Cycling with Tom – Beimen and the weirdo – 21st Dec

There are 35 districts in Tainan City, some are large such as Nanhua at 171km2, some are small such at West Central at just 6.2km2, some have many people like my own East District at 187,000 and some are just, out the way…one of which is the topic of today’s ride.

It’s fair to say many of Tainan’s 35 districts are infrequently visited by westerners with little of real interest. There are exceptions outside the Inner Tainan such as Baihe’s Guanziling Hot Spring and maybe Zuozhen’s Fossil Museum but I’m stretching it here. Most districts are rural, most agricultural areas with a smattering of industry thrown in for good measure. There is usually little to draw anyone and I’ve come to like that…

Beimen is one of those districts that falls into the category of rural, with a low population being located 35km north of Tainan City Centre. Being a geography nerd I have of course read the English Wikipedia page on every district in Tainan and Beimen has just always stuck out. It borders with Chiayi County and has two tourist attractions known to the locals, the Crystal Church and the salt fields.

My previous Sunday’s ride had given me confidence about my ability to cycle distance and so on the face of it, 82km looked like a decent ride. The catch was, it was a Saturday as I had plans for Sunday so I didn’t get my usual sleep in till mid afternoon…

I set off at 2:07pm, acutely aware that I needed to be in Beimen by 5:10 for sunset. I’d initially planned to leave an hour before and get lunch in central Tainan but laziness kicked in…

I headed through the city centre onto Jhonghua West Road on Highway 17 and then took a left as the road split over the river and into Annan District. This area is known as the wetlands and from the bridge, it’s just one big flat expanse heading north. It was a 1km up the road things took a turn for the bizarre…

A scooter pulled up alongside and it was an older gentleman maybe mid 50s. He started talking in Chinese. I thought oh, he has noticed I’m a foreigner and wants to chat. Oh no, he stayed alongside me just rambling the same kind of thing not listening to me. For the first few minutes, I assumed nothing was untoward so I carried on with my earphones in but suddenly I started to get scared. Panic mode set in after about 5 minutes and I realised I had an issue.

The minutes and kilometres ticked by and I knew there was little I could do so I threatened to call the police in my best Chinese to try throw him off. He kept following and I made a plan. I needed water anyway and knew the next 7 Eleven was a few more km north. I just kept riding knowing I had to reach the 7 Eleven.

Finally I got around a corner and there it was! At least 20 minutes and at least 8km after I’d started to be followed, I’d reached the 7. I got off my bike, locked it and ran inside in distress. I asked the cashier for help in Chinese, told her I was being followed in English gesturing too. She quickly understood as he made his way to the door. I went into a total breakdown as for the first time in my years in Taiwan I’d feared for my safety.

I went to get some water as the cashier exchanged words with the man outside. I still have no idea what he wanted and he disappeared after about 5 minutes. A xenophobe? A drunk? A local lunatic? I will never know but it took me about 20 minutes to calm down. I’d lost a lot of valuable time and continued determined not to let the weirdo ruin my afternoon.

The wind was a huge factor and after crossing the Zengwen River going into Qigu the road was largely in poor condition. I had over 20km to do against the wind in about an hour and 10. It wasn’t pleasant to say the least.

It was a slow 14km up to the border of Jiangjun province but thankfully the road smoothed out and the traffic was non existent. For the first time since 2:30pm I was smiling and it was all new scenery to me. Jiangjun became the 29th district of Tainan I’d step foot in.

Things only better and it took me just 12 minutes to cycle through a deserted Jiangjun into Beimen. As I passed the Beimen sign there was a great feeling inside of me, I’d made it to this place I’d read about a lot before.

I pulled off to the left towards the visitor center and there was this feeling of desolation. The police station was closed, it was eeriely quiet until I pulled up at the visitor center.

One of the wonderful things I’ve found in Taiwan is even off the beaten track is written English can be found. It’s on street signs, there is almost always tourist information and Beimen was no exception. Food, yes is usually an exception but that wasn’t an issue here.

I walked down to the Crystal Church which in the late afternoon light looked splendid. 20NT admission for what most westerners would consider a basic attraction but it made for superb photos…

I got back on the bike in order to make sunset down at the salt fields. Beimen’s main street was basic. A few houses, one or two shops, some food stalls and the obligatory temple. This was the real rural Tainan, there wasn’t even a 7 Eleven.

The road down to the salt fields was smooth with water on either side. It appeared however that I’d arrived bit too late. The sunset had nearly passed and I really should have left Tainan earlier. That said I hadn’t expected a 2 hour 20 minute ride and a weirdo hinder my progress… Nonetheless I got a good impression.

There was information about salt and behind the tile paved salt fields, Beimen Lagoon which looked a tad dreary. With the sun almost gone I had to get all my photos and tourism done in a 25 minute window.

Leaving the lagoon I picked my route back, heading out the way I came, back onto Highway 17 but then took the 174 to Xuejia. I knew Highway 19 was a faster, smoother road and this proved true I absolutely blitzed my way back to Tainan City ring road in no time. I had no problem regularly hitting 37kmh and was back home by 7 15pm.

The day got better as it went on and it was one of those rides I simply had to write about!

I’m back on the bike this week so I’ll be bringing another cycle post soon.



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