Taiwan - Moto-tour - Days 1 & 2 / by Mark Boyd

I met Jeremy from 'Bikefarm'.  He was from Essex.  He ran through the rules of the road and information on the bike.... It was the first time any one renting a scooter to me had mentioned the necessity to change oil.... I was only going to be covering maybe 1,500 kilometres maximum.  He also wanted £200 deposit, but seeing as I didn't have that sort of cash, and he didn't have a card reader he requested my passport.  I agreed.  In hindsight this was stupid.  I jumped aboard my 125cc oil and petrol guzzling Kymco scooter and headed East to Shifen....

Getting out of Taipei was proving a struggle with GoogleMaps & MapsMe (my iPhone based satnav systems) as the route planners kept throwing me on to the Freeway.   Scooters are not permitted on the Freeway, nor are their riders... Within 15 minutes I found myself on the Freeway. Great.  It took me 400 metres to realise what I'd done.  I turned, knocked off the ignition, hopped off and walked 'Kymco' back down towards the Expressway.  I made a mental note to be more observant of the road signs.  It was a pain not having a Taiwanese SIM card as GoogleMaps requires a 3G connection for route options, which would have meant I could choose the option 'avoid highways and toll roads'.  Once out of the city navigation became fairly simple, and getting lost is fine when the weather is good.... At one point MapsMe directed me left up in to the hills for around 15 minutes, then back down on to the main road and back around to the left turn I'd taken.  A lovely jaunt.  MapsMe & GoogleMaps were definitely having an off day.  

It was a mere 40km to Shifen, maybe an hour and a quarter with city traffic but with various detours it took a little longer.... As I approached Shifen I could see paper lanterns drifting high in to the sky.  There was hill on the opposite side of the valley littered with the things.

I slowed down as I entered the town and took a left over the bridge signposted for the old railway station.  It was busy with local and Chinese tourists.  This old station and line was set up in the Japanese era for transporting coal from the mines.  It runs right through the middle of the little village.  I watched a few Asian tourists fire up their huge paper lanterns and then cheer as they powered up and sailed off in to the bright sky....

I looked at some strange food, ordered and sat down and ate.  It was 2pm and I was famished.  I spotted some more strange food.  I ordered but this time stood up eating straight from the cardboard container.  I'd seen enough so motored a couple of minutes to Shifen's Waterfall Park.  Anything with 'Park' in the title means lots of tourists and wooden stands.... Not my scene, but hey-ho I'm here.  And here's the long and short of it.... A decent Taiwanese waterfall.  There are better, but this one is known as Taiwan's Niagara...

So with almost 100km ahead of me to get to my next stop, and hopefully a bed for the night I hit the road.  I was hoping to reach Yilan around 5.30pm.  I climbed high in to the mountains and the air became gradually cooler.  The decent slowly brought a warmer temperature, but the light was fading and cloud cover was heavy.... I hoped the rain would hold off.  I paused to look over Yilan.  It looked like a flooded city, but this was the outskirts.  Paddies filled the areas between the well spread residential homes, guesthouses and businesses.  It was quite a sight.

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As I headed towards a one $ sign B&B/Guesthouse on MapsMe ($, $$, $$$ is indicative of price) I checked out potential camping spots where I could rest up for the night.  I knocked on the door of 4 Seasons B&B and a lady answered.  It was almost dark.  I enquired about a bed for the night.  'Yes I have rooms, they start at 1,600 NTD'.  My jaw dropped.  This was almost £45.00.... I was expecting maybe a 350NTD, which I shared with her.  She informed me that around here 1,600 was an average price.  Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  I thanked her for her time and told her that I would be heading to the 'sports ground' to camp.  She would hear nothing of it and told me I could stay for 350 NTD, but with no breakfast.  Wow!  How amazingly kind of her.  And my room was awesome, clean and comfortable and Dharma allowed me full use of the tea and coffee facilities and a big pot noodle to stem my evening hunger.

The following morning I felt like I should do something to repay her kindness.  I offered her a portfolio of room images on my way back to Taipei the following week.  She then contacted another guesthouse on my behalf at my next destination to see if they would be interested in having a professional photography shoot for their property.  Perfect.

That morning I set off south, dropping by a temple set in to the hillside.... The weather was still and overcast.  I wondered would the rain hold off for my 120km ride.  

 A cemetery on the hillside....

A cemetery on the hillside....

A woman fishing at a roadside stream...

After a short jaunt I dropped in to Nanfango fishing port to peruse the harbour area.  It had a lovely feel about it.

My intention was to stop off and any viewpoints and little towns.... The little harbours around S'uao Township were quiet, quaint and pretty whilst the Nan'ao Township beaches lying down by the sea looked fabulous from my Expressway 9 view point.

The coast road was stunning.  The surface was smooth and winding.  It really was a pleasure to ride.  At times Marina Drive and the Laxey Coast Road came to mind.  

I stopped at one of the highest points on the coast road.  It had just started to drizzle, so it seemed like a good time to have a break.  A man had coffee van set up with his own fresh made sausages on a stick.... I bought one of each.  

When I asked how much I owed him I was once again taken aback.... The cardboard cupped coffee was £3.00 and the little sausage was £1.00....

What the hell was happening here... It was not the Asia I had become accustomed to... But saying that.... It was not the Asia I knew at all.... Taiwan was very different to everywhere else I'd been.

Later in the afternoon I dropped in to a 7/11 store, grabbed a cheap coffee and a pot of instant noodles.  The 7/11's have little cafe, refreshment areas.  You can add boiling water to your instant noodles or buy some 'UK pasty or pie' equivalents, usually tea eggs, tempeh, tofu or grotty sausages.  I managed to pick up the 7/11 wifi and check my messages.  Dharma from Four Seasons confirmed that the lady running the new Guesthouse would love some photographs.  I popped the address in to MapsMe and continued South.  

 Locals passing their time with a spot of pleasure fishing.... The Taiwanese love it!

Locals passing their time with a spot of pleasure fishing.... The Taiwanese love it!

As I passed the Taroko Gorge National Park area I thought I may as well drop in and grab some information.  Whilst there I could get on to wifi and confirm my arrival time with Ms. Chang from Happiness Station.  This is when I realised I needed to drive another 25km South past the entrance to Taroko Gorge to reach Happiness Station.  Ah well.... the weather was damp and drizzly, a warm ensuite room all to myself would be more than welcome and well worth the round 50km trip.

On arrival at Happiness Station Ms. Chang showed me my 'Chocolate' room, all the rooms were themed in one way or another.  The room was superb and modern.  

Well the place is new so what else would I expect?  She then showed me the rooms she wanted photographed.  Only two!  Great stuff.... I grabbed my gear then got to shooting before showering up.  

I then headed out on to the main strip to find some food.....

Hualien had recently been celebrating Chinese new year.... 

Eating locally is proving difficult.... Everything is obviously in Chinese.... GoogleTranslate does prove useful from time to time, but at times it's verging on useless, but bloody hilarious!  More often than not it can almost get you by.  

 Before GoogleTranslate camera on the iPhone....

Before GoogleTranslate camera on the iPhone....

 ................ and after.

................ and after.

I found a place called Salt Lick.  It was an American Diner style place.  I ate a bowl of chilli, then wandered back (eventually, I overshot my turn by about 500 metres!) to my room at Happiness Station to prepare for tomorrow's 6am departure to Taroko National Park!

Good night everyone x