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Sun, 10 Jun 2012
Back from a 3-day motorbike ride to the central Taiwan mountains

I've wanted to do this for many years, but somehow never managed to do this even back while I was spending a lot of time in Taiwan: A motorbike ride crossing the mountainous center of the island using the Central Cross-Island Highway. This highway is probably not what most people imagine a highway would be like: A narrow road consisting almost entirely only of serpentines with a speed limit of typically 40 km/h. In other words, a motorbiking paradise.

You can enter that highway from the east by starting from Taroko Gorge. In order to get there by motorbike, you take the famous Provincial Highway No. 9 from XinDian via Pinglin to Yilan, which is frequented a lot by Taipei motorbike riders on weekends. The No. 9 further leads along the cliffs of the coast to Xincheng, from where No. 8 starts.

The trip from Taipei to Xincheng is only about 200km, but still you need at least something like 5.30 hours if you want to ride safely. This is once again due to the mountain roads. You can barely see 100m at any given time to the next turn in the road all the way between XinDian and Yilan.

So I stayed one night at the entrance of Taroko Gorge.

Upon arrival I was greeted by the hotel owner with the news that No. 8 had been closed temporarily due to rock fall at km 150.9. That was pretty devastating to my plan, as this road is the only connection in the northern two thirds of the entire island. There is no alternative, except for No. 20, which would have been probably three times the amount of distance (and thus time). However, as it later turned out, the road would be opened for 30 minutes between 6am and 6.30am. So I had to leave at 5.00am in order to safely ride the first 30 km up to the road block. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened:

  • There was absolutely zero traffic in either direction (the first 25km to Tienshang that are normally full of tourist busses).
  • I was able to witness the sunrise at about 5.40am in the mountains
  • very clear sight, which at other times is not clear at all

So I reached the road block even ahead of schedule and was able to pass as intended.

I continued along the road, and due to the fact that the road was closed again after 30mins, there was close to zero traffic all day on the entire road.

At Dayuling, you can either continue the 8 towards Lishan (but not much further due to repeated subsequent earthquake and typhoon damage), or you an continue along No. 14 A towards Hehuanshan (Mt. Hehuan). I first went to Lishan (a major tea planting region) and back, as due to my early morning start I had lots of time left for detours, to continue towards Mount Hehuan , where the road reaches an altitude of more than 3100m.

I spent the second night in Renai, where I arrived just in time: The first rain drops of a heavy afternoon thunderstorm were falling. In the morning, I was greeted by the following view from my hotel room:

I left again in the early morning, drove through Puli and headed for the Sun Moon Lake. It really is beautiful, as you can see in the following picture. However, it is also over-developed to care for tourists of all sorts, including lots of concrete directly at the lake, and bus-loads full of tourists, Starbucks coffee shops and everything that comes with it.
After two days in remote mountains with little buildings and almost no people, the experience was so shocking that I decided not to circle the whole lake but instead continue down south along No. 16 until it meets No. 3, which I then drove more or less all the way back to Taipei.

The first sixty-or-so kilometers are painful, as they lead through heavily populated areas around Nantou and Taichung. This means that there's lots of traffic, and very frequent traffic lights that make you stop. Later on, the road leads through less populated mountainous regions, and driving is more relaxed again.

Having managed this trip without any problems (nor getting lost even once), I'm hoping to find some time in the future to ride No. 7 from Yilan to Lishan, and particularly Provincial Highway No. 20, crossing the mountains much more south.

And if there's one part for me to remember: Always avoid the densely populated regions in the west of the island. If I wanted to ride stop-and-go all day long, I don't have to leave Taipei or New Taipei City in the first place ;)

[ /personal/taiwan | permanent link ]

Getting woken up by an earthquake...

...is a good adrenaline rush to start your day. Happened to me this morning at 5am in Taipei, caused by a Magnitude 6.5 earthquake 70 km off Yilan on Taiwans east coast. If it happened two days earlier, it would have caught me on the motorbike ride, possibly causing even some more road blocks due to rubble coming down from mountains.

[ /personal/taiwan | permanent link ]

Tue, 06 Apr 2010
Some more thoughts on the Yamaha TW-225

A Yamaha TW-225 is my motorbike in Taiwan. Although I often refer to it as my toy bike (compared to the BMW F650ST and FZ6 Fazer in Berlin), it has proven to be a very reliable bike.

Before I cam to Taiwan and bought it, I was used to ride the heavy BMW for almost a decade. Ever since driving school at the age of 16, I didn't ride a small/light bike again (at that time a Yamaha DT80). So initially I was skeptical about the TW-255. Sure, for getting from one place to another inside Taipei it is great. But what about riding further distances and/or in the mountains?

To my own surprise I actually think that it is an almost ideal bike for the conditions in Taiwan (at least those that I encountered so far). It is very light, so you can actually manually move it around easily - very important considering the parking conditions in Taipei. The small weight also means that you don't have to throw around much weight on mountain serpentines.

The engine with its 18 horsepowers is also surprisingly strong, even on steep mountain roads. On the other hands, the engine is not too strong, i.e. it is forgiving in case you make any mistakes. You certainly don't make a wheelie or get your rear tire to slide while accelerating. You also don't run into the danger of a rear wheel blocking when shifting down and being a bit too swift with the clutch.

You can almost do anything with (or to!) the bike and it will tolerate it. You can pull the throttle as you want, make mistakes while shifting gears and whatever else. I've experienced many less pleasant situations with my other bikes, but not with the TW-225 despite plenty of opportunity.

As opposed to the ever-so-popular scooters you have a manual gear, much bigger tires, different center of gravity, better suspension (think of potholes), ... - and most of the scooters also have a weaker engine anyways.

The only two weak points that I could find so far:

  • The brakes could be much more aggressive, saving important time when you have to do a full stop after some unexpected event in the traffic ahead.
  • The seat is ridiculous. I'm by no means tall with my 172cm, but I think the seat TW-225 seat is way too low for me. And god, is it uncomfortable. Not sure if it was designed with an Asian anatomy in mind (the TW-225 is officially selling only in Japan) and if it is less painful for Asians. But thinking of doing more/longer tours through Taiwan, I definitely need a different seat...

Having said this, I'm still looking forward to trying some of the high mountain roads like the central cross-country highway from Hualien to Taichung. Let's see how the carburetor will do once you get to around 3,000 meters of altitude..

[ /personal/taiwan | permanent link ]

Sun, 06 Jul 2008
A trip to Fulong beach in the northeast of Taiwan

On Saturday I went to Fulong beach. Believe it or not, my first bathing-at-a-beach trip in Taiwan, despite the long time that I spent on this tropical island.

The venue of the beach is really nice (photos will follow later). The water temperature of the pacific ocean felt surprisingly cold to me - but keep in mind that I'm still spoiled by the 28 centigrade warm Atlantic ocean in Pernambuco/Brazil ;)

However, it wouldn't have been a Taiwanese experience if there weren't some strange observations. First of all, I obviously appreciate that there are a number of life guards. But then I found out that they had a rope in the water, which you were not supposed to pass. The problem with that rope, though: It was at a water depth of about 1 meter to 1.10 meter!

So imagine a huge beach, of which there is a small portion separated by this rope floating on the water, and all the people are crammed into the small confinements between the actual waterline and that rope. The sea was incredibly calm, I could not even detect the remotest hint of any underwater currents, the slope of the ground is _very_ flat, but you can't actually get into the water to swim.

The other peculiarity was that the beach closes at 5.30pm. WTF? Especially during those incredibly hot days, why not just stay in the water into the evening or even at night?

So as a summary, I have to say, Brazilian beaches rule in comparison! Nobody to tell you that you cannot go into water deeper 1.10 meters, beaches are always open (there are no private beaches, they're all public), and most part of the day you will get served beverages, alcoholic drinks and fresh food.

So this trip to Fulong beach was certainly an experience I wouldn't want to miss. But not one that I'm likely wanting to repeat again. I now know what it's like :)

[ /personal/taiwan | permanent link ]

Fri, 04 Jul 2008
Electrical installations in Taiwan

I haven't noted this here yet, but I'm in Taiwan again since two weeks ago. I also have two more weeks of Taiwan ahead, since I decided to stay a full month and go to a Chinese language school. Now don't expect too much, this is basically just to find out whether I really want to seriously learn about the language or not. Four weeks will not get me anywhere, at least not beyond pronunciation drills and very basic sentences + vocabulary.

Anyway let's get to the subject of my posting: During the last couple of days I actually spent a significant amount of time trying to find something that to me is the most normal thing: A 60W 220V light bulb with an E14 socket. But that would apparently only be normal in Europe. Here in Taiwan, the voltage typically is 110V at 60Hz, with US-style power sockets. Basically just like the US or Japan.

However, for some really strange and unknown reason, the particular apartment has both 3 phase 110V and 3 phase 220V. The power sockets are all 110V, whereas the fixed ceiling lights are all 220V.

So apparently sometimes people have 220V lights here, and you can get a limited selection of usual bulbs in 220V type, even though 90% of the light bulbs in the store would be 110V.

I've been to Carrefour, B&Q and Tsan-Kuen (all large super-stores in NeiHu). 220V was really rare, and neither of them had any E14 bulbs (independent of shape) for 220V. So after a lot of wasted time, I then decided that I'm just going to replace the entire lamp socket with an E27 type in order to accommodate a different lamp. My other option would have been to add another E14 socket in series and then use two 110V bulbs attached to 220V mains.

Now the really big question is: Why would anyone have the lighting at 220V whereas the power outlets are running1 at 110? This means you need separate infrastructure, separate lines, transformers, metering devices, circuit breakers, etc. And three simply is no point. I could understand 3-phase 220 is better than 3-phase 110 in case you want to use extremely high-power consumers.

[ /personal/taiwan | permanent link ]