Railways to Bikeways



Exploring the Dongfeng and Houfeng Bikeways in Taichung

Text:Nick Kembel
Photos:Maggie Song

When it comes to cycling, Taichung may not yet be at the top of many tourists’ itineraries. But the city that gave birth to Giant, the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, is considered a key cycling hub by locals. The Dongfeng and Houfeng bikeways offer cyclists the chance to experience rural Taichung and Hakka culture firsthand while pedaling along decommissioned railway lines.

On Christmas Day, 2010, Taichung City was upgraded to the status of special municipality and merged with Taichung County. This arrangement produced a mega-city encompassing everything from coastal fishing ports and Mazu (Goddess of the Sea) pilgrimage sites to isolated indigenous villages and Taiwan’s second-tallest peak, Snow Mountain.
For Taichung, the administrative restructuring has brought a wide range of economic and administrative advantages. One unexpected benefit for travelers is that, for the time being, the Taichung City government is offering free short-distance bus rides for passengers using an EasyCard (www.easycard.com.tw), a contactless smartcard now widely used on the island. This includes the bus ride to the destinations described below.
One of the effects of Taichung’s amalgamation has been an integration of transportation systems, including hiking trails and bikeways that cross district borders. The Dongfeng and Houfeng bikeways collectively span four districts in northern Taichung. Their creation in fact predates merger discussions, but they serve nevertheless as ideal examples of local inter-district cooperation.

The Dongfeng Bikeway, just under 13 kilometers long, follows what was once the Dongshi branch line of the western railway trunk line through an area inhabited primarily by Hakka people. The Dongshi branch line, on which operations began in 1958, connected Fengyuan, the former capital city of Taichung County, with Dongshi Township in the foothills of the Central Mountain Range, via a third township, Shigang. Besides being the primary means of transportation for locals, the railway was used to deliver agricultural products and logs from the mountains. When the Dongshi branch line was decommissioned in 1991, the county government decided to convert it into a bicycle path – the first of its kind in Taiwan.
Over the years, great efforts have been made to improve amenities along the path, and the condition of the path itself. There are distance markers every 500 meters, the entire path is paved with smooth asphalt, and there are dozens of food, drink, and sweet-treat stalls lining the route. The cyclist can hardly travel 100 meters without being tempted by a pizzeria, gelateria, shaved-ice stall, or café.
The trail was officially opened in 2000 as the “Dongfeng Green Corridor.” The local government planted trees and other vegetation; the trees now form a canopy over much of the path, providing shade, and serve as a platform for cicadas, their shrill drone regaling cyclists in a continuous soundtrack. The path was lit up along its full length in 2003, making it the first nighttime-use bikeway in Taiwan, and in 2005 the adjoining 4.5-kilometer Houfeng Bikeway was opened, following another decommissioned railway line connecting Fengyuan with the Houli area to the north.

Since entire sections of the Houfeng Bikeway close at 7pm, make sure to do Houfeng first if you are cycling in the afternoon. The scenery along the first few kilometers of the Houfeng Bikeway is uninspiring (moving away from its Dongfeng Bikeway connection point), but various leisure activities are on offer, including bubble soccer, fishing, go-karts, and paintball. Next you’ll come upon the Railway Valley Winery (www.midtaiwan.com.tw), where you can sample plum and honey wines while resting in an imitation train car in a lovely garden. Just after the winery, you’ll cross a 380-meter steel railway bridge converted for bicycle use, offering stunning views of the Dajia River valley.
The bridge leads to the highlight of the Houfeng Bikeway, the 1,273-meter No. 9 Tunnel. What would have once been a thunderous but largely unnoticed 10-second experience for passengers aboard a speeding train is now slowed down and appreciated in relative silence. The air is noticeably drier and cooler inside the tunnel, providing a refreshing respite for bikers, especially during the summer months. As you pass through the tunnel, be sure to take note of the “petrified” cascades of minerals that have formed where water has seeped through the tunnel walls over the decades.
After reaching the end of the tunnel, continue on through a lovely stretch that brings you to the Houli Horse Farm, where you can feed or ride steeds from around the world.

From here, backtrack a bit to access the Dongfeng Bikeway, which, like the Houfeng Bikeway, is mostly flat with only slight increases in gradient, and as such is an easy ride for cyclists of all abilities. The Dongfeng Bikeway takes you past several restored railway stations of the old Dongshi branch line, the first of which is Puzikou. The next site of interest is the enormous Shigang Dam, which sits directly over a fault line and was heavily damaged in the devastating 921 Earthquake of 1999. Cross the dam to visit a small memorial park and a damaged section of the dam left in situ as a vivid reminder of the disaster (the section is now bypassed by an embankment cofferdam).
More earthquake relics can be found at the next restored station, Shigang, including a section of twisted railway tracks. Just after the tracks, you can veer into Shigang Village to admire a wonderfully preserved Japanese-era rice-husking barn. In Shigang you can also pay a visit to the Tuniu Hakka Cultural Museum, a magnificent reconstruction of a traditional Hakka home, and still a place of worship for the descendants of its original inhabitants. Next up on the trail is Lover’s Bridge – don’t confuse it with the colorful metallic structure adorned with cupids and Adam and Eve scenes that you need to ride across to get there. While there may be more than a few structures christened “Lover’s Bridge” in Taiwan, the claim for this one is that it is the longest made of wood.

Watch out for the turnoff at the 6.8km point, onto a small road on the left that leads to a mango tree that is at least 300 years old, quite impressive considering that the normal lifespan of a mango tree is a few decades. A picturesque shrine sits in the shade of the enormous tree.
After passing Meizi (Plum) Railway Station and another bridge with a commanding view, you will enter the loveliest section of the trail, riding first under a lush canopy of trees and then through farms with guava and pear orchards, the latter of which Dongshi District is famous for. Thanks to a grafting technique developed by a Dongshi local, the pears here have a delicate floral taste and soft, juicy flesh.
The Dongshi Hakka Culture Park (www.dons-hakka.com) demarcates the end of the Dongfeng Bikeway. The former Dongshi Railway Station has been rebuilt in the style of a traditional Hakka courtyard home. The facility houses Hakka cultural exhibits and clothing displays, and musical performances are staged.

Don’t come to Dongfeng and Houfeng looking for an isolated cycling experience. Incredibly popular with locals, but yet to really catch on with foreign tourists, the paths grant the opportunity to mingle with Taiwanese as they enjoy leisurely pursuits, soak up some Hakka culture, get a taste of rural life in Taichung, and pedal along two of Taiwan’s intriguing historical railway arteries.

Getting There and Around
Fengyuan is two hours south of Taipei on the TRA Western Line. Disembarking from the station, turn left and cross the street for the Fengyuan Bus Station, from where you can catch bus no. 90, 91, 206, 207, or 208 to Shigang Dam bus stop. The bus is free if you swipe your EasyCard. A taxi will cost NT$350.
Alighting from the bus, you will see a bike-rental shop where you can rent bikes from Merida, a reputable Taiwanese brand. Prices start at NT$150 for the day, but we recommend the NT$250 ones. Maps and free water bottles are provided. Cross the highway and follow the sign for Shigang Dam, which is at about kilometer 4 on the Dongfeng Bikeway. Turn left and cycle about 10 minutes to get to the start of both the Dongfeng and Houfeng bikeways.


The Hakka Traditional Sindingban Festival in Dongshi
The Sindingban (Xindingban) or “New Man Rice Cake” Festival (www.sindingban.com.tw) is hosted by the Dongshi Hakka Culture Park. Dating back hundreds of years, the annual event centers on the making and offering of turtle-shaped, bright-pink glutinous-rice cakes called xindingban to the gods in the hope of procuring male offspring. By tradition, the family who makes the largest xindingban receives a cash prize from a public fund, so people tend to go overboard, making wildly oversized cakes, and tourists are encouraged to join in the fun. The event also includes firecrackers, divination contests, and Hakka cultural performances. It takes place around the time of the Lantern Festival, usually in February.

 

English and Chinese

Dajia River大甲溪
Dongfeng Green Corridor東豐綠色走廊
Dongfeng Bikeway東豐鐵馬道
Dongshi東勢
Dongshi Railway Station東勢車站
Dongshi Hakka Culture Park東勢客家文化園區
Fengyuan豐原
Houfeng Bikeway后豐鐵馬道
Houli后里
Houli Horse Farm后里馬場
Lover’s Bridge情人橋
Meizi Railway Station梅子車站
No. 9 Tunnel九號隧道
Puzikou朴子口
Railway Valley Winery鐵道之鄉酒莊
Shigang石岡
Shigang Dam石岡壩
Sindingban Festival新丁粄節
Snow Mountain雪山
Tuniu Hakka Cultural Museum土牛客家文化館

 

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