What can you expect from a destination publicized for its “good mountains and good water”? Plenty, it seems.
Mention Taiwan and its main city – Taipei – would inevitably come to mind. No doubt Taipei is an exciting and vibrant city with towering skyscrapers, bustling night market and upbeat tempo, but Taiwan is not just about that.
If you are looking beyond the city for a different kind of adventure, you don’t have to look far. About an hour away from the east of Taipei, the skyline is no longer dominated by imposing structures. Instead, one feels humbled by nature in her quiet yet strong presence.
Look around and you’ll find yourself surrounded by lolling green hills, sparkling blue seas and an untarnished clear sky. Welcome to Yilan, a vacation hotspot long popular with Taipeinese, which is steadily gaining recognition with foreign travellers.
Jiaosi Hot Springs
One major attraction of Yilan is the famous hot spring village in Jiaosi. The spring water there is known to be extremely rich in minerals like calcium, sodium, magnesium and potassium.
The water is hailed for its healing properties that also leave the skin smooth and silky. Unlike many hot springs, the spring water in Jiaosi is drinkable and this makes their vegetables popular as the local farmers grow their crop with this nutritious water. Visitors can take their pick from public to private bath houses, all at very affordable prices. There are many accommodation facilities so you can choose between a day trip and overnight stay. In the heart of this village is a free footbath facility where families like to spend quality time at.
Ma-Kau Ecological Park
Ma-Kau Ecological Park is an ecological project that comprises of Mingchih Forest, Cilan Forest and the Divine Trees. The park is a nature lover’s paradise situated 1500m above sea level.
The Divine Trees are so-called as they are more than a thousand years old and part of Taiwan’s World Heritage. Classified as the Taiwan cypress and the Japan juniper, the Divine trees are named after popular historical Chinese figures like Confucius, Yue Fei and Zhu Ge Liang – an interesting marriage of celestial beings and sublime nature. Inside Mingchih Forest Recreation Area, there is a serene lake that mirrors the surrounding greenery. It is the perfect spot for mediation or any idyllic picnic. Come during autumn and the colours of the changing leaves would create an unforgettable memory of your vacation.
For those who wish to prolong their return to civilisation, the park provides hotel accommodation at Cilan Ranch and wooden lodges at Mingchih Ranch.
Fans of the Taiwanese blockbuster “Cape No.7” should remember the cosy small town warmth portrayed in the movie. Nanfangao is a scenic fishing port that projects the same emotions through its friendly townsfolk. The harbour is illuminated by a bright blue sky and bordered by hilly mountains.
For seafood lovers who understand freshness better than most people, Nanfangao is a delightful haven with its many seafood restaurants that serve up the ocean’s catch at pleasantly reasonable prices. Besides seafood, there are also local snacks such as peanut ice-cream, fish meatball soup, chicken cutlet and other popular titbits that are readily available at the roadside stalls.
On the top of many tourists’ itinerary when they visit Nanfangao is the magnificient Nantien Mazu Temple that sits facing the harbour. Weighing in at 200 kilograms of pure gold, the Mazu idol here is the largest in the world and is dedicated to the goddess of the sea who protects fishermen and sailors.
Su-ao Cold Springs
Of the many natural wonders that can be found in Yilan, the Su-ao Cold Springs are a rarity not just in Taiwan, but throughout Asia. Before the 1900s, the locals commonly believed that the springs were contaminated by toxins. The turning point came in 1895 when a Japanese soldier drank from one of the cold springs to quench a bad thirst. He was surprised by this peculiar yet refreshing water.
The same soldier returned years later to study the cold springs. High volumes of carbon dioxide were discovered in the water which also contains healing properties. Not only that, the water is safe to drink and can be made into soft drinks.
Constantly below 22 °C, the springs are said to be good for bathing in throughout the year and are especially popular during the hot summer days. The annual Su-ao Cold Spring Carnival attracts visitors from all over the world and entertains them with contests, performances and exhibitions. To experience the cold springs, the Su-ao Cold Spring Park about 300 metres in front of the Su-ao Train Station is a popular choice as it provides many options.
Luodong Night Market
It’s no secret that night markets from a big part of the Taiwanese culture and they are not confined to Taipei only. In Yilan, the biggest and most popular night market is in Luodong. This is the place for action, shopping and good food. One of the most popular Taiwanese desserts – iced maniocs – made from tapioca and more commonly known as “fen yuan”, finds its roots here. Most places sell them plain but those at the original Luodong stall are stuffed with red bean.
Other delicacies include mutton soup, Yilan smoked duck, stuffed sausages Ren Bing, stinky tofu (fermented beancurd), soyed innards and many other things that are distinctive to Taiwanese night markets.
Walk around and you will see some stalls that offer free sampling. If you are in doubt over what to try, those with long queue are generally your best bet. But if you have time, scour around and you just might discover little surprises of your own.
Jhongshan Agricultural Leisure Park
In the beautiful and tranquil province of Yilan, the last thing anyone would expect is to get busy. But in fact, you could – in a good way. As part of the efforts to promote tourism through educational and fun activities, a number of agricultural farms and home based manufacturers have opened their doors to visitors. For a small fee, visitors can learn to DIY their own ice-cream, tea cakes, dragon’s beard candy, chopsticks, clog painting, etc., and also get to experience tea leaves and fruit picking in the orchards.
For a taste of rural life, you can even stay in some of the local houses and let the fresh air and simple goodness of life prepare you for your next journey.