Cycling in Taiwan with Kids from Hualien to Taitung
We did it! We completed our first “cycling in Taiwan” family trip. We ventured from Hualien to Taitung along the East Coast of Taiwan. Originally, we were going to go all the way down to Kenting, however, we were feeling crunched for time and decided to cut the trip short.
For those of you who are wondering what’s it’s like to travel by bike with three children, (two of whom are being hauled), here’s the daily play by play of our trip.
For those of you who would prefer fewer nitty gritty details and more visuals, check out my photo essay here!
Or maybe you’d just like to have a look at the map. Got you covered with the google maps accounting here.
Getting out of Hsinchu
I feel like the actual cycling “trip” didn’t start until we left Hualien, however, getting out of Hsinchu was an experience in itself. Although there were many trains to Hualien, there was only one train that would allow us to bring our bikes along. This one left from the Hukou station at 6:01 pm and traveled for 4.5 hours. Not ideal when travelling with little ones!
Nevertheless, on our departure day (December 26th 2016), we cycled 17 kilometers from our cozy home in Hsinchu to the Hukou station. We arrived with plenty of time to find the platform, which was good because with three bikes and a trailer it took many elevator rides to get there! We bought our tickets a day earlier from the Hsinchu Main station: The bikes were 187 TWD each and our tickets were 344 TWD each. The train itself was old and not particularly conformable for such a long ride. Our girls managed to sleep but our 3 year old son was losing the plot! In retrospect I wish we had downloaded audio books to keep him entertained.
Arriving in Hualien felt great. It was warmer than Hsinchu and quiet (mostly because it was 10:30pm!). The streets were wider and there were many clear cycling / scooter lanes. Our hotel was a short bike ride away and we were all happy to crash for the night.
Day 1 – Cycling from Hualien to Shoufeng Gorge
After a two day stay in Hualien, we headed towards the mountains and down the coast. We were cycling with our friends (a couple and a baby) so in total we were 5 bikes and two trailers. We were quite the sight! Cycling in Taiwan is become very popular, however, hauling children in bike trailers is not commonly done.
Getting out of Hualien was easy enough but it took a little while. Once we did though, I really felt like our adventure was starting. It was amazing to be out of the city for the first time on our bikes. Our route for this journey was Hwy 11 which is the coastal scenic route.
Tackling the mountains…
On this first day, however, we needed to go over a couple mountains. It was manageable but tough. My husband was pulling the trailer, carrying panniers on his bike and wearing a backpack! He hopped off his bike a few times and walked it to take a break. My 10 year old daughter, who is extremely fit for her age, also found the ascents challenging. There were a few times where she tried to walk her bike, but I encouraged her to stay on. It was so early in the trip and I didn’t want her to get into the habit of hopping off anytime the going got tough. So, we pressed on. The poor thing was bawling and I felt bad sticking to my guns about it. But we got through it!
Enduring the stuffy tunnels…
There were also multiple kilometers worth of tunnels. This was considered a good thing as it allowed us to bypass more mountainous ascents. The tunnels, however, were long, dark and stuffy. After the first tunnel we made some simple adjustments to increase our visibility to vehicles, such as putting on our brighter shirts and lighting all our bike lights. The tunnels were really the only time on this trip that I felt slightly nervous about our children in the trailers.
And finally being rewarded with an amazing rest stop!
After the mountains there was this lovely bike rest area where we stopped for about 40 minutes. It was situated in a school and was also connected to a fire station. It offered fresh water, washrooms, showers and beautiful sites! There was plenty of outdoor space for the kids to run around and get their wiggles out. This was especially important for my toddler, who had been sitting in the trailer. This was an amazing place to stop for a break.
Our plan that first day was to ride 30 kilometers and set up camp that first night at Niu Shan. We had heard it was a gorgeous beach. When we got to the road that would lead us down to the beach,however, there was a sign specifically warning against camping. The road down was quite a descent and the last thing we wanted to do was to go all the way down, only to have to come up again. So we decided to skip this visit and keep riding. We were eager to find our first camping spot as it was getting late in the afternoon and we wanted time to set up.
Camping in Taiwan
A side note about camping in Taiwan… Camping has become very popular in the past couple of years here. Many Taiwanese are getting into it and campgrounds are popping up all over the place. Simply pitching up tent on empty land, or by a beach, is apparently illegal here. That said, after speaking to other travelers and cyclists who have done this, we decided to plan a couple nights simply pitching tent too. It saved us some cash, plus it worked better with our route as there were not always proper campsites available when we were ready to settle down for the night.
We ended up pitching camp that first night at a rest stop / scenic stop just a few kilometers further down the road. The area was quite beautiful. There was an old bridge that passed over fault lines. We were a five minute walk to the washrooms and a little store that sold basics: water, instant noodles, hard boiled eggs coffee etc. There was some flat green space, albeit rocky, where we pitched our tents. It was right next to the highway though which wasn’t the nicest, but it was the best spot we had found with the imminent loss of light.
Overall the night was okay. Dinner consisted of instant noodles and and hard boiled eggs. My husband and I had a really hard time putting down our three year old son. He doesn’t cope that well with change and he couldn’t remember the camping we had done when he was younger. Everything felt new. We bought a 4 person tent hoping that we could squeeze the five of us in, but it really was squishy. Plus the ground was sloping so we kept sliding. It was one of those nights!
Day 2 – Cycling from Shoufeng Gorge to Shih-ti
The next day we got up early, made breakfast and packed up. Our breakfast everyday consisted of oatmeal with sugar, and bananas dipped in peanut butter. My husband and I had coffee too. Our daughter was not thrilled with the oatmeal, but it really is the easiest and quickest breakfast to make. The reality of packing up with kids is that it takes time. I found myself feeling quite useless because I had to stay with the baby while my husband had to pack up everything on his own.
Day two was a much nicer ride. We felt stronger and more capable already. We biked 35 kilometers and set up camp here, in Shih-ti. This was a proper camping spot and we were lucky because we got the last spot available. It was absolutely gorgeous. The spots were all covered and overlooking the ocean. We met another family there with a 12 year old daughter and the girls hit it off right away. They spent time rock climbing, playing by the beach and hanging out. Dinner that night was a repeat of our first night, but for my daughter we found some rice noodles so that we could make it wheat free.
The initial goal of this trip was to make it down to Kenting, so we never allowed for much lounging time in one spot. If we do this trip again, I would definitely stay at this spot for longer. It was a really gorgeous and kid-friendly place to be. The hot showers were also a bonus!
Besides the great camping spot, our highlight of the day was seeing wild monkeys as we were cycling. We knew there were wild monkeys on the island and we had seen warning signs for them, but I didn’t expect to actually see any!
At one point during our ride, my husband, who was riding in front, said “either there is a person shaking that tree ahead or it’s a monkey.” That’s when we saw them. We pulled over an watched them swinging around and going from tree to tree until they disappeared deeper into the forest. It was a really cool experience. I would have never though that cycling in Taiwan with kids would include monkey sightings!
Day 3 – Cycling from Shih-ti Ping to Chenggong
Our pack up on Day three was a little slow. We were definitely feeling like we had a lot to pack and it was tough to make it all fit. I was also longing to stay here a little longer as it was so beautiful and I had not really had much time to enjoy the beauty.
The feeling soon past as we hit the road and I started to relax. For someone whose idea of relaxing includes sitting in front of a book or a good Netflix movie, I was surprised at how relaxing cycling was for me. I had cycled before but never between cities. The feeling of being on the road while soaking in the ocean and mountain views, for me, was truly relaxing.
That day we bumped into a German couple who were taking two weeks to cycle around Taiwan. They were going in the opposite direction and mentioned that the headwinds made it a really difficult cycle. They had already cycled down the West Coast (other side of the island) and had mentioned how unpleasant that experience was because of all the cities that they had to cycle through. So much of their time was slowed down by traffic lights and there was no way to bypass this. Hearing from them validated our choice. As an amateur cyclist, I would not had even thought of head winds and traffic when it came to cycling in Taiwan.
That evening, we found a gorgeous spot away from the highway and by the side of the ocean. We had heard about this spot from a few people, including the German couple we had just met. It was secluded and not an official camping spot, so therefore free. Good price! The only down side was that we had not planned for food and it was getting dark by the time we got there. So my friend and I set up camp, taking turns watching the babies, while my husband and her partner set out to find food. They were gone quite a while as they had to go into the next town and, I won’t lie, we were getting a little worried. They did arrive, eventually, with tasty dinner boxes of rice, eggs, chicken and greens. It was a nice change from our instant noodles! They also brought wine, as it was New Years’ Eve. Uncorking it without a corkscrew was half the fun!
That evening, we enjoyed each others good company, some wine, hot chocolate for the kids and fire works that were happening across the Bay. It was a perfect New Years Eve!
Day 4 – Cycling from Chenggong to Dulan
Day Four was a beautiful 50 Kilometer cycle down to Dulan. Originally, having kids and all, we were going to break it into two days. After lunch, however, we had already cycled an easy and fairly flat 30 kilometers. So, we decided to keep going all the way to Dulan. We were looking forward to hitting the”chillest town” in Taiwan. The rest of our cycle that day was beautiful! It was really relaxed and easy. We passed through a few small towns with markets and fresh fruit stands, and beautiful fields filled with blooming flowers.
Arriving to Dulan felt awesome! It was, in a sense, our final destination. We had decided to not push our trip all the way to Kenting, because it would have been too much distance in too little time. So, Dulan was our final hangout / chilling destination, before heading to Taitung and catching the train back up to Taipei.
Dulan has a free campsite for cyclists located at the police station, but it was full so we found another site two blocks away. It was busy that first night, with many families and large groups. We were invited by one of these families to join them for dinner, but we had already made plans to order pizza. We joined them afterwards for drinks, however, and had a lovely time getting to know them.
Day 5 – Hanging Out in Dulan
Day 5 was a chill day. We biked the main street a few times to get our bearings and scope out where might be the best path down to the beach. We ended up riding our bikes down a road just at the North side of town and taking it down to the water. The beach was beautiful and the kids had an amazing time! The sun was hot and although I had thoroughly lathered the children, I had missed a few spots on my back and had some painful burns. After a few hours, we headed back up to the main street and found a restaurant with pictures on their menu. The rest of the afternoon was for chilling at our campsite. Since the long weekend was over, we were now the only ones left at the campsite. The owner’s two sons were lingering around and I encouraged Liv to go play with them. Her Mandarin is limited as was their English, yet with a little miming, the kids were having a great time! Feeling exhausted and craving simplicity and comfort, we ordered pizza again. It was a little over our budget, but really tasty!
Day 6 – Returning Home… Dulan to Hsinchu
We got going early on Day six and headed to the Train station in Taitung. The ride was easy and interesting. There was an Army base nearby that kept sending off loud jet planes. This gave way to history talks between my husband and older daughter.
We arrived to Taitung with plenty of time to spare before our trains. This is how we made it to Hsinchu:
- We sent out bikes and bags via the slow train that went direct from Taitung to Hsinchu. It was a 7 hour ride that we didn’t want to take. This cost around five thousand NT. We sent three bikes, a bike trailer ( stuffed with gear) and our saddle bags (full).
- We treated ourselves to the Taroko Express train to Taipei. This was about three hours and the train was really nice.
- From Taipei, we took a one hour bus that drops us off right in our neighbourhood.
Like any travelling day, it was long! This is especially true since my husband and older daughter went to pick up the bikes later that night from the Hsinchu Train station.
I feel like this trip was transformative for my family. We interacted with nature in new and exciting ways. We met locals and experienced their culture first hand. We tested our endurance and repeatedly reaped the benefits. Of course there were tough times as there inevitably are when travelling with young children. I’ll also be the first to admit, that we have some learning to do when it comes to gear and packing. But all and all, cycling in Taiwan as a family – travelling over 200 kilometers together – was totally AWESOME!