanese bicycle tourers.  You can see more of the country by cutting across on one of three cross-island roads.

The best cycling–by far– is on the sparsely inhabited east coast.  As bicycle touring grows in popularity, more and more cycle paths are being set up making for safer riding.

The coastal route is quite hilly in places, particularly in the far northeast.  In this area, there are many tunnels to navigate.  In theory, many of these tunnels are off-limits for cyclists.  In practice, the authorities turn a blind eye.

One very dangerous area for cyclists is between Yilan and Hualien.  The road is very narrow here with virtually no shoulder.  You may want to bus this bit, particularly if you hit it on a weekend when traffic flows increase significantly.

The famous Taroko Gorge is just a few kilometers off the main highway.  There is free camping at  Lyushui Heliu Campground, approximately 15 kilometers inside the park.    This should definitely be on your list of places to visit.

Our Route

Taichung Port, following coastal road #61 and occasionally bike paths >> Hsinchu >> New Tapei >> Beitou District, coastal road #2>>  Keelung , coastal road 32 >> Yilan, coastal road #9 (the dangerous part)>>Detour to Takoro National Park>> Haulien, coastal road #11>>Taitung, coastal road #9>> Daren, mountain road #9, local road #199, local road 199B returning to coastal road #26>> Southernomst Tip of Taiwan, Cape Eluanbi, highway #26 north>> Kenting, continue highway #26, then #1, mountainside highway #185 >> Sandimen, continue to highway #36, then highway #20>> Dapu>>Shiayi>>Douleou>>Tiachung Port>>ferry to Xiamen, mainland China

Distance

The entire circumnavigation of Taiwan by bicycle is around 1,500 kilometers.

Ferry

Getting you and your bicycle to Taiwan from Mainland China is now very easy thanks to two direct ferries going to Keelung and Taichung.

Xiamaen, China to Keelung, Taiwan departs Thursdays at 18:00, arriving the following morning in Taiwan around 8AM.

Xiamaen, China to Taichung, Taiwan departs Tuesdays at 18:00, arriving the following morning in Taiwan around 8AM.

 

Return ferries from Taiwan to Xiamen, China are as follows:

Keelung, Taiwan to Xiamen, China departs Sundays at 19:00

Taichung, Taiwan to Xiamen, China departs Wednesdays at 19:00

Cost is about USD $100 for a berth in a 4 person cabin.

Tickets can be bought the day of departure or in advance at the ferry terminal.

Comfortable conditions including free breakfast, bathing facilities and Karaoke if that floats your boat.

Bicycles don’t cost extra and the crew will help you stow your luggage and bike safely.

Costs

We spent an average of $7.50 per person per day while cycling in Taiwan.  This went almost entirely to food, since we never paid for accommodation or any other services.

Hotels are not cheap.  The minimum you’ll get by with is around $40 USD per day.

Using Couchsurfing or Warm Showers will keep costs in check.

Eating

Cyclists need not go hungry in Taiwan.  Taiwan has got more restaurants per capita than any other country I have ever cycled in.  Food is delicious, abundant and reasonably priced.

Lunch buffets are a great bargain, costing around $2.00 for a hearty meal.  Night markets are a fun place to discover new food, and almost every town has one.

Supermarkets are well-stocked and every city has fruit and vegetable markets operating from dawn well into the night.

You can find Western products and tasty bread at French-owned Carrefour supermarkets.

7-11 convenience stores can be found in even the smallest of towns.  These are handy stops for cheap coffee and also offer quick options for lunch.  Also good for bathroom breaks.

Sleeping

We never checked into a hotel during our three weeks in Taiwan.  Couchsurfing is a good option in populated areas near Tapei and on the west coast.  On the east coast you may be able to camp on the beach, at a school, in a public park, rest area or at the police station.

Schools are probably the easiest and most comfortable option.  You will usually be able to have a hot shower and will often be invited in to spend the night in a classroom.

There are a few massive organized campsites along the coast.  These places were deserted when we visited (November), but judging from the sheer size of the campsites, camping appears to be a popular past time.  I doubt these places are very peaceful in high season.

If you want to splash out, check into one of the many hot springs hotels.  A real treat (or so I imagine) after a long days cycling.  Prices start at around $40 USD.

Locals

The Taiwanese are not only bike friendly, they’re foreigner friendly.  Police stations throughout the country are geared up to supply cyclists with cold drinking water, tools and even camping spots.

Many people speak English and most will go out of their way to help you.

Annoyances

Most signs are in English and Chinese, so navigating isn’t a huge problem.

Heavy traffic and careless drivers are a challenge in busy areas.

As in the rest of Asia, decent bread is hard to come by.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much hassle-free travel in Taiwan.

 

What's Next?

Check out our Taiwan travel tales.

See photos from our Taiwan cycle tour.

Browse through more Practical Cycle Touring Guides.

 

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3 Responses to A Practical Guide to Bicycle Touring in Taiwan

  1. paul
    paul February 29, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    I rode Taiwan in 2005 for 3 weeks over late December into January, never saw another touring cyclist.It was cold up high but I wore shorts and t-shirt at sea level. Cycling “Taroko Gorge” is great, but had to turn around and head back to Hualien as the recent typhoon(in 2004) caused landslides and closures of the road into the mountains. Good to hear that the Taiwanese are building cycling infrastructure, there was nothing outside of Taipei in 2005, one ride was from Taipei to the west coast town of Danshui and catch the ferry across to Bali and ride highway 15 to 105 and down the west coast form there, lots of traffic but worth it. Must go back the place is a blast, especially riding back to Taipei on the east coast 0n highway 9 and turning towards the coast onto highway 2 and head north.

  2. Richard D
    Richard D March 5, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    Thanks for the great resource! I am going to tour Taiwan for a month and it is really helpful!

  3. Marie
    Marie September 21, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    This is an interesting post! Taiwan isn’t a place I’ve heard of as a popular cycling destination. Did you bring your own bikes or rent them? Were you able to keep them with you in your hotel room or did you mostly camp?

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