Just a few months ago, in the most unexpected way, I won a trip to cycle around Taiwan for a week. At first I thought it was a prank, but as I looked into it more, I realized that it was a real trip. I was unbelievably excited to spend a whole week biking in Taiwan! A few months after finding out that I had won, I was on a plane and headed across the ocean to Taiwan.
After a long day full of flying, I finally arrived in Taiwan to a warm welcome from our guides Min and Cassandra. I got to meet two of the other guys I would be spending the week with, Nic and Owen. I got to experience my first hostel, a cool little place with small rooms. This is where it first set in that Taiwan was not built for someone who is 6’7”: the distance between the walls was just barely wide enough to lay down in! After a weird jet-lagged sleep, I was ready to let the real fun begin!
We woke up to a delicious breakfast and suited up, ready to start our first day of biking in Taiwan. We drove to the starting point of the Formosa 900, where we picked up our bicycles that we would ride for the day. Finally, we were ready to go! The ride started on a bike path that ran out of downtown Taipei and along a river to the outskirts. It was a beautiful ride, and it was really cool to see all of the public spaces they had! They even had a putt-putt golf course right by the path. I wish I had brought my club to play!
After riding for an hour or so along the river, we reached out first checkpoint and headed up into the surrounding mountains. We had a very tasty traditional lunch in a rural town, and got on the bikes again to do a little mountain riding. The forest was so lush and green, and it was great to be able to push myself riding through the mountains and see the beauty around me! We finished off the day with another traditional (and never-ending) meal and headed to the hotel for the night.
On day three, we headed over to a small island just off the eastern coast of mainland Taiwan called Penghu. We took a smaller commercial plane for about an hour and landed in some very windy conditions! This was just the start of the crazy winds we were going to experience over the next few days. We had a tasty lunch of some traditional Penghu seafood, checked into our hostel for the next three nights, and then took off on a ferry to one of the small islands that made up the group called Penghu.
Once we made it to the island, we rode up the side of a bluff. At the top, we saw some of the most amazing views. We also experienced some of the strongest winds I’ve ever felt! After that, we took the ferry back to the main island. The sunset that night was stunning. That night we got to walk around and see the nightlife in Penghu. There were tons of street vendors selling all sorts of food and my favorite, milk tea. We got to bed early in preparation for a longer ride the next day.
It’s already day 4! We got up bright and early and ready for a day of riding. First, we set off from our hostel and headed along the coast towards the Great Penghu Bridge and a historic lighthouse on the tip of a peninsula. The whole way we fought incredible winds, although we had a blast doing it. We made the turn onto the Penghu Bridge and the wind was finally at our backs, so we soared across faster than we had gone in a while! The bridge basically connected the two land masses across the ocean. It almost felt like we were riding on the ocean itself.
On the island, we got to walk through a historic village and try some traditional tofu. It was really tasty! After stopping for a break, we got to mess around and take some fun pictures at a scenic overlook. I was getting closer to my new friends, and joking around and being silly with them made the trip even better!
On day five, we woke up to even windier and now wet conditions! I don’t think any of us expected the weather to be this way, but a typhoon to the south of us in the Philippines was creating massive wind gusts and rain for us. It was also already our last day of riding. Once we started riding we warmed up, thankfully. We had another fun day of seeing amazing ocean fronts, some of the most beautiful bays in the world, and hanging out with new friends.
I thought I was used to eating fish and would have no problem with the cuisine. After every meal consisting of squid, fish balls, and all sorts of forms of raw and cooked fish, though, I was ready for a “western” meal. We stopped for lunch today at a place that served pasta with beef on it. I’ll admit I was pretty happy! The rest of the afternoon we got to explore some traditional homes and see the homes that were built by those who first settled on Penghu.
Today was a day of exploring and better understanding the culture of Penghu and Taiwan. We visited a temple and learned about some local traditions. We also visited the homes of some local legends, singers and songwriters. After our last traditional lunch in Penghu, we boarded a plane and flew back to Taipei. Tonight, we got to explore the city on our own, which I had been really looking forward to. We walked around the famous night markets in Taipei for a few hours, picking up random treats for dinner and searching through all the funny and tacky memorabilia. It was really cool to explore on our own and try to interact with people in Mandarin. It was so fun to experience the culture of Taipei!
Our last day came all too quickly! How had it already been a week of biking in Taiwan? Thankfully, we still had plenty of fun things to do for our last day. Some of my favorite places: The Palace Museum, a hub of history for Taiwanese culture, the Taipei 101, and our last-day meals! The Palace Museum had so many ancient artifacts. It was unreal to be able to see history that is way older than the US itself. At the Taipei 101 Tower, we took the world’s fastest elevator to the top to check out the awesome views. It was actually pretty disorienting being so high up and looking down on the city, but it was still really cool!
We ate lunch today at Din Tai Fung, a famous soup dumpling restaurant. It was one of the best meals of my entire life. After lunch, we had to say goodbye. After spending almost every minute of the past week with Adrienne, Owen, Sierra, and Nic, it was hard to say goodbye to my now-close friends.
I will remember this trip forever. I feel like I’ll be talking about and sharing stories for the rest of my life. It was so great to be immersed in another culture—not to mention that being able to cycle around Taiwan brought it even closer. There was no window separating me from the elements, the people and the smells. The initial strangers I rode with became lifelong friends and the experiences we shared will hold us together. Thank you to StudentUniverse and to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau for sending me on this crazy adventure. Here’s to many more!!