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...


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. It provided a lot of good information, especially about the smaller roads such as 64 and 30. And even though there weren't any blue skies, I still think your photos were excellent. Gray, moody and dramatic is good too!