The beautiful island of Taiwan, just off the southeast coast of China, hasn’t yet become well known as a bike touring destination.
It’s not for lack of potential though. With plenty of mountains to test your thighs, visas on arrival and a vibrant culture, this could be your next great winter get away.
Canadian Paul McMurray, who lived in Taiwan for 11 years and did six bike tours around the island, tells us more about bike touring in Taiwan in this week’s 10 Questions.
1. Since Taiwan isn’t yet a well known touring destination, can you tell us more about the bike touring potential there?
Taiwan is a subtropical island just off the coast of China. It is 35,980 square kilometers in area, slightly larger than Vancouver Island. The geography of Taiwan is very mountainous, with 100 peaks over 3,000 metres. The highest is Jade Mountain (Yu Shan). It comes in at nearly 4,000 meters. This small country has massive cycle touring potential. Taiwan’s low international profile means that there is little foreign tourism, but the beautiful scenery and great roads make it ideal for cycling. If you are looking for a challenge, try one of the three cross-island highways that go over the Central Mountain Range.
2. It’s easy to think of places like Taiwan as overcrowded and possibly hectic on a bicycle. Is this true or can you ‘escape to the countryside’?
The east coast is the best place to beat the crowds, and it is very popular with local cyclists. However, since most Taiwanese people only travel on weekends, anyplace outside the cities will be very quiet throughout the week. Hotels are discounted on weekdays as well.
3. What kind of budget would you need to tour there. Is it expensive?
The standard of living is relatively high, so it will cost more than Southeast Asia. It’s still pretty affordable by Western standards, though. I spend approximately $2,000-2,200 Taiwanese dollars (currently about $65-70 U.S.) per day for decent hotels and meals in local restaurants.
4. Is there any potential to camp or is it best just to leave the tent at home and stay in hotels?
Although there are some campgrounds, a nice hot spring hotel to cap a long day of riding is heavenly if you can afford it (from $1,500 Taiwanese dollars).
5. What are the roads like? Can you usually find a secondary road with little traffic?
Most people tour on the county highways, which are wonderful. Taiwan is full of scooters, so the roads generally have a scooter lane and a paved shoulder. Roads will narrow a bit in the mountains, but there is a lot less traffic as well.
6. What is the traditional food like and is there a ‘street food’ culture that’s readily accessible?
Taiwanese food brings together influences from all over China. In the cities, street food has been raised to a fine art, but there is plenty to eat when you are riding as well. The food in the mountains is particularly good and relies heavily on locally grown vegetables, free-range chicken, and mountain pig (boar).
7. Are there any bureaucratic hurdles to overcome?
Canadians, Americans, and people from most European nations receive a one-month visa upon arrival.
8. What’s your favourite ride in Taiwan?
My favorite ride starts in Kaoshiung on the west coast. You travel south to Kenting and then ride north until you reach Hualian on the east coast. Along the way, there are several island side trips you can make (Xiao Liou Chiou, Green Island, Orchid Island). There are also numerous little hot spring towns with reasonable rates. In addition, travelling along the coast gives you opportunities to feast on lots of cheap sashimi in harbour towns.
9. What’s one challenge people might face and how do you recommend they deal with it?
Outside of the larger cities communicating can be a challenge, but it’s no worse than anywhere else where English isn’t widely spoken. Taiwanese people are very friendly and helpful. The key is to remain patient; getting angry is considered impolite and makes everyone lose face.
10. Can you give us one phrase in the local language that might come in handy for a cyclist?
Ni you pijiu ma? You pronounce it: ni yo pee jyo ma? It means ‘do you sell beer?’. If you are cycling in the countryside, Taiwan Gold Medal Beer is the beverage of choice after a hard day.
Thanks to Paul McMurray for answering the questions and providing the photos.
Need more information? Check out these helpful resources for cycling in Taiwan: