17 January 2020.
Bound by dark emerald peaks, the vibrant patchwork of Taiwan’s East Rift Valley is a simply spectacular sight.
Stretching on for some 180km between Hualien and Taitung, the East Rift Valley (officially named the Huadong Valley) carves a wide tract between the Central and Coastal Mountain Ranges and is home to some of the country’s most fertile land.
A sprawling mosaic of buttercup yellow and lime green intersected by narrow laneways that twist and turn. Tall spindly palms rise high above the grasslands, tumbledown farm huts speckle the landscapes and jungle-clad mountains tower on all sides.
Gliding south on the train, it’s easy to watch the endless scene unfold before you, hour after hour, but I soon discover that this impossibly pretty place is best explored by bike.
Despite being greeted by an absolute deluge of rain, I spent a blissful morning weaving along empty roads between rice paddies, picturesque trees and a lake carpeted in lilies. Taiwan’s dramatic east coast may be renowned for its beauty with its staggering sea cliffs and azure seas, but it was this unexpectedly stunning journey through its interior that made for one of my favourite experiences in the country.
Here’s everything you need to know to spend a wonderful day cycling Taiwan’s gorgeous East Rift Valley.
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The East Rift Valley can easily be reached from either Hualien or Taitung and is peppered with small villages, many of which would make an excellent jumping-off point for a day of exploration.
As I was beginning my day in Taitung, I settled on Chishang (also spelt Chisang or Chiseng) which is less than an hour away, ideally located on the train line, has plenty of options for bike rental and has a well-established network of cycling trails.
From Taitung To Chishang
First, take the bus from the central bus station to the train station which sits about 30 minutes out of town. The bus timetables can be a little confusing to figure as there are several different companies, but your guesthouse should be able to help you find the right one. If all else fails, there’s a TTB city shuttle that leaves from Platform 6 (to the left of the main platforms in front of the visitor centre) every hour on the hour from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and every half hour after 9:30 a.m. Don’t forget your EasyCard for the trip!
Numerous trains travel between Taitung and Chishang every day and the trip takes between 30 minutes and an hour and costs up to $96 (€2.85) depending on which service you choose.
From Hualien To Chishang
Trains from Hualien to Chishang depart at least every hour, though the trip is much longer taking between 1 and 2.5 hours depending on the train. Tickets cost up to $247 (€7.30). Check the current timetable here.
In October, I never had any issues buying my ticket on the day, but on weekends or during high season it’s often a good idea to plan ahead.
Join A Tour Of The East Rift Valley
If you’d prefer a guided experience, you can also join a tour of the area.
Full-Day Tour | This tour of the East Rift Valley departs from Taitung and covers the most famous cycle routes in Chishang, including Mr Brown Avenue and Paradise Road, followed by a visit to the Luye tea plantations. Check rates and availability here.
Cycling in Chishang and the East Rift Valley makes a perfect half or full-day trip, but it can also be done as a stopover between Hualien and Taitung or elsewhere in Taiwan.
I was planning to travel from Taitung to Kenting following my visit to Chishang so stored my luggage in Taitung Station in the morning which saved me having to travel back into the city to collect it later in the day. You’ll find luggage storage at all three stations though keep in mind that most manned luggage rooms are only open for 12 hours a day so be sure to confirm their opening hours before leaving your things.
When you exit the train station in Chishang, turn to your right and you’ll immediately find a large bike rental shop called TR9 (Taiwan Route 9). They offer bicycles, multi-person carriage bikes and scooters.
Bikes cost just $100 (€3) for the entire day and have gears and a basket. They also have small lockers onsite for you to leave your bags.
You’ll be given a map of the area with a short suggested route, but just near the station and along the main cycle paths you’ll also see signposted maps which mark out the various cycle paths in the area for those wanting to venture further afield.
If you happen to be arriving by car, there are also a number of rental companies located around the edges of Mr Brown Avenue.
Chishang is perfectly set up for cycling with four interlinking bike routes that weave through the rice paddies between the area’s top sights and are signposted along the way.
Chishang Township Route | This is the most comprehensive route which runs in a figure-eight formation around the station. The southern loop is the most scenic and where you’ll cross paths with the other three cycle routes.
HsinXing Bicycle Path | Leads through fields on the west side of Highway 9 taking in a variety of cultural sights like the Hakka Museum.
Paradise Bicycle Path | Twists and turns through some gorgeous rice fields peppered with trees and farmhouses. My top pick for the most scenic trail.
Waterway Circle Bicycle Path | Runs through rice fields toward and around the lily-covered Dapo Pond.
See this guide for a map of the different routes. In a full day, you could easily cycle them all.
Now, while these are the official cycle paths, there are plenty of other tiny roads to explore that are just as picturesque and receive very little traffic.
Funnily enough, Chishang’s most famous sight is the Takeshi Kaneshiro Tree found on arrow-straight Mr Brown Avenue which doesn’t actually fall along any of the cycle routes. The now-famous tree became something of an icon for the region after appearing in an advertisement for Eva Air alongside Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro enjoying a cup of tea.
These days, it’s a popular selfie spot and most local visitors make a beeline straight here without bothering to see much else of this incredibly beautiful area. For me, it was a perfectly nice tree, but the road has plenty of others that are just as photogenic (and free of the crowds).
I spent my time weaving between several of the cycle routes as well as turning down any number of tiny laneways that just seemed too pretty to pass by.
From the train station, I made my way down Xingxing Road cruising straight into the heart of rice field country where reeds rustled in the wind and palms swayed overhead. There’s no defined cycle path here but the roads are wide, traffic is light and cars are generally very respectful of cyclists.
Here I spent a great deal of time exploring Paradise Path and the many tiny streets that lead away from Mr Brown Avenue. As the name suggests, this is a beautiful part of the valley and, had I not been caught in a downpour, I could have easily spent more time meandering through the paddocks. After rejoining the Township Circle Path, I rode toward the Waterway Circle Path and along the western edge of Dapo Lake before returning to the station.
By this point the rain was relentless and I decided to call it a day, but for those wanting a longer cycle, you could spend more time at Dapo Lake or continue along the northern loop of the Township Circle Path which begins and ends at the train station.
If you’ve got more than a day in the area, there’s plenty more to see, especially if you’re visiting in late summer or winter when the area erupts with florals.
Admire the Day Lillies On Liushishishan or Sixty Stone Mountain
Climbing high above the valley, Liushishishan offers up sublime vistas of the surrounding countryside; a scene of checkered farmlands, impressive emerald peaks and rolling highland pastures. It’s a beautiful sight at any time of year but the best time to visit is between August and September when the mountain top is blanketed in golden daylilies.
Reached up a steep, hairpin-laden 9km road that climbs above the lowlands, getting here by bike is no easy feat. Instead, consider arriving by car or scooter, or if you’re visiting during flower season, public shuttle buses are available. The nearest train station is Dongzhu.
Ogle The Vibrant Yellow Fields Of Flowering Rapeseed
Much of the valley is dedicated to cultivating rice, but over winter farmers instead plant rapeseed to act as a natural fertiliser for the upcoming season. In January, this blossoms into a short-lived spectacle of brilliant yellow, before the farmers make room for the new rice crops.
You’ll find the explosion of colour right alongside the highway between Luye and Chishang.
Tea And Hot Air Balloons at Luye Plateau
Slightly less scenic than Luishishi, the Luye Plateau rises along the opposite side of the valley where you’ll find pretty pockets of tea plantations right alongside the road. The annual balloon festival is also a popular event when hot air balloons – the more creative the better – take to the skies.
The plateau lies 4km uphill from Luye Station and during festival time there is a tourist shuttle from Taitung station.
If you’re visiting by bike, take a detour along the Wuling Green Tunnel, a 5 km stretch of road partially encased by lush camphor and beefwood trees. The road sits just north of Luye and is labelled as Yongling Rd, before becoming Yongle and Yongan. You’ll also find a TR9 bike shop near the train station.
Discover Remote Natural Hotsprings
The natural hot springs concealed deep within the mountain folds that peal away from the East Rift Valley had long held a place on Taiwan itinerary. Yet, in the end, I decided they were just too difficult to get to.
Lulu and Lisong are two such hot springs that lie nestled in the mineral streaked canyons that surround Wulu village, an area well known for its geothermal activity. Lisong is an exceedingly steep and challenging 45-minute downhill climb, while Lulu is recommended as a 2-day trip. You’ll need your own transport to reach both trails.
For a less adventurous hot spring visit, there are several spa centres located on the road to Wulu.
Cycle The Whole East Rift Valley Or Dramatic East Coast
Though I visited the East Rift Valley as a day trip, you could easily dedicate several days to exploring the area by bike. In fact, long-distance cycling is a beloved pastime for many Taiwanese and both the East Coast and East Rift Valley are among the best destinations for the sport.
Helpfully, TR9 has a number of stores scattered throughout the valley, often beside the train stations, making it easy to pick-up and drop-off bikes at any stage of the journey.
Key shops from north to south include: Hualien, Shoufeng, Guangfu, Ruisui, Yuli, Chishang, Guangshan, Luye and Taitung.
As a perfect day trip, it’s easy to reach from either Hualien or Taitung or on your way between the two. These are some decent options for staying overnight.
Its proximity to Taroko Gorge makes Hualien an essential stop on every Taiwan itinerary and so you’ll find a wide range of accommodation available to suit every budget. Most options are clustered around either the train station or the downtown area which are a few kilometres apart so consider which area will suit you best.
Wow Hostel | Located in the big green building opposite the train station, Wow Hostel is one of Hualien’s most popular options for budget travellers. The industrial-themed interior has plenty of chill-out spaces, dormitories are capsule style, staff are friendly, a simple breakfast is included and there’s a guest kitchen available. It’s also perfectly located for an early morning departure on the train.
Cave Hostel | Located in the downtown area, Cave Hostel is another great budget choice for those wanting to be near Hualien’s lively centre. Beds are large and capsule-style, breakfast is included and there’s plenty of information available on exploring the area. The dumpling place a few doors down is also excellent and with plenty of veggie options.
Travel Charger Hostel | This funky hostel is set a short walk from the train station and comes with a slightly higher price tag but is a firm favourite among those looking for a trendy space to kick back.
Hualien also plays host to several top-rated homestays. Among the best are Com Inn, Happiness is my Home and Hometown B&B which are all located near the train station and offer bright, excellent value private rooms with friendly hosts.
Taitung is similarly spread out where the train station and downtown are a half-hour bus ride apart. If you’re not planning to visit the town, you’re probably best basing yourself somewhere near the station.
Hostel Who Knows | One of few hostels located in the heart of downtown Taitung, this was where I stayed during my visit. Who Knows is a small, friendly hostel just a short walk from the central bus station and owner Jackson is a wealth of information on the region and can help you with everything from finding the right bus to suggesting offbeat places to explore.
On My Way Hostel | A comfortable option for budget travellers near the station with a cosy common room and breakfast included.
Accommodation in this small town is relatively limited but there are a few charming homestays and hotels available. Many are located on the fringes of the rice paddies and offer free bicycle rental for guests.