Taiwan is the Bicycle Kingdom where most mid to high end bicycle are made, and where my trusty steed was actually made, so it was meant to be a bit of a home-coming where I thought that I’d meet other Surly cyclists but I quickly realised that most people rode Giant bicycle and that no-one had ever heard of a Surly.
Initially when I booked my flights into and out of Taiwan I had planned to stay only three and a half weeks, I had made the mistake of not doing enough research and had read that cycling around the island could be done in 5 to 12 days, so I originally thought that three and a half weeks would be ample time to leisurely ride around the island, but not too much time that I’d get bored hanging around at the end of my journey. I also had a 2,000 word essay that I needed to complete in order for me to be finally certified as a TEFL teacher, so the plan was to do this during the three and a half weeks. After a few days in the country I got such a good feel for the place that I decided to extend my stay by another two weeks – which would also mean that I’d be in Taiwan during their Pride celebrations. Taiwan is the first country in Asia to attain marriage equality and this was attained this year, so this year was set to be their biggest celebration.
I cycled counter clock-wise around the country as recommended as the west coast is easier and flatter whereas the east coast is hillier and I had spent the past six months teaching English and science and not cycling very much, so I needed to improve on my fitness first. There is actually an online guide for cycling around the country, which was really really useful https://eng.taiwan.net.tw/att/0024052/04_0024052.pdf
On my first day of cycling I met a cyclist who wanted to take a photo with me because I was cycling around the island. We couldn’t communicate with each other but he managed to work out that I wanted him to send me the photo after I gave him my ‘business card’. I was so chuffed to receive the photo by e-mail, a few days later.
It was great because he was just the start of all of the cheering, waving, thumbs up and air punching that I got as I cycled around the country. I later found out that cycling around the island is a big thing in Taiwan and so people are really impressed when foreigners do it too.
The cycle route around the country is amazing. Lots of dedicated cycle paths which are off road, the downside to that is that a lot of drivers weren’t very good at turning right when a cyclist was next to them, i.e. I got cut up quite a bit when I was on the road.
I met many people on the way around the island. I discovered that a nod and a smile was usually reciprocated, which is a fun game that I always play. On my second day I met a group of retirees at a 7-11 who were out on their e-bikes they invited me on their ride and to join them for lunch; they were heading East and I was heading South, but I said yes. They were fantastic, they had actually started drinking at 9am when I met them and obviously at lunch time they were drinking too. The route was hilly and of course I was slow as I was carrying all of my stuff which is always way too much stuff – so they pushed me up the hills. After I left them it was 1.30pm and I was knackered as I had been pedalling too fast trying to keep up with them; I then had another 55km to get to my destination.
A few days later I met group of cyclist from Taiwan, it was their first cycle tour, they were cycling around the island in 10 days!!! I was so impressed as they had never done anything like this before, three of them had to hire bicycles as they weren’t regular cyclists.
Custard apples were in season whilst I was in Taiwan – yum.
I met my first group of women cycle tourists in two and a half years!!!
I was in Taiwan during their National Holiday. So I had actually been organised and booked my accommodation for the National Holiday a couple of weeks in advance in the city of Taichung, which was going to have an amazing firework display for the national holiday. Of course when it actually came to it the accommodation that I had booked, I’d got it totally wrong and I was nowhere near Taichung City and so I was nowhere near the firework display which I later found out lasted a good 45mins. I had instead booked myself into a hostel which was in a small town just outside of Taichung, but this hostel turned out to be the best hostel in the whole of Taiwan and after my visit no other hostel could compare and this was quite basically due to the owner Ming Su, who was absolutely hilarious.
She had me grinning from ear to ear most of the time even though most of our communication was through Google Translate.
The West cost of the island is pretty industrial.
The East coast is beautiful, lush, green and far hillier. It’s also where most of the indigenous population lives.
I visited Taroko Gorge.
I actually did get round the island and do my essay in three and a half weeks, so I got to sight-see, chill and relax in Taipei and meet some really nice people in my last two weeks.