Yilan is magic, and unlike many other Taiwan travel hot spots, Yilan is off the tourist map…most of it, anyway, except for Jiaoxi, A.K.A. the only place in Yilan that most westerners in Taiwan know about. Jiaoxi’s been on the tourist map since Japanese was Formosa’s lingua franca.
Famous for its healing waters, Jiaoxi isn’t just trammeled, it’s downright overbuilt. But hardly without reason. After all, where else can you soak your feet in hot mineral water while waiting for your train? And where else will you find a place like , a semi-enclosed hot spring hotel featuring a fully equipped aquatic massage-pool, a nautical jungle gym, and a three story high hot spring fed water slide?
Hot Springs in Yilan
So despite the crowds (which are still mild compared to other tourist spots in Taiwan), Jiaoxi is a good place to start your Yilan explorations. And thanks to the soothing hot-springs, it’s a great place to end, especially if your explorations are of the high exertion type. But there is more than just hot springs in Yilan.
It also has cold springs.
Though mid-winter isn’t the ideal time to visit the famed cold springs of Suao, summer is the dominant season in our little Tropical-of-Cancer paradise. The springs of Suao – and others in the county – bubble up from underground aquifers and are a great place to cool off after a lengthy hike or a bicycle ride.
On the subject of cycling Yilan – like the rest of Taiwan – has jumped on the bicycle bandwagon, and the county offers more than just a lovely (and in some places slightly harrowing) stretch of Route 11 on the way to Hualien. The county has 77 kilometers of dedicated cycling paths stretching between the mountains to the west and the sea to the east.
Cyclists looking to chase the ocean breezes should hit the 13.5KM Seaside Cycling Road between Zhulan Bird Watching Area and the Dingliao Ecological Park. Other Yilan cycling paths include the 10K Dezikou River path, which passes through fish farms and protected wetland and the 10.5K Lanyang River path, which goes through the Lanyang River Bird Sanctuary and offers great views of nearby Guishan Dao (Turtle Island).
Seasoned cyclists who don’t mind sharing the road will find in Yilan thousands of kilometers of beautiful roads, most all offering beautiful views and some with relatively light traffic. Though on bigger roads you’ll ride beside the usual assortment of scooters, cars and the occasional tour bus (especially on the coastal highway, which is still a must-ride), on smaller inland roads expect to pass many a slow-moving farming vehicle on your ride.
Yilan’s The county’s agricultural roots run deep, and over the last several years Yilan has morphed agriculture with tourism, leading to the creation of several leisure farm, areas consisting of several – in some cases, dozens – farms and agricultural areas that supplement their agriculture output with tourism. In some cases, tourism seems to have overshadowed agricultural output entirely.
One such leisure farm is the Jhentoushan Agricultural Leisure Area, a collection of attractions spread out over several kilometers rice paddies and former farmland east of Yilan city. Jung Lung Jai is a a traditional Taiwanese farmhouse that’s been renovated and brought back to life as as a café serving coffee, kumquat tea and homemade pizza. The café sits next to Wang Long Tang (Dragon watching Pond), an artificial lake that’s home to a multitude of water-birds multi-angled bridge shaped like a lightning bolt leads to an island with a pavilion, as good a spot for dragon watching as any you’re likely to come across.
The author in a giant pitcher plant at Bo’s Farm – the Living Zen college
Other parts of the Jhentoushan Agricultural Leisure Area include quirky spots like Bo’s Farm – the Living Zen college. Even if you’re not in the market to buy carnivorous flora, its still worth a visit to see the thousands of pitcher plants and Venus flytraps that are Bo’s agricultural output. There ‘s even one you can sit inside, if you’re in the mood to feel like a mosquito. Somewhat more straightforward in nature is the Agrioz museum of Candied Fruits. Part factory, part store, Agrioz earns the right to call itself a museum thanks to the educational tours, complete with courses in DIY candied fruit-making. The museum is run by second-generation candied fruit maker Lin Ding-gang, who enjoys regaling visitors with Taiwanese opera songs about – what else – candied fruit.
Though not in the Jhentoushan Agricultural Leisure proper, the Fang Yue Tea Garden holds its own in the quirky-cool-agricultural department, offering lessons in the finer points of of traditional tea-cake preparation under the careful instruction proprietress Hong Hsou Ing. Though the ingredients are deceptively simple – Green Tea Powder, Green Bean flower, and various fillings made of pomelo & mulberry (with a hint of orange peel) – making the cakes takes a bit of practice. Mrs. Hong promises that all her charges will leave not merely knowing how to make green-tea cakes, but but with a box filled with 15 cakes presentable enough for gifting or eating on the train back home.
If DIY tea-cake making doesn’t bring out your inner child, than a visit to the San Fu Leisure Farm just might – more jungle tour than farm, San Fu’s chief ranger is a jovial, hyper passionate man nicknamed Elephant, who leads tours through the extensive jungle paths while teaching about both the flora and fauna of the area, which include an endless variety of butterflies, spiders and frogs, some of which Elephant (given name Chen Han Ching) will hypnotize for your amusement.
Finally, Yilan offers more adult pursuits, and those with a taste for fine spirits will want to hit the Kavalan Distillery, Taiwan’s first and only whiskey distillery, the Kavalan Distillery is said by some in the high-price booze know to produce the world’s finest single-malt scotch. Tour the factory and learn how Whisky is made from start to finish. If you’re of drinking age you can sample various blends in Kavalan’s tasting room. Underage visitors and teetotalers will have to content themselves with the angels share, the fumes given off by the evaporating whisky that permeate the factory.
And if that isn’t enough to relax you, there’s always The Art Spa.
Contributed by Joshua Samuel Brown, the author of Vignettes of Taiwan and 13 Lonely Planet Guides. Li Cheng-Shu is a Photographer and tour guide based in Yilan..