Nothing unfolds as slowly as you might first imagine on a cycling or bicycle touring trip. You trade pain for adventure, long rides for meaningful moments, hurried life for a dash of uncertainty.
Getting into sticky situations is part of the whole journey that sometimes you question whether this is what you have signed-up for. The seas look calm and azure, but your nerves are a total wreck, knowing there's a long enduring climb ahead or construction on the side of the road further narrowing your space into nothing more than a single yellow line.
Taiwan, a clear underrated destination that not many would think of fitting "cycling" as part of their plan until decades ago. Often compared to China, you'll find that Taiwanese people do not relate to Chinese mainland characteristics and etiquette. As a matter of fact, the Taiwanese are very fond of the Japanese. Japan happens to be Taiwan's former colonizer of 50 years.
An island of 23 million people, it has strong cultural appeal to Japan. Older Taiwanese often mark the Japanese colonial era as a turning point in their country's development. This explains the clean streets, top-notched railway system and durable agriculture know-hows.
Infrastructure-wise, Taiwanese has made it easy for people to cycle in their country with the home-grown brand Giant and sprawling network of dedicated paths. Knowing that we had luxurious paved wide roads for cyclists, we followed the coastal route from Kaohsiung all the way to Hualien for one week covering 445km.
A scenic route hugging the Taiwanese coastlines, we couldn't wait to get our wheels rolling in the East Coast side of Taiwan. This was part of Cycling Route 1, a popular path that circles the entire island which can be done in two weeks if you have all the time in the world.
Beginning with a flat terrain, we leave Kaohsiung's smoggy central and ride alongside scooters, cars and trucks. The road widens to cater to cyclists and we emerged on paved highways, sucking in fumes, wondering what did we get ourselves into.
The track then turns into the beautiful rural coastal township, Fangshan known for its Aiwen mangoes. A day's ride later, we hit the glorious Pacific coast from Kenting to Dawu in 100km facing unrelenting elements, fast switchbacks to the bend of each coast, long uphill tunnel with speeding trucks and rainy weather (stories of battling headwinds at 20mph, pouring rain, flat tyres abound) before finally hitting to Taitung, the southeastern country in Taiwan....and the place with the most number of earthquakes.
Santorini-rivaled views at Tiny Greece in Fangshan, Taiwan that our heart couldn't say no to, and our legs begged for some relief.
The southern-most tip of Taiwan, Kenting where we found the most remote and exotic beaches
Stunning views at every turn as we head further in to Taitung, after suffering a gruelling 100km ride with crazy headwinds from Kenting to Dawu
The mountain slopes right down to the coast, with coconut trees along the shore and attractive coral reefs just offshore.
An 8 arch bridge that looks like a giant dragon stretching out in the sea called the Sanxiantai.
A massive earthquake 6.4 earthquake struck us when we were at Hualien at 11.50pm. The room shook, complete with the entire bed shifting aggressively, lights flickering and the chandelier swinging. It was a scary and unreal moment, I couldn't believe that this was happening to us. We grabbed our stuff and stood outside the hotel for a good 2 hours and honestly, didn't know what we should do. Standing outside was probably the worst idea, but the aftershocks continued the entire night. The next day we made our way back to Taitung and took a slow ride for the next few days before we made our way back to Kaohsiung on the train.
The enormous variety of typical Taiwanese street food is known everywhere and perfectly illustrates the food culture of the Taiwanese especially dumplings and mixed rice (the best value for your money!)
If you're lost or stranded anywhere, you better get used to 7-eleven. They are not like the dingy low-quality ones back home, but over here it is clean, well-stocked and even has postal and train/bus ticketing services!
(The kid even agrees!)
The earthquake caused an immediate change in weather with rain forecasted for the last few days, ending our cycling trip with a quiet one filled with food, city walks, local interactions and slow rides.
Bicycles in Taiwan are allowed in certain carriages making it convenient and easy for us. We ended our trip in Kaohsiung and spent the day returning our Giant bikes, gorging on milk tea and enjoying the last sunshine days of Taiwan (thankfully, we were blessed with good weather!)
For days, we had experienced the finest moments of Taiwanese hospitality when we had our tyres punctured and had to hitch rides in the middle of nowhere and on the other end, when the natural disaster struck Taiwan, the locals were wildly optimistic and calm, no sense of panic as aftershocks continued the next morning. Just an admirable determination to move on and face the future forwards perhaps, or they probably knew that their buildings were designed to withstand the fiercest earthquakes!
If you want understand the thrill of cycling along the coasts, then Taiwan might be the place for you to dive deeper into your athletic capacity.