Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to cycle aalllll the way around Taiwan

In October of 2012, I traveled around Taiwan in a rented bicycle; I spent 12 days riding counter-clockwise across 1,200KM of various terrain in one of the most exhilarating trips of my life. Below is a short recap of my trip and the step-by-step guide to help you plan an around-the-island trip of your own. Anyone with an average level of fitness could do this! 
Finished 12 days later!
Two changes of clothing for the trip

How to guide

  1. Decide if you want to ride by yourself or ride with a pre-organized tour group. Tour groups tends to be shorter (8 or 9 days), so you will be pushed to ride over 100KM per day, allowing you less time to explore and sight see. On the plus side, you do not have to worry about anything and can just show up; it is obviously also safer to ride in a big group. 
  2. If you are riding by yourself, unless you're flying in your own bicycle, you need to rent a bicycle and get other gears. The benefit of riding by yourself is that you can tailor plan your trip and build in some sightseeing time while having a more leisure ride. The downside is that there is infinitely more planning involved and there is a small degree of danger without riding in a large group. I planned it myself and really wouldn't have done it any other way 
    1. The place where I rented my bike provided almost everything including the bicycle, lights, bicycle bags, helmet, locks, GPS and a wealth of information. Website - The owner does not speak English; if anyone need help contacting them, let me know and I'll be happy to help.
    2. I have heard that you could also rent bicycles from Giant stores. I heard that you must inform them 2 weeks in advance but when I called I was never able to get through. Nonetheless, here is their website for reference -
  3. A list of other things you need no matter if your traveling with a tour or by yourself (this is a list for guys; girls may need to bring extra stuff that I have no understanding of) 
    Cycle Taiwan Guide Book
    1. Travel insurance - This may or may not be provided by a tour
    2. Bicycle shorts - this is a must as there is padding in the bicycle shorts that would minimize the pain that your butt will experience after a long ride. I only got a pair towards the end of my trip which was a huge mistake. Make sure you show up with one! This is the one I eventually got and the padding was so good that I didn't want to take it off even when we finished bicycling -
    3. Extra flashlight and batteries - even though your bicycle will come with torches, you should definitely bring extras and batteries. You can read how I almost got myself killed for lack of extra batteries below
    4. A light windbreaker that could also double as rain coat - Unless you go during the winter, a light jacket is enough for Taiwan weather
    5. Lots of sunscreen - seriously
    6. Cool shades
    7. For other clothing, just bring quick drying stuff (Underarmor shirt, underwear, etc) as I don't recommend you bring more than 2 changes of clothing which means that you are doing laundry every night. 
    8. If you are interested, bring your smartphone loaded up with a GPS tracking app such as Runkeeper to track your daily calorie expenditure, speed, route, etc 
    9. Guide book on bicycling around Taiwan. I saw this on another rider who I met in the middle of the trip. It's the ultimate book on cycling around Taiwan. Sadly, I wasn't able to find it at any bookstore outside of Taipei. (Only in Chinese)
  4. Other reference websites
    1. A well written 12 day blog. I relied heavily on this to plan my daily destinations -
    2. Simple guide on Taiwan cycling - 
That's it for the how-to guide. Get in touch with me if you need more info! 

My experience


I initially planned for this to be a solo trip but after some effort, I finally managed to persuade my flatmate to join me. What I originally thought was going to be a ride in the park, given my confidence in my fitness level, was more like the most physically demanding week I've ever experienced. The whole journey took 12 days spanning across a distance of 1,200KM. The first day started off not ideally given that we took 5 hours to traverse only 22KM, exactly the amount of the distance that took us back to the airport, which the cab traveled in 1 hour. I think we were both a bit deflated at this point, because at this pace, it would take us more than a month to finish our trip. However, the delay was mainly due to the rain that started right when we started our ride and the rush hour traffic that took us hours to get out of the city of Taipei. So my first word of advice is to avoid Taipei rush hour at all costs! 

The second day was remarkably better. We did 140KM (our longest distance rode in one day) in 9 hours. At the end of the day, we made up all the distance that was lost from the rush hour traffic of the previous day. The weather was perfect and the scenery was much better now that we were outside of the city. The best part of the day was when I was going up this particularly difficult hill; this truck driver rowed down his window and yelled out "jia you", the literal translation is "add oil", and is what Chinese people say to encourage each other. I thought that was a extremely kind gesture, so I rode on, reinvigorated. 
Typical Taiwanese night market

Fellow travelers

Tetanus shot to treat a infected wound
It took us 6 days to ride down the entire Eastern side of Taiwan to Kenting. We were keeping a easy pace given the flat terrain and lack of headwinds. Along the way, we ate at numerous night markets, had bubble tea at the restaurant that invented bubble tea, got taken to a sketchy massage parlor by mistake then quickly escaped just as we were being led upstairs, had some amazing sea food at this fishing village literally called "Bag" (pudai), took some pictures at the southern most tip of Taiwan, and other adventures

Once we turned the corner at the souther most tip of Taiwan and started going back Northward back up to Taipei, the ride's level of difficulty increased a hundredfold. I had planned for the first day of our Northward riding to take us from Kenting to Taidong, a ride of 130KM, which we have done before. We ended up riding 100KM and ended in a random town in the middle exhausted unable to ride another step. What had happened was that the terrain and airflow completely changed on the west coast. There were a lot more mountains and we were riding against the wind the entire time. 
Southern most tip of Taiwan!

How I almost died
I'm pretty much against cycling once the sun has gone down since the chances of a accident goes up dramatically once darkness falls, but on this first day of our Northward journey I was still in the middle of nowhere when it was completely pitch black outside. There was one point where I was on this two lane highway with no street lights, the mountain was on my left, and the cliff was on my right, I was riding on the skinny shoulder of the highway so close to the ocean that I could literally feel the splash on my face and hear the crashes of waves upon waves. During the day, this would've have been beautiful, but at night all alone, with only a small flashlight for comfort, this was pretty terrifying. To make the situation worse, I was approaching a two way narrow tunnel with no lights inside. I sped up so that I could get through the tunnel in the shortest amount of time since the chances of an accident in a tunnel for a cyclist goes up 100000 times. Just as I was about to enter the tunnel, my flash light turned off - the battery died and I have no spares. There wasn't even anywhere to stop and brainstorm. So I sped up some more and hoped for the best. Now I was in the middle of the tunnel. Pitch black, aside from the lights from the trucks passing by. All I could hear was their honking noise as, I guess, the truck drivers realizes that there is this stupid lone cyclist in their midst. Anyways, I was almost out of the tunnel, I could see the end. But just as I was celebrating inside, the contact lens of my left eye falls out by itself. I guess I was so focused on avoiding to get hit that I haven't really blinked since entering the tunnel; the dryness caused my contact lens to simply peel off. Now I was essentially blind in one eye, still pitch black tunnel, still trucks honking. I thought if I was going to die, this is probably going to be it. But as I weaved on my bike, I was surprised that I didn't get hit by a truck. I made it to the other side of the tunnel and breathed a sigh of relieve. I went to the next convenience store on the highway to rest and regroup. So my other advice is to bring enough batteries! And remember to blink. 

This is everything I owned for 12 days

Randomly in the middle of a triathlon

The rest of the journey on the West coast going North was difficult, but nothing compared to the first day leaving Kenting. We took 5 days to travel from Taidong to Taipei. Along the way, we met tons of other around the island riders, I had to get a tetanus shot, randomly got in the middle of a triathlon, etc. We rode back to the bicycle rental shop on October 16, at 3:30PM. It was a very difficult trip but I would've totally do it again and I think anyone with an average level of fitness could complete. 

Saturday, September 08, 2012

How to take a Muay Thai vacation to get in the best shape of your life

How and why you should take a Muay Thai vacation - 
In my opinion, muay thai, aside from being one of the most deadliest martial art, is also probably the most intensive (and fun!) interval training activity I've ever done. Indeed, it is called the art of eight limbs for you are using your entire body (8 limbs are arms, legs, elbow, knee x 2) to execute intense, and precise strikes at a target. Thai people train to fight, but for most people outside of Thailand, they train for fitness purposes, Muay Thai is an extremely rewarding physical exercise that I reckon burns around 500-700 calories per hour in 1 on 1 sessions.

Performing a backward elbow move in Thailand

While there are a host of gyms in HK, and in your city that will teach you muay thai, you can follow the steps below to structure a authentic muay thai gym experience in Thailand itself for a couple days of "fitness tourism". Best of all - it is both cheaper and you get more 1on1 time in Thailand than versus going to your local gym. 
  1. Do a trial session at a local gym to check out muay thai. In HK, the gym I go to is called Impakt. Other gyms include Jab, Epic, and a host of others. First session is usually free. Let me know if you need a introduction
  2. After you get hooked, look into taking a couple days off from work to do a short muay thai vacation in beautiful Thailand 
  3. There are tons of different Muay Thai gyms/camps in Thailand. Most are very hardcore and cater towards aspiring Thailand champions. Others are foreign friendly for both aspiring fighters and fitness tourists. 
  4. The top two Thai cities to do the training, in my opinion, are Chiang Mai and Phuket. Chiang Mai is the culture capital of Thailand while Phuket boasts expansive beaches. I have finished my training at Team Quest Gym in Chiang Mai, and I'm now training in Phuket at KYN Muay Thai Gym
  5. Send an email to the gym to check availability and then you are good to go. Don't worry about bringing your own gloves as the gym tends to have their own. Costs are ridiculously cheap compared to your living costs in your home country, so what are you waiting for? 
How I did it - 

My first training experience with Muay Thai was at Impakt in HK. My colleague brought me and treated me to a complimentary session with a french trainier who has fought and trained in muay thai in thailand for 10 years since he was 18 years old. A very technical trainer and very scary looking, but super sweet guy, he taught me the more intricacies of the seemingly wild moves that you would see at a boxing match. I realized that the movement of the limbs are actually an complicated combinations of motions executed at finely tuned angles with the right timing. To me, it was the technical aspect that really attracted me to this art, the intelligent dialog between two fighters which are not expressed through words but are through various techniques from their limps. 

After deciding to go to Thailand, I settled on Team Quest in Chiang Mai due to Quests's reputation in the States as well as my desire to explore the culture capital of Thailand. Training is tough. The morning session is from 7am to 9am and the afternoon session is from 4pm to 6pm, and that is not counting the optional grappling session which is from 3pm to 4pm. In total, that is 5 hours of grueling physical exhaustion per day, 6 days a week with only Sunday as the recovery day. I wasn't able to keep up in the first week at all, gassing out quickly after only 2 rounds of pads with the trainers. But in the second week, I started training strong as my body slowly adjusted to the tropical climate and the intensity of the training. 

My gym mates were from around the world. We have people from Ireland, Scotland, US, Canada, Holland, Norway, Australia, Japan, Singapore and also locally from Thailand. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was seriously intimidated when I first started training with them. These are bad-ass looking tough guys with tattoos and hard features throwing punches at a boxing gym in Thailand. And I'm just this banker dork pretending to be the next Ip Man or something. But I retained my composure and after chatting with some of them, I realized they are just regular folks just like you and I. I made friends with a Irish guy, who is around the same age as me and works as a highschool teacher in Ireland off in Thailand on his summer vacation. We even ended up taking Thai language classes together later on. 
Kicking pads while Barry, my Irish friend, is in the background

I have since finished my training in Chiang Mai and landed this week in Kao Yao Noi, which is a lovely little island 30 mins away from Phuket. The people are fantastic, and you really can't beat the beach front views. 
View from my room in Kao Yao Noi Camp
Gym is right on the beach

All in all, my experience so far at muay thai camp has been excellent and I'm en-route to being in the best shape of my life!

How to take one year off with minimal interruption to your life and my story!

Ask yourself this - if you just stopped doing what you're doing right now and went off and did something that you always wanted to do for one year before returning to your current life, what is the worst that could happen? 

The common answer I hear is that what if I can't find a job again, especially in this economy? But if you are actually qualified to do the job, I'm positive you will find another job. And if you are not to begin with, then maybe another career path should be considered. The point is that we simply shouldn't let fear be a prison cell which dictates how we should live our lives. 

How I did it and my experience 

I always had a list of things I want to do written down somewhere. It is usually in my "Someday/maybe" folder. In April of 2012, I decided that "now" is as good a time for "someday/maybe" as it'll get, so I took the plunge. When I decided to quit my job to take on a trip around the world and learn martial arts I was interviewed by another blog. The interview here explains my reasoning quiet well. And here is my farewell email to the world. 

Dear friends,

After living in HK for 5 years, I have finally had enough of the HK taxi drivers!

I'm kidding... I love HK, but I am actually taking a year off from the hussle and bussle of the city life. I will be training with some of the world's most fearsome fighters from Thailand to Brazil to Korea and Japan for one year. I have resigned from MS last month and planning to leave HK in early July. I will travel first to Thailand to train at a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) camp for three month. Then I will go to South America for six month, where I will train in Jiu-Jitsu as well as Capoeira. Afterwards, I will spend the final three month in Korea or Japan to learn Tae Kwon Do or Judo. 

While it is extremely difficult to leave the comfort and familiarity of the city, with amazing friends, great job, and incredible girl/guy ratios. In order to grow more as a person, I'm looking to put myself outside of this comfort zone for a year to seek out situations that are unfamiliar and scary.  Given that I'm still (relatively) young, have no major obligations, and the Dow being below 12000, today's opportunity cost is pretty low. And at the end of my travel, I'm still excited to come back and work in the field that brought me to HK in the first place. 

I will setup a blog with frequent updates on my wherabouts, which you are all welcome to join me. And I will be in and out of HK until early July; I would love to catch up with many of you. So please let me know if you are in town. 

Since I'm leaving for a year, I'm going to sublet out my apartment which I'm sharing with my awesome roommate right now. The location is awesome. It is in Hollywood Terrace in Sheung Wan, which is 5 min walk from Soho, 10 min walk from LKF/IFC, and 2 min walk from Sheung Wan MTR. It's a three bed room apartment so I have 2 bedrooms and a bathroom to myself while my roommate has the en-suite. We're paying 27K between the both of us right now. Fully furnished since I'm leaving all my furniture behind. Let me know if you or your friend is interested and want pictures or see the place. 


I wanted to do this ever since my family bought our first television set way back in China when it was a big deal to own a TV. We turned it on and the first show we ever watched was called "The Legend of the Condor Heroes" (射雕英雄传) about... you guessed it... Chinese martial arts masters. =D

Everybody is kung-fu fighting...

Two quotes that inspired me to do this - 

"Change is not something we should fear. It is something we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom. And nobody in this world would ever move forward to become the person we are meant to be." - B.K.S lyengar

"Have you ever wondered if there was more to life than just being ridiculously good looking?" - Derek Zoolander 


Some have asked me why didn't I just do an MBA which is seen as more acceptable way to take some time off while still doing all the traveling and life experiences (some have even called the MBA the Asian gap year). I think MBA is definitely an worthy pursuit for most people. In fact, I've taken my GMAT already several years ago with scores that would get me in a top 5 program, but as I progressed in my career, the thought of switching out of finance did not sound appealing to me at all. Maybe I'm just a closet masochist, but I actually quiet enjoy my finance career! 

When I eventually pulled the trigger, I was blessed with lots of support from everyone around me including my parents, my boss and my friends. The planning was very time consuming but being organized helped to contain the mess. I was able to knock the things off my list one at a time 

My one year travel plan - 
  • Three month of muay thai training in Chiang Mai and Phuket
  • One professional muay thai fight in Phuket
  • 2 week backpacking trip around Myanmar (the land of thousand temples, with no cell phone services and no ATMs) 
  • 11 days to bicycle around the island of Taiwan 
  • one week to finally visit the west coast, where i've never been before
  • couple days at home in NJ to attend my high school reunion 
  • Travel around south america (peru, brazil, bunerous ares, argentina, easter islands)
  • Several month in Brazil to learn BJJ and surfing
  • travel through europe on the way back to HK (will go to rome to see the Colosseum to see first hand the arena for one of the oldest fighting competitions in the world) 
  • hk for a week to recharge before making my way to korea for some tae kwan do training for several month
  • back to HK to conclude my trip 

How I would suggest you could do it too 
The disclaimer is that this is probably not for everyone. Conservatively speaking, the target audiance for this trip is someone in his/her twenties, have some money saved up, does not have a family, and who is able to stomach some degree of risks. 

  1. Make a list of everything you want to do, including the things that you are afraid to do. Plan out how much time you need. 1 year is usually enough to do most of the things. 
  2. Wait for an proper moment to quit your job (such as recession/now, gotten laid off, changing careers, going back to school, etc). Be accommodating and don't burn your bridges! People will be shocked by your decision, but most will understand and support you 
  3. Quit your job and then announce to the world what you are about to do so that you are committed and can't backtrack 
  4. Taking care of the little things 
    1. Now that you are unemployed, buy travel insurance 
    2. Look at the recommended vaccination for your destination and get them done asap. 
    3. Realize that you don't need much of the material things that you accumulated over the years and throw them out or donate them. Put the rest in storage (i use hk storage) 
    4. Rent out your apartment 
    5. Miles for redemption flights 
    6. Make photocopies of all your important documents and save the softcopies on your computer/usb. (I use evernote) 
    7. Open a safe deposit box and put your valuables in it, such as gold bars, silver coins, family heirlooms, special edition pokemon cards 
    8. Get a international drivers license 
    9. Get the required visas 
  5. Pack as light as possible and then get out of here! 
  6. Option - keep a blog and update the rest of us 
Thank for reading. Follow me on this blog, or join me on my adventures!