Old Caoling Tunnel 舊草嶺隧道 was built in the 1920s to connect northern Taiwan with the eastern coast by rail. A new tunnel was built in the 1980s and the old tunnel was closed until 2008 when it reopened as a tourist-friendly bikeway. The main point of entry is Fúlóng 福隆, a beach town in New Taipei City about an hour outside of Taipei 台北 by train. Riding through the old tunnel makes for a great day trip from Taipei 台北—as long as you don’t go on a weekend.
Getting there and getting setup is almost effortless. Take a train to Fulong Station. When you walk out of the station you will see everything you need for a day of riding: lunch box (biàndang 便當) vendors to your left and a convenience store on your right. Stock up on whatever food and drink you need; if you ride the entire loop around the eastern tip of Taiwan you aren’t guaranteed to pass another convenience store for quite some time.
Bicycle rentals are absurdly cheap—something like 100 to 150 NT for the day (usually until 6 pm). Make sure to get a bicycle that is right for your height—the style in Taiwan is to ride bicycles that are too small.
Finding your way to the old tunnel shouldn’t be hard—the roads are marked with signs left and right. Head east (to the right in the photo of the main street above) along a road that parallels the train tracks for a while.
Eventually you will arrive at a small cluster of buildings near the northern entrance to the old tunnel. There are old trains here, steampunk sculptures, more rental shops, and probably a place to get a drink, though I didn’t look closely. (More about that here.)
There is an eerie, cool breeze inside the tunnel. The creepiness is augmented by the sound of music piped over small speakers. Apparently this is an old Taiwanese folk song, diūdiūtóngzǐ 丟丟銅仔. The first two words are onomatopoeia: the sound of water dripping onto a train as it passes through a tunnel.
I have read that the soundtrack used to include the rumble of trains passing by. I didn’t hear any—just the music. Even still, it is one of the stranger aspects of this attraction, particularly since the tunnel was almost empty the day I went.
The old railway tunnel is slightly more than 2 km in length. Partway through one will encounter a surreal sight: the gateway to Yilan county. I had to wait a while for a couple to finish taking a hundred photos of themselves at this curious landmark before I could shoot a few of my own. As a lover of geography I found it quite interesting to conduct a border crossing underground.
The far side of the tunnel exits in Xicheng (usually Romanized as “Sicheng”). There didn’t seem to be much going on here, though I visited on a weekday. Lots of Taiwanese people were milling around in the golden light of a deepening afternoon. I went to explore.
The viewing platform across from the tunnel exit affords a good view of the Yilan coastline with Turtle Island off shore. Looking south you can see Yílán 宜蘭 stretching around to the horizon. It is a beautiful sight, one of the nicest in all Taiwan.
To return to Fulong you have two choices: return through the tunnel, nice and easy, but I strongly recommend doing the full loop around the easternmost tip of Taiwan.