The inclusion of Taiwan on our itinerary held two attractors. One was visiting our local friends (Jack & Kitty) and the other was cycling around Sun Moon Lake. Cycling in a foreign place allows you to see things that would otherwise be considered “off the beaten track”, and the bit of exercise that comes with it is an added bonus too.
The brochures describe Sun Moon Lake as “an alpine lake with serene beauty and tranquility”. In some places around the lake I experienced these attributes, but in other parts, the serenity and tranquility were stolen away by the hoarding masses of tourists.
Sun Moon Lake is situated about 250km south of Taipei, sitting almost at the mid-point of the Island. We chose to travel to the lake via Taichung, on Taiwan’s high speed rail, completing the journey on the Nantou bus. That type of travel in itself, in a foreign country where English is not the spoken language, is always a satisfying challenge, especially when you succeed in getting to your destination.
We had planned to stay overnight in Sun Moon Lake, and on arrival late in the morning, we dropped our bags at the hotel, changed into our cycling clothes and headed straight to the bike rental store. The bikes we rented cost $100 Taiwan New Dollars each for 5 hours. That’s the equivalent of $AUD4.15 each! The weather was good and we were keen to get started. The lake’s circumference is about 30km, but once we realised that much of that would require some serious uphill pedaling on busy roadways, we reconsidered and thought about attempting a half circle of the lake where we would be able to stick to the bike trail.
In hindsight, I should have read the signage for the “round-the-lake bikeway” which was posted at the starting point, but I only noticed it on our return. The actual slope map for the bike trail revealed a 1km steep section “not suitable for biking”. Thank heavens that the trail at this point consisted of a ramp and stairs! We weren’t deterred and completed our half lake ride, finishing at the Xuanguang Temple and pier. Our planned route back to the starting point of Shuishe pier was to be by shuttle boat.
There are plenty of boats on the lake so we presumed catching the shuttle would be a breeze. After we eventually succeeded in purchasing tickets at a very crowded non-English speaking refreshment shop, and made our way through the arriving throng of tourists disembarking their boats, all excited about their Temple visit, we got ourselves to the jetty and were directed to our transport home. Phew – that was a breeze!
We loved the adventure of cycling, navigating, communicating, pushing, walking and boating. There is a certain beauty, serenity and tranquility to Sun Moon Lake, and I’m glad we made the effort to get there. It was a lovely contrast to our Taipei city experience.
I was also fortunate to do some cycling in Taipei with our host Jack. Jack is a keen road cyclist, and a friend who I had originally met in Brisbane. He was very keen to show me his backyard in Taipei and had arranged to borrow a Trek Madone road bike for my use. I nervously agreed to take a ride with Jack early on the day of our departure from Taiwan. For those who are familiar with Taipei, you will know it’s a city surrounded by very tall mountains, so I knew my ride would include a climb. Jack was kind, and selected “Wimpy Hill” as our path, knowing I’m not a hill climber. I remain grateful to Jack for his selection. I’ve seen some of the other routes he takes, and they aren’t for wimps! Thanks Jack.
I’m pleased to say that I successfully pedalled up the 10km long Wimpy Hill without a stop and completed our 30km ride, still with a smile on my face. The view from the top back across Taipei was worth the ride.
If you ever get the chance to mount a bicycle on your holiday, go for it. You never know where it might take you.