It was only 7 pm, but Gangkou, a small surf town not far from the southernmost tip of Taiwan, already seemed asleep. We were just about to give up on our attempt to find dinner when we spotted a tiny shed with what looked like it could be a restaurant sign. They were closing up, but the owner offered to cook up a beef noodle dish for us. It was delicious. And we must have looked hungry because as we were leaving he gave us three bananas to eat on the way back to our hotel.
Kenny and I were getting towards the end of our cycle touring trip across Taiwan. A trip that had started ten days earlier in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. After spending a day exploring the city, we headed south towards Taroko National Park where we hiked the Zhuilu Old Road trail. From there we cycled to the east coast and then followed the coastal road south to Dulan Forest. We then headed to Kenting National Park before cycling to Kaohsiung for our final night in Taiwan.
As we discovered during our ten-day trip, Taiwan is perfect for cycle touring: top quality roads with large bicycle lanes, bike shops in most towns, an impressive network of cycling paths, great food, beautiful scenery, varied terrain and most importantly, super friendly people.
If you are thinking of planning your own cycling adventure in Taiwan, you’ll find more detail on our itinerary, personal experiences, and practical information below.
If you are coming to Taiwan from abroad, you will most likely fly into Taipei, Taiwan’s capital. Unless you are on a tight schedule I would recommend spending a day or two exploring the city. Stroll through Wanhua—Taipei’s most historic neighbourhood—to learn about the local culture, visit a Buddhist temple, taste local food in the city’s popular night markets, and go up Elephant Mountain for a great view of the city.
Cycling In Taiwan: When To Go?
The best months for cycling in Taiwan are November, December, January and February. During this period the temperatures are ideal for cycling (19-27 ºC during the day and 14-22 ºC at night) and rain and thunderstorms are less frequent than during the monsoon season (May – September). However, rain showers in Taiwan are common all year round so come prepared in terms of gear.
Planning Your Route
If you look at a map of Taiwan you will see that the west side of the island is covered by a large network of roads and cities. This is where the majority of the island’s population lives. It is one of the most densely populated areas of the world. The east coast is the quiet part of the island; no large cities—just small towns, fishing villages, farms and a lot of open space. Between the busy west coast and the less-populated east coast there are steep mountain ranges and a number of National Parks.
We wanted to avoid the busy west coast and we were looking for a mix of mountains and coastlines so we decided to cycle from Taipei to Kaohsiung via Taroko National Park. We gave ourselves plenty of time to do some sightseeing along the way. You can read our day-to-day itinerary at the bottom of this blog post.
Other route options:
Another popular cycle touring route option in Taiwan is a round-island tour following the coast. This can be done by following a dedicated cycling route called Route No.1 . The length of the loop is about 940km and most cyclists complete it in 8-12 days.
If you plan to cycle a loop of Taiwan, I would recommend cycling down the east coast first before heading up the west coast. This will give you time to get used to cycling in Taiwan before hitting the higher traffic roads on the west coast.
A few other things to consider when planning your Taiwan cycle route:
- If you plan to cycle from Taipei to Yilan, keep in mind that bicycles are not allowed on Highway No. 5. Instead, you can take the much quieter provincial Highway 9. It is relatively hilly but the roads are quiet and the scenery is beautiful.
- If possible, avoid Suhua Highway between Su’ao and Hualien. It’s a narrow road with heavy, fast traffic and limited space for bicycles. Instead, you can take the train to Hualien or cycle inland via Taroko National Park. Unless you don’t like hills I would definitely recommend the later option. Taroko National Park is stunning!
- If you are planning on cycling the east coast I would recommend cycling north. Just because that way you will be on the coast-side of the road when you cycle so you will get a better view of the ocean :-).
- If you want to fly in and out of Taipei but you only want to cycle the east coast (and not do a full loop) there is a great railway network in Taiwan. You could for example get a high-speed train from Taipei to Kaohsiung (which takes less than 2 hours) and then cycle from Kaohsiung back to Taipei.
- There are some serious climbs in the mountainous areas in the centre of the island. If you are planning to cycle through the mountains, be sure to factor in sufficient time.
Bike Hire Options
We brought our own bikes on the plane. Most airlines allow you to replace your normal baggage allowance by a bicycle for free as long as it is packed up in a box and below a certain weight. But check your airline’s baggage allowance conditions to be sure.
If you want to avoid the hassle of packing up and transporting your bike, you can easily rent a bike in Taiwan. There are many bike rental shops in Taipei, in Taitung (on the east coast), in Kaohsiung and in most other towns on the west coast. The Giant bike rental shops allow you to pick up a bike in one city and drop it off in a different city which is a great option if you want to do a point-to-point route rather than a loop route.
For more detailed information on how to rent a bike, have a look at this website, it goes over all the practical details around bike rental in Taiwan.
Finding accommodation in Taiwan is straightforward. There are plenty of affordable hotels, B&B’s and hostels, even on the less populated east coast.
On the east coast the majority of people don’t speak English, so booking your hotel via a booking platform simplifies things. We booked all of our accommodation through Booking.com. You could also use AirBnB or Agoda (which has the biggest selection of hotels in Asia).
If you prefer to camp, there are campsites in some of the towns and scenic areas like Taroko National Park.
Food And Supplies
I loved the food in Taiwan. It’s like Chinese food but with a Japanese twist. Some of my favourite dishes included the steamed buns filled with soy and vegetables, steamed spring rolls and rice porridge with peanuts for breakfast. But there are also plenty of options for meat lovers like for example beef noodles and chicken soup with dumplings. In coastal towns most restaurants serve wood-fire grilled fish. There are also many delicious exotic fruits like Dragon fruit, Buddha head fruit, guava apples and passion fruit.
Food and water are easy to find when you are cycling in Taiwan. There are small local shops and restaurants, fruit stalls, street vendors and gas station-type convenience stores in pretty much every town, so you don’t need to carry many supplies with you on the bike.
The most common convenience stores are 7-Eleven and Family Mart. They are everywhere! What I loved about them is that aside from snacks and water they also sell hot food like sweet potatoes, and most of them have an ATM and toilets.
Many towns also have night markets. They are the best place to go to if you want to immerse yourself into the local culture. If you are passing through Luodong (near Yilan), I would definitely recommend going to the night market there—great atmosphere and delicious food!
One thing to keep in mind is that local restaurants in small towns tend to close early (around 6-7pm). So make sure you get there in time if you don’t want to go to bed hungry!
Taipei to Luodong | 96 kilometers | Hive Hotel
Navigating your way out of a city by bicycle can be tricky—especially when you can’t read any of the road signs—but we managed to get out of Taipei without too much difficulties (thank you Google Maps!).
Within a couple of hours, we were cycling through the hills and passing villages that seemed like they had been abandoned years ago—such a change in atmosphere compared to the bustling city we’d just left behind. Midway through a never-ending uphill, I spotted a shrine nestled on the side of the road. It had an altar layered with a collection of offerings: flowers, incense sticks, rice, tea, fruit, and even Oreo cookies and bags of crisps.
We were starving by the time we stopped for lunch in a tiny tea house with a view looking down onto the lush green valley. We had rice, pak choi, and dumplings and the most flavourful lemon tea I have ever tasted.
After cycling uphills for most of the day we were rewarded with the best ever descent into Yilan. I remember having a big smile on my face as we were wizzing down the winding road with beautiful views of the ocean in the evening light.
As recommended by the hotel owner in Luodong, we headed to the night market for dinner. There were hundreds of stalls selling all sorts of local specialties, kids running around, and families enjoying their meal together—the atmosphere was vibrant and the food was delicious.
Luodong to Fushoushan Farm | 111 kilometers| Fushoushan Farm
After a Taiwanese-style breakfast of rice, soup, and vegetables we headed back inland. Soon after leaving the city, we were cycling through a valley on a long empty road with peaks looming in the distance.
The further away we got from the coast the hillier and steeper the terrain became. Our progress was much slower than expected and we were starting to wonder whether we would make it to Fushoushan Farm, where we had planned to stay that night. We hadn’t brought our tent on this trip and there didn’t seem to be any accommodation options until we reached Fushoushan Farm—so there was no plan B.
It was dark by the time we finally arrived at Fushoushan Farm. We had a hot shower and then sat in the dinning hall, listening to a bunch of locals singing cheesy karaoke songs, while enjoying a big bowl of soup and rice. I remember feeling so content in that moment.
Fushoushan Farm To Taroko Gorge | 89 kilometers| Silks Place Taroko Hotel
It was pouring down with rain when we left Fushoushan Farm. In the breakfast hall this morning a couple had told us about the stunning scenery surrounding the farm. But right now, all we could see was a thick layer of fog hanging over the landscape.
After yesterday’s climbs, I had been looking forward to the long downhill stretch into Taroko National Park, but I was too cold to enjoy the descents; my hands were frozen, my feet felt like ice blocks, and I had to focus on stopping my arms from shaking to avoid losing my balance and falling off my bike. I hadn’t quite expected so much rain when I packed for this trip. Apart from my lightweight windproof jacket I didn’t bring any wet weather gear.
Taroko Gorge Hike | 0 kilometers| Silks Place Taroko Hotel
No cycling today. Instead, we did a hike through the gorge, following the Zhuilu Old Road trail. The scenery was breathtaking; with sheer walls of marble rising up from the emerald blue Liwu river. I felt so small in the middle of this imposing canyon landscape.
After the walk we had lunch in a small restaurant serving bamboo rice and all kinds of soup dishes, and then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the rooftop pool, soaking in the scenery.
Taroko Gorge To Liyu Lake | 69 kilometers| Lakeside 46
We wizzed down the winding mountain road towards Xincheng where we joined Highway 9 and headed south along the coast. I love the variety of landscapes in Taiwan; we had started our day cycling through a gorge among high rock walls and we were now having lunch, sitting on a stone beach and gazing at the ocean.
After around 20 kilometers along the coast we headed back inland, to Liyu Lake, where we were staying for the night.
Liyu Lake To Shitiping | 82 kilometers| Adagio Reindeer Hualien
We woke up early, and went for a run around Liyu Lake before hitting the road again. After heading back towards the coast we joined Highway 11. It is called “Highway” but in reality, it is a quiet coastal road with almost no traffic—at least that was the case when we were there, it might get busier over the summer.
Following Highway 11 we cycled through a number of small fishing villages where life seemed to be running at a slower pace than in the rest of modern society. People were not in a rush. They seemed to spend hours sitting in their front porch or on the side of the road chatting, playing cards and drinking tea with their neighbours. I secretly envied them. I’ve always struggled with slowing down and I often feel a weird sense of guilt when I’m not active or “productive”. I think I have a lesson to learn from the Taiwanese fishermen…
We arrived in Shitiping late afternoon and went for a wander along the rocky coastline. The area is famous for its unique geology and large wave-cut rock platforms. After soaking in the scenery we headed to a tiny restaurant opposite our B&B and had a delicious meal of woodfire grilled fish and fried wild vegetables.
Shitiping to Dulan Forest | 89 kilometers| Stone Party B&B
We continued following Highway 11 towards Taitung. stopping every couple of hours for a quick dip in the ocean. We decided to take a quick detour to Sanxiantai island. Apparently this is one of the most popular scenic spots on the east coast of Taiwan. But it was raining by the time we got there so all we could see was fog and moody skies.
Dulan, where we were staying for the night, was completely different from any of the other towns we’d cycled through so far. I loved the laid-back, hippy vibes in this quaint little surf town.
Dulan Forest to Dawu | 76 kilometers| Color Sea B&B
Another day along the coast. We stopped at a bikeshop in Taitung to pump up our tires and then continued along Highway 9. The tailwind, flat terrain, and stunning ocean views certainly helped, but riding felt effortless today.
Dawu to Gangkou Beach | 85 kilometers| Winson House
After a few days along the coast we headed back inland into the hills. There were a few steep climbs but we were rewarded with a long downhill that took us all the way back to the ocean. We were staying in a B&B looking down onto Jialeshui beach, one of the best surfing spots in Taiwan. I’m no good at surfing, but I certainly enjoyed my sunset dip in the ocean on this beautiful beach.
Gangkou Beach to Hengchun | 61 kilometers| Chillax Inn
Today’s ride took us through Kenting National Park. The scenery was stunning, with its lush forests and white-sand beaches. We took a short detour to Eluanbi Lighthouse before heading to Hengchun.
Hengchun to Kaohsiung | 101 kilometers| The Lees Hotel
Last day of our cycle trip already! As we approached Kaohsiung, there were more and more people, more cars, more scooters, more shops. The landscape shifted from beaches, forests and coastal cliffs to industrial zones and crowded towns. Luckily the cycling lanes are amazing in Taiwan so cycling amongst the traffic felt safe but I was already starting to miss the slow pace of life of the East coast.