Riding Route 9: Tea, Panoramic Views, and Hot Springs

Route 9, a rollercoaster mountain ride from Xindian to Jiaoxi, is one of the most iconic day trips from Taipei and an excellent start to longer biking journeys around Taiwan.  Complete with tea plantations, rice paddies, and coastal panoramas, this trip offers up plenty for the culture-hounds, pamper-babies, and thrill-seekers alike.   And it just may be biker’s fate that the Jioaxi hotsprings are waiting at the end of this two hour bike trek to soak up your tired body.

And soak you up it will, but in order to get there, a little planning is in order.  Trying to predict the weather on Taiwan’s Northeast Coast is like trying to win at mahjong: impossible.  So don’t forget to pack the requisite jackets and waterproofs as a rogue raincloud is not unheard of along this road.  Of course, if the weather proves favorable and you manage to remain dry, you can reverse that trend by packing some swimming trunks for the excellent beaches with full on swimming and surfing just north of Jiaoxi.  At this point, you are ready to begin.

While there are many secret ways to begin Route 9, including my favorite coming from Pingxi, the best entrance is just south of the Xindian MRT station.  Within minutes of leaving the city, the road becomes smooth and wide, allowing more experienced riders to pursue the day with accelerated speeds and daring turns.  Climbing higher, the mountain air fills your lungs and you will be offered your first view of the central cordillera’s northern tip. Weekday riders will see some truckers along this route, but frequent straightaways allow for easy passing.  Then about an hour into this exciting track, you’ll reach your first destination hidden away in the mountains: Pinglin.

Pinglin has been made famous by its scenic and productive Bao Zhong, or Iron Goddess, tea plantations.  Because of its proximity to Taipei, this quaint town has capitalized on its number one product by constructing the world’s largest Tea Museum.  Here you’ll find excellent information about tea production and be able to taste some of the local brew.  Be sure to limit the amount of tea you drink because, as I found out last time, too much results in a strange phenomenon known as “tea drunk”.  Heart racing and head spinning, tea drunks will barely be able to walk out of the museum in a straight line, let alone ride a motorcycle.

But assuming you can drive, it’s a clear shot to Jiaoxi with one more requisite stopping point.  Just before descending into the low-lying coastland of Yilan County, be sure to pull off to the side of the road.  There are some old military barracks that have been transformed into viewing platforms and these vantage points offer extraordinary panoramas.  From here, much of the Northeast Coast along Yilan County can be seen, as well as Turtle Island protruding out of the ocean like, well, a massive sea turtle.  A Taiwan Sausage or stinky tofu from the nearby carts are always welcomed snacks at this point before you move into your final leg of the trip.

The road into Jiaoxi is a snake-like switchback, so be sure to keep an eye on the road because the frequent vistas can distract even the most focused rider.  Once at the bottom, turn right onto Route 2 and this will take you into the town’s main drag.  Park the bike and choose from a wide array of odorless hot springs to relax in.  While there are plenty of luxurious, and therefore expensive, resorts to choose from, I would recommend the public springs for an authentic Taiwanese bathing experience.

So go in and a have a soak- you deserve it.  Your butt must be really sore by now.