Thursday, July 19, 2012

Yilan: Sights At The End of The Tunnel (Taiwan Business Topics)

Yilan County has always been a bit different. It is in the east, but fans of Hualien and Taitung belittle it as a Taipei suburb lacking true indigenous culture. To the politically aware, it is the part of Taiwan that was a green-camp stronghold long before the Democratic Progressive Party existed. And few places have had their prospects and character changed so much by a single piece of infrastructure as Yilan has been by the completion of Freeway 5 and the world’s fifth-longest road tunnel.

“One-day tourism is booming,” says Jack Cho, general manager of Toucheng Farm, a leisure farm in the northernmost part of the county. He points out that while the Xueshan Tunnel means residents of Greater Taipei can return home the same day – and are thus less likely to spend money on a hotel room or dinner – at the same time it has made two- or three-day excursions to Yilan much more feasible for residents of central and southern Taiwan. 

Freeway 5 is a godsend for anyone wanting or needing to travel between Yilan and Greater Taipei, yet some drivers find getting on it more difficult than expected. Those starting their journey in downtown Taipei should take Xinhai Road southward until it becomes Freeway 3A (in Chinese, 3甲). This spur is just 5.6-kilometers long and joins the main trunk of Freeway 3 near Muzha. Heading north on Freeway 3, it takes mere minutes to reach the interchange with Freeway 5. Care is necessary, however – just a few hundred meters before the two freeways meet, a quite separate turnoff veers east. Those who take this road will find themselves winding over the hill to Shenkeng on Route 109. Rather than backtrack, anyone who makes this mistake is advised to press on until he or she sees signs pointing them to the Shiding Interchange. 

Drivers coming from further south should be aware that some signs near Xindian that point to Yilan refer to Highway 9 – the old, slow Taipei-Yilan road. Cyclists, as well as those with tunnel phobia or a surplus of time, will find this route a highly scenic alternative. Freeway 5, like Highway 9, enters Yilan County via Toucheng Township. Accordingly, this article focuses on Toucheng and other parts of the county most easily accessed via Freeway 5. During the winter, the hot springs in Jiaoxi are extremely popular, but for those planning warmer-weather excursions, it is less alluring than the city of Yilan or the nearby townships of Luodong, Wujie, and Yuanshan. 

With a population of 73,000, Luodong is Yilan County's largest settlement after Yilan City (which has 95,000 inhabitants). Luodong’s night market is revered by Taiwanese gourmands, but others may find the Luodong Forestry Culture Garden more intriguing. Logging used to be a major industry in the Yilan area, and the garden formerly served as a timber collection and processing plant. The Forestry Bureau began transforming this 16-hectare site into an ecological and industrial-heritage attraction in 2004, and opened it to the public in 2011... 

To see the complete article, click here. The photo here shows one of the puppets on display in the county's Taiwan Theater Museum

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