In his bestseller The Great Railway Bazaar,
the book that launched the global travel literature craze, world famous travel writer Paul Theroux claimed the best speed to see the world was via train. True, but if you want to experience the world that lies beyond the train station, then travel by bicycle is the best. No better example can be found than circumnavigating Taiwan, the “jewel of the Pacific,” by train and bike. You want to experience all of China in one small island, without driving a car or bus tour? Taiwan is the place.
At Taoyuan airport, hop directly on to High Speed Rail (HSR). One moment you are arriving via air, the next you are flying again along the track at speeds up to 340 kph, feeling like you are going to lift off. Watch the speedometer flashing over the exit doors to corroborate what your eyes are seeing.
High rises, suburbs and factories fly by, but you want to escape the industrial northwest, for the magic of Taiwan lies in the south and east. Over 80 percent of Taiwan is mountainous, with rice and other crops grown everywhere in valleys between peaks. But if you love cycling, first you might want to stop in one factory in Taichung, the headquarters of Giant Bikes, the world’s largest bike manufacturer and the stimulus behind the current cycling craze in Taiwan.
It seems today everyone rides a bike in Taiwan. At the Giant factory, a high-end bike rolls off the assembly line every minute and a half. You’ll also find good quality Giant bikes for rent in most Taiwanese cities. These YouBikes are available by credit card free for the first 30 minutes (which may be why everyone seems to be riding them).
In Taichung try the Dong Fong Cycling Path, formerly a railway line so – like most recreational paths in Taiwan – it’s virtually flat. Most bike paths in Taiwan are not commuter routes; they are intended for fun and exercise. The Dong Feng path gently wanders by teahouses, across bridges, past fields, through a tunnel and back, a perfect introduction to Taiwan by bike.
No trip to Taiwan is complete without a visit to Sun Moon Lake in the interior. In the centre of the village you’ll find a Giant Bike rental shop. A leisurely ride around the gorgeous lake takes only an hour or two, and boat rides across the lake are most enjoyable. For those looking to open their lungs a little deeper, proceed further east to the Jiji Green Tunnel Cycling Experience, a steep climb outside Jiji town along a boulevard of ancient camphor trees.
The HSR proceeds as far south as the old capital of Tainan, a great stop with tourist attractions like temples, and finally the end of the line Kaohsiung. Here you switch to a standard passenger train to climb slowly through the mountains to Taitung over on the east coast. On many trains in Taiwan you can bring your own bike, with space at the rear for bikes.
The East Rift Valley, running north from Taitung to Hualien, is Taiwan’s rice bowl and premier cycling destination. The flat valley bubbles with hot springs and is dotted with country inns, bike paths, temples and teahouses. You can pedal all day through rice paddies and wallow in hot springs at night. A passenger train runs through the heart of the lush valley north to Taiwan’s premier tourist attraction, fantastic Taroko Gorge. Here a cascading river has clawed its way through deep cliffs of pure white marble down from steep mountains. High atop the cliffs, tiny tunnels wind their way through the rock and cling to the mountain’s side, a dizzying ride for the determined cyclist who is rewarded at the top of the canyon with arrival at a tiny village where the Silk Palace Hotel awaits to comfort the weary warrior with fine food and hot baths.
The east coast section of passenger rail track follows the ocean to Rodtung, where cyclists should enjoy the Yilan Dongshan River Bike Path, and through a long tunnel to the Old Caoling Circle Line Bikeway. Finally, after a week’s pleasant journey gazing out the window at the scenery and riding scenic paths, happy cyclists arrive at the urban jewel of Taipei.
The true lure of Taipei is not visually evident. You must look for its hidden splendours like museums, temples, night markets, shops and restaurants. Most of all you will enjoy its courteous people. Taiwan is a classy culture, and the people of Taipei the most polite of all. Get back on to train again, this time the MRT, the metro subway system with its clean cars and English signs. Ride to the National Museum, the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, and the sky high tower called Taipei 101.
Finally, rent a YouBike and explore the ultra cool downtown shopping district of Kang Qing Long, which stands out for its artistic vibe and nostalgic feel. Yongkang Street is well known among foodies at home and abroad for its wide variety of local fare. The district boasts 20 independent businesses like cafés and second hand bookstores, all of which follow the owners’ idealistic philosophy to “earn a living instead of merely turning a profit.”
Indeed, travel to Taiwan is far more than just another bus tour to just another country. It’s more like “see the world at just the right pace.” Using train and bike is exactly the right way to do so. For a free download of my guidebook Around Taiwan by Train and Bike log on to my website at .