Monday, December 19, 2011

Cycling Taiwan’s East Coast: Hualien City to Taimali/Taitung City (Part 3)

Day 3: Dulan to Taimali/Taitung City
November 9, 2011
Day 8 of Taiwan Trip 2011
via Provincial Highway 11, Provincial Highway 9 and Country Road 58

Woke up at a little past six in the morning to another rainy morning, and decided to just lie back down on the bed and have a bit more nap time. The original plan was to go down to the seaside beach to watch the sunrise, but like the past two days, I did not even see the actual sun for the whole day – forget about any spectacular sunrise view…

Photo: Shop-houses in Dulan town fronting Highway 11

Joined the other roommates for breakfast at one of the few shops that are open early in the morning before heading back to the hostel, packed up for departure, and bade goodbyes to the rest, dog and cats included.. And so it was another late start again today due to the rain as was yesterday. Oh, the irony of changing into a fresh pair of clean, dry outfits only to get wet the moment I stepped out into the rain with the bike.

Photo: The resident dog of the hostel

Made a stop at the ‘Water Running Up’ attraction just a short distance away, and joined the hordes of tourists arriving on big tour buses staring at a small drain running beside the road and getting all excited. Ok, maybe I should reword that better… basically, due to the surrounding geographical features, the water appears to be flowing upwards in the drain against the basic law of gravity, but really, it is a downward slope as my bike can attest to rolling downwards effortlessly.

Passed by the controversial Meiliwan Resort on the Shanyuan beachfront later, where the locals had apparently protested unsuccessfully for years against its construction that would take away their rights to the pristine, once-public beach. The resort didn’t appear to be open yet, but the constructions looked pretty much done, so I wonder whether much can still be done…

Further south, Jialulan rest area was a big open space with wooden benches facing the sea, and some wooden artsy installations scattered around. And adding to the list of items that I disliked throughout the trip, all the vending machines at the rest stop areas were perpetually out of stocks for drinks that I’d want to buy (e.g. pocari).

Photo: Seaside at Jialulan rest area

A short distance from Jialulan rest area is Little Yehliu, so-named due to the small scale of semblance to the rock erosion features found at the more famous Yehliu Geopark near Taipei. While this place may not be as spectacular compared to its big brother, there was also much less people here compared to the overcrowding madness that is now synonymous with a typical visit to Yehliu Geopark.

Photo: Seaside at Little Yehliu

Oh, fyi, this place (Little Yehliu) charges for vehicle entrance, just so you know – bicycles not included of course. Continuing, a short distance away is the Fugang Harbor, where the ferries to Lyudao (Green Island) or Lanyu (Orchid Island) departs from. A little further away and I was heading up onto the bridge entering into Taitung City. The rain had by now turned into light drizzles that came and went away at intervals.

Apparently I had developed a (bad?) habit of not reviewing photos taken on the camera until much later, likely picked up from toying around with an old film SLR. What happened was that I had accidentally pushed the mode dial into the shutter priority mode without realizing it while stuffing the camera back into the bag. And I only realized something was wrong a few hours later, so I basically ended up with a whole bunch of super-high-key masterpieces (not!). Key lesson: pay more attention to the damn LCD display under the viewfinder!

Photo: Standing atop a random cratered rocks – Little Yehliu

Decided to first skip the Taitung Seaside Park and to come back here later in the evening when I’m back to Taitung City (which later turned out that I didn’t make it to this park at all…). Nearing Taitung City, one noticeable change was that the road appeared to have a visibly rougher surface compared to the roads travelled the past 2 days. And there were a lot of small rocks and other debris littering the sides of the roads too at around Taitung and the remaining length of Highway 11 – especially on the outer side of the white lines around road stretches without separate bike lanes.

Stopped at a road-side stall (actually one of those ubiquitous small blue lorries) selling sugar cane juice, and stocked-up on a few bottles of ice-cold (literally – they’re chilled to frozen state) sugary goodness. One mostly finds the purple-skinned sugar cane variety being used in Taiwan, compared to the green-colored variety commonly sold in Malaysia.

On learning that I was intending to head to Taimali before returning to Taitung City, the sugarcane uncle asked, why Taimali? There is nothing much that’s interesting there. And his wife chipped in, better to go to Zhiben instead, the hot springs there are very nice. So… why Taimali?

Photo: Along the way to Taimali

While searching for information for the cycling trip, I came across some references to Island Etude, a 2006 Taiwanese film, which was about a young, hearing-impaired man on a cycling trip round Taiwan island. And I remembered that I actually had a copy of this film since last year, but had yet to get around to watching it… (and yes, it is an interesting film, so definitely a recommended watch). The opening scene showed the man cycling down a stretch of road which looked pretty nice, and online film reviews pointed out the location as in Taimali. And considering Taimali is just a short distance from Taitung City, I just sort of decided, hey, I want to cycle on that very road that was featured in the film.

Past Taitung City, Highway 11 ended and merged into Highway 9 at around Zhiben area. The road that was in Island Etude’s opening scene, turned out to be part of Highway 9 between Taitung city and Taimali, rising up in the distant as one heads towards Taimali. Shortly past the junction into Taimali train station, there were plenty of shops lining both sides of the main road. Stopped at a random noodle shop for lunch, and had a bowl of noodles, some dumplings, and a bowl of soup with fish balls and orange daylily flowers that the shop owner recommended as a Taimali’s specialty.

Photo: The road rising up in the distant towards Taimali was where the opening scene in 'Island Etude' was filmed

This would be the furthest south I’d be riding, and after lunch, it was back up northwards again on the same stretch of Highway 9 that I came from earlier, and later detouring into Country Road 58 heading into Zhiben hot spring area. Noticed that many small shops along the road weren’t open, and generally the area was pretty deserted, probably because it was a weekday?

Saw a signboard for “Journey to the East" and briefly recalled reading about this particular hot spring resort in Lonely Planet’s guidebook, and decided to head there. This would probably be among the first hot spring resort one will encounter heading into the Zhiben area, as it is located before the bridge crossing to the other side of the river where most of the other large hot spring resorts here are clustered around. By the way the actual name of the resort is Toyugi Hot Spring Resort & Spa.

Day entrance fee was at NTD 300, with another NTD 50 for a swimming cap which is apparently compulsory to be worn in most pools in Taiwan where swimming suits are the dress code. And it appeared that cycling tights are also allowed to be worn into the pools in place of a proper swimming trunk, though I certainly didn’t fancy soaking in a hot spring with a thick padding at the derrière… Lockers were available inside at no extra charges, and they were large enough to accommodate a small backpack (or pannier bags).

There are multiple pools spread around a covered and uncovered outdoor area. The water here is also clear and non-smelly like those at Ruisui previously. Being a hot-spring newbie (noobs?), it took me 10-minutes of gradually soaking the legs in the hottest pool before I was comfortable enough to lower in the whole body without quickly coming back out again. Other people there, older folks and young kids alike, just went straight in comfortably. Ok…

Left the resort at close to 4.30pm to head back to Taitung city center, which took around an hour. At around the city area, the sky decided to open up again. Seek shelter at another 7-11 store for a cup of warm latte… and had to cancel the plan to meet up with hostel-mates from Dulan last night, as I was already soaked from the rain, and I still had to first look for an accommodation for the night. Finally decided to head to Taitung Travel Hostel (not to be confused with Taitung Traveller Hostel/Hotel) near to the train station which, though a bit away from the city center, I don’t think I’d be going anywhere for the night with the rain…

Photo: Single room at Taitung Travel Hostel

A single room was NTD 630 (NTD 700 with 10% discount for cyclists), with fridge, TV, and PC with net access in the room. Unfortunately, no wi-fi though…

Dinner was two packs of sandwiches that I bought and bundled into one of the pannier bags the night before at Dulan’s 7-11 and then promptly forgotten about them until I found them again this evening while rummaging for clothes. OK, so they smelt fine (and tasted fine too) and, it’s a waste to throw them away… The rest of the night was spent channel-surfing on the TV, as I’m too lazy to step out into the rain again after a hot shower and a change of dry clothes…

Total distance of the day: around 77km (estimated)

Map of Day 3 Route:

to be continued...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cycling Taiwan’s East Coast: Hualien City to Taimali/Taitung City (Part 2)

Day 2: Ruisui to Dulan
November 8, 2011
Day 7 of Taiwan Trip 2011
via Route 193, Provincial Highway 9, Provincial Highway 30 (a.k.a. Yuchang Highway) and Provincial Highway 11

Woke up to another rainy day, and although I had planned to leave before 7am, decided to walk around first while waiting to see if the rain will let up. No such luck though, and I decided to proceed with the journey at a little past 8am.

Photo: In front of Hong Ye Hot Spring Resort

Yesterday evening’s slow uphill ride into the hot spring area was this morning rewarded with a nice effortless downhill cruise into the town center, albeit while having the drizzle turning heavier just as I was starting out for the day. Stopped for breakfast at a store along the main road paralleling the railway track, and had their signature glutinous rice dumplings and fish ball soup. Dropped by 7-11 again later for additional bottles of water and downed a large cup of Latte before continuing with the trip.

Continuing, I took the road directly in front of the 7-11 leading away from the train station, which joined up and becomes Route 193 a short distance away. This leads past the Ruisui Rafting Tourist Center before crossing the Ruisui Bridge. Had wanted to head to Ruisui’s Tropics of Cancer Monument (one of three Tropics of Cancer monuments in Taiwan) first, but decided to just skip it due to the late start, as it is along Highway 9, which is a bit out of the way if taking Route 193.

Photo: Along Route 193

The short portion of Route 193 that I rode was pleasant enough in the cooling slight drizzle, with enough road shoulders along the way for bikes to ride on. On the left side, the mountain range was close by, with wide yellowing paddy fields on the right extending into the distance, where the central mountain range lies mostly obscured by blankets of low-lying clouds. Many smaller paths branches off into the fields that were just about to turn into glorious golden yellow shades, beckoning me to take them instead of the main road…

By the way, while the paddy fields around Hualien/Taitung had not reached their peak golden colors yet in most places, when passing through Yilan on the train (further north) just days later, I noticed that many paddy fields had already been harvested, leaving behind large brown patches of soils. So if your timing is off, the views may be slightly different…

Photo: Along Route 193

Route 193 ended somewhere in Yuli, where it merged into Provincial Highway 9. Right after turning into Highway 9, there is a 7-11 store on the left, where I stopped for a light meal of fruits, chocolate bar and drink, plus stocking up on more water. Then onwards for a short section on Highway 9, before reaching the junction into Highway 30, a.k.a. Yuchang Highway. The name ‘Yuchang’ apparently came from the combinations of Yuli and Changbin, the two towns on each side that this highway connects together.

The climb up to the Yuchang tunnel feels a lot easier (and a whole lot faster, too) compared to the Ruigang Road climbs yesterday although the elevation is much higher, probably because the total elevation gains on the Ruigang Road is more. Also, this being a provincial highway route and the highway just built a few years ago, the road has wide shoulders and also, not much debris compared to Ruigang. A break from the drizzles just as I started on the Yuchang route made for a more relaxing ride.

Photo: Entrance to the Yuchang tunnel (at 26km marker)

Having the entrance of the tunnel in sight also meant the end of the only major climb for today. Heading from west to east side like I did, it is a nice downhill cruise passing through the tunnel :).

The signboard posted at the east side of the tunnel entrance stated the tunnel length as being 2.66km in length. Being a relatively new road tunnel, there is ample road shoulders inside for bikes to ride on, although towards the end of the tunnel at the east side, there were quite a lot of little rocks scattered around on the bike lane for a short section that I hope someone will clear off soon. Anyway traffic was very light and I could just take the main lane and only move aside when I heard vehicles approaching.

Photo: Exiting Yuchang Tunnel on the east side

Exiting the tunnel on the east side, the view was an immediate disappointment because… there were thick clouds all around with limited visibilities. I had imagined the joy of an effortless downhill ride with a view of the blue Pacific stretching far into the distance ahead while I get closer and closer to the blue sea – but the reality was very much different. Oh well… still, it was nice rolling down the hill in the cool mid-day air.

Close to reaching the end of Highway 30, there is a small rest area marked as Changbin Bicycle Rest Station on the information board, where lays a huge structure made from driftwoods collected from the sea nearby. With no one around, it’s time to make use of the camera’s self-timer feature. The problem with travelling alone is that one rarely gets to be in the photos taken…

Photo: At the rest stop near the end of the Yuchang Highway (a.k.a. Changbin Bicycle Rest Station)

Photo: "Casting Glances of Love with Driftwoods"

Stopped at another larger rest-stop area for the restroom and hanged around for a bit after, probably somewhere around Wushibi. Couldn’t figure out the exact location of the rest stop though as searching through Google Earth now, I just couldn’t locate anywhere with a bit of semblance – probably the rest stop was newer. Unfortunately I kinda missed out on stopping at the Wushibi rock formations area and only realized it after I had already passed it a distance away.

Photo: At a random small rest-stop along the road

Photo: At a random small rest-stop along the road

The next major stop was in Sanxiatai right before reaching Chenggong town. The bridge linking to the small rocky islet offshore resembling the long body of a dragon is certainly unique and eye-catching, yet I couldn’t help but wonder – isn’t this another case of form winning over function?

A note security-wise with regards to leaving the bike unattended – I just locked the rear wheel to the frame with the cable lock and left the bike at the motorcycle parking area together with the rear panniers while I went off to explore around. The panniers contained only my clothes and some misc. items, while the valuables were in my backpack that I carried along. The bike together with everything else was still there when I returned around an hour later. And I did the same at various other places too.

But frankly I was comfortable doing that because the bike, additionally with dirt all over, looked pretty beat-up (I mean, it looked ordinary and didn’t stand out – but it worked just fine). If I’m riding an expensive-looking bike, I would be very worried at the idea of leaving the bike out of sight unattended for long periods, as I’m not sure how safe it will be…

Photo: Sanxiatai

I probably spent a bit too long here looking around – left Sanxiatai at a little past 4pm, and skipped exploring Chenggong town/harbor nearby as it was already late and dusk would fall in around another hour’s time, and yet I still have a fair bit of distance to cover for the day that will likely take at least another two hours. Originally I had wanted to time my arrival at Chenggong Harbor at around 3pm as according to online info, that would be the time around when the boats came in to unload the day’s catches. And oh, on the way out from Sanxiatai, at one place, the road signboard was only present for the opposite direction of where I came from (went straight as there’s no sign indicating I should take a turn to get back onto Highway 11, reached a dead-end, turned back and only then saw a signboard pointing to the junction. Nope, no signboard that I can see at the other side...).

Next stop was in Donghe town, a short break for the famous ‘baozi’. Had a couple with pork meat fillings, and also the bamboo shoots and red bean varieties. I was practically surrounded by 4-5 dogs (big ones at that, not sure if they’re strays) while trying to eat my ‘baozi’ in peace (not) at the outdoor tables. Thankfully they were all well-behaved and just sat around me staring… coincidentally, one group of customers that arrived at the store while I was eating there, later turned out to be my roommates for the night in the hostel in Dulan, although I didn’t know it at that time.

It was already dark when I reached Donghe, and I was contemplating whether to just ask around for any cheap accommodation options there instead of proceeding to Dulan, which was my planned stop for the day. But considering it should be less than 15km further to reach Dulan town, which should take me less than an hour without stopping, I decided to just push on ahead. On hindsight, I probably should have just stayed over in the larger Chenggong town earlier considering the time that I left Sanxiatai, as riding in the dark means missing out on the various sights along the way…

Photo: Donghe Baozi store

Note that there is a 7-11 store just across the road from the ‘baozi’ store. Bought another large bottle of Supau to refill the near-empty water bottles.

Around a quarter of the journey towards Dulan, it started raining – or rather, pouring is a more apt word to describe it. Probably the heaviest rain encountered so far on the trip. Bear in mind that there were no street lights along the road outside of the town areas, visibility was really bad, with my small flashlight barely allowing me to see the painted road lines 1-2 meters ahead. Hate it when many car drivers from the opposite direction used high beams on their headlights, as their lights totally washed out my sight and I had to slow down to a crawl until they passed me, or risk inadvertently heading into the drain at road bends.

The heavy rain continued all the way to Dulan, and the sight of the next familiar 7-11 store sign was a relief as it was a sign that I had reached Dulan town. But for some reason I missed the signboard for the sugar factory, where the hostel I wanted to go to was located nearby, and proceeded past until the disappearing streetlights assured me that I had already overshot Dulan town area. Made a u-turn back to the 7-11 store to seek shelter from the rain, and the magical crystal ball GPS was consulted – ah… it is actually just the next junction after the one beside the 7-11. And sure enough, there’s a big signboard for the sugar factory there alright – wonder how I missed it the first time around.

Photo: Bed at hostel in Dulan

The hostel I stayed at for the night was BBH Dog Backpackers, NTD 400 for a bed in the 6-bed dorm room. Dinner was the remaining unfinished ‘baozis’ from the Donghe store earlier. Outside, the rain continued into the morning after…

Total distance of the day: around 102km (estimated)

Map of Day 2 Route:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cycling Taiwan’s East Coast: Hualien City to Taimali/Taitung City (Part 1)


I first learned about Giant Taiwan’s flexible multi-day bicycle rental option from this blog, which allows one to rent and return the bicycle at different stores throughout Taiwan, while searching for information for an upcoming Taiwan trip. Surprisingly, there isn’t any official information in English available from Giant online with regards to the multi-day bicycle rental options, not really sure why? It is certainly a great option for visitors from other countries who would like to cycle long-distance around Taiwan, but finds that bringing their own bike in is too much of a hassle. After confirming that the rental program is indeed still available, I decided yes, I wanted to spend a few days on a cycling trip for a slightly different vacation experience.

Generally for first-timers who has only a few days to cycle around Taiwan, the east coast area along Taitung and Hualien is the top recommendation due to among others, the beautiful sceneries and roads with wide shoulders and less traffics. There are 2 major highways connecting Taitung and Hualien: Highway 9, which runs inland along the East Rift Valley, and Highway 11, which runs along the coastline, with a mountain range in the middle separating them. There are multiple cross-mountain roads connecting the two highways at various places along the length, so one can either do one or combinations of both. Also of note is that, Route 193 that runs parallel to Highway 9 from Yuli into Hualien City is highly recommended over Highway 9 at that stretch due to much less traffic, and the rolling terrains combined with the countryside sceneries makes for a more exciting ride, compared to Highway 9 which has many big trucks passing through.

I had made a reservation a week before travelling to Taiwan by calling the store near Hualien train station that I wanted to rent from. The staffs at the store (at least the Hualien store) do not really speak much English, so if you can’t speak Mandarin, get someone who can to help make the reservations through phone for you. Generally you should make a reservation at least a week in advance to ensure availability. The current rental charges for the multi-day rental options (the staffs refer to this rental option as ‘huan dao’ – round-island) are NTD 1200 for the first 3 days, and additional NTD 200 for each subsequent days. A credit card is required to guarantee the rental.

Although there are a few different bicycle models listed in the rental sheet (Great Journey 1, Great Journey 2, and CRX), the Giant Hualien shop appears to have only Great Journey 1 on offer. One nice thing about the Great Journey 1 is the ‘butterfly’ (trekking) handlebar, which provides for plenty of different hand positions compared to a flat bar, for better comforts during a long trip. But for those who prefer a 700c set-up, you may need to enquire at other Giant rental shops for the availability of the CRX model.

What you get as part of the rental:
  • the bike itself
  • a pair of pannier bags
  • small tire pump
  • a set of multi-tools
  • front and rear lights
  • cable lock

Helmet is not actually included, but just asks for it – the shop can provide one for you without extra charge. Other things that are not included but which I think are essentials, especially if you’re making the trip on your own: spare tubes or patch kit, and tire levers. These can be purchased from the shop, or bring your owns'.

Day 0: Preparations
November 6, 2011
Day 5 of Taiwan Trip 2011

I decided to use Hualien as my base although Taitung is actually closer as I was coming in from Kaohsiung. Well, either way, I will need to leave my big suitcase somewhere and return for it again later after finishing the cycling trip anyway. In terms of logistics, Taitung train station is a fair bit away from the city center compared to Hualien, which is a little inconvenient when you’re dragging a big suitcase and trying to save a few extra bucks by not taking a taxi… I discovered later that there is actually another viable alternative to handle the extra luggage – ship them from one 7-11 to another 7-11 in your destination via the forwarding service, although I didn’t make use of this option.

I arrived at around 4pm at Hualien station from Kaohsiung on the Tze Chiang Express #231 train, which leaves me with plenty of times to check-in at the hostel first before heading back to the Giant store near the train station to pick up my bike (the store closes at 6pm). I purposely rented the bike a day earlier so that I can start my trip early in the morning, as the store only opens at 9am on weekdays. En-route on the train, had the famed Chishang ‘bian-dang’ (NTD 70) for late lunch. The train stops at Chishang station for only 1 minute, so one has to quickly get down to buy the lunchbox from the sellers scattered around the platform, and then get back onto the train.

Photo: Chishang 'bian-dang'

In Hualien, I stayed at Sleeping Boot hostel, around 15-minutes’ walk from the train station. It is located midway between the train station and the city center. I would highly recommend this hostel to anyone, if only for the friendliness and helpfulness of the hostel owners. The hostel is run by Fong and his sister (I’m sorry I kinda didn’t get to know her name?), who take turns to be at the hostel welcoming visitors.

Day 1: Hualien City to Ruisui
November 7, 2011
Day 6 of Taiwan Trip 2011
via Provincial Highway 11 and Country Road 64 (a.k.a. Ruigang Highway)

Clothing and other essentials packed in waterproof plastic bags in the rear pannier bags, and my DSLR in the backpack, I set off from the hostel at around 6.15am – half an hour behind my original schedule. Was debating with myself late into the night prior, worrying about how much will be too much (or too little) to pack for my first ever multi-days cycle touring, short as it is. The sky, overcast, with hints of imminent rains approaching. The hostel owner (Fong) had warned me last night that there is a forecast of rain coming, which I hope will be wrong. No such luck, as I later discovered.

Made a right turn at the corner with KFC/McDonalds into the city center, and stopped at the first Family Mart for a light breakfast of sandwich and coffee, as well as stocking up on some Snickers bars, a bottle of Supau and another of plain water. Moving onwards, turned left at a major crossroad, which should eventually lead me to Route 193 close to the seaside. It was a short few kilometers ride on an uninspiring stretch of Route 193 before reaching the junction onto Hualien Bridge, which signaled the start of my ride along the coastline-hugging Provincial Highway 11.

Photo: Looking back right after crossing the Hualien Bridge

Right after crossing the Hualien Bridge, a light drizzle started to fall. Stopped at the side of the road to attach the rain covers onto the pannier bags. A short distance later, the drizzle started to get heavier. I made an unscheduled stop in front of the entrance to the Farglory Ocean Park, which is yet to open this early in the morning, to seek shelter from the rain. But after a few minutes of waiting, it is clear that the rain will not stop anytime soon – so onwards with the ride it is then as long as the rain is not too heavy.

At around 21.8km (19km road marker) I reached the entrance to the first of three consecutive tunnels. These tunnels replaced an old road section that is now blocked off (towards the left in the photo below). Online, there is information from some cyclists who have chosen to cycle through the old road section, but from photos as far as 2-3 years ago, there were already extensive damages to a certain part of the road, with a large section of the road fallen off. Bearing in mind that the closed-off section is officially no longer maintained, unknown current conditions, the rainy weather, and being alone… into the tunnel it is then.

Photo: At the start of the 3 consecutive tunnels before Shuilian

Coming out after the third tunnels, it was a ~2km downhill roll into Shuilian village, but this was a deceptive relaxing portion because… past Shuilian, the route started climbing again up Niushan (literally Cow Hill), which, with the road peaking at around ~230m, is the only major climb along the Highway 11 route (that doesn’t mean the rest of Highway 11 are flats…).

It was roughly a 5km+ climb, passing the Fanshuliao rest stop (looking back, I wonder why I did not bothered to stop here for the views??) before descending downwards. A short while later I came to a hairpin corner, where the Baci observation platform is located. Had a short stop here taking in the views (sadly, a gloomy day’s view with no blue skies). There is a small shop here, but it wasn’t open yet.

Photo: One of the most photographed view from the Baci observation platform

At one point during the climb up, as I was passing an old woman selling bunches of bananas by the roadside, she remarked to me on how nice the weather was for cycling (the air was cooling, and the drizzles was taking a short break at that time). Yes, nice… but I chose to cycle the coastal route for the view of endless blue sea and blue skies, which never materialized throughout the entire trip.

Progressing further, it was mostly downhills until the road levels out leading past Jici beach. Taiwan’s coastline is mostly rocky features in most places, and sandy beaches are somewhat of a rarity here. Jici beach is one of those, and the place appeared to be fenced up and charges for entrance to the beach area, although it was deserted when I was there, mainly due to the time and season/weather I guess.

Photo: Jici beach – nary a soul in sight

The next 12kms of road passed though sparsely populated areas, with random bunch of buildings popping up into view once in a while. Along the way, at around 43.6km into the trip, there was another short tunnel (Panoramio photo) encountered.

The drizzle started picking up again as I was approaching Fengbin town. Around here is the junction into Highway 11A branch, where one can cross over the mountain range into Guangfu town, though I’m not planning on taking this route. There is a 7-11 store available in Fengbin town. Note that many of the 7-11s on the east coast area here provides a pump (with pressure gauge) for cyclists to use, as well as toilet facilities in additions to other usual conveniences.

It was around 10.30am when I pulled in to this 7-11 store after ~53km travelled, and the drizzle outside was getting heavier again. Had a light meal of onigiri and a large cup of hot City Cafe’s Latte while seated at the glass front, watching the raindrops assaulting the tarmac and traffic passing by (not that there’s much anyway), and stocked up on additional bottles of Supau and plain water as well.

Took a longer-than-intended break here as the rain outside, although not super heavy, isn’t exactly a joy to ride through. But with the conditions not improving after nearly 40 minutes, it is time to go, like it or not…

Photo: At a random rest-stop by the sea, shortly before reaching Fengbin town

Subsequent 12km into Shitiping Harbor was also sparsely populated, with the mountain range close on the right and the (drab-looking) sea on the left. Oh, let’s not forget the raindrops coming from the top side as well… The odometer/speedometer malfunctioned shortly after the Fengbin stop, and I lost track of my speed and distance travelled from there onwards. This was later traced to shorted contacts due to water seeping in underneath the unit.

Rode past Shitiping Harbor without detouring in due to the gloomy weather, but still headed into the area with rocky outcrop features next to it. There is also a campsite here with a number of roofed wooden platforms for setting up tents and toilet/bath facilities, as well as a few other buildings that appeared to be some sort of hotels/guesthouses. Wasn’t bothered to find out the pricings though.

On a side note, I had my bulky and heavy DSLR along on the trip. Originally I had planned to carry it along hanging on one side of the shoulder, ready for a shot anytime, with straps on the backpack to secure it from falling. I tried it on a shorter ride for couples of hours along the bike paths while in Kaohsiung, and it feels fine for longer periods as I’m not riding fast anyway. But that was on a bright sunshiny day.

Due to the constant rain, it was packed up in an additional waterproof bag inside my backpack, which is not waterproof and only had a basic rain cover over it. And frankly, it was just too much hassle to unpack and take out the camera every time I wanted to snap a photo or two, and it ended up that I didn’t really have much photos from the trip because I was just too damned lazy to stop and take the camera out most of the time (and I didn’t really want to risk taking it out in anything more than a light drizzle)… At this time, a waterproof compact seemed like such a good idea...

An additional 4km later saw me passing underneath the arch of the red iconic Changhong Bridge at the mouth of the Xiuguluan River before taking a turn back onto the old bridge nearby. Here, the wind was blowing pretty strong, causing me to start feeling a little cold – so out came the windbreaker for the rest of the ride today.

Photo: The iconic red Changhong Bridge in the background

From here on, I’d be leaving Highway 11 for the day and heading inland into Ruisui town in the East Rift Valley area via Road# 64, a.k.a. Ruigang Highway. It is a small 22km+ road mostly following alongside the river, and although there isn’t really any road shoulder, there’s very few vehicles passing through anyway. Xiuguluan River is famous for river rafting activity, which starts from the visitor/rafting center by the Ruisui Bridge in Ruisui and ends at the Changhong Bridge.

In some sections of the road, there were small rocks scattered across the road, and also many fallen tree leaves which can get slippery in the wet weather. In one particular area, some workers were there working on a retaining wall, and a short road section there was covered with mud. The road itself is hilly with many climbs and descents along the way – and although a hard climb is always rewarded with a glorious downhill later, in the slippery conditions I was actually gripping the brake on many of the descents…

Around halfway is a small settlement called Chimei village. Although I see what looked like a small convenience store at a road junction, it wasn’t open, so probably make sure you have enough drinking water if you’re going through this route. It was around 2 hours+ later that I reached the highest point on the Ruigang Road, which was also the last peak to climb before speeding down the remaining road into Ruisui (yes, very slow, I know…). Passed by 3 other cyclists going the opposite way around here (also carrying panniers).

Interestingly, although the number of vehicles passing through this road while I was cycling through (or rather, struggling through) can be counted with my fingers, many of the drivers shouted 加油 (jia you) to me, compared to the few sporadic 'jia you' that I was getting along Highway 11…

Photo: View towards Ruisui from the highest point on Ruigang Road

Dropped by the Giant Ruisui store near the train station for a quick bike check-up to ensure no issues, as well as getting the chain re-lubricated. By the way, in Taiwan, it seems that the local train station is a good reference point to find one’s ways around wherever there is one, as there is usually adequate signboards pointing to the train station, and there will invariably be some shops, food and accommodation options available surrounding each stations.

Stopped by the 7-11 store nearby afterwards to stock up on more drinking waters, and decided to grab something to eat for an early dinner. I had been wanting to try one of those rice meal boxes that you can get at the convenience stores here, and settled on having that for today. I grabbed one of those with a huge piece of fried meat, and, well… frankly it is pretty tasteless even when already tired and hungry, and sufficed to say that I would rather not be eating anymore of those anytime soon. Just give me the ‘Basil Pork Cutlet’ burger that they have next time, which IMHO is pretty good and I had that many times throughout the entire Taiwan trip – although at 48NTD it is a bit on the expensive side.

While enjoying (duh!) the not-so-nice rice meal, a little girl was seated next to me. Overheard her saying to her mom (probably because it’s still too early for a dinner proper): “uncle cycled until very hungry, so have to eat…” (probably lost in translation, but it sounded very darndy the way she said it in mandarin at the time). So, basically for the whole of today my meals all consisted of convenience store fares. How nice… let’s not do that again tomorrow, dear. Well, except for the latte at 7-11’s City Café, of course – I need my daily caffeine.

Afterwards, I crossed the railway track after a nearby road junction to the rear side of the railway station, and headed further inwards on Wenquan Road towards the hot spring area. There are various hot spring hotels/resorts around here, but the 2 oldest ones are Ruisui Hotspring and Hong Ye Hotspring. Ruisui Hotspring is located closer to town, while Hong Ye Hotspring is located further in, crossing a bridge over a river. It was a few kilometers of slight uphill roads from the train station before I reached Hong Ye Hot Spring, passing two more Family Mart stores along the way in addition to the one opposite the 7-11 earlier.

By the way, there is no English signboard pointing there, although helpfully, it is located at the end of the road after crossing the bridge (I had expected there to be an English signboard, and hence did not memorize the correct Chinese characters for the place’s name). An old lady seated at a nearby building helpfully gestured towards the location of the reception desk after seeing me arriving there and looking confused.

Photo: Basic tatami room at Hong Ye Hotspring

The cheapest accommodation option here is the basic Tatami room, which costs 500NTD per person (not per room). It is sort of a dorm-like option, but per what the person at the counter explained to me, you get a room to yourself even if you’re coming alone, and not having to share with other strangers. The room that I got can probably sleeps up to 3-4 persons on the floor. There are apparently bigger rooms to accommodate larger groups of people. The room had a TV, ceiling fan and cupboard in addition to pillows and mattresses to spread out on the tatami-mat floor. The price also includes usage of the hot spring pools, which is pretty good bang for the bucks for solo travelers. They also helpfully allowed me to store my bicycle in a separate unused room. There are also better rooms available here if that’s what you prefer, though I’m not sure of the pricings.

The hot spring water here is the carbonate type, which is clear and not smelly as compared to the sulfur type. A long hot soak was so relaxing after spending a long day outdoor in the cold rainy weather…

Total distance of the day: around 102km (estimated – the odometer somehow malfunctioned shortly after the Fengbin stop)

Map of Day 1 Route: