Cycling to Wulai (烏來), from Taipei (台北), is a regular route for me. It combines beautiful scenery with some nice, not too devastating climbs, and some good flats, with the promised reward of almond milk at the end of the trip. Yesterday (29 May 2013) I decided to do the Wulai (烏來) fork (my own name). The first road on the fork, that goes to the Tong Hou (桶后), trail is truly a ride along God's own road! Easily the MOST BEAUTIFUL road I have cycled on in Taiwan. Straight through the mountains with magnificent views of the river and vegetation and very little traffic. A tremendous reward for such great and challenging effort. The second road that goes past the famous Wulai (烏來) waterfall goes all the way up to the small village of Fushan (福山). This road is not as impressive as the first, but it is still stunning. It is well worth the effort and both roads are highly recommended!
The basic route from Taipei (台北) is to ride to Hsin Tien (新店)then head to Wulai (烏來). Turn left to the Tong Hou (桶后)trail. Return to Wulai (烏來) and then head up to Fushan (福山). The map is shown below.
Getting to Wulai (烏來)
The normal route to Wulai (烏來) is to get to Hsin Tien (新店) and follow Road 9 to Ping Ling (坪林) for about two or three kilometers. Go past the Hsin Tien (新店) MRT station, head up over the hill and then after a short descent you will see Road 9甲. Turn right and go straight for about 16 km and you will arrive (regular route map). Today I decided to go a different way through the back of Hsin Tien (新店). Instead of crossing to the East side of the Hsin Tien (新店) river, I stayed on the West side and navigated my way through the small narrow streets. I got onto Bitan Road and followed it onto Yongye Road. Unfortunately at this point, for some reason unknown to me, instead of following instinct and going straight, I turned left on Lane 81 Yongye road (next to the Family Mart). This was a very steep climb to the top. When I got there I was blessed with a tremendous view of the hills (and waterworks) (see picture below) behind Hsin Tien (新店) but it was a needless (and painful) detour. I got back down to Yongye Road, and turned left and followed the road up and had a nice downhill into the valley I was just admiring.
The first part of this road is not that impressive. Small industrial outfits take away the beauty of the road. I just carried on straight following signs indicating I was on the North Road 105. Unfortunately this is where I took my second detour. Instead of veering left (as instinct dictated) I continued heading up the road for some reason believing it would get me back to the river. After cycling uphill for a few kilometers I flagged down a scooter and asked the guy. He put me back on course. The good news was that the way to the correct road was all downhill, so easy to get to. I must admit though that the road I was on did have some nice views too and wouldn't be too bad for a days ride, but I had a specific goal for the day and wanted to achieve it.
When I finally got on the correct road the views of the river and the mountains improved dramatically. The river in the morning light was magnificent. I stopped to grab a few pictures and, when I finally arrived in the small town of Quchi, the riverside park offered tremendous views of the river and the surrounding mountains. This is the first time I have been here and it will become a regular route for me now.
After leaving Quchi I soon joined the regular road to Wulai (烏來), Road 9甲, and was quickly on my way. The Road 9甲 to Wulai (烏來) is very familiar to me now but I am always stunned and amazed by the beauty of this road and the closeness of the mountains and the deep river valley. I have been there often on the bus or in the car but you really feel the magnificence of this road when you are there on your bicycle. It never gets old. I was soon cruising down the hill to Wulai Shopping Street (烏來老街), which was completely deserted. I Stopped to grab some water at the Family Mart and found a small breakfast shop to grab an egg roll and soy bean milk. I was soon on my way again to the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道)
God's Own Road - Cycling to the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道)
Caution Cyclists: this road is not for road bikes.
I have been on many roads in Taiwan, but this certainly ranks among the most beautiful to date. Stunning views of the river and the forest are amazing reward for the tremendous effort needed to get there. To get onto the road is easy: it is a continuation of Road 9甲. When coming into the Wulai Shopping Street (烏來老街) you will pass a Family Mart and cross a small bridge. Take the next left turn. After riding for a bit you will soon see a sign indicating the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道) is a further 17 km along the road. The sign is correct. Riding along the small narrow road soon shows some great views of the river valley.
After the first 4 km you will come to a police station with a gate across the road. I stopped and went into the police office. The policeman told me the road only went for a further 3 km and then stopped. I told him I would go anyway. He said fine. I had to sign in and he told me when I came out again I needed to stop and tell him. I passed through the gate and headed on what I thought would be a relatively short ride. After 4 km I arrived at a second police check point. The policeman was stopping cars and trucks from going in. I thought that this would be where this part of the ride would end. I carried on riding up to the boom gate and, as soon as the guard saw me he opened the gate and waved me through. I wasn't about to stop. I just continued to ride on and tried to put as much distance between myself and the gate.
Once you get on the road, the road quickly becomes a tree covered paradise that with beautiful views of the valley below, the river and the mountains and the cool breeze from the forest makes it an extremely enjoyable ride and helps to make the fiery uphills bearable.
There are some incredible views of the valley below. One of the best of which is shown in the picture below. The road all the way to the end is gorgeous and the surrounding natural environment is very compelling.
All the way along the road you are surrounded by forest and natural greenery and the beauty of the place is way too difficult to capture in either words or pictures. Only experience will suffice.
Along the road are many small waterfalls and small water features. One of the more impressive of these falls is about halfway to the end of the road and of course it was time to stop to take some pictures.
After the waterfall you carry on cycling uphill and eventually arrive at a small beach that can be easily accessed from the road. I decided to take a short break and enjoy the water. It was great. There was a family doing a day trip in their car (the road was closed but the family patriarch was an administrator in the region and they were permitted to drive their cars through). They helped take a picture of me in the water. The water was so clean, clear and fresh: pristine would be the correct word to describe it.
After the beach the road continues to go up but eventually the river and the road meet at the same level and a beautiful open wooded area that can be walked through shows the water falling over terraces and tremendous views of the fir tree covered mountain. Absolutely stunning views.
At this point I thought the road was going to go on for another 10 km or so but it ended all too soon a few kilometers further on. It was an inauspicious arrival: the road just drifts into a gravel parking area, next to it is a suspension bridge that leads you into the forest on the other side and is the beginning of the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道). The bridge looks a bit dodgy but I went across it anyway. At the other side of the bridge is a staircase that leads to a beautiful forest. I was happy to be there finally. I had first read about the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道) a few years back and this is the first time I have been to the beginning of the trail. One day I will cycle through it to Jiaoxi, but I need to be more prepared to do it. For this trip I had reached the end of the road and would soon head back to Wulai (烏來).
When I finally went back to the other side of the river the people who were travelling in their cars had arrived. They were very kind giving me some snacks and a bottle of water. They had also come from Taipei and were quite surprised that I had cycled all the way there from Taipei.
All too soon it was time to leave and head back to the Wulai Shopping Street (烏來老街). The one thing to note about this road is that the condition of the road is not that great and road bikes would probably not easily get through on this road. It was shocking in some parts (and that is why the road was closed). See the pictures below.
Coming down the mountain was easy enough. There weren't many uphills but the complications arrived with the massive rain the bucketed down on me. The rain was so hard that visibility was reduced to about 20 m. I had no choice but to carry on riding down. The rain in itself was also majestic and presented a different and more compelling impression of the power of nature. In the heaviest rain, the journey down that mountain almost became a spiritual exercise. I was afraid that the roads were wet, that my breaks would fail, that I would over shoot a narrow corner and bounce over the barriers separating the road from very high drops. I just did what I needed to do and continued to roll slowly down the mountain. It was an incredible experience and right the way through it I was thinking to myself that this is part of the great adventure. I wasn't upset that it was raining, I was, in some ways, ecstatic and welcomed it, it showed me a different face of nature and I will forever appreciate the gift.
An hour after leaving the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道) I was back in the Family Mart in the Wulai Shopping Street (烏來老街). I stopped for a banana and a snickers bar and replenished my water. I met some other cyclists who were taking a break and chatted to them about their plans. No one wanted to ride up to Fushan (福山) with me. To be honest, I was a little bit demotivated by the incessant rain falling down on me but I decided a goal was a goal and I needed to do the ride. So at around 12:20 I got back on the bike and headed for the second goal of the day: Fushan (福山).
Into the Clouds - Riding to Fushan (福山)
To get to Fushan (福山), go to the end of the Wulai Shopping Street (烏來老街), cross the bridge, turn left and cycle up the mountain for about 17 km, you will arrive. It is an incredible ride up the mountain, and although I think the road to the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道) is the best, this one is incredible too and well worth the effort. Unfortunately, as you get on the road to go up to Fushan (福山), there are some roadworks in progress so it is necessary to push your bike for a few hundred meters, but this is only temporary and will change soon. Once past the roadworks I hopped on the bike and headed straight up the mountain: I passed the waterfall, went through a small tunnel along the road and then blasted all the way up the mountain without stopping once. I was kind of impressed by the effort.
It rained most of the way up the mountain but I had just ridden to Fushan (福山) the week before (23 May 2013 - see map) so most of the pictures below were taken during that ride as it was too difficult to take out the camera and grab pictures with such heavy rain around.
Once you pass the Wulai (烏來) waterfall, the next major milestone is the small tunnel 3 km up the road. It is probably one of the smallest and quaintest tunnels in Taiwan and certainly one of the big reasons tour buses, trucks and the like do not go further up this road. And that is a good thing!
It should also be noted that the roads to Fushan (福山) are very well maintained and certainly much better than the road to the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道). The roads are narrow in part so constant vigilance for oncoming traffic is needed. Also, because of the mist that may appear on the road, it is best have reflective gear at hand so vehicles can see you more easily, especially on the narrower stretches of the road. Still, this road I think is very safe, and I was riding up it in a downpour.
Along the way there are some tremendous views of the river running through the valley (see the picture at the top of this post) and of the mountains. Next to the road there are also waterfalls, terraced waterfalls and beautiful vegetation to admire. For me, the most amazing views is that of the clouds doing their dance around the mountains. Just stunning and overwhelming. And although it is so dramatic, watching it play out brings so much peace. Nature is majestic!
The picture below is taken right outside the small tunnel shown above.
The picture below is taken right outside the small tunnel shown above.
The road here mostly goes up. Just up, up and up. You continue to pump your legs to make sure you continue to move, but sometimes it hurts. The worst part of the climbing starts at the 7 km mark and ends around the 12 km mark. But for those 5 km it is tough. The rest doesn't seem particularly challenging and if you have decent endurance you should make it easily enough. If I did it, most people can. You will pass another police check point but they won't say anything to you. Both times they just waved me on. When you reach the check point you are about 10 km away from Fushan (福山). Just remember to keep spinning those legs and to look up and appreciate the tremendous views and vistas you are earning. It is not easy for an average rider like me, but it is worth it.
Eventually you will reach the sign shown below, and you know you have made it.
Eventually you will reach the sign shown below, and you know you have made it.
Go past this sign for about 1 km and you will come to a small brick layered parking lot with some restaurants. Go behind the restaurants and you will see a beautiful river with some beautiful waterfalls. Alternatively, go across the river and enjoy the beautiful river side park. It is such a beautiful place to hang around in or have a picnic in. Unfortunately, when I was there (both times) it was raining.
On this ride I was cold and wet and found a small restaurant that was open. I asked them for some hot tea and lunch. They delivered a freshly cooked waffle, three slices of pineapple and a cake. With the hot tea it was NTD 150! Very expensive! The week before I had much better food at a different restaurant (which was unfortunately closed) for around the same price, but was so much more than what I got on this ride. However, beggars can't be choosers so I ate and paid and got ready to head back down the mountain to Wulai (烏來) once more!
By the time I was ready to leave, the rain had stopped and the day was becoming pleasant again. I was soon on my bike, drifting down the mountain and enjoying the majestic views again. After a very quick hour of riding I was at the Wulai (烏來) waterfall again.
When I got to the Wulai (烏來)Waterfall I stopped to take some pictures with the local Atayal Women dressed in their traditional clothes.
I then powered down to the Wulai Shopping Street (烏來老街 )again where I had to once again push my bike through the terrible roadworks.
After I arrived at the Wulai Shopping Street (烏來老街)I stopped to honor my years long tradition of having a large cup of almond milk. I only drink it in Wulai (烏來) as a well deserved treat for riding so hard and far.
After finishing my almond milk it was time to head back home along Road 9甲 that turns off onto Road 9 into Hsin Tien. I was sad to be leaving the mountains again but happy to have ridden so hard and so high during the day. It was a wonderful day of riding. I managed to power back home in about 1.5 hours and was pleased to be able to put my feet up after 130 km and 1,600 m of climbing. It was a great day.
So after doing 187 km a week ago (see Cycling Taiwan's North Coast - 187 km), I was still worried about my knee. I rode up to Fushan (福山) last week too and I thought my knee would be fine. It mostly was! However towards the end of the day it started to feel sore. I had no choice but to carry on riding home.
Some other thoughts: The ride to the Tonghou Trail (桶后步道) is definitely one of the most beautiful roads you can ride on in Taiwan. It was stunning. The road to Fushan (福山) is also amazing too. Doing both in a day is well worth the effort and one is richly rewarded with tremendous views of Taiwan's amazing natural beauty. Brilliant stuff and well worth it. Riding in the rain was also a bit disconcerting but slowing down and taking care makes it safe and easily manageable.
I will definitely do both roads again but I will probably never do them both in the same day again. I guess on should never say never!