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MAGAZINE July 2009
Yunlin County: Great food, intriguing attractions & beautiful scenery
By Niang Chen Translated by Ann Lee
Yunlin is located in the central-southern portion of western Taiwan at the northern tip of the Chianan (Chiayi-Tainan) Plain. It is bordered by Nantou county to the east and the Taiwan Strait on the west. Beigang River separates it from Chiayi County and, in the north, Jhuoshuei River marks the boundary with Changhua county. According to the Yunlin County Government website, the county consists of one city, five towns and 14 townships, and is known as an agricultural county famous for its farming products. These include: oranges, Honey Murcott tangerines, watermelons, star fruit, Silou's Jhuoshuei River rice, soy sauce, Camellia Oil (aka. Bittertea Oil), and Gukeng's well-known coffee. In recent years, the popularity of this coffee has grown among consumers, resulting in great tourism opportunities for the town and nearby areas. Thanks to government assistance, promotion/marketing of Gukeng's natural assets and resources has been consolidated and coordinated to further encourage local tourism. This is just one facet of Yunlin county's new image, and all the more reason to head there for a visit.
When it comes to geographical conditions, climate and humidity, Gukeng is ideal for cultivating coffee trees. With the recent growth in the local coffee-drinking population, the township's coffee beans have become known to residents around the island. To get there, take the National Freeway No. 3, get off at the Gukeng interchange and head towards Huashan Coffee Garden. On your way there, you'll pass through the town's best-known "green tunnel"--a two-kilometer stretch of country road lined with thousands of 50-year-old-plus mango trees that creates the feeling of driving through a green tunnel. During summertime visits, the roadside trees are so tall that they provide a pleasantly-shaded scenic drive, filled with the sweet aroma of ripe mangos.
At the entrance to the "green tunnel", visitors will find a place called the Honey Museum, housing an exhibition detailing the different stages of honeybees' growth, how honey is made, and the processes for collecting honey, pollen and royal jelly (cream). Here, visitors can also learn how bee breeding and farming have changed significantly over time, and view some of the traditional tools and equipment used in these processes. However, all this is really window dressing for a big shop selling all manner of honey-flavored food and drinks, with products such as jars of honey, pollen in bottles, and honey-flavored liquor, vinegar, biscuits and ice cream.
The Huashan area of Gukeng is Taiwan's best-known coffee-growing region, where the beans are cultivated on a high-altitude mountain plateau. While these mountain areas were once used to grow tea leaves and betelnut, coffee farming was introduced way back in the Qing dynasty and became quite popular among Japanese colonial residents, when coffee wasn't as well-liked by the Taiwanese. In more recent times, all this changed with reconstruction efforts in the wake of the disastrous 921 earthquake and Typhoon Nari, when coffee once again became a major product. The combination of government efforts and launch of coffee-related businesses in Huashan by locals reignited an interest and fame for Gukeng coffee.
Today, over 50 cafes and restaurants are found in the mountains of the Huashan area. While each has distinct decor, most focus on providing a panoramic views of the surrounding scenery and verdant landscapes. On a sunny day, diners can easily see the Mailiao 6th Naphtha Cracker Industrial Park out on the coast, as well as the beautiful scenery of Taixi and the Chiayi-Yunlin plains. Gukeng grows Arabica coffee and coffee aficionados find that this mild-roasted drink exudes a smooth but flavor-filled taste that lacks the bitterness, sourness and dryness often found in coffee. These local beans are roasted with a unique technique that results in a mild, balanced flavor that is easy for anyone to enjoy.
The area restaurants and cafes focus on incorporating coffee as a main ingredient in their dishes. Some of these coffee-flavored specialty dishes include: grilled coffee sausages, coffee-flavored barbecued meats, coffee-flavored steamed eggs, deep-fried bean curd with mountain vegetables and coffee-flavored salad dressing, and coffee-flavored chicken soup. Mixing coffee and salt in cooking may not be something our palates are used to, and would appear to be a bad mix. However, the secret to successfully combining coffee with other ingredients for a tasty result is to use other ingredients that add other flavors such as the sourness of lemons, or the naturally aromatic taste of mushrooms. Dining at these places averages about NT$300 per meal. After savoring these creative coffee-based dishes and sipping a nice cup of latte, you can try your hand at unique coffee-making activities hosted by these places, which also allow you to get creative by drawing different coffee-foam shapes. Your coffee eating and drinking explorations provide some of the best fun you'll have on this trip.
Huwei is another well-known township in Yunlin, and is famed as the birthplace of Pili Taiwanese puppet theater (budaixi), a traditional form of entertainment. When "budaixi" was first broadcast on TV back in 1970, hundreds of thousands of people tuned in to watch an exclusively-Taiwanese show called "Yunzhou Darouxia Shi Yen-wen". An attraction worth visiting is the former Huwei Town Hall building. In the front of the building is a police station, built back in 1920 during the Japanese colonial period and now renovated to become the Glove Puppetry Museum. Here, you can learn about the changes that have taken place for this traditional form of entertainment. You can also see some of the old stage set-ups for the show, and view documentary films and videos about the history of this interesting art form. The most unique museum activity is watching professional puppet-making masters demonstrating their skills on site. There is also an inside cafe for visitors to take breaks at.
About a 10 minute's drive from the museum is the Sing-Long Towel Industrial Tourism & Explore Factory, an exciting and fun place to see a display of towels made from naturally-grown plants. Interestingly enough, factory staff members also teach you how to fold these towels into different kinds of shapes, including a cake, a rabbit or ice cream cone.
Wuan Chuang Soy Sauce is Siluo township's best-known original product. With a hundred years of history, it can be purchased on Yenping Historical Street (or Yenping Old Street). This specialty soy sauce is created out of the finest selected black soy beans, and has been used as a seasoning staple by Taiwanese families for generations.
Besides soy sauce, Yenping Historical Street offers visitors the chance to explore a variety of traditional delicacies. A total of 140 Baroque-style architectural landmarks built back in the 1930s also makes it a great sightseeing spot for tourists. The buildings on this street have distinct characteristics and features, so that a stroll not only lets you view rich local history, but also gives a taste of what it was like during the Japanese colonial period. About five minutes away from the street is the Zhenwen Academy, a grade-three historical site built during the Qing dynasty. Every corner of this educational institute tells an intriguing story. The architecture itself closely resembles a temple, but a visit also educates visitors to the its background stories and facts, such as why the male stone lion sits with his mouth open while the female stone lion closes her mouth.
Which such a cornucopia of scenic, natural, culinary, cultural and historic attractions, Yunlin county has more than enough to offer as a tourist destination, and can easily be condensed into a perfect daytrip that lets you enjoy and explore its many wonderful facets.
88, NanZih Rd, Gukeng Township, Yunlin County, next to the Gukeng Green Tunnel;
Guided tour of the Literary Path by Mr. Wu Yong-kun: (05) 590-1870
Shanghaikuan Coffee Manor
1-12, Guilin Village, Gukeng Township, Yunlin County; (05) 590-0486
Glove Puppetry Museum/Budaixi
498, LinSen Rd, Sec 1, Huwei Township, Yunlin County; (05) 636-4826
Sing-Long Towel Industrial Tourism & Explore Factory
84-1, LeNei Li, Huwei Township, Yunlin County; (05) 622-6008
Wuan Chuang Soy Sauce
25, YenPing Rd, Siluo Township, Yunlin County; (05) 586-3666
Siluo Yenping Historical Street Cultural Center
92, YenPing Rd, Siluo Township, Yunlin County; 05) 586-1444
6, XingNong W Rd, Siluo Township, Yunlin County, on the corner of WenChang Rd
Yuan-Shuai Travel Agency
161, GongYi Rd, 11F, Room C, Taichung City; (04) 2301-5590