About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Yield to Yuanshan

To get off the beaten track in Yilan, which is already in the boondocks, look no further than Yuanshan Township. It still gets a few tourist buses from Taipei, but less so.

Yuanshan's element at first glance is the mountains, but equally so is the water element. There's so many lakes, ponds, rivers, even hot springs.   According to my kid Yuanshan is reknown for having the cleanest water in all Taiwan. Moreover, if I could describe the essence of Yuanshan in contemporary Western music, it's Beck's "Morning Phase". Or maybe I've just made the association  as that's what I'd listen to when my car CD player workedMy daughter and I have this fantasy of our last year in Taiwan. We'd find a traditional home in Yuanshan and get a goat and some chickens. Until then we commute here everyday for my job. It's a gorgeous commute, better on scooter. Driving my car is like living out Mad Max Thunder Road most mornings. Now with the construction of some fancy chain hotel the already small roads are clogged with all kinds of trucks and their equipment. Yuanshan will soon lose its wildness without a sound. See it while you can.

Yuanshan is just outside of Yilan City between county road 7 and Sanxia in the mountains. There are tons of BnB’s, recreational organic farms (scroll to bottom of this post), fishing, and hiking trails. Here are the tourist maps. The crown jewel of Yuanshan is Fushan Botanical Gardens, which is still on my to do list. You need to make a reservation in advance as they limit the number of visitors. 

I recommend renting a scooter from any of the shops across from the bus or train station in Yilan City to explore. Buses are infrequent and stop early in the highlands. A taxi to Dahu Lake or Wanglongpi will cost around 200NT from the bus or train station.
Gregorian chants in Mandarin with this view on a sunny day-timeless!

It becomes obvious soon enough that the most scenic, auspicious spots in Taiwan house all the cemeteries. Yuanshan is no different. The foothills leading into the mountains are speckled with them. Maybe I'm biased but they aren't the total eyesores they are in most places. In fact driving to work in the morning, the sunlight on a clear (rare) morning illuminates their white tiles, making a gleam against the dark mountains and sky. Clouds hover in and out, so that every morning is a different panorama on my commute.

 The graveyards in Yuanshan even has a Catholic section, the first in Yilan with a picturesque chapel over looking the valley. Surprisingly, there are several Catholic churches where one can take mass (in Mandarin and Latin). The most picturesque is in the Catholic cemetery on the hills but there is also one  (Church of the Holy Cross) across the street from Yuanshan Elementary school just off where 7 meet the 9A. 

Yuanshan Memorial Park
To begin a tour of Yuanshan you could start out at the Yuanshan Memorial park next to Yuanshan Elementary school and then head to Pillow Mountain, Dahu (Big Lake), or Hunshan Lake.  The park has a vertical set of stairs for a quick workout with some views of the of Yuanshan mountains that will wet your appetites for some further highland exploration. At the bottom of the stairs are some tanks and horses coming out of the grass which is kind of cool. Otherwise there’s not much else to see here. Elderly people like to hike the paths circling the hill in the mornings.
Dahu (Big Lake). My kid's first choice fishing spot  

Wanglongpi lake (望龍埤) is likewise very scenic. There are several hikes you can do from here that take you above the lake and you could continue to little villages further in the mountains. There’s a pizza café opened on the weekends and a coffee shop. You can buy fruit directly from the farmers from their orchards in the valley by the lake. The best place to stay is at the very orange Avignon Bed and Breakfast just down the road from the lake exit. Come early as Mainlanders tend to come here on the weekends, most don't do the hikes. There are more bodies of water too, the Shuanglian and Taiyang ponds popular with birders. 

Wanglongpi lake (望龍埤)

For free coffee (all you can drink) head to Athena’s Bakery (not to be confused with Artemis Garden). The tour buses definitely stop here, but you can sample the cakes and drink coffee for free. The gelato is excellent and flavors change according to which fruits are in season. If the sky is clear have coffee and some cake at the A-Maze Cafe at the top of the hill. If you're lucky you can overlook Yilan City on a fair day and see Turtle Island in the distance. Sadly. they cut down their namesake labyrinth. There are also some bed and breakfasts located on that hill. Accommodation should never be a problem in Yuanshan. Every post has about ten signs pointing to various farm stays. Still I listed the most famous leisure farms a the end of this post.

If you want to sample more than just coffee, Yuanshan happens to have its very own brewery,  Jim and Dad's (吉姆老爹啤酒工場). The owner invested a pretty penny for this top of the line brewery, shipping parts from Germany. They use fruits in season for various ales and stouts. They also serve high quality American root beer and ginger-ale for kids or the responsible driver. Its a little pricey but makes for a nice gift. Its a great venue for parties or live music, with a fun lighthouse. Too bad its such a drive.Taipei Times printed a nice review, " Yilan's Beer Oasis".

Kids might enjoy educational "hands on" tours about bugs at the Honey Bee Museum, Phoenix Beetle Museum (where you could stay the night),  farming,  water weeds, sheep or fish.  Older adults might prefer the Bowl and Dish Museum or the 23 Stone House Nature Culture. As for me, I would recommend my friends to stay at the sublime Beetle Forest. They are technically in Jiaoxi on the border of Yuanshan,  but you wouldnt have guessed. Beetle wise they are more professional than the Phoenix and have a modern BnB set up with a cheerful space. Plus I am friends with the entomologist there.

Bike riding in Yuanshan
Yuanshan is mostly bypassed by weekenders from Taipei stopping in Jiaoxi or further to Taipingshan, but if you want some muted repose, with less crowds, Yuanshan is definitely the peaceful alternative.

Leisure Farms in Yuanshan:
Daan Herbal medicine
Zhen Shan Zhuang Villa
Country Orange Leisure Farm
Hua Quan Living Workshop
Old House
Shen Yang

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