We were quite apprehensive about arriving in Taiwan. After such an easy time of everything in New Zealand, it felt quite scary going back to a country that had a language barrier. Both verbal and written. Everything we had read about cycling in Taiwan suggested we would get by just fine, but we felt like we had gotten totally out of practice during our 3 months in NZ.
Luckily are first night was with great Warmshowers hosts that spoke English and were into hiking and cycling, so we got loads of great advice and tips.
Once we set off we quickly got a feel for atmosphere and tempo of this small island. It felt like a cross between Vietnam and eastern Europe. The unmistakable sights and smells of Asia, but with the laid back attitudes and pace of somewhere like Slovenia. We also both had moments where we said we had forgotten we we’re in Asia. In Vietnam you always knew you we in Vietnam, but in Taiwan, especially in the more scenic and rural parts, you could quite easily be in Europe or Central Asia. And that was really nice.
Most cycling tours of Taiwan take place on the Route 1. A big loop of the island following the main roads near the coast. We decided to ignore this and thread our way between the large industrial cities of the West coast, and colossal towering mountains of the central regions. We prefer the mountains to the flat and it extended our route to fill out the 5 weeks (most people take 2 weeks to do route 1).
The mountains were great, long steady climbs on great tarmac, very reminiscent of the Alps, except surrounded by dense rainforest and the occasional glimpse of a Formosan Macaque. Due to unstable geology resulting in numerous landslides one of the cross Island highways was shut, this meant we could afford a couple of extra afternoons off exploring the towns and local night markets. These are a great way to try local food and see local and aboriginal crafts.
Our trip was rounded out with a couple of days in the bustle of Taipei doing plenty of touristy things. It made me realise just how few westerners we had seen around the rest of the island. Despite there being an almost constant flow of tourist buses going past us, seemingly they all were all Chinese tourists. It’s a real shame as Taiwan is a beautiful country with some absolutely breathtaking scenery, and an interesting history. It’s definitely not just Taipei. We said it a few times during our time there, and I think it is quite accurate, that in terms of cycle touring, Taiwan is Asia for beginners. It’s not without its challenges, but overall seemed less of a giant culture shock than at least Vietnam was. We would definitely recommend it to others, but don’t follow route 1, get into the mountains!
Taiwan in numbers;
Total distance – 1074 miles
Longest day – 60 miles
Shortest day – 8 miles
Highest point – 3252m
Most climbing in one day – 2791m
Night markets – 4
Pandas seen – 2
Dogs dressed as the Cat Bus – 2