We have just spent a few days cycling along the east coast of Taiwan. Taiwan’s east coastal road, Highway 11, is a scenic road running from Taitung to Hualien. For the whole way it has lovely ocean views to the east and mountains to the west with only little villages between the main cities.
The highway has a separate lane for cyclists and mopeds for the majority of the route. The road is fairly quiet as there is an alternative, faster, non-coastal route used by most traffic not that far away.
The first day was mainly spent on the train from Taipei. We only decided on the trip a few days before we departed, so did not have much time to arrange things in advance. We ended have to get the slow train to Taitung, this took about 6 hours and we arrived early afternoon.
We picked up the bikes at the Giant bike shop at the station. They offer a one way hire service between the two cities which makes a trip easy to arrange.
The bikes are good quality but are not “Giant,” in fact they are mostly small. The hire shop mainly stocks small bikes due the average height local being short. I’m a reasonably short westerner at 5″9, so the bike was tolerable but not comfy.
The first day we had a short trip of about 15km to our first hostel, Hostel 76. We originally looked up this hostel on the web but did not book it in advance as we unsure how far we would cycle. After starting the ride we found the place at about 5pm when the light was starting to fade. It did not look much from the road but was clean and comfortable inside. The other bonus was that we were the only guests at the hostel, so had entire place to ourselves. It was a nice relaxing evening here just sitting watching a few films in the living room, as if we were back home.
The following day, we got up about an hour after sunrise (5:30am) intending to cycle 80km in two sessions. A morning session covering the majority of the distance, taking a two-hour lunch to avoid the hottest part of the day and then to complete the rest before it got dark.
From the outset, the heat of the sun was intense. We cycled along the coastal road looking out at the blue ocean, you could see two distinct colours where the ocean floor suddenly dropped away from the island. We stopped every 20 minutes, drank some of our water. Every time we passed a shop we bought a new 1.5l bottle of water.
About 11am we looked at the map and decided where to take our extended lunch; so choose to push on to there. With lunch being the target, we cycled without stopping at a few villages we passed intending to have an extended stop at the target village.
As we approached 12pm it became clear that our target location for lunch was not going to made. Our pace had slowed due to the stong head wind, the road was undulating more than before and heat of the sun was now directly overhead.
We were delighted when we passed the sign for entering the village that we had chosen for lunch. It is been marked on the road for kilometres in advance so must be important.
We were disappointed. There is a nice bridge where a few cyclists were taking photos but no restaurants, no cafes and no shops. We cycled up the hill at the other side still in the hope of finding something; somewhere to at least get some water.
At the top of the hill there is a viewing platform with a shelter from the sun that had been pounding us all morning. We stopped here for 30 minutes. Quickly finishing the remains of our water and resting. This only made us feel worse, we were dehydrated and both of us were starting to feeling a bit sick.
We had little choice but to push on, waiting was making us feel worse and we needed water. Luckily, just over the ridge of the next hill only metres from where we had taken our break, we found a shop. After another 15 minute break with food and drinks, we felt better and continued. We never skipped an opportunity to replenish our supplies after that.
Day 3, the hotel offered breakfast but it was not until 7:30. This meant a slightly later start than preferable, but after the day before we had decided to split the remain 80km over two days and take it easy.
We got up, packed and went to breakfast. They provided a buffet breakfast. I started with the sweet potato congee (rice porridge), it was slightly cold. It looked like the large group of cyclists which arrived after us had requested an early breakfast and already left. The tepid congee did not bother me, as the toast and jam option was much more appealing but I would have like to get on the road earlier to avoid the heat of day before.
Today was much easier going. The sky had clouded over and the temperature had dropped. We cycled at a faster pace than the day before and had little difficulty with the heat.
By lunchtime we had reached the target distance for the day. The problem was there was no obvious hotels and little to do in the village, even if there had been a place to stay. So we pushed on up the only proper hill on the route.
We went over Baci Observation Tower Hill heading northward. The uphill is not too steep, however the separate lane for cyclists and mopeds disappeared when it was needed most. This meant we had to face poorly driven tour busses overtaking us with little space.
The way down was terrifying. The road down was a steep gradient for 5 km through tunnels. Brakes were required to stay within the speed limit. We were followed through the tunnel by a procession of tour busses who appeared to pay little attention to their brakes or the speed limit. They flew past us leaving little room between us, the bus and the tunnel wall. We were glad to come out the other side unscathed and back on to our own dedicated lane.
The trip off the hill was fast and it was clear that it was worth it to just continue to our final stop at Hualien.
At about 4 o’clock we were only 10km from Hualien and the sky clouded over and we were now cycling into a strong head wind. The weather was changing quite rapidly and we keen to finish the cycle ride that day before the weather worsened. We learned later that there were storms out at sea were driving the wind.
We approached Hualien from the south over a bridge which is about 1km in length. The river at this time was very low exposing sand banks on both sides many times the width of the river. As we approached the bridge, we could a cloud of sand being whipped into the air and we could only see a small section of the bridge. We ensured our sunglasses were firmly on to protect our eyes from the sand and debris suspended in the air and cycled across the bridge. By the time we reached the other side, we were covered from head to toe in a fine layer of sand. Luckily it was not too far to our hostel were we could have a warm shower.
Even though our cycling had a few interesting moments we enjoyed it hugely. The east coast of Taiwan is beautiful, the road are generally quiet and it is well worth exploring on bike.