Alishan, April 12 - 13, 2010. Click pic for album

Taroko to Kending

Taroko Gorge to Kending, Feb 14 - 19, 2010.

Northern Cross Island Highway

Northern Cross Island Highway, May 19 - 21, 2008. Click pic for album
19th March, 2008

Taidong to Hualian the hard way


A view from the Ruigang Highway, or township road 64

We had decided to do the East Rift Valley, but felt that going on the flats the whole time would be a bit boring, so we decided to combine the Rift Valley with the Coastal Highway and some mountain riding by crossing over the Coastal Mountain Range three times in two days.
This one is not a tour for the faint of heart, and you need to be fairly fit to pull it off in two days. By the evening of the second day, we had clocked a total of 254km, 137km the first day, including the longest crossing of 45 km from Donghe (東河) on the coast to Fuli (富里) in the Eastern Rift Valley (花東縱谷), and 117km the second day, crossing the mountain range twice, first along road 64 from Ruisui in the Rift Valley to Dagangkou (大港口) on the coast, and then from Fengbin (豐濱) on the coast back into the Rift Valley.
02-coastalmountains.jpgIt was just great to be down south again, where both young and old sit on a chair outside their house or on the fence by the bridge and watch the world go by with a sense of purpose in their eye. Peopple seem more relaxed and for no reason are likely to come up and say things like “Oh, so you’re here enjoying yourself,” and strike up a conversation as if you were old friends.
We took the overnight train from Taipei to Taidong on Sunday evening, leaving Taipei at 10:55pm and arriving in Taidong 6:05 the next morning. Not much sleep even though the seats recline quite comfortably. Once in Taidong, we put the bikes together and went on a 7-11 hunt. We had found a 7-11 just by Hualian train station on the online 7-11 outlet database and wanted to use the excellent 7-11 shipping service by having our bike bags shipped so we could pick them up after the ride rather than have to tie them to our bikes and lug another couple of kilos over the mountains three times.
Bags shipped and with some healthy 7-11 sandwiches and coffee down the hatch we left Taidong behind us at 8am, heading out across the Zhonghua Bridge (中華大橋)16-cardump.jpg along Provincial Road 11 toward Donghe. We were really tired after not having slept properly and soon found a rest area where they still hadn’t opened the coffee shop. We took a nap on their benches, and just when we woke up, they opened the coffee shop so we could get a decent cappuccino to really get started up.
On the road again, we came to “Water running upwards” (水往上流). A funny name for a place, so we had to stop and check it out. It has to be some kind of illusion, but the water in this place really does run upward, against the hill. The incline isn’t very steep, but an incline it is, and the water flows against the incline. Strange things are happening in the land of Taiwan…
After about 41km we reached Donghe only to find that the Donghe Baozi place was closed. They had taken a week off, so we had to go on without baozi. Crossing the bridge after Donghe, Provincial Road 23 is to the immediate left, but the sign saying 23 only sits a bit in on the road itself, there was no sign on road 11, so it is easy to miss. I did, in fact, but D who came behind saw it.
A bit down the road, we stopped to take a look at a band of macaques sitting by the roadside. 06-macaques.jpg One of them took a liking to D but wasn’t very happy that she didn’t feed them, so she and two others started attacking D who ran like hell to get away before they got physical. I don’t know if they do, but it sure looked like they were going to, and we didn’t want to challenge them. Then D jumped on the bike and was out of there quicker than you can say “0-100 in 2.8 seconds.”
The road sign on road 23 says 30km to Fuli, but that is the Fuli Township border. It is in fact 45 km to get to Fuli town. The first 20km of road 23 are OK and not too steep, but after 20km the incline starts, and it goes on more or less continuously for about 7-8km. I don’t think it is actually much steeper than Fengguizui on Wuzhishan here in Taipei, and looking at the map, the elevation is about the same at roughly 600m, but already having 60km in your legs can make it feel tough.12-pressingon.jpg After the seven km, the inclines are less steep and they’re mixed up with some drops before dropping all the way down to Fuli, where we had a late lunch in a danzai noodle place. After a beer, bantiao noodles, hundun soup and the compulsory Heysong Sarsaparilla (黑松沙士) — the only softdrink I drink with pleasure — we went on toward Ruisui (瑞穗), and another 50km on the flats along the beautiful Rift Valley and its rice paddies. In Fuli, we found the road running parallel to the railway behind the houses along the main road, and then riding along that road until we found the road sign toward Shiping aboriginal village (石平部落) we turned right and crossed the railroad. In Shiping after about a kilometer, we turned right and continued along Zhuofu Access Road (桌富產業道路) toward Yuli (玉里), which we reached after 27km. Ride the access road until it ends and runs into Provincial Road 18, and follow that into town. We then headed south on Zhongshan Rd until we reached a road veering off at a 45 degree angle to the left toward Taidong. Following that along Provincial Road 9 for less than a kilometer across the bridge, we took a left on County Road 193 toward Ruisui, which we reached after another 24km. Some maps say that the 193 is in fact county road 195 or 195A (195甲), but the signs along the road say 193, as do other maps.
I n Ruisui, we stayed at Juisui Hot Spring (瑞穗溫泉山莊) , 17-accessroad.jpga place with the best kind of hot spring water, or so they say, ie, the water is yellow with minerals and you’re told not to shower it off when you’re done because it is good for ya’ to keep it on. It certainly gives your skin a smoother feel. It was great with a hot bath for sore legs. The place does have an English page on their web site where we are solemnly informed that their “Category of Production” is “Tounsm.” Anyway, service is good and although food is basic, they serve dinner and a meager breakfast. When we weren’t sure how to get there from the railway station, they sent a mini van to pick us up, bikes and all. We were allowed to bringthe bikes inside the hotel over the night. I think we paid 1200 for a double, and you can use both the three outdoor and the many small indoor tubs as many times as you want for as long as you want during your stay.
In figures, the first day amounted to 137km at an average speed of just below 20km/hr. We were on the road from 8am to 6.30pm, ie, 10.5 hours, of which we spent seven hours actually pushing the pedals.

The East Rift valley from the beginning of road 64

A somewhat slow morning, we only gout out on the road by 9.30am, and rolled down to the railway station and then down Zhongshan Rd until we hit 193 (as mentioned above, this road is called 195 on some maps, but the signs on the road say 193, and that’s also what the people in Ruisui called it), which we followed for about 2km until we hit township road 64, called the Ruigang Highway (瑞港公路) on some maps. Not as steep or as long as road 23, it is an absolutely beautiful 22km ride across the mountain range, much of it along the Xiuguluan River (秀姑巒溪) which, it appears, is famous for its white water rafting from Qimei (奇美) down to Dagangkou — D told me she did that tour many years ago, but I still have to do it.
After 22km, we reached Dagangkou, and immediately continued on toward Fengbin. On the way to Fengbin we stayed in Shiti fishing harbor (石梯港) for lunch. 08-taiyuan.jpgEveryone in the village was down in the harbor eating and drinking, and they were all drunk — you could tell from how they all concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other when they stood up. Maybe it’s just what they do on Tuesdays in Shitigang, or maybe it was an election campaign rally — a lot of people were wearing “Support Ma-Siew” vests, so maybe they were just trying to show the local voters how swell of a guy Ma really is in the hope that they will all vote for him on Sunday. In any case, it was quite an interesting experience to see a whole village having had too much to drink.
After a while, we reached Fengbin where we replenished our water supplies and had some ice cream and a chat with the lady who ran the shop. We were getting a bit tired and played with the idea of skipping the third ride across the mountains, but a fairly strong head wind was building up along the coast, and that is really boring. We decided to stick to the plan and went up Provincial Road 11A (11甲) toward Guangfu (光復) 19km away, but before reaching Guangfu, we took a right along 193 after about 15-16km, right after the big cemetery on the right hand side. The first half of the beautiful lush road follows the Dingzilou River (丁子漏溪) fairly closely. Coming down from having crossed over at the highest point of the road, there is a small stretch of road where there is no mountain on either the left or the right side which means that you’re going across this really quite narrow strip of road with a sheer drop on either side — a most hilarious feeling that gives quite a rush when you realize it.

The East Rift valley from the beginning of township road 64, the Ruigang highway

We followed county road 193 for 39km (remember, 195 on some maps) until we hit provincial road 11, the coastal highway coming up from Taidong. All along, the 193 is a beautiful road skirting the eastern edge of East Rift Valley, and up here it goes up and down along the foothills of the Coastal Mountain Range. It is hilly most of the way without any major climbs, although even a moderate, longish climb can be a bit tiring after two long days. Both D and I had the distinct feeling, however, that we were going downhill more than we went uphill — we’d go downhill until we rode along almost level with the rice paddies, continuing like that only to find that we were again above the fields and then coming to the next downward incline. Maybe the Rift Valley is higher at its southern end than at its northern end.
When we reached road 11 a few kilometers from Hualian we took a right turn and went south for a few kilometers until we hit a cluster of B&Bs (民宿) around kilometer mark 8. There are many more another 3-5km down the road. We stopped at the first called Blue Ocean Resort (藍海綠地) run by a nice couple that had retired there from Taipei. For 1200 bucks a night we got a good clean room and a soft bed, no dinner and a meager breakfast. No dinner meant getting on the bikes again and rolling down the road about five-six kilometers where we found a great sea food restaurant of the traditional kind — choose the seafood you want from a counter and get the beer served in a six-bottle holder stood on the floor between the chairs so you don’t have to place all the bottles on the table. For some reason, these are almost always the best seafood restaurants, and this was no exception: lobster for two, squid, clams, vegetables, fried rice, a Heysong Sarsaparilla and a couple bottles of beer for 1600 bucks. You can’t beat that, at least not in Taipei. There were two restaurants here, so if you go, head for the “055” about 40-50m below the road rather than going to the one just by the roadside.
In figures, Tuesday was 117km at an average speed of about 18.5km. We were on the road from 9:30am until 6pm, ie, 8.5 hours, of which we spent 6h 20min pushing the pedals.

Lunch at Shitigang

We had originally planned to finish the whole thing off with a leisurely day ride up Taroko Gorge to enjoy the views before returning to Hualian for an overnight stay and then returning to Taipei tomorrow, Thursday. Rain, a haze and low clouds, however, put an end to that plan. Instead, we did the short 14km-ride into Hualian to pick up the bike bags at the 7-11 and then cross the road to the railway station where we bought tickets and bagged the bikes before getting a cup of coffee and a paper at the station’s 7-11. Back in Taipei just after 2pm, we had clocked up 268km in two full days and a short morning. Pretty good.

This has to be a classic Taiwan ride, no matter how many days you take to do it. It brings you along the coastal highway for 40km between Taidong and Donghe, and then again for 20km between Dagangkou and Fengbin. Then you get to ride the East Rift Valley along some of Taiwan’s most beautiful countryside for about 50km from Fuli to Ruisui, and then another 40km along the 193 up to Hualian. In addition, you get to ride through beautiful mountain landscapes, especially between Ruisui and Dagangkou and between Fengbin and Guangfu, although the longer route from Donghe to Fuli also is beautiful. Bonuses here are a couple of absolutely stunning views down toward the wide open East Rift Valley.
The roads over the mountain range are almost completely empty, at least on a Monday and a Tuesday, and there was that beautiful noisy not-so-quiet silence, or calm, you get out in the wild: birds singing, cicadas chirping, a gentle breeze, fresh air and not a man made sound, no matter how hard you try to detect one.
Day one:
Taidong along provincial road 11 to Donghe, 41km; provincial road 23 from Donghe across the Coastal Mountain Range to Fuli in the East Rift Valley, 45km; Fuli to Yuli along Zhuofu Access Road, 27km; Yuli to Ruisui along county road 193 (given as 195 on some maps), 24km. Total: 137km.
Day two:
Ruisui to Dagangkou on the Pacific Coast via county road 193 (195 on some maps) and township road 64, the Ruigang highway, 30km; Dagangkou to Fengbin, 20km; Fengbin across the mountains to road 193, 16km; road 193 back to provincial road 11 north of the Coastal Mountain Range, 39km. Total: 117km
All in all, we spent about NT$1,800 on train tickets and NT$2,400 on accommodation. Much value for money, ie, high ROI…
Hat tip to Feiren for a couple of tips at Rank’s biking posts

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5 comments to Taidong to Hualian the hard way

  • Grete Tulinius

    Great blog with lots of inspiration for me. Going to Taiwan next year and want to bring my bike with me…

  • tbv

    Thanks Grete. We’ve had a bad year for biking this year, but Taiwan really is one of the best places if you like biking that has something more to offer than just being on the flats. The mountains are beautiful, and even here around Taipei, you have great half day rides out in the mountains just an hour away.

  • OrganicKevin

    I enjoy reading your blog very much. Great information with wonderful photos. Planning to relocate back to Taiwan later this year after 29 years in USA. I did not realize Taiwan was such a great place for cyclists. I will for sure bring my bikes with me. Keep blogging along for the good cause. Thanks.

  • tbv

    Thanks Kevin. You’ll love biking in Taiwan. And I’ll keep blogging, but I basically only blog when I bike, so it’s pretty obvious that there wasn’t much biking done last year. But we’re doing a six day trip over Lunar New Year, up and down Taroko Gorge and then on all the way down to Kending via Hualian and Taidong. That’ll be a great ride.

  • Simon Pfister

    I’m Simon from Switzerland, living in (and probably leaving) Dali, Yunnan China. I’m a passionate biker and like mountain biking and traveling by bike.

    I plan to travel and discover Taiwan – and checkout if Taiwan may become my new home. I’m looking for a relaxed place with mountains and beautiful nature, nice people something like Dali but with a better ‘system’ and not so many crazy people ;).
    I plan to travel about a month (November) and thought roughly I will start in Taipei and first ride the east coast – not sure if the west coast is worth discovering and if time allows. Probably I will travel alone – can’t find a buddy who want or can come around…

    Right now I’m doing some research and step over your great web-site – I’m getting even more exciting when I see the pics 🙂 I still have some open questions – if you don’t mind and have time, could you give me some information (or point me into the right directions) about my plans. Shall we discuss it here or by email?

    Thanks a lot in advance
    and hope we can sip a coffee together in Starbucks 😉