15 Feb 2011

by Bi Lee 

NAVIGATING Taiwan’s hilly terrain is hard work and many cyclists have prayed for a quick rain shower to cool off an uphill slog. Two-wheelers can have a similar experience at the spectacular Wufengqi Waterfalls near Jiaoxi in Yilan County. As the breeze brought cooling fingers of mist onto the skin, one’s senses come alive as lush greenery fills the entire field of view and the intoxicating aroma of kumquats wafted around the route.


Given its relatively small size and closely packed attractions, Taiwan is best acquainted through its ever-growing network of cycling trails. In a bid to promote green recreation and tourism, the Taiwanese Government has allocated NT$4 billion for investment from 2009 through 2012 in the development of a recreational bikeway system.


With the growing awareness of the importance of health and environment, there has been a growing trend among travellers to ditch motorized transport in favour of biking. In the Yilan county of Jiaoxi, accessible from Taipei by rail or bus in slightly less than an hour, there are many bicycle rental shops that can be found in close proximity to the train station. One of its specialties is the highly nutritious hot spring water that irrigates crops such as tomatoes, spinach and loofah.


The olfactory experience of being on a bicycle reaches its peak at the left turn outside the train station on Zhongshan Road where it is lined with market stalls on both sides of the road. Over here, be sure to have a sip of the luscious hot-spring tomato juice offered by numerous vegetable stalls. As I joined the crowd to queue for some of Jiaoxi’s famous Scallion Pancakes, I willingly shirk off the possibility of a parking penalty! The stall that has been in operation for more than forty years rewards travellers’ intrepidity with a chewy dough filled with juicy scallion. How I wish I could store its beautiful aroma!


Cyclists with a sharp eye will find it easy to locate a picnic spot given the freewheeling nature of the bicycle to venture into every nook and cranny. However, the best picnic spot is probably on the stone stools just before ascending into the Wufengqi Waterfalls where a traveller’s lyric facility of childhood manifest in watching adults and children soaking their feet in the shallow pool.


Divided into three cascades measuring 100 metres from top to bottom, the waterfalls are listed by the tourism bureau as one of the eight great scenic spots in the Yilan County. It requires an intense amount of uphill pedaling strength and effort to reach the peak. For an easy-paced journey, I crossed over to the other side of the rail track into the Wendi Wetlands.


On Xingnong Road where there are lesser motor vehicles on the road, migratory birds make a rest stop on the rolling fields of rice paddies from the months of September to May. The sound of engines inevitably scares these animals with acute hearing therefore a bicycle is the best mode of transport for an intimate appreciation of its beauty.


Further down Xingnong Road, do not dismiss this inconspicuous sand-coloured building that is the gallery and work studio of Yilan-born sculptor Mary Leu. A pair of tattered and worn-out gloves carved out from boxwood would have easily been mistaken as something straight out of the construction site nearby if not for the magnifying glass beside to view the intricate and fine details of the building.


It could be said that water flows through Jiaoxi’s veins, for it is here that some of Taiwan’s best hot spring resorts can be found. The Jiaoxi Hot Spring Park is set in a secluded rustic shade spreading over an area of five hectares. Many small plantations enclosed within the stone banks in the large pond and red Japanese lanterns are part of the setting to create a Zen-like environment.

There are five and eight different pools in the female and male bath respectively that ranges from 38 to 42 degrees Celsius. Some of these pools have a view of Jiaoxi’s beautiful mountainous landscape where exhausted nerves can embrace the essence of paradise without guilt.

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