What to do when you have a couple of days to spare, and you want to get out in the open air without travelling too far from Taipei? Yilan County (宜蘭縣) is probably the answer to an easy destination with plenty of different things to do! Here are a couple of places my friends and I hit up and especially enjoyed while on our mini vacation.
Jiaoxi Hot Spring Park (礁溪溫泉公園）
Nearly every Yilan travel book would tell you about this place. Yes it’s a popular spot, but it really is not as crowded by bathers as one would think! This place is a gem of a public onsen if you’re after unlimited soaking for a bargain price! At 150 TWD, this place is pretty hard to beat, even with all the 5-star hot spring hotels nearby. It is a traditional Japanese-style open bathhouse. Which means men and women are separated and you must only bring your birthday suit. Before you enter the pools, you’re also required a splash-down with the pints of water provided. Shower caps, and towels are available for purchase at the front desk if you didn’t bring your own and lockers are also available near the pools.
Most hotspring destinations in Taiwan require bathing suits, so if you haven’t visited a Japanese onsen before, you may be a little skin-shy. But before long the water will make you so relaxed and your skin as soft as a baby’s bum, that you really couldn’t care less. My friends and I found we had the pools to ourselves most of the time. It was so good, we came here pretty much everyday we were in Yilan!
Pro-tip: The male and female sections interchange at different times of the day. So to experience the park’s entire facilities, make two trips or more like we did: one during the day and one in the evening.
Dongshan River Water Park (冬山河親水公園)
It’s a pity because of the shortage of water Taiwan is currently experiencing, that they shut down the Water Park, so really it’s just Dongshan River Park now. But don’t despair, in my opinion the river itself is the main attraction and there’s nothing like a long scenic bicycle ride along the banks. Rent a bike at the park for around 100 TWD and go whichever direction tickles your fancy. You will pass giant dinosaur replicas which make me think the park originally had plans to be some sort of expo park but failed. However, this was definitely one of the highlights of our trip and we were snappy-happy with the wonderful views of water on one side and rice fields on the other.
Pro-tip: It will take you a decent half day to do the whole length of the river (approximately 4 hours), so make sure you pack some water and snacks or are well-fed to begin with. There are kiosks in the park itself, but as you take yourself further along the river, you will have no choice but to turn back or head away from the bike trail towards the nearest town if you’re after any mid-ride refreshments. Riding in Spring will also allow you to make the best of the scenery with bright red and orange cotton tree blossoms lining part of the bike trail.
Lanyang Museum (蘭陽博物館)
Even in this tiny county, you will find a modern museum to learn of the local culture and environment of Yilan. Located in Toucheng’s wetlands a short distance away from Jiaoxi, Lanyang museum took 7 years to complete, and the nature-inspired architecture itself should evoke some admiration. However, it is the exhibitions spread across four levels, that will take you through the natural and cultural resources Yilan has to offer. It will take about 1.5 hours to walk through the museum if you’re happy to read-up a little.
Pro-tip: Take a little stroll across the bay (towards Wushi Harbor 烏石港) to get a front on view of the museum on the water. This accentuates the unique architecture even more and you will feel inclined to take more photos of the unique scene like we were.
Being the closest to Taipei for surf, Yilan can get pretty busy with beach-goers and surfers alike in the summer. There are plenty of places to hit when the surf’s up in Yilan and you would have heard of Fulong (福隆), Wushi (烏石), and Wai-ao (外澳) as popular surfing destinations. At this end of the island, the sand is black which makes you think you’re just getting dirt all over yourself, and on a cloudy day, doesn’t seem like the picture perfect sunny beach weather you would generally associate with. But what it lacks in looks, it makes up for with decent surf and Wushi and Wai-ao seemed like a good place for both beginners and experts to test out. Remember to check local weather surf forecast as the area is known to have rips. It is also easy for you to rent surfboards for about 500 TWD a day at multiple surf shops along the main street running along the coast.
Pro-tip: After battling the waves at Wushi or Wai-ao, stop over Section 3 of Qingyun Road where you see a line of cars pretty much stopping traffic. They’re there for one or two things only, the ice cream from 阿信師芋冰城 (where you can experience natural local flavours such as taro, red bean or pineapple), and the grilled sausages of 宜蘭名膳佩等路. I got this pro-tip from a Taiwanese surfer so it’s legitimate local knowledge! They’re delicious and guaranteed to take away any hunger pangs after a day of surf or swimming!
We visited other sights in Yilan as well, but for us, these were the stand-out places to visit if you only have a weekend and don’t want to travel too far from Yilan city. For longer stays, Taipingshan National Forest Recreation Area (太平山) makes an excellent day trip, but be prepared to pay a much more exorbitant amount of taxi fare (easily 2500 TWD and more!) if you don’t already have a car.
Getting There: Yilan is really a hop and a skip away, and extremely convenient to get to by public transport. It is cheaper to go by bus and Kamalan and Capital Star bus services are both excellent, with free wifi and several pick-up drop-off points in Taipei and Yilan, taking only about 1.5 hours each way. Kamalan stops nearby Technology Building MRT station (科技大樓站) while Capital Star departs directly from Taipei City Hall Bus Station (市府轉運站). There’s no need to pre-book your tickets as buses run every 15 minutes or so! Alternatively you could catch a regional train from any TRA station such as Taipei Main (台北站) or Songshan (松山車站) for a little more cost.