I usually head first to Taipei when I take a solo trip to Taiwan since it’s the most convenient, but when I want to escape the busy capital, I head to nearby Yilan County. Just an hour away from Taipei on the northeastern end of Taiwan, Yilan is perfect for a longer weekend getaway or a day trip from Taipei if you’re really short on time. I’ve made several solo trips to Yilan from 2016-2019 and Luodong is my favourite base – here’s a guide I put together about my favourite things to do in Yilan, namely the southern half, covering Luodong, Wujie, Dongshan and Su’ao to help you plan your next Taiwan trip.
Where is Luodong in Taiwan?
If you look at the map of Yilan County, it can be split into a northern and a southern area by the main Lanyang River that runs through it. Yilan’s two main hubs are Yilan City (north of the river) and Luodong (south of the river). This guide focuses on Luodong and other areas in the southern half of Yilan County.
Looking to visit the Northern half of Yilan? Check out this post covering Yilan City, Toucheng, Jiaoxi and Yuanshan.
How to get from Taipei to Luodong
Yilan is about 50 minutes away from Taipei City by express coach or car thanks to Highway 5 and the Xueshan tunnel that cuts through the mountains. I usually take a comfortable coach from the Taipei Main Bus Station, and you can choose to stop in either Yilan City or Luodong – a 1-way ticket costs 140 NTD (~S$6.30)
- Kamalan Bus #1917 from Taipei Main Bus Station to Luodong Bus Station
- Kuokuang Bus #1879 from Taipei Yuanshan Bus Station to Luodong Bus Station and Su’ao/Nanfang’ao
- Capital Star #1572 from Taipei City Hall Bus Station to Luodong Bus Station
You can also take buses to Keelung in New Taipei City or Hualien along the eastern coastline. A highway cuts through the mountains in the central region and links to Taichung and Nantou.
I usually prefer taking trains over buses, but it actually takes longer and costs more to take a train from Taipei to Luodong. You can take a Ziqiang or Puyuma Express from Taipei Main Station to Luodong Train Station that will take around 60-75 mins and cost about 238 NTD (~S$11.25).
Transport in Yilan
Trains and buses connect Yilan to Taipei, Keelung up north or Hualien along the Eastern Coastline, and a highway cuts through the mountains in the central region and links to Taichung and Nantou.
In Yilan itself, you can take public buses to get to major sights, but if you can, I strongly recommend you rent a car or a scooter to get around as it will make exploring that much easier. Because Yilan is less populated, buses are not as high as frequent compared to Taipei so you might end up waiting 1-2 hours for the bus if you miss it.
You can flag down a taxi which is not too expensive in Taiwan overall – these are easy to find at the main train/bus station or popular tourist spots, but you may need to call or get someone to call a taxi for you if you are going somewhere more remote. You can also consider Tripool Taxi which works like Uber or Grab.
When is the best time to visit Yilan?
When it comes to the best seasons to travel in Taiwan, Spring (April-May) and Autumn (October-November) are usually a little cooler and less wet – check out this article I wrote for Skyscanner about the best times to visit Taiwan. For Yilan specifically, you have to be prepared for rain at anytime because of its coastal valley surroundings which makes the weather a bit more unpredictable.
Also another note about Yilan’s coastline: be very careful on the beaches at all times, particularly during the monsoon periods around mid June to September as Yilan has experienced some extreme weather and rogue waves sweeping people away in recent years. I’ve been warned by locals about keeping an eye out even on the sand.
If you want to experience some of Taiwan’s culture and Yilan customs, here are some unique Yilan festivals worth considering braving the crowds for:
- Su’ao Cold Spring Festival [July]: Combat the muggy heat of July at the cold springs in Su’ao along with fun festivities
- Jiaoxi Hot Spring Festival [December]: Hot spring town Jiaoxi has a month full of hot spring promotions and packages, perfect when it gets chilly
See the full calendar on the Yilan Tourism website.
Where to stay in Yilan
Luodong is the most convenient hub in the southern half of Yilan, especially if you are going to rely on public transport to get around. If you have your own transport then you have more options. I’m sharing with you some of the places that I’ve personally stayed at in Yilan.
Hostel in Luodong: Yilan Inspiration Hostel 霊感青年旅舎
I picked this hostel in Luodong because I was charmed by the cute dorm rooms – I stayed in the 6-bed tent room, though there are rooms with proper beds to sleep in as well. It has a charming environment in a residential area, but is within walking distance to the Luodong bus/train station and night market.
No. 29, Luozhuang North Street, Luodong Township, Yilan 265宜蘭縣羅東鎮羅莊北街29號 [Google Maps]
From my research, Cam B&B [booking.com affiliate link] looks like a pretty nice option as well.
Sanfu Leisure farm 三富休閒農場 in Dongshan: Violet Forest 紫屋森林
On a media trip to Taiwan, I had the opportunity to stay in the lovely Sanfu leisure farm out in the forested mountains of Dongshan. It’s set far out in the countryside on the slopes in the middle of lots of trees, so very serene and peaceful all around. Also even though it’s a ‘farm’, the rooms have been refurbished into something pretty modern and offer great views of the surrounding forests.
There are different sort of rooms, including large family-style bungalows with multiple rooms for large groups. It’s a bit remote so you do need a car to settle your meals, or they do have food on site as well that you can order and eat. Night activities here include walking around their compound looking for wildlife!
No. 82, Lane 161, Xinliaoer Rd, Dongshan Township 269宜蘭縣冬山鄉新寮二路161巷82號 [Google Maps]
For the solo travellers in Taiwan looking for cheaper but still stylish accommodation options, read more about my favourite hostels in Taiwan.
Things to do in Luodong 羅東
Luodong is the main heart of Yilan south of the Lanyang River. It’s where I like to base myself when visiting these parts because it is the most convenient. The night market is one of its highlights and one of the more famous ones along the east coast.
Luodong Night Market 羅東夜市
Luodong Night Market is one of Taiwan’s more famous night markets outside of Taipei and filled with street food and stalls selling all sorts of sundry. Most of the food is found on Gongyuan Road – be prepared to queue for local Yilan specialities like:
- Sanxing scallion pancake 三星蔥油餅: fried pancake filled with a gazillion bits of scallions. Scallion buns are also pretty popular.
- Ice cream peanut roll 花生捲冰淇淋: perfect when the weather is hot – a thin wrap consisting ice cream and peanut candy shavings and oddly enough garnished with parsley.
- Angelica mutton soup 當歸羊肉湯: tender slices of mutton in a steaming bowl of savoury soup
- Dragon-phoenix rolls 龍鳳腿: pork, cabbage and fish paste stuffed into pig intestines and deep fried
Tip: Try to avoid visiting on weekends if possible, or go earlier in the evening as the market gets absolutely packed. I regretted going on a Saturday night because I could barely move and couldn’t wait to get out of there. Alternatively, stay somewhere within walking distance if you don’t want to deal with parking because there is A LOT of traffic, a pain if you’re in a car.
How to get there: Luodong Night Market is bordered by Gongyuan Road, Minsheng Road, Minquan Road and Xingdong Road. Open daily from 7pm-2am. It’s a 10min walk west from Luodong Train Station.
If you only have time to visit Taipei but want a local foodie experience, why not check out some of the local’s favourite night markets in Taipei?
Luodong Cultural Working house 羅東文化工場
The Luodong Cultural Working House is an event venue is usually used for exhibitions and cultural performances, but it has a rather unusual architecture and is a nice place to pop into when exploring downtown Luodong. It resembles a very large shed with lofty ceilings and a rather modern skywalk architecture. I caught a couple of visual arts exhibitions and wandered around the place which was situated pretty near my then-hostel which sadly seems to have closed down.
How to get there: Luodong Cultural Working House is located at No. 96, Section 1, Chunjing Road. It’s a 20min walk southwest from the train station or about 10min by public bus. Open from 9am-5pm every day (closed on Mondays)
Luodong Forestry Culture Park 羅東林業文化園區
Back when the Japanese were in power, Luodong was one of the main centres for timber and wood, and the Taiwanese cypresses felled from the nearby Taipingshan forests were transported here for storage and processing. Today, the area has been converted into the Luodong Forestry Culture Park with a tribute to its past forestry industry.
There are some Japanese style buildings on site, a large pond that used to store timber is now home to a lot of migratory birds, and the remains of the railway that used to transport the timber from the mountains down to Luodong – the park is just north of the current Luodong train station. It’s a nice place for a ramble if you want to stay in the city.
How to get there: No. 118, Zhongzheng North Road. The park is about 15mins walk north from Luodong Train Station. Open 8am-5pm and free to enter, though some of the galleries open from 9am and typically lunch break from 1pm-2pm.
Things to do in Wujie 五結
Dongshan River Water Park 冬山河親水公園
For those with kids who need a lot of space to run or just enjoy wide open spaces, the Dongshan River Water Park is a great place to let loose. You can rent bicycles across the street from the main entrance to get around the park more quickly, or follow the scenic riverside paths that take you up to Qingshui or down to Dongshan.
This park has plenty of outdoor activities both on water and on land. You can even take a boat up the river to the Traditional Arts Centre (more about that below). Summer is a great time to visit as they host dragon boat races around June and the International Children’s Folklore and Folkgame Festival during July and August.
How to get there: No. 2, Section 2, Qinhe Road. The park is open 8am – 8pm but most of the facilities run from 9am to around 5pm.
National Center for Traditional Arts 國立傳統藝術中心
The National Center for Traditional Arts (NCTA) gathers Taiwan’s traditional arts and crafts and puts them on display in this theme park / cultural village of sorts – it’s pretty popular with the tour groups so it can get a bit crowded, but what’s great is that you can see everything you need about traditional art forms in a distilled fashion, concentrated in one spot and tourist friendly to boot.
The outdoor spaces here are also quite interesting – there is a recreated old-style Taiwanese street that has shops and workshops by traditional art and craftsmen, and there is even a temple and theatre where they showcase Chinese opera and other types of performances at regular intervals.
I also like the outdoor art installations and space, and you can take a boat down the river to the Dongshan Riverside Water Park as well.
How to get there: No. 201, Section 2, Wubin Road, not far from Qingshui Beach. It’s a 15-20min drive from Luodong Train Station and there are several public buses that run this route as well. Open 9am – 6pm.
Qingshui Beach 清水海邊
A short distance from the NCTA is Qingshui Beach, a relatively quiet beach with black sand. The waves looked pretty big and the flags indicated that you can’t swim there, but it looks nice enough for a quiet stroll, and you can see Guishan Island aka Turtle Island from there.
If you’re up for a little adventure, what I did was ride my scooter from the Qingshui Gate (Wujie Tide Gate) along the back of the windbreak forests that lined the coast northwards. It’s a pretty narrow, unpaved road.
At the end of the road was the Dongshan River Mouth 冬山河口 which really was another black sand beach area, this time on the edge of the Lanyang Estuary where there are lots of migratory birds for the avid birdwatchers. Also a lot of fishermen here – there wasn’t much else to do but enjoy nature.
For cycling enthusiasts, consider the Lanyang Estuary Cycling Trail that takes you from the Lanyang Bridge, along the Lanyang River side all the way to the Qingshui Gate.
Things to do in Dongshan 冬山
Plum Blossom Lake / Meihua Lake 梅花湖
Meihua Lake is surrounded on three sides by mountains and is said to be shaped like a plum blossom flower from above (I looked on Google Maps, it… doesn’t really look like a flower to me). No matter the shape, the lake is quite lovely for some leisurely cycling around and a little birdwatching in the mornings.
Go glamping at 天ㄟ露營車 and stay in a cute caravan right by the lake side – there is a nice cafe to sit down at as well. Or take a stroll on the picturesque suspension bridge that takes you to a mini island in the middle of the lake where you can enjoy nature and birdwatching. You can also visit Sanching Temple which overlooks the southwestern corner of the lake.
How to get there: No. 1 Dapi Road. I rode over on a scooter but it takes about 20mins if you drive from downtown Luodong.
Dongshan Mr Brown avenue 冬山伯朗大道
There is a picturesque winding road flanked by rice fields and mountains without any lampposts in Taitung’s Chishang that was made famous by advertisements for Mr Brown Coffee – that’s how it got the name Mr. Brown Road. Here in Yilan’s Dongshan area is a less famous version that is equally photogenic. I stopped by here on scooter to snap a couple of fun shots and it was pretty deserted on a weekday morning.
Tip: Consider visiting in late June when the green rice fields are blooming with yellow flowers. More here.
How to get there: 77 Sanfeng Road off Chengxing Road, Dongshan. The easiest way to get there is either by scooter or cycling, or you could take the TRA train to Dongshan station, rent a bike there and cycle over to this road. Note that vehicles aren’t technically allowed on this road – you need to park nearby and walk over, but it’s fine for cyclists.
Curious about the original Mr Brown Road in Chishang? Read more about it in my post about my time cycling in Chishang.
Things to do in Su’ao 蘇澳
Su’ao Cold Spring 蘇澳冷泉
I love Taiwan’s famous hot springs, but for something quite unusual, go have a soak in some carbonated geothermal cold springs in Su’ao instead where the water temperature is a constant 22ºC throughout the year. It’s perfect for hot summer afternoons, the mineral waters are said to be good for your skin and can even be consumed like a fizzy water drink.
You have free access to the cold spring waters if you head to the park, but for a proper soak and privacy, there are facilities that you can access for a fee. More in my Su’ao post.
How to get there: Su’ao is right before Nanfang’ao if you are coming from up north, so just under 30mins by driving south to get here from Luodong. You can take the Kuokuang bus from both Luodong and Yilan or take the TRA train to Su’ao station if you prefer – the cold springs are right across the road from the train station.
Here’s everything I know about the Su’ao Cold Springs
The little fishing town is a charming little place to pop into after a day at the Su’ao Cold Springs and for some great fresh seafood and a lovely beach view. I’ve done a detailed post on Nanfang’ao, but for first-time visitors, I suggest taking in the view from the Nanfang’ao Viewpoint, checking out the Nanfang’ao Fish Market which is busiest in the afternoon and of course having a super fresh seafood lunch or dinner while you’re there. You can also poke around Neipi Beach and other little coves along the coast.
How to get there: Nanfang’ao is about 30min by driving south from Luodong. You can take the Kuokuang bus from both Luodong and Yilan – see my detailed guide for instructions.
Other things to do
Yilan may not be very big but there are many sights in Yilan that I have yet to get around to doing. I’m listing them down here for posterity, feel free to comment on whether I should or should not check these places out:
- Qingshui Geothermal Area – it was closed when I wanted to visit, but basically it’s a place where there are natural hot springs in the mountainous area
- Sanxing Scallion Pancake making – they needed a minimum number of people to conduct a class so poor solo me had to miss out on this when I visited
- Dongyue Cold Springs – further south from Nanfang’ao is Dong’ao and Nan’ao which I have yet to visit. Dong’ao has a cold spring that isn’t geothermal but is colder than the Su’ao Cold Springs
- Taipingshan – this mountainous area is renowned as a very scenic area
What have I missed out in Yilan? Tell me in the comments so I can check it out in future. Check out my post about the northern half of Yilan covering Yilan City, Toucheng, Jiaoxi and Yuanshan, or see all my other Taiwan posts: