Cyclists, foodies and adventure seekers won’t be disappointed on this tropical island. Taiwan will host the inaugural Challenge Taiwan triathlon on May 4.
When mentioning to my friends and colleagues that I was headed for a trip to Taiwan, many responded with, “Oh, I just love Thailand!” That’s how little most people know about the Republic of China (its official name). But what they also don’t know is that it’s located on the same latitude as the Hawaiian Islands, and enjoys warm tropical and sub-tropical climates year-round. Despite its beauty, Taiwan has been off the tourism radar for quite some time—until now. For the past four years, this island has been redefining itself as a cycling paradise, hosting international bike competitions and triathlons. Most widely known for its manufacturing prowess in the ’80s and ’90s, Taiwan has actually been a strategic port city since Portuguese sailors “discovered” it in 1544 and named it Ihla Formosa, or the “Beautiful Island.” The moniker is absolutely appropriate. Taiwan boasts rideable terrain through lush foliage, captivating cliff-side ocean views, deep-green tea plantations and serene lakeside pathways. With 14,000 square miles, there’s a path that appeals to every level of adventure.
The Taiwanese have so embraced cycling that it has unofficially become the national pastime. In 2011 and 2012, the country hosted the Taiwan Cycling Festival, which attracted thousands of participants, supporters and international professional competitors for the Taiwan Cup, a 200K race set up on the balmy southeast side of the island. “There are wondrous corners of this island that you just can’t see unless you’re on a bike,” says King Liu, president of Giant bicycles. At 78 years old, his dedication to cycling has inspired a nation of recreational cyclists as well as avid enthusiasts exploring their own backyard. This led up to the “One Bike Tour” when, on New Year’s Eve 2011, more than 110,000 bicyclists started simultaneously riding for an hour to set the Guinness World Record for the most cyclists biking at once.
The largest city in Taiwan is the northern capital of Taipei, home to 2.6 million people. You will most likely fly into Taipei, but hundreds of kilometers of riverside pathways take you outside of the city hustle for some fresh air and elbow room, making Taipei one of the most bike-friendly metropolises in Asia. There are hundreds of trails designed specifically for cyclists only, which make for incredibly carefree and focused riding on well-maintained roads, despite the frequent extreme weather. Pick up a free city cycling map at any of the tourist visitor center kiosks. Even the subway maps have clear markers for bike shops and trailheads.
Take a run up the Dan Shui Riverbank path to the Fisherman’s Wharf for some amazing seafood and famous roasted calamari skewers. It’s all about the street food here, so try something new if you’re feeling adventurous. Take the Xin Dian stop off the MRT subway rail system to get to a challenging switchback climb that runs through lush green hills. You will be rewarded with a natural hot springs soak in the historic town of Wu Lai. The famous tea eggs and traditional aboriginal bamboo rice here are not to miss.
For the typical triathlete, it’s hard to slow down. But the warmth of the people in Taiwan and the hidden sights of this country make it extremely easy to take it easy. The National Palace Museum has enough artwork and history to keep you busy for a week. Then they change out the priceless displays and it’s a whole new museum again. Make sure you visit the famous Michelin-rated dumpling house Ding Tai Fung for some tasty bites that you’ll remember for days.
If you’re looking for an exotic place to train with a rich culture, incredibly friendly local people and amazing food, Taiwan should most definitely be on your list for the next trip.
If you want …
Serene Lakeside Rides/Runs
Take a train south from Taipei and head to Sun Moon Lake near Tai Chung County for the spectacular 29K lakeside bike path. The ride is moderately easy with gradual climbs that wind around the largest body of fresh water on the island and has designated lanes for cyclists and runners. The Hotel Del Lago is a primo modern hotel with fantastic deck views of the lake. Sunmoonlake.gov.tw, Dellago.com.tw/EN
Challenging Mountain Climbs
Take a trip to the Taroko Gorge National Park in Hualien County, which offers majestic climbs and descents through deep blue marble-clad gorges with green jade ravines. Then take a coastal ride north in the forest canopy while gazing at ancient Buddhist temples. It will take a few days of climbing to get to the Evergreen hotel in Jiao Si, but the mineral and hot-spring baths will make it worthwhile. Visit the rooftop pool for a lap swim workout surrounded by a tropical jungle backdrop. Taroko.gov.tw, Evergreen-hotels.com/jiaosi
Visibility here can be excellent from 5m–15m year-round. Don’t miss Yeliu, Bitong Cape and Longdong Bay in the northeast; Kenting National Park, Green Island and Lanyu Island in the south; and Penghu Islands in the west for a spectacular array of 200 types of live coral reef teeming with sea life. For a tour around the main island coast, contact Formosadiveacademy.com or for outer island excursions, try Greenislandadventures.com.
Taiwan was formed by the collision of major tectonic plates, which spawned sulfur springs, mineral springs, cold springs, mud springs and even one of the world’s only saltwater hot springs. Try Taian, JiaoShi, WuLai, RueiSui, Beitou and Guanziling areas for resorting. For the more adventurous, trek out to Sileng and Lisong counties for wild springs with no one around. Keep in mind that most resorts are fairly modest, with gender-segregated pool areas and mandatory swim caps. Rules are less stringent in more rural areas.
Food is one of the highlights of Taiwan, from small mom-and-pop stands to creative new-school fusion to classic fine-dining restaurants. Night markets are where Taiwan comes alive with local delectable delights and yummy eats. Some favorites:
Cow Boss Beef Noodles (Shida Night market, Taipei): Fresh noodles swim in a big steamy bowl of succulent beef broth with scallions and braised beef cutlets.
Yong He King of Soymilk (Yong He District Taipei, Fu Xing South Road, Section 2): Open 24 hours, this authentic traditional Taiwanese breakfast joint serves local items like seared turnip pancakes, fried scallion nan bread omelets, congee and pickled vegetables.
First Vegan Express (Zong Hua Road, Section 1, Taipei): Creative and yummy alternative for gluten-intolerant and veggie-loving folks. They serve up fresh salads, pizza bagels, tofu wraps and soups all without any meat products.
Spring Water Cafe (Chun Shui Tang, Zhong Shi West District, Tai Chung): Try the red bean bubble tea, the all-star boba milk tea or any one of the dozens of flavor combinations of tea infusions.