Around Taiwan - Day 09 - Hualien ~ Suao

The ninth installment on my "Cycling Around Taiwan" series. Day 9 was finally here and Suhua highway lay before me. I was ready, nervous and excited all at the same time. I would get onto the highway and make tremendously slow progress all the way Suao but had an amazing time on the road and some of the most stunning views of the whole trip. It was Friday and Queenie had booked two nights in a luxury resort in Suao so I had the promise of an amazing two days ahead of me with my wife. The ride itself was AWESOME and I do recommend it, but be safe and be sensible.

View over Taroko
Taroko in the Early Morning from Xincheng

The Route

The 103km ride from Hualien to Suao was one of the toughest and most beautiful rides of the entire trip. The views of the coast and the challenge of the mountains was mind blowing. I had a blast and today am thankful that I took the chance and rode Suhua.

Suhua Highway

Suhua highway is notorious. A lot of the organized cycling trips around Taiwan skip the highway all together and just take the train between Suao and Hualien. A lot of other people do the same even if they are riding themselves. Most people who do ride it, ride it in groups and many people told me I was mad to ride it alone. It was once, according to Wikipedia, thought of as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. I have never been on the Suhua highway before and in the end that proved to push me to ride Suhua - but for everyone it is a personal choice.

Getting to Xincheng

Road to Suao
The Road to Suhua

I got up early and was out of the hotel at around 5:30am. I stopped for a quick breakfast at a McDonalds (it was the only place that was open). I wish I had a better breakfast, but it was what it was.  After breakfast I headed off to Xincheng, the last town before you get onto the Suhua highway. Xincheng is about 15km outside of Hualien and because I got out so early there was no traffic. The weather was also perfect for riding. When I was riding to Xincheng I rode past the train station and I started second guessing my decision to ride over Suhua and not take the train but I quickly pushed those thoughts aside and headed off to Xincheng, Suhua and beyond. Xincheng is the town before Taroko gorge and the mountain views from Xincheng are amazing. I eventually reached T-junction: going straight would take me to Taroko, turning right would take me across a river and onto the Suhua highway. I turned right onto the bridge and prepared to face the challenge but I was still really nervous about riding Suhua alone.

Bridge to Suhua
Road to the Suhua Highway

Onto the Suhua Highway

Looking back over the Bridge
Looking Back at Xincheng

As soon as I crossed the bridge I landed in a small quaint town on a narrow road. There were some interesting old run down buildings, part of the history of the place I suppose. Also, although it was early, it was the first taste I got of trucks driving up and down the narrow road. As it turned out, the roads wouldn't always be narrow, but when they were narrow, it could be quite harrowing if other vehicles got too close.

Abandoned Buildings
Old, Abandoned Buildings

Starting to Suhua
Narrow Road

The Tunnels

After passing through the first town you go up some small uphills and quickly arrive at the the first of many many tunnels. The tunnels are all in good condition but most of them have elevated walkways next to them. I took a few pictures of the tunnels but they all came out blurred, not sure why, the picture below gives you an idea though of what you are going through on most of them.

Tunnel on Suhua Highway
Tunnel on Suhua

First note that EVERY tunnel has a no bicycle sign at the front of the tunnel. However there is no way to go around so you have to go through. For safety I had two lights on the back, one light on the back of my helmet and two lights on the front. I made sure all the lights were in flashing mode to make sure I could be seen.  Additionally, my panniers were also made of reflective materials so any vehicles coming through with lights on would light up my bags. I also wore a white shirt but it would have been better to get clothes with reflective gear on it. Some other people I know also had a whistle that they blew in the tunnel to make a noise so vehicles could hear them. I am not sure how effective that would be but everything helps I suppose.

Getting through the tunnels was easy: I was advised by Sesquipedaustralian to get to the front of the tunnel, stop, look behind me for oncoming traffic, wait for all the traffic to pass and only then go into the tunnel and get through the tunnel as fast as possible. In the tunnels speed was the essence always and, going North, there was only one tunnel that had an uphill gradient.

I did have one issue when I was in the middle of one of the longer tunnels, a bus came up behind me and hooted. I didn't hear the bus coming so when it hooted at me I got such a fright I jumped off the bike and landed on the side of the tunnel hugging the tunnel wall until all the traffic had passed. I then jumped back on the bike and rode like a bat out of hell to get out of the tunnel.

The bottom line: lights, speed, caution and awareness are your best friends through the tunnels.

The Views

The Bay Near Dongao
Bay Near Dongao

The views on Suhua are nothing short of spectacular: best views of the whole trip and worth the ride. It was amazing and I really enjoyed the mountain roads next to the sea. There is no way these places can be developed since the terrain is too rugged and unstable (they battle to keep the road open) so there are some parts of the world that are immune to development. The most spectacular view is the one looking over the bay near Dongao (see picture above), it is also one of the most famous views in Taiwan.

Old Friends

Old Friends
Old Friends - Eric, Jennifer, Ricky and Roy

Along the way I met my old friends from the South (met them riding from Kenting) and rode a short part of the way and then met up with them in Nanao to have lunch with them. I must admit they got there much faster than me. We rode together for a short while and then they took off and I just went at my pace. They were gracious enough to wait for me to eat and welcomed me to join them. It was great to meet them again and compare notes on our journey. I was still amazed that they were trying to do the island in nine days. They had also hooked up with another rider from Hong Kong in the morning. I bumped into them on the ascent out of Heping where there are some fantastic views.

On Suhua Highway
Viewing Point outside Heping

The Ride

The ride itself was beautiful and tough all at once. There are four uphills, two of the biggest are outside of Nanao towards the end of the ride. The first part of the ride has some uphills that were not too bad but I did take some time going up. I started the ride and passed through a lot of tunnels in the beginning (the last tunnel is outside of Heping) and the amazing views hit you almost immediately. Once of the hills you get into some of the towns on Suhua and the roads get quite wide and you feel fairly safe. As soon as you pass the first few tunnels you arrive at a signpost that welcomes the southbound visitors to Taroko Gorge. I just had to stop and take the picture.

Entrance to Taroko
Taroko Gorge

As soon as you pass the bridge that takes you onto the Suhua highway and the little town, you start to feel and know you are on a mountain road. There are rocks on the one side and sheer drops on the other side but I would say this is only for about half of the trip. Still, the rocks and mountains on the left and the drop on the right make you feel very vulnerable, especially when other vehicles such as trucks and buses come screaming past. Fortunately, on the uphills they cannot go very fast so you feel a little safer (but not much).

Nice Narrow Road
Mountain Road

Mountain Road
Narrow Mountain Road

Although the mountain roads were the most dangerous, they had some of the best scenic areas of the whole trip. The views were amazing all the way, especially along the mountain roads. The towns themselves were fairly generic. For most of the way you continue to ride next to the cliffs but whenever you stop to take a rest you are blessed with beautiful views of the mountains and the sea. The advantage of riding a bicycle as opposed to a motorcycle or a car is that you can stop anywhere as long as you tuck yourself in close to the edge of the road, you are safe and there is nothing to worry about, even the traffic coming from behind.

Looking back from Suhua
Looking South

Suhua Rocks
Mountain Road

Edge of Suhua
On the Edge

Along the road you see an incredible railway line that runs next to the ocean. To be honest I don't know if this railway line is still functioning: I didn't see any trains on it and the last time I took the train to Hualien it was at night. A friend told me these lines are no longer in use but I suspect they are. I can only imagine how fantastic the views must be for anyone in the train but the lines are very exposed to the elements (e.g. typhoons) as well as rockfalls and landslides. Still remarkable that it could be built at all.

East Coast Railway
East Coast Railway

Even though a lot of the road is next to the sea, some parts of the road do cut back into the mountains and you have tremendous views of the vegetation in the mountains. As you can see from the picture below it was nice and cool and the green vegetation helps keep it so.

Mountain Road
Into the Mountains

The road along Suhua into Heping, the first major town along Suhua, is very beautiful. The first main descent of Suhua, from the South, drops into Heping. The views North are just as impressive as any other on the road and the mountain road, although narrow and right next to the sea, is in fairly good condition.The worst part of the highway is on the ascent just before Suao and also on the descent into Suao.

View from Suhua Highway
Looking North to Heping

Mountain Road
Road to Heping

Industry Along Suhua

Tragically along the highway there are some cement factories that are ripping soil out from the mountains to make cement. It is sad because at some point the mountains will be destroyed. At present, the sight of the factories destroy the beauty of the whole place. I was really sad to see the factories on this road (and they were the first I saw since Kaohsiung) but maybe this is the price of development.

Factory in Heping
Factory in Heping

The Traffic

When talking about Suhua highway most people are worried about the trucks. Why? The buses are much worse. Actually, the truck drivers on this part of the road ALWAYS gave me space. When the road was too narrow for them to pass they would always give me space and time to get out of the way. When I heard them coming up behind me I would raise my hand to acknowledge them and then they would wait, not even hoot, and as soon as I found a place on the side of the road I could wait, I would, and they would go pass me waving and hooting. They were really friendly guys. The motorcyclists and cars were the worst. The cars would cut into our lanes and were crazy. The buses weren't much better. But still, I thought it was ok. If you are cautious, it is fine.

In the picture below you can see a truck coming out of the tunnel. There were a lot of trucks but they are good drivers, good natured and not out to kill you.
Traffic on Suhua
Trucks on Suhua
The Climbs

As I mentioned before, there are four significant climbs on Suhua, one before Heping, one before Nanao and one before Dongao and one before Suao. The first climb is not that hard, the second one is a little more difficult. The third and fourth, I thought, were the toughest and I even got off the bike to push up the hill for some parts. My legs just wouldn't work anymore. I rode up the hills slowly and made sure I took breaks when I needed. I also just kept on drinking water to make sure I had enough energy and hydration for the trip. The last two climbs (after Nanao) were the ones that nearly broke my back. I was just so tired and it took me a long time to climb over those two mountains. The mountains aren't as high as what I climbed in the South but having that many to climb was just hard. Despite the toughness of the climbs, the views were amazing and whenever you stopped you could easily just hangout and enjoy the scenery.

In the picture below you can see the road snaking up around the mountain in the distance. This was the climb before Heping. Once you get past that point the road goes up even more.

Mountain Road
Climb before Heping

Coming down into Nanao you get to cross a large dry river bed. I am sure in the rainy season the river is full.

Dry River Bed
Dry River Bed before Nanao

The climb out of Nanao actually has a beautiful tree covered start and snakes back into the mountains before coming out onto the road with the ocean views. The tree cover made it really cool to ride as it was really hot up until that point. What was interesting was near the top there was a short tunnel and coming out on the other side the weather was completely different.

Road out of Dongao
Tree Covered Road Outside Nanao

On the road out of Dongao there are some amazing views (see above). But also, after climbing seemingly forever there is a fantastic rest stop: a small temple and shrine with a covered area where you can rest. I stopped there and just behind me were two crazy guys riding up the mountain. They were trying to get around the island on their bikes and were shooting for 200km per day.

New Friends
They were doing 200km a Day

Just past the rest stop you can see the top of the mountain is close but I also noticed that there were a lot of roadworks going on. It caused me some concern as I wasn't sure about the quality of the road but it turned out to have some gravel on the road but for the most part it was fine and the road workers were very aware and accommodating to cyclists.

Roadworks on Suhua
Roadworks on the Mountain.

Getting into Suao

Just past the roadworks in the picture above I got to the top of the final mountain and I was so happy to be there. I took a rest at the top and looked along the North Coast. I was relieved to be close to the end of this part of the journey since it was dangerous and tough and I was really tired. There were some drinks vendors at the top but they only sold hot drinks (no use to me) so I just left it and decided to head down to Suao. All the downhills were awesome but the one into Suao was especially sweet as I knew all the way down that I had achieved what I set out to achieve. It was an incredible experience

Close to the bottom of Suhua there is a viewing platform for the beautiful fishing town of Nanfangao. It was a good place to get a picture.


After leaving the viewing platform I drifted down into Suao and right opposite the end of the highway is a Giant store and hostel (NTD500 per night) run by an awesome guy called Joser. He said he often rides Suhua highway and told me it is not as dangerous as what people think. He helped me add grease to the chain of my bicycle and I was soon on my way to check into the resort Queenie had booked. Was looking forward to the hot-springs and a soft bed.

End of Suhua
At the End of Suhua.

It took me 11 hours from Hualien, but I had conquered Suhua: I honestly think this was the greatest achievement on this trip. It was amazing experience and, although I think it was tough and a bit scary in part, it was worth it: every moment of it. It is a personal choice but I would say: be sensible and go for it! My only suggestion would be to overnight in Xincheng so you can get onto the Suhua highway much earlier.

I was happy and safe and waited for Queenie to arrive at the hotel so we could start our weekend of fun.

Other Cycling Round Taiwan Installments
    Other Cycling Round Taiwan Installments


      1. Hello! Really nice post. As part of my around the island trip, I did the SuHua last August, north to south. Equally harrowing and uphill. That climb out of Suao was murder, even at 6am.. You did a really great job of taking photos. I was so spooked I just kept pedaling till I hit Taroko. I also met Joser. He is a great guy. I love that part of the island. Cheers!

        1. Hi Domenic - thanks for reading and your kind comments about the blog. I really appreciate it.

          Yes, I imagine Suhua is harrowing no matter which way you ride it. As for the pictures, I had no gas left in the tank so just had to stop. I found if you ride South to North you can tuck yourself in close to the barrier and if a vehicle is going to hit you they will also go over the mountain. I can only imagine the climb out of Suao. I loved the downhill heading North though - ha ha - and yes, Joser is awesome.

      2. I have that experience with the drivers of bigger vehicles too. They're much more accommodating and tend to give more room. Riding up Alishan pretty much everyone moved over when passing me, but then again that road was almost exclusively busses.

        It's the scooters and cars that are too crazy. Cars crossing double-solid yellow lines to overtake on blind corners and the like. Scooters always cut any gap they can get.

        But good to know that going South to North is easier, especially for the speed element going through the tunnels.

        1. Hi Peter - yes - that was for this part of the ride ONLY - approaching Hualien the tour buses are crazy - so watch yourself there - ALSO - when you are riding from Fulong to Keelung along the North East Coastal Highway, the road is narrow and the trucks go really fast along that section of the road. I think I did mention that. Certainly on Suhua the trucks were very accomodating and speaking to some other people who have done this a few times, they said their experience was similar.


      Please leave a comment and tell us what you think.


      "Trafalgar Square" (1) 798 District (1) Africa (1) Airport (1) Archive (1) Art (1) Asia Art Center (1) Aviary (1) bagpipes (1) Ban Nam Dee (1) Beihai Park (1) Beijing (5) Birds (1) Bitan (1) Boracay (2) Bozburun (1) Buddhism (1) Buddhist Temple (1) Bunny Chow (1) Cafe India (1) canopy tour (1) cat (1) China (15) Christmas (2) Colombo (3) COPE (1) curry (1) Cycling (28) Cycling in Taiwan (8) dance (3) Dog (1) Durban (3) East Rift Valley (1) Eco Lodge (1) Elephant (3) Elephant Ride (1) Ella (1) Family (6) Fire (1) Flower Market (3) Food (2) France (1) Friends (19) Fulong (1) Galle (2) Galle Face Hotel (1) Gokova (1) Guandu Nature Park (1) hiking (2) Hong Kong (5) Hot Springs (1) Hsin Tien (1) Hualien (1) Hutong (1) Ilan (2) Japan (3) Jing Shan Beach (1) Kandayan Dancers (1) Kandy (5) Kandy Lake (1) Kaohsiung (2) Karkloof (1) Kayak (1) Keelung (4) Khiva (1) kitten (1) Koh Samui (1) Laos (9) Laos COPE (1) Laos Puppies (1) Laos Travelogue (3) Leofoo Village Theme Park (2) Library (1) Lion Dance (1) Little England (1) London (13) Luang Prabang (3) Marmaris (3) Matara (3) Mimi (2) Miscellaneous (32) Monkeys (1) Moses Mabhida Stadium (1) Namtha (1) Namtha. Huay Xuay (1) New Zealand (11) Nuawara Eliya (1) Nuwara Eliya (2) Osaka (3) Our Stuff (11) Pettah Market (1) Philippines (2) Photowalk (1) Pinglin (2) Pinnawala (1) Pot Pie Cafe (1) Pudding (1) Puppies (1) Puppy (1) Restaurants (11) Shek O (2) Shihmen Reservoir (1) Singapore (1) Snake Charmer (1) Snow (1) South Africa (12) Sri Lanka (17) street performers (1) Sung River (1) Sunset (3) Ta An Park (2) Tad Sae Waterfall (1) Taipei (18) Taipei and Taiwan Travel Guide (6) Taipei Fine Arts Museum (1) Taipei Hsin-Beitou (1) Taipei Restaurant (1) Taipei Video (6) Taiwan (24) Taiwan Video (5) Tamsui (2) Tangalle (1) Tangelle (1) Temple (1) Temple Lunch (1) Tennoji (2) Thailand (1) Tissahane (1) Train (1) Travel (62) Travel Guide (1) Travelogues (7) tuk tuk (1) Turkey (11) Unawatuna (1) Unawatuna Beach (1) Urgut (1) Uzbekistan (8) Vang Vieng (4) Vang Vieng Eco Lodge (1) Victoria Park (1) Vientiane (3) Vientiane COPE (1) Wattay International Airport (1) Wedding (2) Weherahena Temple (1) Willesden Green (1) Worship Team (2) Xindian (1) Yala Nature Reserve (1) Yangmingshan (1) zip-line (2) 六福村 (2) 北京 (2) 北海公园 (1) 大安森林公園 (1) 建國花市 (1) 新店 (1) 石澳 (1) 石門水庫 (1) 碧潭 (1) 花東縱谷 (1) 衚衕 (1) 金山海灘 (1) 關渡自然公園 (1)

      Popular Posts