Yilan is just an hour away by bus or train from Taipei City, but it is a world apart from the big city in terms of scenery and pace of life.
If you were to stand atop a high mountain in the northeast of Taiwan and look out over the expanse of Yilan County below, you would see an alluvial fan spreading out toward the sea, bracketed by hill and mountain that has been formed over eons by the steady rush of the Lanyang River and other local waterways. The area was once almost completely cut off from the rest of Taiwan, accessible only by sea save for a few trails over the mountains blazed by the island’s native people. It was a region of mountain – dwelling warriors, forbidding and even deadly to outsiders.
Today such stories are just that, however – colorful tales of a rich past. The Yilan of modern times, easily reached from the capital of Taipei (less than an hour by car via the much – tunneled National Freeway 5), is a place of relaxation, living history, and vibrant ecology, with a welcoming culture all its own.
The fastest way to get to Yilan from central Taipei using public transport is to catch a bus from either Taipei Bus Station, just to the north of Taipei Railway Station, or Taipei City Hall Bus Station, located above MRT Taipei City Hall Station. You can also take a train; the fastest reaches Yilan in a little more than one hour.
Your first stop might well be the hot – spring town of Jiaoxi, famed for its many relaxing resorts, which pipe in the mineral – rich local spring water that bubbles up from under the plain, not from the mountains directly behind. Take a walk through narrow Tangwei Brook Hot Spring Park, a beautifully manicured public promenade where you can grab a coffee or other refreshing drink at one of the small commercial establishments at the head of the park, where there id comfy outdoor seating on the boardwalk, and soak your feet in the free public foot bath pools. Should you feel the need for some spa treatment, there are also small pools inhabited by appropriately named doctor fish, which nibble harmlessly and painlessly at feet that are dipped in.
If you happen to be in Yilan during the warmer mounts, a visit to Wai’ao Beach, just to the north of Wushi Fishing Harbor, is a must. You’ll find fine, soft sand and gentle waves suitable for beginner – level surfers. Small beachfront guesthouses overlook the water, backed by steep, green foothills. There is even a windmill that looks as though plucked straight out of the Dutch countryside. From the beach you can see Turtle Island, a shell – shaped volcanic land mass that, although small, provided a much – needed visual landmark for sailors in the days of sail. In those days, if coming from the north you needed to sail between Turtle Island and the main island to make land in Yilan, because of the currents. This led to the development of Wushi Fishing Harbor, which for a time was an important canter of trade and commerce (the original harbor was just south of the present – day site, behind Lanyang Museum).
The glory days of Wushi Fishing Harbor are gone, but it is remains an active fishing port. This means one thing for tourists: fresh seafood, and lots of it. Along the harbor’s edge is a dedicated to seafood snacks, and the upper level houses a menagerie of seafood restaurants. When you walk up the stairs you will be met by a clutch of insistent yet polite folk holding out menus in front of you and imploring you to take a seat. Oysters, sushi, squid, whole fish of all kinds, you name it – if it comes from the ocean, they’ve got it here.
After you’ve filled your tummy with the bounty of the sea, a stroll through the nearby Lanyang Museum may be in order. The museum’s exterior is unmissable, formed with aluminum and stone panels rising up out of the ground at around a 45 – degree angle in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, made to look like the coastal cuesta formations that define the area. The museum, which is almost completely bilingual, focuses on Yilan’s history and culture. You start your journey through the region’s past on the fourth floor and work your way down. As you descend from the top floor, waters do, which fall from the sky, first hitting the mountains, then gradually making their way to the plain below and, finally, to the sea. This is only fitting, as Yilan County sees about 200 days of rainfall per year.
All this rain makes Yilan a productive center of agriculture as well, and nowhere is this more evident than in Yuanshan Township, to the west of Yilan City, where several leisure farms in the Hengshantou Agricultural Leisure Area give visitors a taste of what it’s like to work the land for a living.
Huaquan Farm, for example, is a place of tranquility where visitors are introduced to the organic, laid – back lifestyle that Yilan has recently come to embrace as part of its new, environmentally friendly image. You can pick fresh vegetables to cook and enjoy in the farm’s hotpot restaurant, or opt to just take a walk around and see sights.
For something a little different, there’s the Sheng Yang Leisure Farm next door, where edible aquatic grass is grown and can be sampled in elegant Japanese – style restaurant. Not far away is Artemis Garden, another popular Yilan tourist farm. It’s basically a giant greenhouse teeming with flowers and all things green and growing. The fragrant, calming interior, filled with birdsong, is complete with a DIY craft area, an elevated walkway known as Sky Street, a bakery that serves up delicious, soft home – style bread, and an outdoor area with a view of Sun Lake and the surrounding green hills.
Now, on to the big city – in this case a relative term. Yilan City is a quiet yet stimulating big town / small city of just less than 100,000. Stepping out of the railway station, you’ll see the towering Diudiudang Forest, a steel sculpture in which a floating train weaves its way through green girders doubling as rainforest trees.
The city’s history is well preserved, with architecture dating back to the time of the 1895-1945 Japanese occupation dotting the urban landscape. Check out the verbosely named Memorial Hall of the Founding of Yilan Administration, a restored former Japanese, magistrate’s residence that is also known for the giant camphor trees which dot its immaculate gardens and grounds.
For even more history, visit Ewang Community, a village within the city filled with architecture that dates back to the early 20th century, traditional market, temples, and artisan shop. For a touch of modernity, head to Luna Plaza Mall, the largest shopping mall in the county – especially if you need to stock up on necessities.
At night, if you’re looking for a place to hang out and possibly take in some live acoustic music, be advised that Yilan City now has its own branch of The Wall, a live – music house that grew to prominence in Taipei, expanded into Kaohsiung, and now has a presence on Taiwan’s eastern shore. The Yilan branch is a laid – back, small affair, housed within the walls of a Japanese – style residence – charming and relaxed, much like the county itself.
English & Chinese
Diudiudang Forest 丟丟噹森林
Ewang Community 鄂王社區
Hengshantou Agricultural Leisure Area 橫山頭休閒農業區
Lanyang River 蘭陽溪
Sky Street 天空步道
Sun Lake 太陽湖
Tangwei Brook Hot Spring Park 湯圍溝溫泉公園
Turtle Island 龜山島
Wai’ao Beach 外澳沙灘
Wushi Harbor 烏石漁港
Xueshan Tunnel 雪山隧道
Yuanshan Township 員山鄉
Lanyang Museum 蘭陽博物館
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