Holidays in Taiwan, again

Ever since I first came to Taiwan in 2006 (which happens to be more or less exactly 10 years ago, watch out for a separate blog post about that), I've been coming back at least once every year until 2014. Sometimes it's business related ,but one trip per year has always been about holidays.

I really like the country for a variety of reasons. One of them is the beautiful landscape from sand beaches to tropical forsts and high mountains (Taiwan has more than 100 peaks higher than 3000m). This is also the reason I keep my Yamaha TW-225 motorbike here, as it's impossible to explore the island without your own transport. And I hate driving bulky, large cars. Plus, some of the narrow roads have ascent/descent levels and road conditions that you actually can only pass them with a motorbike, preferrably using offroad tyres.

But I digress. I like coming to Taiwan, and motorbiking accross the country is one of the main reasons why.

After the various trips before, including the FIXME last trip circling the island in 2014, I wanted to do something special this year. The original plan was to cross the southern cross-island highway (Provincial Highway 20) from Taitung to Tainan. Unfortunately that road has been closed for many years now due to typhoon related damage. Typhonns and Eathquakes (and associated landslides) unfortunately happen quite often around Taiwan.

I've received some news that a group of motorcyclists managed to pass the road very recently (despite officially being closed and having various construction sites enroute). However, the road conditions were very difficult, having to pass narrow gravel sections at the construction sites, etc. So I again postponed this plan until a future year.

Instead, I wanted to travel along provincial highway '7 jia', which passes alongside a river valley into the central mountain ranges towards Lishan, and from there take Nantou Lixing Industry road (aka road 89) further down south towards Ren'ai. This road is of the most narrow roads that you can find on maps of Taiwan, and leads through very remote mountain areas with little population. You can find an interesting report of somebody crazy enough to travel that road on a bicycle in 2015 online. The author describes it as the most epic of all rides in Taiwan and you can see pictures of the road conditions in it.

Unfortuantely, while on our way, a Typhoon struck the southern tip of Taiwan, and also brought loads of torrential rain into the central mountain areas. Given that road 89 is difficult even in dry conditions, I didn't want to take chances in terms of landslides and muddy road conditions, and I had to turn back from Lishan to Taipei.

In order to make the return trip a bit different, I went all the way up to Yilan, and then alongside the north-east coast to Gongliao, before heading back to Tiapei via Shifen and Pinxi.

Soon after returning to Taipei, the second Typhoon affected the weather (passing by off the north-east of Taiwan).

In the following week the weather was excellent and there was time for a second trip. However, due to the rain of the two typhoons I still didn't want to go for road 89, and decided to go towards the north coast and continue to explore some of the waterfalls described at the vonderful site. Specifically, those alongside the Keelung river valley, close to road 106 form Taipei towards the coast, then heading north along the coast, covering the tip and returning back to Taipei via Dansuei (aka Tamsui).

In summary, the motorbike tours were a lot of fun. What made them more fun than the previous trips was my strategy of using 'white' roads (smaller roads) and avoid the provincial highways whenever three was a 'white' alternative on the map. Also, the newly-discovered map of Taiwans waterfalls was helping a lot to find beautiful sights, and encourage to go on even uncharted roads at times, a real challenge to both bike and biker.

So if you ever consider recreational motorbike riding in Taiwan, my recommendations would be:

  • get a light-weight motorbike. There's no point for a heavy bike in Taiwan, other than for locals to show it off. Many mountain roads typically have speed limits of 30 or 40 kph, and while it is possible to go 10-20 kph faster, more than that is suicidal. So no need for a fast bike with large engine.

  • avoid travel on weekends. Everything is super crowded on weekends. I prefer to stay home (and even work) on weekends, while using the quiet weekdays to travel.

  • always choose mountainous roads over straight roads.

  • choose smaller 'white' roads over provincial highways. Even though provincial highways on weekdays have less traffic, they still tend to attract a fair number of trucks, and are generally more easy and a less challenging ride.

  • always carry sufficient water with you.

  • go in September or October, after the rain season (normally) is over. The weather is still warm to hot (depending on altitude).