Diners full of the joys of hot springs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am


The natural hot springs that bubble along Taiwan's east coast railway line into Jiaosi have long served to relax tired tourists. The town now also has 195 restaurants, bars and cafes, the local government says.

Since the opening of a 12.9-kilometre highway tunnel from Taipei in 2006, the Yilan county town has seen an influx of people from the island's capital. They can now drive there in an hour, less than half the time it used to take.

The once tiny town receives between 1.3 million and 2.5 million tourists each year and has updated its kitchens to provide diners with something smart yet resolutely local.

So clean the chopsticks and wipe the glass for these five eateries, which are all a short walk from the railway or bus stations.

Lai-Lai Speciality Store (Deyang Road, No 49, tel: +886 3 988 3566)

Lai-Lai lets customers taste some of its traditional made-in-Yilan snacks before buying them. The best-sellers are sacks of cookies and crackers made from shallots grown in the river valley south of Jiaosi. The shop - open from 8am to 11pm - also specialises in sweetened, dried kumquats, grown on local farms and wrapped individually.

Another local speciality, cow tongue cakes, are named for their shape rather than content - they're filled with honey. The only rub is that they crumble easily once out of their plastic wrappers. On the meatier side, Lai-Lai sells smoked duck from birds raised in the nearby river delta for as little as NT$120 (HK$30) per packet.

Art Spa Hotel (Deyang Road, No 6, tel: + 886 3 988 2011)

Local food dominates the lunch and dinner menus at this complex, which also lists palm-lined hot springs, rooms and a five-storey children's slide as attractions.

Yilan county shallots and duck headline the menu alongside German-style pigs' trotters plus local catches, manager Kevin Cheng says. Meals average NT$580 to NT$660 per person. The 4,958 square metre resort also serves an English-style afternoon tea in a spacious atrium with views onto its tropical gardens.

No 9 Coffee & Drink (Deyang Road, No9-11, tel: +886 3 987 5943)

This cafe pours light and dark beers from a local brewery on an outdoor wooden platform rimmed by public foot-soaking pools.

Light beers are strangely fragrant. The dark beer has a sugary, coffee-like taste. Beers sell for NT$150 per mug and NT$380 for a pitcher.

'People will go out for a hike, soak in the hot springs and then come back here to drink at night,' manager Wang Kun-liang says.

Customers can also order fruit shakes, shaved ice desserts and a range of coffees.

Between 5pm and 10pm, local performers vetted by the county government give free concerts to the crowd. The cafe opens at 12.30pm daily and stays open until 11.30pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends.

Kan Baida (Jiaosi Road, Sec 5, No 110, tel: +886 3 988 0168)

This 110-seat restaurant fuses Chinese and Japanese-style dishes under a motif memorialising the Kavalan aborigines who once inhabited Yilan county.

Diners can order giant prawns, a salmon-rice soup and sashimi at prices from NT$60 to NT$280 per dish. The restaurant also offers three German beers. It's open from 5.30pm to 9.30pm (call ahead).

Walk Of Fame (Chung Shan Road, Sec 2, No 163, tel: +886 3 987 0890)

Tourists have been staying in Jiaosi later at night since the tunnel opened. For some, that means finishing off the weekend with a few hours of karaoke.

The Walk of Fame karaoke den rents private rooms for NT$1,200 per hour. Singers can choose tunes in Chinese, English or Japanese and drink any of four types of wine for as little as NT$350 a bottle. There are also six kinds of beers, including some produced in Taiwan.

The eight karaoke rooms are open from noon until 6am - so you can sing yourself silly until the morning if you want.