What started out as casual conversations about cycling overseas amongst four colleagues culminated in months of planning to embark on a 283km cycling trip in Southern Taiwan from Kaohsiung to Taitung. Touring on two wheels allowed us to experience the landscape, food and culture more intimately, and despite its arduous nature, it was a refreshing and fulfilling experience.
We share five reasons why this could possibly be your next adventure!
1. It’s easy on your wallet, so you can save up for your next adventure
Reasonably priced airfares
With over 10 flights a day departing from Changi Airport directly to Taipei and Kaohsiung, there are plenty of options to choose from, including Scoot and Jetstar for the budget conscious. We flew on Scoot from Singapore to Kaoshiung and back from Taipei to Singapore for around S$300.
Affordable bicycle rentals
Bicycles can be rented from a network of shops located all over the island for just S$20/day. These shops allow one-way rentals, which give you the flexibility of including a train ride for a round trip route. As we ended our cycling in Taitung, we took a train back (S$36) to Taipei to catch our return flight. If you wish to bring your own bicycle, it can be checked in as part of your pre-purchased baggage allowance. However, most airlines would charge an additional handling fee!
Inexpensive accommodation options
At just S$50 per person a night booked from online platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com, guest houses and inns can be found in both the main cities and the rural townships. Planning for our accommodation revolved largely around spreading out the cycling distance clocked each day. We also wanted to ensure a good night’s rest to recharge for the next day and were not short of options with cozy and modern designs that will appeal to a wide range of travellers.
The total cost for 6 days of adventure set us back around slightly under S$900 per person, allowing maximum fun and experience without having to break the bank!
2. Strong cycling culture with good infrastructure and facilities
Great quality rental bikes from local manufacturer GIANT
Cycling in Taiwan is hassle-free with a network of GIANT stores all over the island. Our GIANT Fastroad model came fully equipped with top bar and pannier bags, a hand pump, tool set, bike lock, speedometer, water bottle holder, bell and front and rear lights. For a list of GIANT stores in Taiwan, click here!
Cycling-friendlyinfrastructure and supportive locals
The island’s round island cycling Route No.1 (the one and only round island cycling route) covers 968km of awesomeness from bustling cities in the West to beautiful scenic landscapes in the East. This route is suitable for both amateur or avid cyclists, with signs to guide you along the way. Major roadways on this route also have a dedicated lane that is shared with motorcycles and scooters. Coupled with the courteous nature of the motorists, and the cheering on from pedestrians and motorists alike, we always felt safe and encouraged throughout our journey.
3. Get to experience the beautiful Taiwanese nature and breathe in the crisp, fresh air - better than being on an aircon bus!
Cycling gives you more autonomy to explore deeper into the beautiful Taiwanese coast which is full of hidden gems! Unlike being on a bus, you get a full clear view of the mountainous terrain and of the coastline. Here are some recommended pit-stops along our route from the West to the East Coast.
Heng Chun Township
Most tourists would only visit the Township briefly on their way to Kenting. But we highly recommend spending more time here as this is home to ancient city gates and a 2,700 metres long city wall built in 1873 during the Qing dynasty. Be sure to take as many selfies with the city gates as these are the best preserved in Taiwan!
The Heng Chun Old Town is located within the city gates. The best way to navigate around the narrow roads in the Old Town is on a bicycle. The Old Town is filled with numerous shops selling traditional craft, souvenirs and restaurants.
Beaches in Kenting
Kenting is home to some of the best beaches in Taiwan. The good news is that with a bicycle, we managed to cover all of the beaches in Kenting in a day. We even had time to cycle to Cape Eluanbi, the southernmost point of Taiwan, which is home to Eluanbi lighthouse and green pastures that we couldn’t resist rolling on.
While we knew that going to Eluanbi Lighthouse (鵝鑾鼻燈塔) meant that we were near the Southernmost point of Taiwan, little did we know that the lighthouse was the world’s only fortified lighthouse to protect the lightkeeper and Chinese soldiers from the hostile Taiwanese indigenous people. It was also built by the Chinese to guide ships through the treacherous Bashi channel.
风吹沙Feng Chui Sha in Kenting
As its name 风吹沙 (literally translates to Wind Blows Sand) suggests, there is no shortage of wind and sand here. We were told that when there are strong winds, the sand can be blown up the cliffs from the coast and even cover the roads on top.
This was also one of our favourite parts of the cycling trip. Words cannot describe the sheer joy as we cycled down kilometers of downslope while enjoying surreal views of the sandy beaches, mountains and the Pacific Ocean all at once.
These are places shunned by tour groups as there is a lack of big hotels. For us cyclists, these are great places to stay for the night as you get to immerse in true local Taiwanese culture.
We stayed at Manzhou Township, home to excellent local restaurants and ancient Taiwanese architecture. If you have time, you can even hike to waterfalls in the vicinity.
Coastal highway 9 along the Pacific Ocean
The ride to Taitung took us on the coastal highway right beside the Pacific Ocean. The highway offers spectacular views of the coastline. For typical tourists, highways are just for commute between attractions. For us, we were awestruck by how scenic the route was at every turn. Not surprisingly, we ended up stopping many times for photo-taking along this route.
Lisong Natural Hot Springs
We left our bicycles at our accommodation in Taitung and took a two-hour drive and an hour’s hike to Lisong Natural Hot Springs deep in the mountains of Taitung. There is a shovel at the hot spring for you to create your own pool and adjust the temperature of the bath by deciding how much of the cold river water to let in.
The hot spring has a super Instagram-worthy natural bright green crystallised mineral wall as a backdrop. This place is truly worth every adventurer’s effort.
4. Plenty of small towns and family-run restaurants to savour fresh and authentic local food
Whenever we felt hungry, we stopped by at local eateries along our cycling route and turned into smaller alleys to explore family-run restaurants and farms for a ‘sea to plate, farm to table’ experience.
Initially meant as a stopover for the night to facilitate our route planning, the Hua Qiao Fish Market (華橋市場) in the port city of Donggang surprised us with its fresh fish and seafood! You can have sashimi or bring the fresh seafood to the vendors (代煮) who can whip up a delicious meal for you. You can even dine with a view of the Taiwan Strait!
The pufferfish steamboat in Heng Chun, the prawns that can cross the mountain (过山虾) in ManZhou (largest freshwater prawns in Taiwan, they can literally climb mountains to look for water sources) and the lamb hotpot (羊肉爐) in Zhiben were other delicious Taiwanese cuisines we ate. While we had to venture off the main road and clock extra mileage on the bicycles for the pufferfish steamboat, the prawns and lamb hotpot were near our accommodation!
Pufferfish Steamboat Restaurant照利庭園海鮮餐廳
Address: No. 6號, Kanglin South Road, Hengchun Township, Pingtung County, Taiwan 946
Da Ji Restaurant过山虾 - 大吉小吃店 (for the ‘prawns that can cross the mountain’)
Address: No. 62號, Zhongshan Road, Manzhou Township, Pingtung County, Taiwan 947
Lamb Hotpot Restaurant 黑松羊肉爐
Address: No. 144之2號, Section 3, Zhiben Road, Taitung City, Taitung County, Taiwan 950
You can also buy fresh fruit produce straight from the local farmers. The black pearl wax apples (黑珍珠) from Pingtung County and custard apples (釋迦果)from Taitung County were in season while we were there. We did not try the black pearl wax apples, as we thought the farmers were selling bubble tea black pearls. However, the custard apple was fresh from the farm’s harvest, and was much richer in flavour compared to those that we tried from the fruit market in Taipei after.
5. It brings you closer to the friendly Taiwanese and their culture
Cycling at our own pace means we have the freedom of time, not having to catch a bus or a train, but leaving us plenty of time to immerse in local knowledge and culture.
We stumbled upon the Taiwan Lantern Festival in Donggang through our Airbnb host and through conversations with the breakfast shop (早餐店) auntie, we found out that it is the first time the event is held in a National Scenic Area. Also, one of the things we learnt from a fellow cyclist we befriended was that you can stop by a police station to take a break, fill up your water bottles, or even take a leak in their toilets. The friendly neighbourhood policemen can also provide you directions and recommendations for food if you need, all you have to do is to ask! (Eventually we did so at the Pingtung County Police Bureau in Xuhai)
Trip and route planning
The best period to cycle in Taiwan is between October to February where the temperature ranges between 15 to 20°C across the island. While it is not as humid as Singapore, the sun can get quite strong so you should bring sunblock. There could also be the occasional rain, so pack a rain jacket or poncho! Taiwanese roads are left hand drive with faster traffic on the left, so you’ll need to keep to your right. It is recommended to cycle in an anti-clockwise direction around the island to reap full benefits of the scenery. Check the wind directions for the month to make the ride a less painful one! There are many 7-elevens located conveniently along the road so make use of them to recharge and refuel.
When we were planning the route, we tried to look out for suitable towns to stop for the night and calculated the distances between each town to determine whether it was feasible to complete the distance given the amount of time. We also used the Google Maps terrain overlay with the contour information to estimate the gradient and difficulty of the route.
Prepare yourself physically!
Our group of four had varying levels of fitness, age (the youngest was 26 and the oldest was 45 years old) and cycling experience. While you do not need to be a professional cyclist to embark on this adventure, we recommend a moderate level of fitness. We conditioned ourselves by cycling together five times on roads and park connectors in Singapore, clocking around 50-60km each time. As the Singapore terrain is generally flat, we would also recommend using stationary bikes in the gym where the resistance levels can be set to mimic the upslope incline.
Do you need a follow-me vehicle?
The purpose of hiring a follow-me vehicle is to carry your luggage, provide a standby mode-of-transport should you encounter technical difficulties with your bicycle, or if you reached your physical limits before reaching the rest stop. For us, the main prohibiting factor of hiring a follow-me vehicle was the cost which averages atS$261/day. To cope without a follow-me vehicle, we packed light (less than 8kg bag per person) to reduce the weight which we had to cycle with. We also brought along a tool set and one spare inner tube for the whole group, in case we were stranded at the rural areas in the event of a tire puncture. On hindsight, we thought that hiring a follow-me vehicle would provide an easy alternative to conquering the difficult slopes and we could have covered more ground if we didn’t have to carry our load on our bicycles. So weigh your options carefully and prioritise to help you decide!
Most importantly, we never gave up even when it was tough. We took breaks when needed, replenished ourselves at convenience stores, and spurred each other on through the entire journey. With these tips and experience, we hope they will inspire you to pack your bags and go on a cycling adventure to Taiwan!
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Best time to visit
The best period to cycle in Taiwan is between October to February where the temperature ranges between 15 to 20°C across the island. While it is not as humid as Singapore, the sun can get quite strong so you should bring sunblock. There could also be the occasional rain, so pack a rain jacket or poncho!
A sturdy and reliable bicycle 😊
Currency used in Taiwan is the New Taiwanese Dollar. You can find ATMs located in 7-Elevens around the route. However, it is still advisable to carry some local currency before starting to cycle.
There are over 10 flights a day departing from Changi Airport directly to Taipei and Kaohsiung. Book your flights here.