Hugging the coast from Hualien to Taitung is Highway 11; one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the entire country. We had heard about the option of cycling Taiwan’s east coast a few years previous and had long wanted to do it and it looked like this was our chance. We had researched about the trip while we were checking out Taipei and we were all geared up to hop on some bikes!
Do you need cycling experience?
Let’s get one thing straight from the start; we are not cyclists, although we do enjoy spinning classes to keep fit. Yes, we can ride a bike, but we don’t ride bikes regularly and no we didn’t have a clue what we were getting ourselves in for. But sometimes that’s the best way, just jump in and give it a go! We committed to doing it and that was that, once we were on our bikes there was going to be no turning back.
Which route to take?
Which route you take will be your own choice of course but we chose to stick to Highway 11 as we wanted to hug Taiwan’s eastern coast for the duration of our journey. You can aslo head inland on Highway 9 to take in the East Rift Valley but beware that this route is more mountainous therefore tougher on the legs.
Giant Bicycles, right next to the train station in Hualien, rented bikes to us. Their English is limited but is more than enough to get you set up with what you need. For TWD$1,500 you can rent a bike for three days and it costs TWD$200 per day after that. Included are small rear panniers, a pump, multi-tool, a lock and front and rear lights. If you want to use a helmet consider bringing or buying your own as one was not provided. Our plan was to cycle to Taitung and drop the bikes back to their other shop there, which conveniently is also at the train station.
Transferring Your Luggage
We were worried what we were going to do with our big bags, as we knew we would be crippled trying to cycle for 170km with them on our backs! It was all very easy in the end. At the train station in Hualien, you can send your bag forward to Taitung for a small fee where they will hold it for three days for free, there is a TWD$50 charge per day, per bag thereafter. With our bags posted on ahead and us up on our bikes, we made a quick stop for breakfast and we were off.
Learn From Our Mistakes
Underestimating the heat was probably our biggest mistake. Cycling that kind of distance in 35degree heat coupled with uncomfortable humidity levels made things that bit more difficult. Be sue to keep an eye on the weather!
The other mistake we made was not getting started early enough, we underestimated the distances and ended up cycling after dark each night. It was much cooler than during the day but in the pitch dark on roads with substandard lights it was a bit sketchy at times.
What to Expect
The trip turned into a 7-11 tour of the east coast for us! The scenery all the way down the coast was incredible, it really was; it was a proper tropical paradise. The only problem was that every little village we passed through seemed to be deserted, there was nothing open. The first stretch in particular, was very quiet.
Day 1: Cycling from Hualien to Fengbin
As far as the cycle itself went, it was manageable. The first day saw a long flat section out of Hualien. Then we started gradually climbing and it continued like that for most of the rest of the day. Some of the hills were long and steep but the views from the top were spectacular. What was even better than the views was the buzz of flying down the hill on the other side; we picked up serious speed going downhill- like being a kid again!
Most people stop at Shitiping on the first night and at Dulan on the second night. On the first night, we fell short of Shitiping and instead stayed at Fengbin in a small guesthouse right next to the 7-11 in the middle of town. It was probably the nicest room we had anywhere in Taiwan and was TWD$1,200 for a double room. The local restaurant across the way cooked us up a good feed and we were fit for bed.
Day 2: Fengbin to Dulan
The next morning we set off and not far outside of Fengbin, you pass over the Tropic of Cancer. There is a monument to mark this geographical point and having been to the equatorial line before, we joined the Chinese tour group buses and stopped for the photo op. On the second day, we made it as far as Dulan covering almost 100km. We stopped in Donghae, a big town before Dulan in the hope of staying there but could not find a hotel or guesthouse so we decided to push on to Dulan, a small ‘hippy village’ according to our guidebook. When we got there, there was just one hostel open, across from, you guessed it, the 7-11. It was becoming difficult to imagine what Taiwan must have been like before 7-11 arrived, locals seem to gather here to eat, have coffee and just hang out and with everything else closed they were probably out of options.
Day 3: Dulan to Taitung
The following morning was a short spin into Taitung to mark the end of our journey. We passed the 160km marker on the highway and a few more after. The train station was inconveniently positioned outside of the city centre adding a few extra kilometers onto our trip but once we arrived at the station everything was easy. Giant Bicycles was easy to find right next to the station and we picked up our bags from the baggage room right next door and just like that we were done.
Three days, 170 kilometers, a numb backside and a great sense of accomplishment. Cycling down the breathtaking coastline, taking in the views, and all under our own steam; this was the highlight of our two week Taiwan trip, no question.
It got us thinking, where would our next cycle trip be?!
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