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Saddle up! How to Explore Taiwan by Bike

Thinking of visiting Taiwan? Why not cycle your way around this amazing country on Taiwan’s Cycle Route No. 1? Cycling offers you easy mobility, but the great thing is you can stop whenever you like along the way to enjoy the locale and meet the locals.

When you arrive in Taipei City, your impressions will probably match the image you have in your mind of what Taiwan’s all about: modernity at the expense of nature, massive glass edifices, designer products in enormous malls and consumerism taken to its extreme. But if you take the slower route and explore beyond the cities, you’ll find that the country has a greener, more natural side to it that is quite delightful.

If you travel by bicycle, you’ll get to appreciate this other side of the nation. Cycling along Taiwan’s Cycle Route No. 1 gives you a completely different experience of Taiwan — one that’s a far cry from the images of sprawling industrial cities and fast-paced manufacturing.

Such is the beauty of Taiwan’s landscapes that when the Portuguese arrived there in 1544, they named it Formosa, which means ‘beautiful’ in Portuguese. The landscape boasts an incredible 286 mountaintops that are at least 3,000 m high, and unlike its neighboring country, China, the Taiwanese are taking nature preservation seriously. In fact, 20% of the country’s land lies within protected areas.

Taiwan is also extremely proud of its heritage and culture brought by several waves of Chinese immigrants. Although the country is very modern in many ways, ancient superstitions still abound. Traditional medicines are still popular, and the people are so friendly that they even have a word for their code of behavior: haoke. It means ‘the essence of being a good host.’ This attitude pretty much guarantees you a friendly reception wherever you go along the route.

Cycle Route No. 1 runs around the island in a 900 km loop. The ride gained popularity in 2006, when the film Island Etude was released. It tells the story of a young man who cycles across the country in a bid to discover himself. The result was the cycle route becoming associated with good health.

The ride begins

When a person is about to embark on something new in Taiwan, they request a blessing from whichever deity they believe will be able to help them. Once you leave Taipei City, you will come across other cyclists pedaling the route, most of whom come from China or Taiwan. The younger cyclists often say they want to cycle the route while they’re still free of major responsibilities. Older cyclists enjoy it to keep fit and healthy.

Leaving from Taipei City, a city full of bright lights, hustle and bustle, you’ll find yourself pedaling through aromatic oolong tea plantations as well as tropical forests. You’ll see beaches and shrines, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity along the way to stop and explore anything you might find fascinating. You’ll also get to taste some of the many and varied local delicacies.

On the way

The food along the way is an incredible mixture of wondrous tastes and colors, all at amazingly low prices. Although the locals are extremely generous, even if you do pay for your meal, you’ll be spoiled for choice without breaking the bank. The scenery varies from mountainous to coastal.

For example, if you’re heading toward Taitung City, you’ll go through the montane forest and might be lucky enough to witness the antics of the indigenous macaques. You’ll go through small coastal towns where the inhabitants are going about their daily business and beaches that are completely deserted.

You’ll also get to see how the local people differ from one area to the next, as aboriginal communities abound. For example, in the Church of St. Joseph in Jinlun, you can see the unique mixture of Catholic iconography and indigenous Paiwan cultural art made with cowrie shells.

If you’ve chosen to ride down the east coast, you’ll come to the southern peninsula and reach the Pacific Ocean, complete with windswept dunes around the coast. Unlike the rocky, mountainous east coast, the west coast is a lot flatter and crowded with industrial developments. This means you’ve got to take greater care while navigating the unprotected cycle lanes.

Travel up the west coast, and you will come to Kaohsiung, the second-largest city in Taiwan. If you believe you’ve arrived at your worst nightmare of an industrialized giant at first, you’ll be delighted to find that this city has recently transformed itself into a place for everyone, with public artwork and modern architecture galore.

Far from its seedy, polluted past, Love River is now a vibey strip of cafes and bars with wonderfully safe cycling lanes. Finally, make your way back to Taipei City through alternating rice paddies and urban developments to conclude the adventure of a lifetime.