On arriving in Tainan by high speed train from Taipei, our first thought was: Another big city… How can we visit that beautiful countryside we saw on the train? After a bit of online research, we found a blog article with itinerary suggestions for cycling through the countryside north of Tainan and followed most of their route, while making stops and chatting to locals and taking their advice into account too!
Houbi Station & Bike Rental
We followed the advice we found online and took the local train from Tainan to Houbi, which takes a bit under an hour. We took off pretty early which was a good call, as in the afternoon the weather turns to tropical thunderstorms on most days in Taiwan during late July. On the left upon leaving Houbi station, we found the ‘cosy bike rental’ (although it only had a Chinese name written on the shop front) and the shop lady was a bit (very) grumpy, but after some negotiations we were able to rent two bikes by leaving a 1,000 twd deposit instead of leaving our passports. It was hot and humid, but we were immediately rewarded by beautiful sceneries with rice paddies and palm trees on our way to our first stop…
Xiao Nan Hai Scenic Area
In hindsight, Xiaonanhai, a wetland park around a lake, was the most stunning part of our bicycle tour. There’s a circular paved path around the lake with viewpoints where you can enjoy the shade and scenery around you. However, after having just seen a small part of the lake, the path turned more into cobble stones and we decided to leave the park and make our way to our next stop, as we were a bit pressed for time and the path didn’t seem great for cycling. If I could turn back time, I wish we’d just taken our time to do the whole circular walk around the lake. If you ever get the chance to come here but don’t like to cycle, it’s worth going there as a half-day trip just walking around the lake, enjoying the peace and quiet, bird songs, breeze and lush trees.
Tugou, where we made friends with locals
This small town was fairly close to the south of the park, from where we left the circular route. In search for rustic architecture, we weren’t quite sure where to go and stopped on the road to look at the map, when suddenly an elderly Taiwanese couple waived at us from their garden and invited us to join them for tea. A bit confused as to what was happening (I initially thought they might have a tea shop there and want to sell us something), we spent quite a while accompanying them in their garden, enjoying the cool breeze, while chatting to them in Mandarin. They kept brewing and pouring tea from the Taiwanese mountains into our little porcelain cups and sliced a huge pomelo and other fruits for us which they even bagged up and handed us as we left, to eat on our bicycle tour. Their kindness filled us with joy and we will surely never forget that lovely couple who so casually invited us into their garden for a tea and a chat on that hot July day. It really shows us once again that Taiwanese are very friendly and people in the countryside are especially welcoming and caring. The last time someone gave us fruit saying that we need it to revive our energy, was actually on a mountain at Yangmingshan National Park in Taipei back when we visited in November 2017!
Lotus, Lotus, Lotus
Our next stop from Tugou was planned to be the Baihe Lotus Park, however, our new friends had told us that the lotus flowers were not quite in bloom yet, and recommended us a different route south-east of Tugou, where we passed three different lotus ponds just along the roadside! All three of them offered children to stand on one of the huge lotus leaves… we were lucky as when we got to the last one, a child has just stepped on one, and it looked so much fun!
We stopped at Baihe town, which was the furthest south we went that day, to get some lunch. As we usually do in Taiwan, we just stopped at a random street food restaurant, but this time were greeted by a bunch of super excited people, who also called the shopkeepers from opposite over, so that their son could practise speaking English to us. Whenever possible, we try to avoid speaking English, as we need to practise our Mandarin, but made an exception this time as the lady and her son seemed so happy to put their English into practice. I wonder how many western tourists have stopped at that little village before! After they’ve talked us into what we should eat for lunch, they served us delicious beef noodles, fried chicken, a radish soup and some kind of sticky rice.
Well-nourished and again delighted with the friendliness of locals, we set off to our last stop on our bicycle adventure through Taiwan’s countryside. But then… black clouds on the horizon, as we cycled towards our last destination… and we decided quickly: abort mission! New command: peddle as fast as we can!
One last mini-stop
With the black thunderstorm clouds literally around our necks, we decided to take a risk and did a mini-diversion past the Red Cotton Tree Road. No risk, no fun, right? The road – tree-lined and idyllic – was really very beautiful, but there was only time for one last quick photo while the leaves started picking up speed in the air around us. We’re pretty fast cyclers and made it back to Houbi train station within 15-20 minutes from there.
Just as we returned our bikes and received back the deposit, the first rain drops started to fall and turned into torrential rain a few minutes later when we had just sat down on the platform for wait for the local train to take us back to Tainan. Phew!
And then… the rediscovery of the fresh pomelo and guava in our bags as we waited for the train. Delicious. What an amazing little adventure in the countryside in the south of Taiwan!
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