Still haven't made any plans for our upcoming 4 day weekend? I'm undecided myself. Should I stay or make the journey south to Tainan and see old friends. If you're undecided, then take a chance on Yilan.
In case a nightlife is your scene then save your trip to Yilan for another time. There is none of that. But you could catch the first morning light of the new year at Su-ao overlooking the Pacific at 6:37am. There are several coffee shops overlooking the beach.
You will find more accommodation options in Jiaoxi as its tailored to Taipei weekend goers who want some hot spring waters in their bathtubs. However there are some hotels in Yilan City too.
|Across from Yilan Train Station|
Driving from Southern Taiwan, there are several options, either way you will come through some of of Taiwan's and Asia's longest tunnels.
From Taipei: The buses (Capitol Star and Kamalan) are faster than the train unless you get on the fastest train that goes to Hualien. Tickets are sold out by now, you can go still, but you'll be standing in the aisles. The bus from Taipei Main Station and City Hall, leave every 15 minutes and is around 120NT and the drive is around 70 minutes. The bus depot in Yilan is behind the train station, you'll need to take a taxi or rent a scooter to your hotel. Even with a valid car driver's license, foreigners can only rent the smallest scooter, you need a scooter license to rent bigger scooters.
|Balagov's Ukrainian Cafe|
Where to eat:
Of course Yilan City looks like any city in Taiwan, you can find noodles, dumplings, rice boxes anywhere. But if you want a real treat head to Mr. Balagov's Cafe (Guava Dog in Chinese) for homemade healthy Ukrainian food. The space itself is gorgeous with Ukrainian knickknacks, wall stencils, every corner has some folk art that Sergei the owner brought back with him. He is an interesting dude, having lived in Brooklyn for years, his English is excellent and his wife is aboriginal so she of course also speaks Mandarin. She has helped me out when I needed to find something in Yilan. I go there once a week as a treat and often buy a bottle of Kvass to last me during the week, sometimes I splurge and buy a loaf of rye break or homemade Ukrainian sausage. My favorite meal is the set meal with meatballs and mashed potatoes that includes borscht soup, kvass and apple cake. He also serves Turkish coffee and sheesha, should that tickle your fancy. The homemade blueberry and mint ice-cream with crepes are also good. Definately wash your meal down with a big bottle of thirst quenching Russian beer. You wont reget coming here. What never fails to astound me are the local tour buses and crowds that head to the mediocre place next door. Taiwanese tourists come to Balagov's to take photos of their gorgeous little garden and cottage and then eat at the bland run of the mill Taiwanese place, passing over a local treasure. Don't make the same mistake.
If you want to eat Italian,Thai, Sushi Express or go to Tasty's head to Lunar Plaza, the local mall. There is also a Carrefore in the basment and parking, which is a royal pain if you are driving a car.
|Beer at Piggy's|
Other recommendations are Awesome Burger which is like a mom and pop TGIF set up. They have a peanut butter burger which I havent had the desire to try, tho I love peanut butter. My kid likes the bacon cheese burger and onion rings. I also like Piggy's Bar for their jalapeno poppers and Mexican lasgana. Their beer list is amazing, you can get a variety of Canadian ales, lagers and stouts some of them organic. If you are in Loudong (checking out the nearby waterfalls or Botanic Gardens), you can eat Indian at Spice Land , definitely for Taiwanese palate,so ask for hotter curry. The naan bread is too starchy for me, but the sweet, coconut naan is a great post hike pick me up. I recommend the chai coffee, and pineapple chutney with scones are amazing. In Loudong you can have an organic brunch at Light Brunch and Cafe (03-954-3397). There is also a dynamic duo who drives around Yilan County and makes custom pizzas out of their truck which has a built in stone oven. Sunday they are in Touchung, Wednesday they're in Nanfang'ao, Thursday in Jiaoxi, Friday in Zuangwei, and Saturday in Su'ao (0963-623210). There is also Tavola's, and Brown Taffy, which I still need to check out.
|Biking along Yilan Riverside Park|
Where to workout:
Yilan Sports Park has a weight room, track, outdoor rings, parallel bars and huge rollerblading rink. You can also rent a bike hit a trail and bike on a bike path all the way to Loudong Sports Park. There is an indoor pool.. You can hit 3 hiking trails in Jiaoxi near the waterfalls or outside Su'ao. You can also run the stairs and so some yoga at Yilan County Government Building. The green field looks great for a run, but the ground is treacherously uneven under the thick grass. Better to run at the empty track at Yilan sports park or any of the bike trails. You can pick up a detailed map of all the bike trails at the Tourist info center at Yilan Train station.
What to do:
It will probably be cold, so warm up in the hot springs, Jiaoxi, Fanfan or in Taipingshan. If its not raining, bike along the coast or head to any of the lakes and rent bikes. Jiaoxi, Nanao and Loudong have some great waterfalls (see my post "Whats Not There To Do Here").
If its raining, you can still enjoy the hot springs, but there is also a local brewery, honey museum and farms galore.
What Taiwanese tourists do when they arrive at Yilan is take photos of the train station, and across the train station is a hanging train which I suppose is interesting in its own way. What is also standard is hitting the night market in Yilan (Dongmen Night Market) and Loudong. I'm over night markets, they seem to be all the same to me, but there is a guy in Yilan,"The Watermelon Prince" who has a stand near the bridge and he sells the freshest juices. Other than that, its just like any other night market, dumplings, stinky tofu, greasy and fried anything. The morning market in Yilan is far more interesting.
I might of convinced myself to stay here and relax.