What you need to know
Yilan is only a two-hour drive from Taipei but provides a completely different experience from the bustling capital city.
The happiness of a small town can permeate its peripheral area, and Yilan is an example of that. Only two hours drive from Taipei, Yilan is sometimes called “Taipei’s backyard” because of its proximity to the city and its lush landscape.
Walk in Taiwan, originally a Taipei walking tour company, has expanded its routes to introduce sustainable, authentic travel experiences in other Taiwanese cities. In October and November, Walk in Taiwan has partnered with Yilan’s Lanyang Museum to organize a collective tour named “Five Ways to Stroll Around Yilan.” This includes five different lifestyles involving small towns like Toucheng (頭城), Shengou (深溝), and more, where Taipei city dwellers are encouraged to go and experience a relaxing weekend while learning more about local cultures.
Chen Ding-nan (陳定南), the magistrate of Yilan in the 1980s, decided to keep Yilan away from industrial pollution and rejected the sixth naphtha cracker project. Although a controversial decision at the time, Yilan has been kept as a secret garden with more and more tourists visiting each year. With the Snow Mountain tunnel opening in 2006, Yilan has been getting more weekend traffic as the tunnel has directly connected the road from Yilan to Taipei.
For the Yilan tours, Walk in Taiwan emphasizes on providing travelers with an experience of “slow island living.” In Shengou, for example, travelers can interact with Taiwanese micro farmers who utilize the clean water sources in the region. Most of these micro farmers, surprisingly, are in their early 30s and have moved from big cities — some of them even have master’s degrees and speak multiple languages. The new-wave micro farmers in Yilan have been pushing for agricultural reforms by drastically reducing pesticides.
The farm-to-table restaurants in Yilan have become the “marketing agency” for the organic produce grown by the local farmers. Eat Dan Su (一簞食), a simple vegetarian restaurant run by a married couple, aims to promote simple living with simple meals. This means vegetables that are cooked without too much artificial seasoning and portions that are just big enough for customers to feel happy with their food, but not excessive or wasteful. Even the spices and soy sauce are made with locally-sourced ingredients.
If you want to learn more about Yilan’s local culture, the tour route in Toucheng will take you through the small town’s old street. In Toucheng Old Street, you wouldn’t see tourist crowds like that of Jioufen, but you would perhaps meet every single small business owner from one end to another. You can sit down for a cup of tea, or enjoy some refreshing seaweed jelly that’s traditionally handpicked and washed by women in the area.
To learn about Yilan’s history during the Japanese occupation, you can visit the Memorial Hall of Founding of Yilan Administration (宜蘭設治紀念館), which is located right next to the popular Yilan Literary Museum. The memorial hall, where the governors had resided during the Japanese colonial era, has preserved how the Japanese envisioned their urban planning for Yilan. The Japanese-style building itself has been repaired and opened to public since 1997, and it’s hidden in a Japanese garden away from the main road’s bustling traffic. You would step in here as if you’re traveling back in time.
Much like the rest of Yilan, the memorial hall is a symbol of Yilan has tried to preserve its history and local landscape without giving in to economic development and industrial exploitation. If you ever need a quick getaway from the city traffic in Taipei, Yilan is the place to unwind the urban stress.
To book a guided, off-the-beaten-path tour in Yilan, visit Walk in Taiwan’s website here.
TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)
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