Feeling a little worse for wear after a night of Taiwanese liquor with our lovely hosts, we set off into Yilan for an easy days ride. It was warm despite the misty rain, and we cycled through the city to Jiaoxi, a hot spring town. We set up camp at the local hot spring site, and went into town to explore, use one of the free foot hot springs scattered across the town, and try peanut-chilli ice cream which was delicious! That evening we had a hour in a private hot spring, giving our muscles a good soaking.
From Jiaoxi we climbed a road with 18 hairpins to Pinglin, a hilly, forestry district where lots of tea is grown. It started raining heavily at lunch, and didn’t stop for the next 4 days. We had two bigish climbs, at the top of the second it grew so misty we couldn’t see anything, but the green hills felt quite magical in the rain. We dropped into Pingxi valley and reached Shifen, where tons of tourists were setting off lanterns from the old street. Unfortunately we later noticed a ton of lanterns stuck in trees and littering the forest.
We found shelter from the rain in a pagoda next to a shrine where we camped for the night, snug and dry. Then continued on towards the coast, a steep climb and descent on a tiny backroad took us to a gorgeous valley, following a huge river and loads of rock formations, to Houtong cat village. The rain meant we didn’t see as many cats as we were hoping, but we still met a few as we wandered round the abandoned village. Then we found a nice cycle path to take us to the climb to Jiufen. The climb was steep, but needed to warm up cold fingers and toes. Jiufen is an amazing town on a steep hill, with all the streets on different levels. We climbed up to Jiufen old street, which was busy and bustling with busy food stalls along a thin but long alley. It was the inspiration for the scene in Spirited Away where the village comes alive in the evening with food stalls.
After our lunchtime noodles we dropped down to the coast, and followed the road hugging the rocky shoreline to Keelung. We spent the night in a hotel trying to get dry, and found a great canteen and bakery for dinner and pudding.
On the third rainy day we just followed the 2 around the northern cape of Taiwan. The beaches here are not for swimming, but are intensely beautiful, especially when the waves are huge as it was so stormy. The road really hugged the beaches, and steep hills rose sharply from the road. We took a little detour to the most northerly point of taiwan, at Fuguijiao lighthouse, and despite the rain had a really fun day. Once everything is soaked, as has been for a few days, it doesn’t seem to be a bother. We found another hostel in Tamsui, but still had no luck with drying the shoes.
After taking full advantage of the included breakfast toast bar, we braved the fourth day of rain and cycled along lovely segregated cycle paths, along the river and through mangrove swamps and beautiful parks, into Taipei. We found our Airbnb, washed our clothes (finally!) and got settled for a couple of days being tourists. Our host loaned us an umbrella and we found another good canteen and bakery nearby – these are the nicest and cheapest places to eat out in Taiwan!
On the last and 5th rainy day, we walked around alot in Central Taipei, seeing lots of tourist attractions, such as the changing of the guard at Chiang Kai-Shek (accidently happened to be there at the right time) and the National Taiwan Museum, and checking out some of the fixed-gear bike shops. We also tried some of the Lonely Planet recommended cheap eats, including the Lan Jia Bao shop which provided us with delicious pork bao for lunch.
The rain had very nearly stopped, and we spent our last full day in Taipei at Taipei Zoo. We saw so many awsome animals, including pandas, and you could get really close to the animals. It was super cheap (£1.50 each) and a great way to spend a day. We followed this with a quick trip to Taipei 101, which had a super fancy mall at the bottom, and was too expensive for us to bother going up to the top. We just enjoyed looking at the world’s 10th tallest building from outside. Then we (shamefully) went to Pizza Hut for the buffet and ate SO much we felt sick, and could barely manage staggering home. Terrible but they did have lots of different-than-the-UK pizza toppings. I’m getting quite sad because we are nearing the end of Taiwan, and once we fly to Istanbul it is going to be the last leg of our trip. We still have 3 months but it feels like it’s nearly over!
Jim’s words – Spring, Lantern, Cats, Stormy, Sodden, Taipei and Zoo.