The first installment on my "Cycling Around Taiwan" series. On April 10 2012 I set off on my bicycle to circumnavigate Taiwan. In total it took 11.5 days (although I was away from home for 15 days). On the day I left I woke up early to get an early start but it was raining in Taipei (as it had been for the previous many weeks). I was concerned I would have to delay another day but eventually the rain stopped and I was able to leave.
The RouteThe first day saw me riding 108km from Taipei to Hsinchu. The route is shown below:
I have never done a cycling tour before so as you can imagine I was fairly nervous on the first day and when I was about to set off. I didn't know what to expect and there were a lot of questions floating around in my head. I was sure it would be a blast, I knew it would be a challenge and I was certain it would be an unforgettable experience but I wasn't sure if I would be able to finish it or whether I would quit half-way. I jokingly told all my friends in Taipei that I might just get to Hsinchu, Taichung or Kaohsiung, call it quits and jump onto the High Speed Rail and return to Taipei. Maybe that was just the nerves talking!
The Known Road
After a bunch of last minute checks and nervous thoughts I decided to head-off into the unknown. The first part of the trip from my home to the Dazhi Bridge and along the Keelung river, onto the Tamsui river and all the way to Bali is very well known to me: I have ridden those roads often and was quite sure about where to go. Once past Bali though I would be riding on roads I haven't been before and that is where the real adventure started. I decided that the Guandu Bridge would be the start of my trip and that once I reached the Guandu bridge on the last day (whenever that would be) I would consider that to be a full circle of the island.
Guandu Bridge in the Background
The first part of the trip to Guandu was absolutely uneventful (as can be expected). I just pedaled until I got outside the Guandu Temple where I decided to stop for breakfast. It was at that point it started to rain and I thought to myself this would be the daily experience all the way around the island. I don't mind riding in the rain but it isn't my first choice. As it turned out that would be the last rain I saw until I arrived in Kenting.
Once I reached Bali, I started to get more excited: riding past Bali and heading South towards Taoyuan was the real start of roads unknown and new views and experiences lay ahead of me. As soon as I arrived at the road heading south (Road 61) I was filled with trepidation as there seemed to be a lot of trucks speeding along the road but there was nothing to do but ride on and so I started my journey South.
It should be noted that as I headed South the weather cleared up and it became a sunny day with blue skies, and it stayed that way all the way down to Kenting (which I really appreciated). However, on the first day, without any sunblock, my arms, feet (since I was riding in sandals) and face got really badly burned. I was quick to buy sun tan lotion on the second day.
Once I started heading South I was quickly welcomed to Taoyuan county. I could see planes flying in and out of the Taoyuan international airport and rode past a large military base. I stopped there to take some pictures and some videos but some of the senior ranking officers did not seem to appreciate it too much so I left in a hurry. There were military exercises for a large stretch of the road but I eventually started riding in the country proper. The day was starting to become pleasant and I was settling into the saddle. The legs were spinning well and I was really enjoying the day. Just before I got close to the airport I rode into the small fishing town of Zhuwei near Dayuan and decided to stop their for lunch. Zhuwei is a beautiful, picturesque fishing town which I imagine is swarmed with local tourists on the weekend. There were certainly enough tourist buses milling about to keep the locals happy during the week.
Shortly after leaving Zhuwei, near the airport, Road 61 ended and I had to take a detour where I was treated to some views of really traditional houses and the first of what would be thousands of beautiful green rice paddies. Traditional houses are almost unseen in Taipei now as most of them have been torn down for big high rise apartment and office buildings. In the countryside there are a lot (although they are becoming increasingly less here too). Its good to see traditional houses that are still being actively used. I also landed under a bridge where there was a display of old military vehicles. I thought this was rather interesting but didn't really stick around as I wasn't sure how long it would take me to get to Hsinchu.
Into Hsinchu County
When one turns off the road from Bali and onto the the South-bound road, large industrial activity becomes visible almost immdediately. The plant in the above picture was on the border of Toayuan and Hsinchu county but there was certainly a lot of heavy industry at intermittent intervals all along the West coast down to Hisnchu. That said, there were also a lot of countryside, rice paddies and, in some parts, mangrove swamps. One of the most notable landmarks on the west coast (and as one heads down to Hsinchu) are the power generating wind turbines, of which there are many on the West coast.
Even though the countryside was scattered with some large industry, there were also many places to ride along the coast where there was absolutely no industrial activity at all. Shortly after passing the airport I found a beautiful tree covered bike path that was next to the sea in part in Xinwu Township. I really enjoyed this part of the day as it meant I got off the main road and there was shade and also less dangerous as there were no cars or trucks or buses. It was also really quiet, which I did appreciate, and since it was a Tuesday there were hardly any people here at all.
Arriving in Hsinchu
So after riding a full day on Road 61 and taking a couple of detours in the countryside and along the coast, I finally made it to Nanliao, a small town outside Hsinchu City. Coming into Nanliao, and riding into Hsinchu, saw a bunch of rice paddies and also a couple of farmers working on the land. There were also a lot of Motels in Nanliao and, if I wasn't going to meet friends in Hsinchu, I would have settled for staying there as it would have saved a 10km ride into the town. But it was still fine riding into Hsinchu as the road was flat and it was relatively early in (3:30pm) so was happy to ride into the city.
It was good to finally get into Hsinchu and started looking for a hotel and a place where I could take a break. Riding through Hsinchu I saw a bunch of Betel Nut Girls: always an added bonus. I eventually found a decent enough hotel (Duke Hotel) which cost NTD1,000 for the night. There were cheaper ones but I didn't know where to look and I was tired and wanted to settle down. Eventually after sorting out the hotel I went to have some tea and met up with some friends in Hsinchu (Hector and Greg) where we had a great dinner in Fridays (well I did, they just drank a couple of beers)
So the first day was a 108km ride, which took around 8.5 hours. It was a great ride and really enjoyed the experience. I was happy to be finally on the road and, even though it was only the first day, I was happy to finally be on the way and looking forward to continuing the journey. I should have prepared sun tan lotion as I got horribly burned but apart from that it was an awesome first day. I thought it was mostly safe and thought it was a great little ride. I did realize I had a another 10 to 12 days of doing the same thing, but I was looking forward to it. Day 2 would take me to Taichung, it was going to be another long ride so I went to bed early to get a good rest for the next days adventures.
Other Cycling Round Taiwan Installments
- Around Taiwan - Final Overview
- Day 01 - Taipei ~ Hsinchu
- Day 02 - Hsinchu ~ Taichung
- Day 03 - Taichung ~ Budai
- Day 04 - Budai ~ Kaohsiung
- Day 05 - Kaohsiung ~ Kenting
- Day 06 - Kenting ~ Dawu
- Day 07 - Dawu ~ Chenggong
- Day 08 - Chenggong ~ Hualien
- Day 09 - Hualien ~ Suao (Suhua Highway)
- Day 10 - Suao ~ Ilan
- Day 11 - Ilan ~ Keelung
- Day 12 - Keelung ~ Taipei