Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cycling around Taiwan: Prologue

Taiwan is an island. So is Australia. One day I'd like to ride all the way around Australia but right now I don't have the essential luxuries I need to attempt that. However, Taiwan is much smaller and cycling all the way around it is much cheaper and won't take six months. In fact, depending on how fast you are able to cycle (which in turn depends on things like your physical condition, the weather, what kind of bicycle you have and how much gear you need to take with you) you could cycle around Taiwan in as few as four days. You might be able to do it in fewer days but I don't know what the record is. However, most average people attempting this feat will probably take around 7-14 days.

It would be a terrible shame for someone who loves riding their bicycle (i.e., me) to have lived in Taiwan and not spent a long week just traveling around the country only as fast as their two legs carried them on two wheels. The island really does offer a diverse landscape of different terrains, climates, local specialty foods, cultures, and random encounters with its inhabitants. My desire became a reality in February and March of this year when I cycled with my two friends, John and Andrea, around the country. Our big break came with the Chinese New Year vacation of 2010. We were all freed from our employment obligations for two weeks; Good time in which to make the most of brakes, chains, gear levers, handlebars, pedals, spokes, tires, and saddles. We started out from our home base in the city of Tainan on the south-western coast on the 9th of February and started cycling anti-clockwise around the island. Unfortunately a series of three cold fronts was on the way and it was only a matter of time before their paths crossed with ours. After three days of wind and rain we were forced to abort our peregrination in Hsinchu, within one or two days of Tainan. We were despondent.

Almost one month later we were in Hsinchu again, setting off to complete our circumnavigation of Taiwan. We rode all through the night and into the morning until once again we were standing outside our apartment building having our photo taken by one of the security guards: A 'finished' photo to mate with our 'before' photo. The photo showed the three of us looking more or less the same as we had over five weeks earlier. What it failed to capture was how we had been enriched by our experiences: the people we had met, the time we friends had spent together, and all the beauty of this remarkable place that we had been steeped in.

This series of thirteen posts and the accompanying map at Bikemap.com describe our journey. We hope that it may inspire other ordinary people wanting to experience something extraordinary.

My friends on this journey:

The beautiful and very capable Andrea.

The dashing and charismatic John.

Me. That was a stupid idea.


  • John has also blogged this trip although he has included edited video sequences on his page here.
  • I have retraced our route and left remarks and photos on the Bikemap website here.
  • I have written up some useful advice for anybody touring around Taiwan by bicycle. You can find that information on my page about cycling in Taiwan.

On the eve of the first day of the big ride, I do some last-minute packing in our living area.


Anonymous said...

thank you for this post and all the info! I first heard of the idea of cycling around Taiwan 12 years ago and I'm finally planning on doing it this March. I'm not a super cyclist, but just relatively fit and pretty adventurous. I think your info will help me heaps!! Cheers, Julie

straunchie said...

this travelblog is amazing. I am cycling along the hualien-taitung coastline from for 4 days - really taking our time compared to you! i just hope the weather doesnt send us home like your round 1 trip
ps. i'm an aussie, too!

Adrian Brown said...

Wow, thanks for your positive feedback guys. I really appreciate it. I wish I could go back and do that trip all over again. Alas, we have relocated to Australia so our cycle trips will be a bit different from now on.

steven said...

I am from Singapore and is planning to cycle around Taiwan in Oct/Nov.
From the photo of a "No entry for bike" on your day 6, I can see that you are entering a tunnel. I have heard of the danger of riding through tunnels.
Would appreciate it if you can share your experience on the safety aspect espically riding through tunnels.

Thanks, Steven

Adrian Brown said...

Hi Steven. I'm not sure I'm going to be much help here but I'll tell you what I think.

There were a few places on the east coast where there was no alternative to using the tunnels because of the geography of that side of the island and the difficulty in building roads in some places. We were going through them at just about the worst time of the year, at the start of the Chinese New Year holiday when there was a constant stream of traffic on one side of the road and the occasional driver would attempt to overtake even though there was no place to pull back into the column on vehicles further along.

Luckily, we were heading north so our side of the road was not too bad. Basically we would stop just outside the tunnel and prepare ourselves. We'd make sure we all had our lights on and that they were visible (you could even relocate your front light to the rear of your bike for extra visibility). The person with the best lights rode at the back. Then we'd wait until we couldn't see any more vehicles coming on our side of the road and enter the tunnel together in single file. We'd try to get through fast while remaining calm and looking ahead.

We survived but I admit that it was a little scary. I remember that after going through one tunnel we stopped at a convenience store down the road. Another foreigner stopped at the same store and we had a chat. He wanted to tell us to be careful and that earlier that day he had seen someone cycling through a tunnel get clipped by a car and knocked off their bicycle. Scary.

I guess that, ultimately, you make yourself as visible as possible, choose the right moment, then go for it and hope for the best.

Paul said...

Hey there - just read your awesome log on the round Taiwan trip (and I mean I read all the entries) - great blog. I am planning to circumnavigate Taiwan on a bicycle in a couple of weeks and was just wandering what your thoughts are on the Suhua highway between Hualien and Suao? Is it dangerous? I read there are fourteen tunnels but that some of them have elevated walkways - is that true? Anyway, I am excited to ride most of Taiwan (even Suhau for the sheer beauty of it) but this is the part that really concerns me. I guess there is no way round the tunnels. Any info/opinions would be great.

Also, do you have the name, contact details of the hotel you stayed in in Kenting. It looked awesome.

Adrian Brown said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for enjoying it. I'm in Canada for a while and, sadly, am finished in Taiwan but I will do my best to give you some help.

By the way, cycling all the way around Taiwan – one of the best experiences of my life.

That hotel in Kenting, don't know the name of it. Just got lucky and was approached on the street. It was a great hotel though. Had a look at pictures on the internet. Closest thing I could see was the Fu Bin hostel, but not really sure. It was weirdly down an unpromising-looking alley off the main street

About the tunnels on the east coast - I don't remember any elevated walkways. You must have read the comment I posted below which you replied. I think I would reiterate what I said there. There was no alternative to going through those tunnels as far as I remember. Are you going to be doing your trip during the Chinese New Year break? No, I guess that already happened (I do remember hearing about it here in Canada). I think you should be fine in the tunnels as long as you choose your moment and make yourself as visible as you can. Still a little scary though but you get a rush out of it. Beautiful trip. Terrible weather in the north-east. Great in the south-west. I'd be mindful of the direction of the prevailing winds when you plan your trip so that you cycle slower up the east coast and faster down the west.

Paul said...

Thanks for the tips Adrian. Much appreciated. I will let you know when I have finished. I will also do a write up on my blog :)

Paul said...

Hey Adrian - just finished my trip around Taiwan today - thanks for all your advice and suggestions - it was very useful - I rode Suhwa by myself and was fine through the tunnels (except when one bus nearly took me out). I personally thought the North East road was more dangerous (far narrower and crazier drivers). Anyway - it was a great experience and I did find a cheap hotel in Kending.

It was an awesome time - I am glad I did it - I will be posting some blogs on the trip at some point.