We were told not to miss Yilan on our recent trip to Taiwan, and now we know why.
The county of Yilan is located in the central part of the Lanyang Plain. It’s where undulating mountains are the backdrop for untainted, lush, rice paddy fields, farmlands, where streams and rivers provide nourishment to crops.. it is indeed the green green grass of home.
Yilan looks out to the sea on Taiwan’s Northeast Coast and is home to Asia’s second longest highway tunnel, the Hsuehshan Tunnel, which has reduced the driving time between Yilan and Taipei to less than 50 minutes.
From natural environments and cold and hot springs to a wealth of ocean recreation resources and verdant country scenes, Yilan offers the perfect setting to slow down and enjoy nature at its best. We explored the Toucheng, Jiaoxi and Suao townships in Yilan.
Within the county of Yilan, the Jiaoxi township was our first port of call within arrival in Taiwan. Jiaoxi is a well-known to discerning travelers, famous for its ground-level hot springs, natural landscapes, cultural scenery, and rich agricultural products. Not only is it famous at an international level, its also popular amongst the Taiwanese themselves seeking a bit of R&R away from city life.
So upon arrival in Taipei in the evening we were greeted by our Tripool ride, and headed to Onsense Villa, a gorgeous boutique hotel hidden in a little lane, surrounded by greenery. It was so hidden, our taxi driver had missed it on our first pass.
This hotel was memorable for its relaxing ambiance, modern minimalist facade, and of course its crystal-clear, odorless, mineral rich hot spring waters that are piped into each room’s bath for the ultimate private luxurious “natural” experience, at your doorstep, so to speak. We, especially Luca, enjoyed the therapeutic hot water dips each morning and evening.
Onsense Villa is a modern lodging surrounded by rural charm. Guests can also relax in the shared lounge area in the evenings, or go out to explore the township on foot or by bicycle. Bicycles are complementary. The town is just a 15 minute walk away.
Besides the modern setting and location, another outstanding feature for us about Onsense Villa was the breakfasts that were wholesome and super healthy.
Juicy plump oven baked pumpkin, mashed sweet potato and other greens.. it was a huge surprise to us that these guys really took great pride in fresh whole foods and ingredients. This place is child friendly and goes all out to make kids feel welcomed. They made and extra breakfast for bubs which was nice.
On the first evening of the first day itself we already stumbled upon good street food just a few roads away from Onsense Villa. We were told to cross the railway tracks till we arrived at the main road, where all the lights and stalls seemed to be thriving. This was apparently the main eating strip for the area.
Located in the Suao Township of Yilan, Nanfang’ao is the largest tied island in eastern Taiwan. It is also a natural, sheltered harbor that is as busy as any fishing village gets in the day, and we were told be on the look out for cheap seafood and have a sit at the cafes along the harbor – to soak up local ambience if you like.
We arrived in the late morning so most of the fishing boats had already pulled into port and the early morning barter and trade, done for the day. We caught the tail end of the action if any. We walked along the seafront to explore the township, passing what seemed to be hundreds of fishing boats all docked and done for the day.
We arrived at the fish market and my eyes homed in on the freshly carved, gleaming sushi. These weren’t exactly Japanese sushi chefs and the diced raw fish wasn’t exactly cut to precision but for the price, I was willing to take my chances.
This packet right here, cost only RM19/USD4.50 bucks. Not bad value. I’d know by the afternoon if my stomach would rebel against such a decision. As it turned out, I was OK.
There are 2 temples devoted to the sea goddess, Mazu, here as well. One of them is located at a high point and takes and excellent birds eye view of the harbour below.
A great place with a fishing village vibe, to spend a couple of hours exploring, eating seafood and yacking with the locals in my broken Mandarin, for sure.
While Jiaoxi is famous for hot springs, Su’ao is known for its cold springs. As we found out, cold springs are only found in Taiwan and Italy so it is probably a must-do activity when visiting. The naturally occuring carbonated ground water has therapeutic properties and at a ph level of 5.5, it is drinkable. It is odorless without any noxious sulfur fumes. At a constant 22 °C, it makes for an ideal dip for hot weather days but not quite during winter. On this trip, we didn’t have time to dip ourselves in the cold springs but you can. There is the Su’ao Cold Spring Park which is an affordable option but its public bath area is currently closed until 2019 for renovations. The private baths are still available. It is located about 300m from the Suao train station. The alternatives are several other private baths and hotels within the area.
In the old days, the Japanese had bottled the effervescent cold spring water for sale. The Su’ao folks today still fizzy soda water to make soft drinks and in cooking such as yokan dessert and goat meat stew – a local delicacy which we wished we had the opportunity to taste.
The township of Toucheng is apparently a great place for Whale and Dolphin Watching. We didn’t join the cruise since we’ve been whale watching in Western Australia. You can catch the cruise at Wushi Harbour.
Explore also the Lanyang Museum named after the Lanyang Plains located near Wushi Harbour – a place where visitors can learn about the history, culture, landscape, and natural beauty of Yilan. The slanted building looks pretty cool as it stands out in natural surroundings.
Inspired by local natural elements such as the cuesta, a rock-formation commonly found along the northeast coast of Taiwan, it is a location that is highly instagrammable.
How long should you plan to stay in Yilan?
Yilan as with many Taiwanese destinations is a beautiful location. There is the highlands, the lowlands and the coasts. You can hike trails, eat seafood, taste the local produce grown in spring water, visit temples, soak in hot and cold springs, and visit the museums. Yilan county is minimum 1.5 hours drive from Taipeh. With the abundance of attractions in Yilan, we suggest a minimum of 3 days which is what the Taiwan Tourism Board suggests this program. Getting to Yilan isn’t difficult with the number of scheduled long distance train and buses but once you have arrived, its the time spent going to the places of interests.