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Exploring Taipei on two wheels

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Jaclynn Seah on 13 Apr 2019

The Straits Times

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TAIPEI - While Taipei's Metro is the most convenient way to zip around the city, I found cycling a far more interesting way to explore and see some of the city's lesser known sights.

 

Taipei City has grown around the three major waterways that run through it - Keelung, Xindian and Tamsui. The Taipei City Government has cleaned up the rivers and built 28 riverside parks, which are connected by 112km of cycling paths, making them safer alternative routes for cyclists who would rather not brave the madness of Taipei's scooter-filled streets.

 

Taiwan was dubbed the "Bicycle Kingdom" in the 1970s as the largest exporter of bicycles worldwide and cycling in Taipei has picked up steam thanks to the bike sharing system YouBike, which was launched across the city in 2012.

 

These cheery orange and yellow bicycles can be found at more than 200 kiosks around the city and are close to major attractions. A handy smartphone application makes it easy to locate the nearest kiosk with free bikes and return slots so you never have to worry about forgetting to lock your bicycle.

 

Riding a YouBike costs just 5 NTD (S$0.22) for the first 30 minutes and 10 NTD per 30-minutes in the next four hours, and all you need is to tap an EasyCard, similar to Singapore's ez-link card, to rent and return.

 

For sunsets and sea views, I head for Bali Left Bank, which can be reached from Tamsui, a tourist hot spot 40 minutes north of downtown Taipei by MRT. You can take a ferry across the river from Tamsui to Bali Left Bank and even take your bike with you.

 

To get away from the crowds, I take another route to Bali Left Bank. I alight a few stops earlier at Guandu station, where I hop on a YouBike and cycle towards Guandu Bridge, a prominent red arch straddling the Tamsui river. Special bicycle ramps have been built to help cyclists to get up the bridge. I huff and puff my way up and across the bridge, entering Bali Left Bank on the opposite side of the river.

 

I cycle north through a well manicured park along the river bank until I reach Bali's Old Street, much less crowded than the Tamsui Old Street, which offers quirky local delicacies, such as Iron eggs and the local tofu dish A-gei.

 

Bali's Old Street comes alive in the evening and weekends when all the stalls and eateries open their doors for the dinner crowd. I pick up Bali's signature traditional snack called the Twin Donut, a butterfly-shaped pastry with a twist in the middle.

 

The tide drops as the sun sets, beaching the small boats and exposing the mudflats of the Tamsui River. I stop my bike at one of many benches facing the river to catch the sunset and watch people carefully wading in the shallow waters and picking mussels off the river bed, yet another popular delicacy in Bali's cuisine.

 

Intrepid explorers can also cycle through the mangrove forests of the Waziwei Nature Reserve, or visit the unusually-shaped Shihsanhang Archaeological Museum where you can see artefacts found in the Shihsanhang district dating back to the first settlers in the area over 1,800 years ago.

 

CYCLE IN XIMENDING

 

Most visitors to Taipei go to the Ximending shopping and youth district. But few explore the surrounding Wanhua district, one of the city's oldest commercial districts and home to some historical treasures.

 

Despite the high amount of vehicle and human traffic, the main roads in Ximending have designated cycling lanes and wider pavements, making it surprisingly easy for cyclists to navigate. I pick up my YouBike and head towards Longshan Temple, which dates back to 1738 and is one of the largest and oldest temples in Taiwan.

 

Nearby is the Bopiliao Historical Block, better known to the locals as Monga. Bopiliao is a pedestrianised street and outdoor museum with preserved houses showcasing a variety of architectural styles from the Qing Dynasty and Japanese occupation, a physical remnant of Taiwan's mixed cultural history.

 

Later, I cycle over to Sanshui Street at the East Sanshui Market. This day market is a local favourite, a covered lane packed with stalls on both sides selling food, produce and assorted sundry.

 

Right beside this traditional market is a horseshoe shaped building that was once Taipei's first modern public market. Called the Xinfu Market, it was established during Japanese rule in 1935 and has since been repurposed into a creative community space now known as Umkt, complete with hipster concrete and minimalist furnishing. Also, it is air-conditioned and a great reprieve from the heat of the busy market.

 

Those looking for a cool treat around Wanhua often head to the famous Snow King ice cream shop, with more than 70 flavours of ice cream to choose from, including some odd savoury flavours such as pork knuckle and sesame oil chicken. I opt for tradition over novelty, pedalling over to Yong Fu Ice Cream, a shop that looks like time stopped for it in the 1980s. Reminiscent of ice cream scooped from roadside pushcarts, I picked flavours like peanut, taro and egg for that local taste.

 

After a busy afternoon out exploring, I cap a busy day by heading to Nanjichang Night Market for dinner. This night market is relatively unknown compared with its more popular cousins like Shilin and Raohe. There are no gimmicks and novelty food sold here, just dependable Taiwanese food stalls that serve cheap good fare such as handmade pork dumplings, fried chicken cutlets and oyster pancakes.

 

Besides exercise facilities and green spaces, there is a surprising amount of art to be found in Taipei's riverside parks, from large-scale murals to selfie sculptures for that perfect Instagram shot. The parks are busy in the evenings as locals wind down in the cooler weather.

 

I start my cycling journey from Dazhi station located just north of the Songshan Airport and head eastwards, following the bend of the Keelung River. As I cycle through Yingfeng Riverside Park, I spot a colourful stretch of concrete wall where graffiti is permitted, an unusual sight in Taipei where graffiti is still mostly illegal.

 

As I approach the Minquan bridge, I take a detour towards Fujin Street, an upcoming lifestyle and hipster district in the Minsheng community. The streets are wider here and lined with shady trees thanks to the fact that it used to house American military families. These days, there are more hip coffee joints and lifestyle shops that look like they have popped out of a Kinfolk magazine spread.

 

I stop for coffee at Fujin Tree 353 Cafe, which opened in 2014 and is known for its award-winning barista, handmade desserts and artfully designed interior.

 

Nearby, shops like Funfuntown and Beam incite house-envy with their array of carefully curated homeware and lifestyle items.

 

As night falls and the city lights flicker on, I cycle back to the riverside and continue my journey south. Finally I see the bright red arch of the iconic Rainbow Bridge draw closer and know that I have reached Songshan. I pop into the impressive Ciyou temple, six storeys tall with colourful, intricate Buddhist motifs carved into its roof and walls, before diving into the crowds that make up Raohe Night Market for a dinner of pepper buns and bubble tea.

 

• Jaclynn Seah is a freelance travel writer and travel blogger.

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

 

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