Cycling Around Taiwan: 2018
Bali, New Taipei City to Bali, New Taipei City
Clockwise Tour Around the Island
November 5-15, 2018
This is a travelogue of an unsupported round-the-island cycling tour I did with one of my oldest friends (we go back to 3rd grade, and attended college together). I live in Taiwan, and he lives in the US. We were both in our 50's when we made the trip. He was in great shape, I was in average shape. Here's pretty much everything I took.
Day 1 - November 5, Monday: Bali to Miaoli (Baishatun)
133 km, 8.3 hours
Places We Visited
It was raining when we woke up at 6 am. By the time we finished breakfast, packing, and got on the road, it was almost 8 am and the rain had died down to a drizzle. We spent the first hour or so getting rained on, but by about 9 am it had pretty much stopped, and the weather for the rest of the day was cool and partly cloudy.
We followed Highway 15 to Highway 61, looking for the signs pointing the way along the Round-the-Island 1-1 Route. From time-to-time we would take side roads and bike paths that looked quieter. For example:
From the Yongan Fishing Harbor, the Xinwu Green Tunnel (新屋綠色走廊)
From the Old Nanliao Fishing Harbor, the 17 KM Coastline Scenic Area (17公里海岸風景區)
From the Longfeng Harbour Fish Market, the Zhunan Seaside Natural Park （竹南海濱自然公園）
These detours made the ride a lot more interesting, with long stretches of shady tree-covered paths and ocean views from seawalls.
We made it to Hsinchu around 1 pm, and stopped at a 7-11 to get water and a light lunch. We didn’t have any plans for where we were going to stay tonight, and on Google maps it looked like most of the hotel options would require us to ride into Miaoli city. But there was one choice that said it was a Bed and Breakfast called Xinyuan Hostel in Baishatun for USD125/night. It sounded a little pricey, but it was on our route and we wouldn’t have to waste time in the morning getting back on the Island 1-1 route. So I called and the owner said they had two rooms, and we could get them for NTD 1,500 each - so only USD 50.
We got to Baishatun around 4:30 and stopped at a 7-11 to stock up on water and snacks for the evening. We met a couple of guys who were also doing a round-the-island loop - one from Taiwan and one from Japan. They had started in Taipei and were going on to Taichung - so they had another 50 km to go. Nice guys, but the Taiwan guy kind of went out of his way to make a point that (a) we were carrying more stuff than them and (b) there was still daylight, so why were we stopping so early?
The hotel was just a couple of kilometers up the road from the 7-11, and the owner and her dog (a bull terrier) were there when we arrived. We were able to pay using our foreign credit cards, and the rooms were large and clean and came with a big living room. The hotel is clearly a passion project for the owner - she told us she painted the walls herself (Gerrit had pandas, I had flowers). We were the only ones there when we arrived, but later a group of Taiwanese riders came in - the owner said they were just staying until midnight, at which point they plan to ride down Pingtung - about 300 km away.
After taking a shower we walked a couple of hundred meters down to a restaurant the hotel owner recommended - a corrugated metal shack with concrete floors called “Mainlander’s Beef Noodles” (白沙屯外省牛肉麵). It was busy, which was a good sign. We got two Taiwan beers, two large bowls of beef noodles, and 10 pork/chive dumplings. Maybe it was because I was starving, but it was some of the best food I can remember having in a while. The beef noodles were particularly interesting - seems like they had flavored them with cloves. The owner came over and gave us jars of their homemade pickled radishes and spicy black bean sauce.
We got back to the room around 7:00.
Day 2 - November 6, Tuesday: Baishatun to Mailiao
133 Km, 8 hours
Places We Visited
Yuangang Coast Park (苑港濱海公園)
Guikeshengtai Park (龜殼生態公園)
Gaomei Wetlands (高美腳踏車道)
Had a good night’s sleep last night. No major aches and pains. Went to sleep around 10:30 and woke up just before 6:00. Made some instant coffee and did some emails until 6:45, and then Gerrit and I loaded up the bikes. We took a picture in front of the hotel, and then rode to the 7-11 up the street to have breakfast.
It looked like we would have good weather, and while I couldn’t complain because it didn’t rain, it was very humid and hazy almost the entire day. You could see blue sky if you looked straight up, but that was about it.
The ride was flat, with headwinds and tailwinds. Before lunch we tried to avoid the expressway (61) and the highway (17). So we ended up zig-zagging from coastal paths to inland streets.
It was nice to see the ocean and parts of rural Taiwan, but the haze made it impossible to take any good pictures. Anyway, there wasn’t much worth photographing - just long stretches of seawall, farms, and the wind turbines. The Gaomei Wetlands were particularly disappointing - seemed like all we could do was ride around the outside. Seemed poorly maintained, if not abandoned. The only really interesting sight of the day was when we saw a pack of dogs playing in the ocean. The tide was out and they had run a couple hundred yards out into the water. They seemed to be doing it just for fun.
By lunch time we were concerned about not making enough distance, and anyway the detours hadn’t been providing much of a payoff. Also, there didn’t seem to be a lot of hotel options, judging by Google Maps. So after lunch at around 1:00 at a 7-11 in Lukang, we got back onto Highway 17 and focused on maintaining a steady pace. Gerrit had an odometer on his bike, and according to him we were doing around 15 m/h. As a result we were able to cover the 30 or so miles from Lukang to Mailiao in just over 2 hours. But the ride was either on or right next to the expressway, and there were a lot of large trucks and stoplights. Not very pleasant riding, and not much worth seeing.
We checked into a hotel I found on Google Maps - the Yundu Business Hotel (雲都商務飯店) - it was actually the only hotel I could find on Google Maps in the area. Going by Google Maps, the next hotel after this was going to be another 20 miles down the road, and both of us were pretty exhausted. Interestingly, as we rode into Mailiao I did spot a few “motels” that looked like they might have been alright. But all things considered I was really happy with our hotel - very large clean rooms with strong air conditioning and HBO/CNN.
After getting cleaned up and washing my clothes, Gerrit and I walked around town a bit and then went for dinner - Taichuan Farm’s Lurou Fan. Basically braised pork and rice with some vegetables, tofu, and pickled radish. The restaurant had a big poster with a picture of a pig talking about how they raise them - it said “Pigs who grow up listening to music are the luckiest pigs.” Can’t say I’d disagree.
After dinner we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.
Day 3 - November 7, Wednesday: Mailiao to Tainan
112 km, 8 hours
Places We Visited
Glass High-Heeled Shoe Wedding Church
Anping Old Street
Fort Provintia / Chihkan Tower
We met downstairs for the hotel’s free breakfast at 7:00 - fried eggs, hash browns, and coffee. We checked out and stopped by the 7-11 to get water, and were on the road shortly before 8 am.
It was incredibly hazy/foggy when we started - bad enough that I turned on my rear light so oncoming cars could see us. But other than haze, the morning ride was very pleasant - flat with a slight tail wind. We were able to ride side-by-side and talk while still doing about 15 mph.
We rode for 2 ½ hours, only stopping a couple of times for water breaks. As a result, we were able to cover 30 miles and made it to our first photo op around 10:30 - the 17 meter Glass High Heeled Shoe Church! We had the whole place to ourselves, with the only other occupant on the grounds being a dog. We took some pictures and then made a stop at a 7-11. There we ran into a woman who had passed us just was we were leaving Mailiao. She said today was her last day - she had done a round-the-island ride starting from Tainan. She said that her group (which we hadn’t seen) had had rain 7 out of the 10 days, and that the winds around Kenting were so bad they had to stop riding and put their bikes on a truck.
We had about 30 more miles to go to get to Tainan, and again the ride was very flat and we had a tail wind most of the time. We stopped at 1:00 at a 7-11 for lunch, and again an hour later to take pictures of water birds. But otherwise we just cranked along, mostly riding side-by-side and talking.
Just before arriving in Tainan we rode through the Taijiang National Park (台江國家公園). The streets were wide and there was no traffic, but there also didn’t seem to be that much to see.
We made it to our first stop in Tainan around 3:00 - Fort Zeelandia, Grand Matzu Temple, and Anping Old Street. We walked around for about ½ hour, and then rode into downtown Tainan.
We checked into the Cambridge Hotel - very nice, large, and clean rooms - NTD 1,600 each. They even let us bring our bikes to our rooms.
After cleaning up we visited Fort Provintia, and then walked over to what we thought was going to be the Garden Night Market. Unfortunately it wasn’t open today, so on the walk back we stopped at a seafood place and had sardines, clams, and steamed fish.
We were still hungry after that, so walking back towards the hotel we stopped at a shop that specialized in Ta-a noodles - a local Tainan specialty. Finally, we stopped again at Fort Provincia, where there was a live performance going on. People there said they do that every Weds-Sun, 7:30 to 8:30, and its different performers every night. Tonight it was a woman singing Taiwanese pop songs, and three women dressed in kimono doing some kind of Japanese fan dance.
Day 4 - November 8, Thursday: Tainan to Fangshan
120 km, 7.20 hours
Places We Visited
Lotus Pond Park
We got started with breakfast in the hotel at 6:30 - a pretty large buffet - but didn’t get on the road until almost 8:00. Getting out of Tainan wasn’t very pleasant - lots of stoplights and scooters.
The ride today was generally flat and we mostly had tailwinds. Unfortunately it was difficult to enjoy the otherwise excellent conditions because of the pollution and haze. The AQI was over 150 most of the day - a typical Beijing day, when I wouldn’t normally exercise outside and would turn on the air purifiers inside. It was bad enough that at one intersection a girl on a scooter spoke to Gerrit in English and said “You should wear a mask.” I tried to keep focusing on the positive - it wasn’t raining - but it was hard to not feel a bit like I’d been cheated.
It also didn’t help that most of the areas we rode through were heavily industrial - steel plants, refineries, factories . . . .
There were a few photo-worthy moments. Early in the ride we got on a sea wall and came across a large ship that had been wrecked and washed up on shore. It looks like it was the one reported here - https://shipwrecklog.com/log/2018/08/seven-aground-off-kaohsiung/.
Not long after that we stopped at the Jiading Wetlands to photograph some birds. I got some nice shots of some Black Faced Spoonbills. I can imagine this place would be terrific when there’s less pollution - there were several observation towers.
Next we arrived at the Lotus Pond park on the outskirts of Kaohsiung. It might have been a good place for photos, but the pollution was so bad it washed everything out.
We tried to avoid as much of Kaohsiung as possible by riding along the Love River. Again, it would probably have provided some good photo opportunities, but it was just too hazy. Eventually we had to go through downtown Kaohsiung, which wasn’t particularly pleasant - more stoplights and scooters.
We had lunch around 1:00 at a convenience store in a small town called Linyuan, and I called ahead to the “Tiny Greece” hotel (南方驛站小希臘) located just south of Fangshan to make a reservation. We took off around 1:45 and just put our heads down and rode, and eventually got to the hotel around 4:00. As we approached Fangshan the surroundings changed pretty dramatically - we could see mountains on left and the ocean on the right, and there were a lot fewer signs of industry.
The hotel is quite nice - very simple but clean and sits right on the ocean. We could have seen the sunset - the haze had greatly diminished, but it was very cloudy on the horizon.
After cleaning up we had dinner at the hotel around 5:30 (they stopped serving at 6:00) - mackerel with rice. I was expecting something simple, but it turned out to be a very nicely prepared meal with dragon fruit, vegetables, and soup.
After dinner I came upstairs and did laundry, and worked on my photos.
Day 5 - November 9, Friday: Fangshan to Manzhou (Kenting)
80 km, 7.5 hours
Places We Visited
White Sand Bay (墾丁白沙灣海灘)
Eluanbi Lighthouse (鵝鑾鼻燈塔)
Southernmost Point of Taiwan (臺灣最南點碑)
Longpan Park (龍磐公園)
Someone must have heard my complaints about the pollution and haze yesterday, because this morning the skies were clear with scattered clouds and there was no haze whatsoever. I woke up at six and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I went out and took some pictures of the sunrise. Our hotel had a gorgeous view of the ocean and mountains.
I met Gerrit for breakfast at 7:00 and we took our time and took some more pictures of the ocean, so we didn’t get on the road until about 8:15. We rode about a half mile down to a 7-11 to get some cash from the ATM (our hotels last night and tonight only took cash). So we didn’t really begin riding in earnest until about 9:00.
The ride for the next several hours was beautiful. Gradual ups and downs, with a mix of light headwinds and tailwinds - Gerrit said on one downhill where we had a tailwind we got to just over 40 kph. There were lots of nice views of the ocean and even a couple of white sand beaches, so we stopped quite a few times, which slowed us down, but we were only planning to do about 80 km today.
After stopping for lunch at a 7-11 across the street from one of the white sand beaches, the climbs got steeper and the headwinds got stronger.
We reached the southernmost point of Taiwan around 2:00. We had originally thought we could easily get from there to the Eluanbi Lighthouse -the second lighthouse on our checklist of four (one for each of the cardinal directions). But we were misled by Google Maps, which showed we could get there from the same parking lot as the southernmost point of Taiwan. But instead we had to backtrack to ride down the steepest slope we’d had so far to get back to another parking lot to get into the park where the lighthouse was. We rode back down, and it turns out that the entire setup was designed to force tourists to walk past a few dozen tourist trap shops to get to the ticket gate - shops they could avoid if the back gate to the park had a ticket booth.
After leaving the lighthouse we only had about 10 more kilometers to go to get to the hotel we’re staying at, which I thought would be easy. Instead, it was almost all uphill with really strong headwinds. But on the plus side we had some really beautiful views of the ocean and the green mountains.
We got to the hotel at almost exactly 4:00. It turned out the hotel didn’t serve dinner, and it was in a tiny little fishing village with no restaurants and no convenience stores. The only thing they had was a small (like just a few square feet) mom-and-pop shop selling some soda and instant ramen. So we bought some stuff for dinner in the room. The good news is the rooms were pretty opulent - very large, modern, and clean with a big bathtub and shower. Definitely worth the NTD 2,000.
I did some laundry, took a shower, ate my ramen, and did some emails.
Day 6 - November 10, Saturday: Manzhou to Tamali
106 km, 9.5 hours
Places We Visited
Jiupeng Dunes (九棚港仔大沙漠)
Man, what a day! This was our longest day so far - not in terms of distance, but in terms of time - we left the hotel at 7:00 this morning and didn’t get to our hotel until almost 5:00 this evening - over 9:30 hours riding. To make matters worse, a lot of that was against strong headwinds, in bad traffic (including a lot of construction), and uphill. One of the climbs was over 20 kms (12 miles) straight up, going from sea level up to 460 meters (over 1,500 feet). According to Google maps, the route we took actually required 631 meters (2,000 feet) of climbing (with 173 meters of descent scattered in there).
So its no surprise we covered less distance than the days we were riding flat. Nor am I surprised at how tired and sore I am.
There was little wind while we were climbing, which was a blessing. But along the coast it blew so hard sometimes I would almost come to a stop even when I was going downhill. Thankfully Gerrit let me draft off him for much of the way.
On the plus side, we should be through the worst of the climbing and wind. And to be honest, after hearing all the stories from other people (one woman said the wind was so bad they had to stop riding and put their bikes on a bus) I had expected worse. It made for a hard slog at some points, but at no point did I feel like I needed to quit.
Having said that, the ride is starting to wear us both down. Gerrit is having chaffing and back issues, and my knee is starting to act up - I could hear it clicking while I was riding this afternoon, and I can hear it grind when I move it now.
But there was a lot to enjoy on today’s ride. The weather was partly to mostly cloudy, so it made both for good pictures and it wasn’t too hot. During the first part of our ride this morning we had generally gentle climbs through green sparsely populated valleys. There was little traffic so Gerrit and I rode side-by-side talking..
We stopped three times because we saw monkeys - at one point an enormous one ran crossed the street in front of Gerrit as he was riding. I was able to get pictures of several of them.
Our first planned stop of the day came around 11:00, when we reached the Jiupeng Dunes - the largest in Taiwan. After that it was a relaxing ride along the coast - just a little headwind and a few easy climbs. We had some really nice vistas of mountains and turquoise waters, with pretty consistent shoulders to ride on.
Then we began the aforementioned 20 km climb. Not only was the ascent brutal (for me, anyway, Gerrit made it look easy), but it was made more dangerous because there was a “Hood to Coast” relay race going on on the same road (its a copy of an original race that takes place in Oregon). So not only did we have to deal with the regular tourist buses, cars, and people bombing along the 1 ½ lane road on scooters and motorcycles, there was additionally a large number of runners, each of whom had a support vehicle to carry the rest of the team. We both made it to the top unscathed, but I passed one accident where a scooter driver and car had collided.
After the climb it was 10 km straight down to sea level again, which as also pretty exhausting and harrowing because of the tight turns and heavy traffic.
We stopped at 7-11 at the bottom of the descent at 2:00 for lunch, and I began to look for a hotel that was about 2 hours away. The first one I called was full, and the second one had only one room - so Gerrit and I were roommates.
The wind picked up again when we got back to the coast, and with a few miles we ran into heavy construction - traffic was being held up 10-15 minutes while the oncoming cars used the one lane. We waited at the front of the line, and when it was our turn to go we were climbing again while sharing the one lane with enormous semis and tour buses.
Eventually the road widened to 2 lanes, but there still almost no shoulder. Finally it widened to 4 lanes with a decent shoulder. The wind was still pretty bad, but not as bad as it had been in the morning. The route hugged the coast until we got to Tamali - low mountains to our left and ocean on the right. Pleasant, but not very photogenic - I actually went for 2 hours without taking any photos.
We got to our hotel around 5:00, and it was a great place - the Sanhe Hostel (http://www.sanheminsu.com/). It was run by a nice couple (wife Taiwanese, husband Japanese) in their 60’s who seem to really like to cater to cyclists. Another group arrived shortly after us. They offered to do our laundry - no charge. They even have a public hot springs bath area - three different pools with different temperatures. I started out in the 40 degree pool, then moved to the 45 degree pool, then cooled off a bit in the 30 degree pool, then did another soak in the 45 degree pool. A really great way to wind down after a long day!
Day 7 - November 11, Sunday: Tamali to Chenggong
101 km, 10 hours
Places We Visited
Little Yehliu (小野柳)
Water running uphill (水往上流遊憩區)
Sanxiantai Bridge (三仙台跨海步橋)
I woke up around 6:00 and I took some pictures of the sun rising over a big bridge. I hung out on the balcony until around 6:30, and then I woke Gerrit up. We went downstairs around 7:00 and the owners had ham and egg sandwiches for us for breakfast - they also gave us some grapes and something that tasted like a smooth grapefruit. After eating and getting ready, we were on the road by 8:00.
The first couple of hours went very quickly - it was cool with a scattering of clouds, and we had light head and tail winds. There were a couple of very steep climbs, and Gerrit had to wait for me quite a bit.
Our first stop was kind of accidental - I was riding along and saw signs for "Little Yehliu," and I remembered hearing about it, so I pulled over. Gerrit was ahead of me, so I sent him a message letting him know where I was, and he rode back. It was worth stopping, and we spent about an hour taking pictures of the rock formations by the sea.
After that it was a short ride (about 1 mile) to the next stop - Jialulan - an ocean scenic view enhanced by some sculptures and other artworks.
About 6 miles later we got the next site - a place where folks created an optical illusion that makes it look like water is flowing uphill. Sounds kitschy, but it actually really did look like water was flowing uphill! Pictures don't do it justice.
After leaving there we tried to ride hard for a bit, but around 1:30 as we stopped at a scenic overlook Gerrit needed to lie down because he was feeling overheated. So we rested there for about 20 minutes, and then rode down about 2 1/2 miles to a 7-11 for lunch. The 7-11 was in a town that seemed to be dedicated to surfing - there were a lot of foreigners, all of whom were extremely tanned and dressed in surfer clothes. Even the 7-11 had a surfer motif.
We got back on the road around 2:45 and had relatively flat roads and light winds, winding between green mountains and the turquoise ocean. We moved from the highway to country roads, and then eventually to what appeared on Google Maps as a dotted green line - it turned out to be a really nice shady asphalt path that took us directly to our final destination of the day - the Sanxiantai Bridge. We spent about an hour there taking pictures, and the road about 1/2 mile to our hotel - the oddly-named Pisirian (比西里岸露營/渡假小木屋).
The good news was it was a really quirky place with a really nice owner. The rooms were in what looks like a brand new wooden structure, and they actually still smelled like fresh wood inside. They had balconies facing the ocean, cable TV, and nice showers. The only downside is it didn't have any kind of Internet connection.
Another inconvenience is the part of town we were in had nowhere to get dinner. Fortunately the hotel owner also ran a convenient store, so we got some instant noodles and Taiwan beer and ate in her shop.
After dinner we went back to our respective rooms.
Day 8 - November 12, Monday: Chenggong to Hualian
117 km, 8.5 hours
Places We Visited
Xinshe Rice Terrace (新社梯田)
Tropic of Cancer Marker
Hualien Tungtamen Night Market (花蓮東大門觀光夜市)
The day started out early - I woke up around 5:00 and couldn’t go back to sleep. I got dressed and walked by the two dogs sleeping in the street to get up on the ocean wall and saw one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen. Gerrit joined me and we got great photos of the sun rising over the Sanxiantai bridge!
After the sunrise was over we went back to our rooms to get ready to ride. The hotel didn’t provide breakfast, so I had a couple pineapple cakes I’d bought the night before and some instant coffee.
We got on the road around 7:40 and the first part of the ride was perfect - relatively flat, with little wind and cool temperatures and mostly overcast skies. We hugged the coast, with green mountains towering to our left side. We rode comfortably for about three hours, stopping occasionally to take pictures. Our only real detour was a slight turn off at Shihtiping. We rode around and took some pictures there for about 45 minutes.
There wasn’t much in the way of food options for the first 4 hours, and when we finally did get to a 7-11 at around noon I checked the map and saw the next one was almost 20 miles away. So we stopped for lunch. As we were eating a group of election campaign cars passed by and folks across the street set off a bunch of fireworks - very loud.
After lunch we rode for another 5 miles or so and got to the Xin She Rice Terraces (https://www.rtaiwanr.com/east-coast/xinshe-coastal-rice-terraces). The photos I’d seen online were beautiful, but unfortunately it wasn’t planting season, so they were just mud. We did get some pictures of some interesting roadside art there.
The next 3 hours had beautiful scenery - plunging gorges and vast mountain vistas - but also a lot of climbing. We were sharing the road with a group of cyclists that we had seen the day before - Taiwan and Hong Kong cyclists going around the island. They were in somewhat different circumstance from us, as they were fully supported - they didn’t have to carry anything. A van followed them carrying food and water. They would pass me on the uphills, but then I would pass them on the downhills and flats.
The climbing was really exhausting, which made it even more frustrating when my chain jumped the gears about ½ hour outside of our final destination - Hualian. It was jammed between my frame and the gear ring and I couldn’t get it out, so I pinged Gerrit (who had ridden ahead) and took off all the panniers and flipped it upside down. Gerrit came back, but before he got to me three Taiwanese guys in a truck pulled over and offered to help fix it or, barring that, give me a ride into Hualian. They were more enthusiastic than knowledgeable, and as they were jamming in screwdrivers and twisting bolts with needle-nose pliers, I was afraid they would damage the bike. I finally convinced them to let Gerrit give it a shot, and he fixed it easily in less than a minute. After thanking the guys for help, we got on the way again and made it to our first choice hotel around 4:15.
After resting and cleaning up we walked across the street to the Dongdamen Night market. Its not really like a traditional night market - more like county fair. But it had lots of options for local food, and Gerrit tried stinky tofu, Taiwan sausage, local seafood, and an oyster omelet.
Day 9 - November 13, Tuesday: Hualien to Nanao
82 km, 6.74 hours
Got woken up around 5:30 this morning hearing monks chanting at the temple up the street from our hotel. But Gerrit and I had agreed we wouldn’t meet up until 7:00, so I caught up on emails and worked on my photos and went over our route for the day. We decided to have breakfast at the hotel, and it didn’t start until 7:30, so by the time we finished eating and got ready, it was almost 8:30. But we were glad to be able to ride at all - the forecast had predicted rain starting this morning, but the sky was blue with just a little overcast.
The first couple of hours were extremely pleasant - nice shoulder on the road, cool temperatures, no wind, mostly flat. We even had a nice section of bike paths that cut through some shaded woods and then took us along a beach. Around 10:30, however, we started to climb, and the rest of the day was pretty miserable. First of all there was the climbing - we went from sea level to 1,000 feet in just about 45 minutes. I was cranking along in my lowest gear - I even passed another cyclist who had given up and was just pushing his bike up the road.
That would have been bad enough, but it wasn’t like we could just climb and then enjoy a relaxing stretch of flat road. There continued to be climbs and descents for the rest of the day. According to Google maps on that stretch alone we climbed over 2,200 feet descended over 1,700 feet between 10:30 and when we finally stopped at around 2:00. In many places there was also a serious headwind that was so strong that sometimes I was forced to peddle hard even when I was going downhill.
The road conditions were also not as good as we’ve enjoyed previously, with many cases where there was no shoulder. Where there was a shoulder, it was often strewn with rocks and wood, forcing us back into the street. Also, there was a lot of construction going on the area, and so we were sharing the road with enormous tractor-trailer trucks hauling gravel. To make matters worse, there were about 9 tunnels, a couple almost a kilometer long. Going through those was pretty terrifying between the lack of a shoulder, reflectors sticking out of the walls, poor lighting, water dripping from the ceiling, and the noise of enormous trucks and buses screaming in my ears. At one point I heard the sound of a large truck behind me, and so I quickly pulled over into an alcove where the road widened an extra couple of feet and leaned up against the wall. It turned out it wasn’t one truck but an entire convoy of trucks and buses. So I was stuck there for almost three minutes (but it felt a lot longer). I was finally able to start riding when a smaller truck slowed down and the driver waved me into the road. I rode down the middle of the lane as fast as I could for the remaining 500 meters in the tunnel, and the driver kindly let me set the pace.
Gerrit and I were mentally and physically wiped out by the time we got to Nanao and had lunch. We knew there was no way we could follow our original plan of getting to Yilan today, as there were two more sections with 300 - 400 meter ascents between here and there. Furthermore, it had finally started to drizzle.
We checked into a hostel I found on Google Maps around 3:00. It was run by a young couple, and once again it was quirky - the rooms all face a courtyard with plants growing everywhere: grape vines, a banana tree. The rooms were very small and basic - plain concrete walls painted white, small bathroom, no natural light. But they had air conditioning and wifi, and they were clean and well lit. They were also the cheapest we’d had on the trip - only 800 NTD (about 25 USD).
About ½ hour after checking in it began raining. I did some emails and worked on photos and took a nap until around 6:30. The rain had stopped, so we walked about ½ hour down to the local port where the owner said there might be stalls cooking freshly caught seafood. But there was nothing open so we walked back and found a seafood place near our hotel - fish, shrimp, and stir-fried cabbage.
Day 10 - November 14, Wednesday: Suao to Keelung
112 km (bike) 17 km (train), 7.5 hours (bike) ½ hour (train)
Places We Visited
Sandiaojiao Lighthouse (三貂角燈塔)
Keelung Night Market (基隆廟口夜市)
When we woke up this morning it was drizzling, and so based on the difficult conditions we’d experienced yesterday we decided to skip the roads between Nanao and Suao. We had heard that, if anything, they were worse than the roads from Hualian to Nanao - very curvy with little to no shoulder and lots of truck traffic. Also there was another big tunnel between Nanao and Dongao, and we didn’t want to deal with another long and dangerous set of tunnels if we could avoid it. Also there were supposed to be two big climbs - one from 0 to 900 feet and another from 0 to 1,200, which would have really taxed me.
So given all that we decided discretion was the better part of valor, and around 7:00 we rode to the Nanao train station and bought tickets for the 8:32 train to Suao. It was the earliest train that would allow us to bring our bikes on without a bag, and the total cost for both of us was just 84 NTD (USD 3.00).
We had some time to kill, so we went to a 7-11 and had some breakfast. We got on the train, but just barely - there was an enormous crowd of grade school children, every one of whom had roll-on luggage.
After a crowded ride we got to Suao around 9:00 and on the road around 9:30.
The ride for most of the day was, for lack of a better word, disappointing. There was thick cloud cover all day, so it felt like dusk the entire ride. It was misting much of the day, and sometimes it rained hard enough that we had to put our rain jackets on.
Still, the ride was relatively flat, and the wind wasn’t too bad, so we made good time. Also, we stopped at the Sandiaojiao Lighthouse (https://eng.taiwan.net.tw/m1.aspx?sNo=0002091&id=760) , which sits on a hill on the easternmost point in Taiwan. I made the 10 minute climb up the stairs to see it. Gerrit decided to take a pass and waited with the bikes.
We got into Keelung and checked into our hotel around 5:00. It was a nice modern place, and the most expensive we’ve stayed in on the trip - 2,400 NTD (USD 77 USD). I mainly got it for the location - right in the middle of Keelung’s night market (http://tour.klcg.gov.tw/en/dining/miaokou/).
After cleaning up Gerrit and I hit the market for dinner. We started with Lurou Fan -braised pork and rice, which Gerrit wolfed down in about 3 minutes. A good sign. Next we tried a traditional Taiwan “bento box” (biandang) - rice, goose meat, tofu, bamboo shoots, a hard boiled egg, and some boiled bok choi - all for 80 NTD (USD 2.80) each.
After that we were completely stuffed, so we came back to the hotel.
Day 11 - November 15, Thursday: Keelung to Taipei
73 km, 6.5 hours
Places We Visited
Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園)
Shimen Bridge (石門拱橋)
Shimen Arch (石門洞)
Fuguijiao Lighthouse (富貴角燈塔)
Baishawan Beach (白沙湾)
Got up around 7:00 and ate breakfast at the hotel. We didn’t have far to ride today, so we took our time getting ready. We got on the road around 8:30 and after about ½ hour we were out of Keelung’s traffic and riding on a very nice bike path that hugged the coast. It was mostly cloudy and cool.
We got to our first planned stop - Yehliu - around 9:30. I had been looking forward to this, as its supposed to be a great place for photography. I was also hoping it wouldn’t be too busy this early on a weekday. Unfortunately it was already extremely crowded. Also, there was no way we could get in with our bikes. Finally, there was no way to get in at all with running a 100 meter gauntlet of tourist trap stalls. We weren’t comfortable leaving our bikes and gear alone, so in order for both of us to we’d have to take turns. I don’t know if it was because it was the last day and we were both eager to complete the trip, but we both decided to just view it from the adjoining sea wall and then ride on.
We rode around the neighboring fishing pier and then got back on the road. The sky began clearing up, and an hour later we arrived at the Shimen bridge. Its not much - a large tidal area easily accessible from the beach, with a small bridge-to-nowhere that either enhances or detracts from the natural beauty (depending on how you feel about such things). I was glad to stop because I got some nice photos of some birds, and it offered a nice view of our next stop - the Fuguijiao Lighthouse.
We stopped again just a few minutes up the road at the Shimen Arch. Its a small but picturesque natural stone arch next to the road by the ocean. We got our picture taken by some other cyclists who sounded like they were from Hong Kong.
Around 11:00 we arrived at the last major tourist attraction on the trip - the Fuguijiao Lighthouse. We were able to ride our bikes right up to the lighthouse, though in some spots the trail was a bit rough and broken. We took some selfies there and then got back on the road.
Around 11:30 we decided to stop for lunch. It was a bit early, but we had arrived at Baishawan beach, and I knew there was a nice place to eat there and watch what was going on on the beach. Even though it was a weekday there was a lot going on - several surfers, as well as a windsurfer and a kite surfer. We weren’t in any hurry, as I knew from previous rides that we only had a couple more hours of easy biking left, so we spent over an hour there eating and then taking photos of the various surfing activities.
We got back on the road around 1:00 and rode until we got to Danshui. We rode around the area behind Fort San Domingo and thought about going in, but it wasn’t possible to bring our bikes inside, and like with Yehliu, we were both kind of eager to finish the ride. So we rode through the Danshui wharf, up the bike path along the river, over the Bali Bridge, and finally back to the apartment.