“70% of Taiwan’s landscape is mountainous. The best flat terrain you can find over these 3 days of cycling in this region.” As our Cycling Lead said this, he gave away a large grin with sparkles in his eyes. I know I can anticipate excitement ahead.
About 2/3 of Taiwan is dominated by the Central Mountain range. The island has more than 200 peaks towering above 3,000 M. It’s most famous cycling achievement by many cyclists’ aspiration is to be able to scale Wuling (mountain) Pass at 3,725 M above sea level traversing the Central Mountain located near the peak of Mount Hehuan within Taroko National Park.
Nope, we are not challenging ourselves anywhere near there. Yet we had a nano taste of what’s Taiwan’s mountainous terrain is like in Taichung county and Miaoli county. This itinerary is graded Beginner Plus to Intermediate level with a good short introduction to climbs, what’s winding descent and (constant) headwind ride.
Of course we have our fair share of flat (really flat) rides on dedicated bike paths. Our real adventure starts only after the first 20 KM ride on Taiwan’s first abandoned railway line converted cycling path known as the Dongfeng Bicycle Green Way and connects to Houfeng Bike path.
The morning ride was indeed picturesque as we cycled leisurely, soaking into the tranquility of the surrounding as we rode pass Shigang Dam, the Farmers' Association's old grain store, Lovers' Bridge and other scenic spots.
After lunch as usual, that’s where the FUN begins ! Located at an altitude of five to eight hundred metres above sea level, lies the mountainous ginger garden. Haa haa … the nano climb. As early as the Qing Dynasty, this area is renowned for its quality ginger due to its terrain, soil, climate and the hard work of the ancestors.
The front pack are simply too happy to have reached the top of the hill and began their 5-KM descent over winding roads. It was really thrilling, I must say. For those who didn’t dare attempt, our friendly support van is always there to pick up any volunteers who like to call it a day earlier. However before you make that attempt, be sure to make a stop at the panoramic viewpoint to see over 20 peaks in sight.
The stay tonight is worth a mention in a paragraph of its own. The local homestay, nested in the forested Mao Li county offers a sense of calmness and tranquility as it welcome us. It is a must to take a walk around the homestay where every corner is worth a snap of picture. See below to believe.
The next morning, we experienced an indigo DIY within the accommodation compound. The owner makes its own sustainable and eco-friendly dye from scratch from the indigo and Assam plants that grow well in this region. Everyone followed the exact steps instructed by the Coach but each one ended up with a unique design of its own. It was surreal as we opened our masterpiece one by one and gushed in awe.
The ride was planned short as we had a good time trying the indigo experience. By the time we make the descent to Sheng Xing Railway Station, it was almost lunch. The train station is a Japanese style station built entirely with wood. The vicinity of the station is considered the steepest in this western line region. It ceased operation in 1998 when a more navigable section of the mountain line opened. Due to its history and value to the local people, the station is kept as a tourist attraction and became a designated historic site.
Lunch was hakka cuisine (showing 4 out of 13 dishes below only) and we had a try with the famous hakka thunder tea as we took turns to grind the ingredient to powder.
So what goes down must come up. After a hearty lunch, we need to ride up the slope that we had happily glided down and make our way to Long Teng Bridge, built in 1906 during the Japanese Rule. It was designed by two American civil engineers. An earthquake in April 1935 and following aftershocks in July during the same year damaged the bridge beyond repair. In 1999, the 921 earthquake caused one of the remaining piers of the bridge to collapse. As a result, the Miao Li County government decided to rededicate the bridge’s remains as a monument to the two deadliest earthquakes in Taiwan’s history to date.
The last 10 km of the day was spent navigating on Miao 52 Road – a scenic route on the traffic highway. The trick is to go slow and enjoy the undulations as you roll leisurely to end the day’s cycling.
It wasn’t a bad day to ride if not for the constant headwind. LOL Our day started from a Mazu Temple and brought us to Cape of Good Hope. Here’s where we has our first taste of win in all direction. We rode part of the route that forms Taiwan Round Island. The route follows the coast and was generally flat throughout the entire day. Despite the wind challenge, we had some fun along a network of coastal bicycle paths linked by 5 new bridges, the 17 km Coastline Scenic Area in Hsinchu county that boasts 8 spectacular scenic spots. Then it's lunch at a seafood restaurant.
A good stop to rest our legs is the Xingfeng Mangrove Nature Reserve. It is the only mangrove in Northern Taiwan to host a mix of Kandelia and black managrove. It is also one of the best wetlands in Taiwan.
Our ride ended as we entered into Taoyuan county, at Mona Coffee House – a Balinese inspired café We took a lovely break here and enjoy a celebratory cup of cappuccino or a glass of ice coffee as we concluded our cycling rendezvous here.
Thereafter, we were transferred to Taipei for our final night in Taiwan before we concluded our cycling vacation the next day.