by Rick Green
Leisurely pedalling through a verdant sea of tender rice shoots, I felt liberated from the confines of our car. Although the Mercedes offered air-conditioned comfort from the heavy atmosphere of Taiwan's East Rift Valley, on two wheels the peaceful postcard setting was mine to explore at will. Carefully nurtured fields painted the foreground emerald, enveloping the town's glaring white buildings standing huddled in the distance before a rumpled mountain range, its summits poking into a crown of whimsical white tropical clouds. I couldn't contain my urge to explore.
Chishang is a sparsely-populated township in Taitung County located in southeastern Taiwan. Not only is it at the opposite end of the island from Taipei, Chishang's rural tranquility offers a similar mental distance from the ambitious energy of the congested capital. Its main claim to fame is the high quality rice produced on the floodplain of the Huadong Valley, purported to be the best in Taiwan.
Before setting off from nearby Dapo Pond on our bike ride, we sampled some of the rice in a local specialty – the Chishang lunch box. Although primarily a restaurant, the Wu Tao Chishang Lunch Box Cultural History Museum has made an effort to preserve the flavour of the past in its rustic decor. Two vintage railcars in front of the building offer seating that's nostalgic for a time when travellers would buy a lunch box to take with them on their train journey. On the second floor, there is a small museum devoted to the local rice culture. Rather than go upstairs, though, we opted to see modern rice processing in action at the Chishang Farmers' Association rice mill at the end of our ride.
Cycling Tourism Growth
Increasingly, city dwellers are being drawn from the densely-populated cities to find relaxation and recreation in the clean air of the countryside. Over 1,000 kilometres of bike trails throughout Ilha Formosa offer both residents and visitors a safe and convenient way to explore more areas of the country without a vehicle. Cycling in Taiwan has been exploding in popularity as government has made serious investments in infrastructure with the intention of conserving energy, reducing carbon emissions, and improving the health of the people.
Recognizing the growing opportunities for tourism, businesses have responded positively to this stimulus. Giant Manufacturing, the world's largest manufacturer of bicycles, offers rentals from stores conveniently located near popular cycling areas throughout the country. People can rent a bike from one location and drop it off at another without incurring extra charges. Even cities, like Taipei and Kaohsiung, have self-serve bicycle rentals. If you prefer to bring your own, public buses and trains are becoming more accommodating of cyclists.
Accommodations are also making changes to welcome bicycle tourists. In Kenting, the Yoho Landis Beach Resort opened a bike hotel in February 2009, complete with bicycle rentals, spa, and mountain bike obstacle course. They have a special elevator large enough to fit a bike and each room has a bracket on which to hang your two-wheeler out of the way. You can even check in on your bike!
Back in Chishang, around the corner from the Wu Tao restaurant, I came across the Huan E Shan Fang homestay when taking a short stroll after lunch. The very hospitable couple that own the place met each other while cycling. Therefore, they are especially welcoming of those visiting the East Rift Valley to enjoy its scenery by bike. The couple also have a passion for calligraphy, photography, and nature that they are happy to share with you.
Many Cycling Options
Although you wouldn't consider Taiwan to be a bicycle nation like Denmark or the Netherlands, as a leisure activity, cycling has become mainstream. The country offers excellent touring opportunities for all skill levels, at any time of year. From rugged mountains and wild coastlines to busy city streets and serene rural roads, the diversity of scenery is surprising. Taiwan is compact enough to circumnavigate in two weeks. But even if you have just a day to set aside, I recommend exploring Taiwan on two wheels. With a little planning, you can further reward yourself at the end of your ride with a soothing soak in one of the island's numerous hot springs.
Have an Adventure
Wu Tao Chishang Lunch Box Cultural History Museum
259 Zhongxiao Road
Chishang Township, Taitung County 958
Tel: +886 (089) 862-326
Huan E Shan Fang Homestay
No.45, Zhongzheng Road
Chishang Township, Taitung County 958
Tel: +886 (089) 862-415
Giant Bicycle Rental Station
No. 6, Bo Ai Road
Guanshan Township, Taitung County 956
Tel: +886 (089) 814-391
Luminous Hot Spring Resort & Spa
No. 200, Sec. 1, Johng-Hua Road
Luye Township, Taitung Country 955
Tel: +886 (089) 550-888
Yoho Landis Beach Resort
No. 27-8, Wan-Li Road
Hengchun Township, Pingtung County 946
Tel: +886 (08) 886-9999
Recommended Travel Services
EVA Airways flies from Newark, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver to Taipei. Visit EVA Air's Web site for flight information and booking.
More Recommended Resources
Taiwan is an excellent destination for experiencing traditional Chinese culture, enjoying an exciting cuisine, and engaging in outdoor activities, such as cycling, hiking, and watersports. Learn more about what makes the island of Formosa unique with Adventurocity's articles, photos, and videos. Join our Forum to ask your questions or share your tips.