It’s been an adventure-less summer. Breaking my leg at the end of April meant that I spent most of the season getting to the point where I could walk again. While I’m still not 100%, I am finally able to be active, so I was eagerly awaiting my trip to Taiwan to meet up with my friends Grizz and Tam. We’d planned it out: we were going to road trip on scooters down to Hualien, check out the epic Taroko National Park for a few days, then make our way back to Taipei. I couldn’t wait, so when Grizz and Tam unexpectedly had to make a trip back Stateside, I decided to carry on and do the trip myself.
Day 1: Taipei to Hualien
I’d made arrangements to book the bike through Bike Farm. Jeremy, the owner, is well-known among the expats and travelers who ride scooters around the island, and his service has gotten great reviews. So, to start off the journey, I met him in southern Taipei and we took the bike to get the fuel gauge fixed.
When that was done, I headed off down Highway 9, only making it a short way before the bike died on me. Deciding one occurrence might just be a fluke, I carried on, only to have it die again mere minutes later. Deciding it was better to be safe than sorry, I turned around and took it back to Jeremy. We managed to replicate the problem, and he ordered a new carburetor to fix the issue. After an inconvenient but pleasant enough wait (listening to Taiwanese pop and Linkin Park while eating some sort of bao) I headed off again, this time with no bike troubles. Or so it seemed…
The drive to Hualien starts off through city streets, but the road swiftly narrowed and I found myself switch-backing through a thickly forested range of foothills. Small clusters of buildings lined the roadside, with temples and rice paddies making the occasional appearance.
It was a beautiful day — stunning blue skies with puffy white clouds scooting across them, the damp, earthy smell of Nature, and — most worryingly — the slow warmth of the sun slowly turning my skin into leather. It was a day for multiple applications of sunscreen, which I was diligent about!
When the road finally reached the coast, the views were amazing. Taiwan’s coastline (at least that part of it) isn’t a beaches and piña coladas type of affair. It’s epic cliffs, mountains rising out of the ocean, hairpin turns on roads with sheer plunges over the edge if you happen to miss one.
It was a fantastic route, but the delay of earlier had cost me, and darkness fell when I was still far away from Hualien. The last two hours were a scary slog, along winding roads with trucks and other traffic coming from both directions. To top it all off, the problem we thought had been fixed resurfaced during the last 25 kilometers. By the time I got to Hualien, I was in a foul mood and ready for the day to be over. ‘It was 90% awesome,’ I told myself, over and over again.
Luckily, my AirBnB turned out to be a wee gem, and I immediately felt comfortable there. Which was good, because it was time for a shower. I was an absolute mess — I had dirt caking my face and arms. No wonder I’d been getting strange looks!
Hey! Want to help me travel more? If you haven’t signed up for AirBnB yet, do it by CLICKING HERE, and we’ll each get a credit with AirBnB. How’s that for awesome?
Hualien was a great little town, which I’ll write more about HERE. I stayed for three nights, which was a pretty good amount of time to get a feel for the city and do what I wanted there. Want to know what that was? Read the post linked above 😉
Day 2: Hualien to Sqoyaw via Taroko National Park
Thursday came quickly, and I left my AirBnB and headed for my keynote destination: Taroko Gorge. I was nervous, unsure if I could trust the bike to get me through the difficult terrain. Luckily (kinda), it decided to act up before I even entered the national park, so I was able to stop at a mechanic who tinkered with it, fixed it, and sent me on my way with a wave, only accepting my ‘thank you’ as payment. He was the first of many that day who would show me kindness.
Taroko Gorge is Taiwan’s premier natural tourist attraction, and for good reason. Even its name gives a clue. Taroko means ‘magnificent and splendid’ in the native tribe’s language, and it is an entirely apt description. Huge mountains tower around as the access road hugs their sides and winds its way above the river bed. Taroko is the deepest marble canyon in the world, and when you’re down inside it’s not too hard to believe. The place is jaw-dropping.
I mean, c’mon… How can views like this be legal?
I realized something, as I drove those roads. I was cold. At those elevations, the cloud forest of Taroko National Park is not a balmy place, and I began seriously having doubts about my plan to sleep in a hammock outside. Maybe not such a good idea. I decided to back-burner that decision and see how the temperature and weather were closer to evening.
That time drew near, and I was still high (altitude, Mom) and cold. It was time to look for a hotel.
I finally made it to Lishan — my way-point of choice — and was immediately repulsed by the place. I’m not sure why; maybe it was just a little too touristy, dirty, and hectic for me in my road-weary state. Whatever the reason, I didn’t even stop on my way through and decided to look for accommodation further along the road….
…which led me to the tiny village of Sqoyaw, shown on Google Maps as Pingdeng Village. Home to the Huanshan tribe of Atayal natives, Sqoyaw is a tiny little place nestled among the surrounding hills. The thing which had initially attracted my attention there was a small cafe by the name of Sqoyaw, which has a perfect rating on Google Maps. I was intrigued. We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by farms and tribal land. What would the cafe be like?
Warmed both inside and out, I said my goodbyes and made my way to the village proper.
The access road to Sqoyaw is small and steep, and the rain had just started as I made my way down. Finding a hotel was tricky, as there were no signs in English, and I hadn’t done any research whatsoever. Luckily, a man who noticed me driving in confused circles flagged me down and led me to a building when I signed that I wanted a place to sleep.
An older woman came out, shooing me inside as the rain began to dump in earnest. My room was a small one, with a comfortable double mattress and sliding rice-paper and wood doors. It linked to a huge living room area and shared a bathroom with a similar room, which was unoccupied. It was perfect. I pulled out my wallet to pay and realized I might have a problem.
“How much?” I asked, making the universal sign for money.
“Ee chun,” she replied, which I was actually able to understand (1000 TWD).
I had exactly 735 TWD to my name, as well as a bank card which — I had a feeling — was going to do me very little good.
“Card?” I asked, pulling it out.
She laughed and reached for my 700 TWD in bills.
“Okay, okay.” She communicated through sign language that she wouldn’t be able to include food in the rate, but I hadn’t expected her to, so that was fine.
I fell asleep that night in a wonderful bed, with the sound of rain drumming the tin roofs of the village around me.
Day 3: Sqoyaw to Taipei
Morning came, and with it came hunger. See, my money problems extended to food as well. I didn’t have enough cash for food, no places took credit or debit cards, and there were no ATMs for an hour in either direction. Getting the hotel had depleted my cash reserves, and I was in a pinch. I’d eaten a bag of dried nuts for dinner, which hadn’t done much for my 80 kg frame, and my stomach was scolding me for it. But when I left my room and made to leave on my bike, the hotel owner waved me into her restaurant and fed me rice and pumpkin porridge and a roll. The rest of the spread looked fantastic, but that was for people who had paid the full rate.
I scarfed my free meal, thanked the owner for all that she’d done for me, posed for a photo in front of the hotel, and left the tiny town of Sqoyaw behind. “Welcome to Sqoyaw!” a worker shouted at me as I left.
I had three very pressing concerns as I started my final stretch of the road trip. One: I was ravenously hungry. The rice porridge had been a drop in the abyss that is my belly and merely served to waken the demon inside me. Two: I was running a little low on gas. I had enough to get me another hour or so down the road. And three: I had almost no cash, only 35 TWD to my name. That’s just over $1 USD.
So when I made it to Nashan and found out the petrol station there accepted cards, that was an immense relief. When I found a Family Mart down the road, I just about squealed. Family Marts (for those of you back home) are little convenience stores which happen to take cards AND have ATMs. I was able to withdraw some money, get a real meal, and carry on with all three of my concerns dealt with. All within a couple hundred meters of each other! Way to use up all your good karma in one go, Nathan.
The road wound down through fields and along a huge river basin before joining Highway 7. I went west on the Cross-Island route, which rose quickly to high elevations — leaving the riverbed behind and working its way into a thick pine forest dripping with mist. The area was gorgeous and almost felt like Olympic National Park back home.
I wanted to stop and stay in those hills, to pitch a tent and just chill for a few more days, but one-week vacations don’t allow for that type of crazy, and I had to keep moving. I was meeting Jeremy from Bike Farm at 4:00 in Taipei, so I kept a good pace throughout the day and didn’t linger too long at any one spot.
That said, a definite must for those with time is the Mingchi National Forest Recreation Area. The forest there is amazing, and waterfalls can be seen along the side of the road. Honestly, parts of it reminded me of Fiordland in New Zealand, but with slightly smaller trees.
By the time I hit Daxi, I was ready to be done. It had been an amazing journey, but the road was getting more and more urban and my bum was sore. So when the rain started to fall, I gritted my teeth and pushed on, only stopping for a little more gas and a fantastic pee on the way. I even managed to get to the meeting point 30 minutes early! Scooter problems aside, it was a fantastic trip, and I was buzzing with excitement for the rest of the day.
Feel like doing the same trip? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve gone ahead and made a Google Map of the route. Each day is its own section, and I marked several key points (the hotel in Sqoyaw and Sqoyaw Cafe, specifically!). I HIGHLY recommend taking Highway 7 up through the center of the island. Cheese and crackers, that’s a beautiful drive!
- Hiking to Refugio Frey and Beyond - January 20, 2020
- Christmas Letter 2019 - December 18, 2019
- My Walk Out of the Woods - June 30, 2019
To summarize our experience with Jeremy’s scooter rental, if you are driving within Taipei, these bikes are good enough as they are cheap to rent and the owner will be able to get to it (hopefully within a day) when it breaks down. If, however, you leave Taipei and travel around Taiwan, be forewarned that having the bike stop working in the middle of nowhere, which happened to us on several occasions, without any support whatsoever from the owner, is an awful experience that is, honestly, worth the cost difference for renting newer bikes you will find from other stores. Note that we discovered from the stunned locals during our Alishan incident that larger bike rental companies do provide immediate Taiwan-wide support and that they were more shocked than we were that this was not the case here, a position they made absolutely clear when talking to Jeremy on our behalf during the incident. So do yourself a favour and rent your bike elsewhere, as we wish we had, to get some peace of mind when travelling around Taiwan.
our full review: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/review-taiwan-taipei-scooter-rental-bikefarm-9251e7e8a510
looks like you had an awesome trip. Firstly let me apologize for any inconvenience you had on my bike. You were exceptionally unlucky and I can tell you were mad as the blog sounds like a frequent rant about the bike. Justified as you did have problems which is something neither of us want at all and I honestly work hard to avoid. It is kind of you, despite the experience you had, to refer my business and I do hope your bad experience will not deter others from giving this kind of trip a go, Lots of people do this through Bikefarm and have a great time-Once again, I apologize for the inconvenience caused.
Wow, the views were so clear for you. You’re also quite brave to go on a scooter. I don’t know that I would want to do the trip like that. People were driving really fast in Taroko and then there are the cliffs on the eastern shore, haha. Love hearing about this journey though.
It was such an epic ride! I just stayed near the edge of the road and was very defensive with my driving. I just wish the scooter had been better quality, as I was always worried it was going to break down on me. Thanks for reading!
This trip looks epic! We are thinking of doing something similar in the near future. What month were you in Taiwan? We are thinking early September, but concerned it will be too hot.
Also, did you have an international drivers license to rent the scooter? Thanks!!!
Hey Katy! I actually went in early September as well. There were a couple really rainy days, but overall the weather was decent 🙂
Yes, I did have an International Drivers Permit, and I’m pretty sure the Bike Farm required one.
I hope you have an awesome trip!
Thank you very much for sharing these informations. I will go to Taipeh on 2. Nov for 2 weeks. I also want to rent a scooter and drive through the east coast.
How much did you pay for the scooter since you only needed it one week?
That sounds like it will be a great trip! Here is the relevant information on the Bike Farm’s pricing (copy and pasted from an email they sent me):
Delivery to your location in Taipei city rather than the meeting place comes at an extra cost of $500nt/ bike per trip so if you need that let me know well in advance.
Rental fees depend on how long you wish to use the bike for. The fee scale is fairly simple, based on the rental of a 125cc model:
4 days (minimum) $2,000nt
5 days $2,500nt
Up to 2 weeks $2,600nt
1 month $3,400nt
Longer rentals work out even cheaper
Deposit is $7,000nt or the equivalent in any other currency and this is returned when the bike comes back to me. ( obviously any fines incurred whilst a bike is rented out to whoever rents any one of my bikes has to be paid regardless of if the bike has been returned or not,of course proof of the fine must be given by me)
All payments are made in cash.
did you rent a 125cc or 50ccm?
cause you never mentioned it and I’m sadly only allowed to drive 50cc.
Thank you in advance
Hey Maverick! It was a 125cc bike, though it felt like a 50, haha. You could try checking with the Bike Farm to see if they have any smaller bikes.
And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.
Love it! 🙂
I really enjoyed this Nathan.Your second day sounds like quite an adventure! Beautiful scenery and frinedly people.
It was! I had a blast, and I was so relieved that stupid scooter made it the whole way, haha. You’ve been making me want to visit Iceland something crazy… how much longer are you there?