EXPLORING TAIWAN BY BIKE
"Driving is too fast and walking is too slow, Adjust your speed and view the world from a different angle …" translated excerpts from the forewords in the Round Island Booklet by Taiwan Tourism Bureau.
It is common knowledge that Taiwan is one of the world's leaders in the manufacturing of bicycles. Their long-standing pro-tourism stance has given many visitors superb and deep impressions of the country. To many, Taiwan conjures the image of friendly faces, good food, insane shopping sprees and pristine beautiful scenery. Taiwan should most certainly not be appreciated within the confines of its cities only, and Taiwan Tourism Bureau has been actively promoting their out-of-city tours. While the conventional way is to visit these places by tourist coaches or cars, it may lack novelty and "fizz" for some. There are other, less-than-conventional ways to experience this country …
TAIWAN TOURISM BUREAU AND CYCLING
Avid cyclists and explorers often find themselves wishing that they could be exploring places they drove pass on their bikes instead. And Taiwan is one good place to start. When it comes to bicycle exploration trips, it is a completely different game from races, downhill tracks or bike park. We are talking about seeing a country on a bicycle – sight-seeing and exploration rides. The kind of ride that brings us to new places while we soak in the beautiful scenery.
Taiwan Tourism Bureau promotes cycling tours, and their objective is backed by many gestures. A good one from them is the Round Island Handbook, which provides detailed information on a 10-day Round Island route that passes through various places of interest. It also covers options for short loop rides. From the handbook, it is explained that the Round Island route can also be tailored to suit the abilities and needs of various cycling groups. There is also useful information on how to prepare for the trip and places to rent bicycles.
Now, what about those who still prefer a guide while they focus on the challenge ahead? Is there another choice? Enter Giant Adventure Co. Ltd, the guys that have been organizing cycling trips for cyclist of all levels for years. Giant Adventure is a subsidiary of Giant Bicycles, which makes them a natural first-choice for bicycle related services, especially so when it's cycling in Taiwan.
Giant Adventure offers fixed departure dates from Taichung and Taipei for their Round Island Tours. These tours range from 9 days to 15 days depending on itinerary and cycling distance to cover per day. According to Giant Adventure spokesman, these Round Island Tours may sound very tough. But with prior training, these tours are achievable. They gave further assurance that the Giant Adventure team would be around to guide the group. They also added that the CEO of Giant Bicycles himself, who is in his 70s, had already gone through a 15-day Round Island tour and is preparing for a 9 Day Tour soon!
Exploring Taiwan with Giant Adventure can also take a more relaxing form. As long as there is a group of 15 and above, they are able to customize a cycle tour. So far, they had organized cycle tours for companies, schools and clubs. The duration and cycle route are customizable. Taiwan cycle routes are mostly tarmac roads and fire roads, but there are dirt paths in some areas. The typical routes planned are lined with scenic spots which will bring about a mixture of cycling bliss and and adventure in experiencing this country.
One important advantage of cycling with Giant Adventure is that the guiding team is experienced and disciplined. For a regular group tour, there will be a safety vehicle and 2 guides joining the cycle group. They would regulate the cycling group's speed so that the group can enjoy the ride as one. Upon special request, they can also split the group into smaller sections to cater to riders of different cycling proficiency. In this way, all the riders in the group will find the tour fulfilling.
Giant Adventure Co. Ltd
BIKE OR HIKE TO TAIWAN FARMS
While touring the Taiwan countryside, why not take a few days to check out some farms. Not all the roads that lead to these farms are bicycle-friendly though. In some areas, there could be some narrow roads or very steep one-way climb. As such, proper planning of the itinerary is important. We spoke to the owners of these farms we visited and they are receptive to groups on bicycles. Prior bookings or arrangements have to be made though, to cater space for bicycle storage. In some cases, it is more convenient to visit these farms on foldable bicycles as they can be stored conveniently.
The country folks in Taiwan are a warm and homely lot. They love nature and live a healthy lifestyle. That is to say, they wake up as early as 4 am and sleep as early as 9pm. They treat every flora and fauna in the farm with care, every blade of grass like an integral part of their home. As we spoke to the country folks, we learnt to appreciate nature very much more. Read on to find out more on a few selected farms Bikezilla visited.
SHANGRILA LEISURE FARM
Shangrila Leisure Farm owns a hillside orchard park, silkworm breeding huts, 2 longhouse-style accommodation blocks with dinning and activity areas. The farm maintains a very traditional Taiwanese country feel with its rustic decor and activities. We felt like we were staying in a local village but still connected to modern amenities.
A wide variety of trees and plants are grown on the orchard farm, so we were given the opportunity to see many differently locally grown flowers and fruits in a short guided tour. At the park, visitors were also allowed to pluck the fruits right off the trees and sample them. Inside the orchard, we also found many wood structures and pathways built by the farm to make the tour through the park more interesting. There is a lookout pavilion with swings and resting sheds dotted at intervals along the orchard. These features are regularly maintained and upgraded by the farm to keep them in tip-top condition. Our farm tour at Shangrila Leisure Farm was conducted by a guide, who gave us a very comprehensive commentary as we toured.
The rooms in the new wing of Shangrila Leisure Farm are nicely designed and comfortable. Meals at the farm comprise mostly of organic ingredients from the farm. This gave us a somewhat clean and healthy feel when we finished our meal. The farm will sometimes organize activities like top-spinning competitions or some other village games in the evening. We had the opportunity to light up a whole string of firecrackers as a finale! We don't get that in the city anymore, do we?
Shangrila Leisure Farm
No. 168, Mei-Shan Road, Dah-Jinn Village, Dong-Shan Township, Yi-Lan County, Taiwan (宜蘭縣冬山鄉大進村梅山路168號)
CUANG SHING FARM
Converted from a pig and duck farm, Cuang Shing Farm is currently a restaurant, activity centre, mini-farm and a crystal factory. This farm has not gone through any major refurbishment, so it looks quite vintage when we visited. The one unique feature about this farm is the fresh water spring pond. It is currently used to rear fishes for the restaurant. And what did we experience? Great-tasting fresh water fishes, right from the pond into the pan, cooked in various mouth-watering ways, minus the fishy muddy smell that fresh water fish dishes usually possess! A walk around the farm revealed that their major revenue comes from the restaurant, the crystal retail showroom and farm-activity excursions that they handle when tourist groups visit. Cuang Shing Farm is popular as a lunch stop venue enroute to other destinations of interest in the area.
Cuang Shing Farm
No 12 Lane 132, Guanghua Rd 3., Ke Lin Cun, Dongshan Township, Yilan County 269, Taiwan (柯林村光華三路132巷12號, Ilan, Taiwan 269)
MEIHUA LAKE LEISURE FARM
Situated near the historical Mei Hua Lake in Yilan, Meihua Lake Farm is an ideal place to experience life in this part of Taiwan. Originally an orchard with some livestock, the place is also a seasonal breeding ground for numerous species of beetles. The farm has a large barbeque area which can hold big groups of visitors – think schools, clubs and corporate events. Overnight accommodation comes in the form of simple chalets. Meals are simple village style fare with herbal and organic dishes. The nearby Meihua Lake is a good place for some local delicacies and leisurely boat or bicycle rides.
Meihua Lake Leisure Farm
No.62, Huanhu Rd., Dongshan Township, Yilan County 269, Taiwan (宜蘭縣冬山鄉得安村環湖路62號 )
If you are a tea lover, you will like Tea Country and its tea orchard. The orchard has a reception and chill-out area overlooking the highway and the nearby mountains. It is an idyllic spot amidst a fast urbanizing world. The orchard also provides overnight accommodation that is well maintained and comfortable for those who wish to stay the night before proceeding to their next destination of interest. Do try out all the tea-inspired delicacies – from pudding to ice-cream to boiled eggs. Situated right next to a main road, Tea Country makes a good stop-over venue during an exploration cycle trip.
No. 2, Lu-Chang Road, Song-Luo Village, Da-Tong Township, Yi-Lan County, Taiwan (宜蘭縣大同鄉松羅村鹿場路2號)
This is a simple and homely flower and livestock farm. Walking into this farm and talking to its owner is like a walk down memory lane. Although he looks like he is in his late 40s, he went about his farm talking animatedly to the animals like they are his family members and close friends. His enthusiasm and zest is indeed inspiring. Flower Spring uses many of their flowers in their meal menu and also brews different flower teas. In addition, they also concoct some healthy yet flavorful after-meal drinks that add novelty to the visit. For those who love flower tea, this orchard sells their special tea in easy-to-carry packs. Flower Spring deals mainly with meals, sale of flower produce and day excursions.
FLYING COW RANCH
Started by a group of passionate Taiwanese cowboys who went to America to learn the skills of operating a ranch, Flying Cow Ranch has since gone through some hard times to become what it is today. The remaining cowboy founders have many reasons to be proud of their achievements. This is the biggest farm (or ranch) we visited. The ranch is divided into a public area and a staff-only orchard cum farm area. This is a very popular ranch where many tourists flock there regularly. Many schools, clubs and corporate groups organize camping trips and game-days there. The ranch provides many hands-on opportunities with the farm animals and this is a major crowd magnet. The park is very well maintained, with a big dining area, cafe, snack shop and souvenir shop. Do check out the diary products while you are there – they are made with the freshest farm produce!
Flying Cow Ranch
No. 166, NanHe, Tong-Xiao Township, Miaoli County, Taiwan (苗栗縣35750通霄鎮南和里166號)
ZHUO YE COTTAGE
We really like this farm which is actually more like a village! Originally a colour-dyeing village, the owner decided to refurbish some of the existing cottages to house tourists. As business picked up, they decided to add more services to their village. The restaurant and dyeing room were then opened for public visitation. This village is hardly tainted by commercialization. We felt like we were visiting our friends when we arrived. While the exterior of the cottages and the common area maintained its rustic charm, their interiors were retrofitted with all the modern amenities. It gave us a totally welcoming and cozy feel as we stepped into the rooms – almost like entering into another dimension. Check out the photos and you will agree with us.
The folks at Zhuo Ye Cottage eat a very healthy diet – as with all the farm folks we met. We were treated to a vegetarian steamboat on arrival. The fresh ingredients and the skillful culinary skills of the chefs made the dinner totally enjoyable. One thing to note though – do not expect any evening entertainment from the village as the workers and owners usually retire early. Near the village, there is a small night market. If time permits, FengJia Night Market at Taichung is slightly under one hour's drive via the highway (depending on traffic condition).
Zhuo Ye Cottage – No. 1-5 Beng-Shan Foothill, Sanyi Township, Miaoli County, Taiwan (苗栗縣三義鄉雙潭村13鄰崩山下1-5號)
CYCLIST – SIGHTSEEING AND EXPLORING
As cyclists ourselves, we like our bike trips to pack in the action. We will not miss out on our street bike explorations, road bike races, downhill and bike park mountain bike trips. But we will look forward to exploration and sight-seeing expeditions like these as they are radically different experiences. Sight-seeing and exploration expedition rides generate a different kind of smile. It's like saying that we should sometimes stop and smell the flowers (literally this time). Ride it to feel it.