Guanshan Bikeway: Taiwan's rural beauty at its best
By Cheryl Robbins
Guanshan Town is located in the northern part of Taitung County, in the East Rift Valley, which lies between two major mountain ranges. This may make it sound like cycling here is very strenuous. Although there are challenging rides available, the plains between the mountain ranges are fairly flat and fertile. They are filled with countless rice paddies and farms, providing the perfect backdrop for a leisurely bike ride and vacation getaway.
About 20 years ago, the Guanshan Bikeway became the first path in Taiwan built especially for cyclists, as a way to attract tourists to this farm town. It is a very picturesque 12-kilometer loop through pastoral and riverside landscapes and a water park.
This bikeway is divided into water and mountain sections. The water section begins at the Guanshan Water Park which is where families can beat the summer heat and have fun playing in the water released from a group of fountains. There is also a pond with outdoor theater and pedal boats, as well as a rustic wooden waterwheel. From here, the bikeway follows the crystal-clear Guanshan Canal and Hongshi River with nostalgic scenes of water buffalo cooling off near the water's edge, a sight that has become rare in Taiwan in recent years.
The main crop in this area is paddy rice. The rice is harvested twice a year, once in late June and once in late October to early November. Just before the harvests, the paddies are filled with tall golden spikes of rice swaying in the wind. During the rice seedling planting season, the landscapes become verdant. Between the rice crops, bright yellow rapeseed flowers are cultivated. Therefore, during much of the year, the scenery is colorful and very different from the pastoral landscapes of Western countries.
Other crops can be seen growing here as well, such as chili peppers and tomatoes, and in the summer time, ponds come alive with cheerful lotus blossoms.
After leaving the Hongshi River, the path gently slopes upward, reaching its highest point at the Sun Moon Viewing Platform. This part may be a bit difficult for the less physically fit if riding a manually powered bicycle, but the reward is panoramic views of the paddies and fields, as well as the surrounding mountains. If you would like to enjoy the path without the effort of pedaling, or if traveling with family members of different ages and physical abilities, you might want to rent a four-person battery-powered carriage-like vehicle. These have become increasingly popular, especially in the summer when the weather becomes somewhat uncomfortable for cycling.
There is a collection of bicycle rental shops at the start of the bikeway near the Guanshan Water Park. To reach this area, turn onto the road heading eastward from near the 333 kilometer marker along Provincial Highway 9.
It should be noted that there is an NT$50 charge per person for using the bikeway. This can be paid at the entrance to the Guanshan Water Park or near the Sun Moon Viewing Platform. Hold onto your ticket as you may have to show it at either stop to prove payment.
To make the most of your trip to Guanshan and surrounding areas, the Guanshan Resort (http://gsresort.okgo.tw/room.html) (this Website is in Chinese only) is recommended for overnight stays. Although it is not actually a full service resort, it offers recently renovated rooms (two double rooms, two four-person rooms and one six-person room). They each have a theme such as cat or duck, and some of the rooms come with views of the flower garden across the highway, planted by the Guanshan Town Farmers' Association. The service here is friendly and flexible. For example, Western-style breakfast can be requested instead of the usual Taiwanese-style fare, and the staff can arrange for bicycle rentals.