Few visitors to Taiwan have even heard of Yunlin, one of the country’s least visited counties. If you’re looking for somewhere totally off the beaten path, this one is for you!
Some highlights of Yunlin include Gukeng (Taiwan’s most famous coffee growing region), Beigang Chaotian Temple, traditional Taiwanese hand puppet culture in Huwei, and one of Taiwan’s top amusement parks.
Traveling around Yunlin will take a bit of time, and the inconveniently located Yunlin High Speed Rail station won’t help much.
The county mainly consists of agricultural plains, with some famous products including pomelos, pickled cabbage, papaya, muskmelon, coffee, and tea.
Yunlin is the only county in Taiwan whose capital city does not take the same name. In this case, the capital and largest city of Yunlin county is Douliu city.
In the 1950s and 60s, Yunlin was a hot spot for traditional Taiwanese hand puppetry, with several famous performers coming from the area. Today, many Taiwanese know Yunlin for Janfusun Fancyworld, a popular amusement park.
Getting to Yunlin
How to get to Yunlin depends where in Yunlin you want to go. For the Gukeng coffee region or Janfusun Fancyworld, take the TRA (regular train) to the capital, Douliu, and get to them from there by taxi or local bus. Trains from Taipei to Douliu take around 3 to 4.5 hours (see my Taipei guide here).
A faster but much pricier way would be to take the HSR from Taipei or other cities in Taiwan to Yunlin HSR station, then take a taxi or local bus to Douliu (20-40 minutes).
Yunlin HSR station is more convenient for reaching Huwei (10 minutes by taxi), where the Yunlin Hand Puppet Museum is, or Beigang (45 minutes by bus from the HSR station).
Where to Stay in Yunlin
Few short-term visitors to Taiwan even visit Yunlin, let alone spend a night there. If you want to stay in Yunlin’s capital, try Metro Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda) by Douliu Train Station. If you come to Yunlin for Janfusan Fancy World theme park, it has its own hotel, Janfusan Resort Hotel (see on Klook / Agoda).
If you visit Huwei, the center of hand puppetry in Taiwan, then why not stay in a hand-puppet themed hotel? I had the chance to visit Huwei Hotel (虎尾春秋文創設計旅店) (see on Booking / Agoda) for researching a magazine article I wrote about hand puppetry in Yunlin, and it was really cool!
There’s a real hand puppet stage on display in the lobby (see my photo above), hand puppet designs in the rooms, and overall it’s a creatively designed and modern guesthouse.
Top Things to Do in Yunlin
I’ve arranged the below by things to do in and around the capital city Douliu, hand-puppet center Huwei, and temple focused-Beigang.
Yunlin’s capital, Douliu (斗六 – it’s Chinese characters look so cute to me!), is a small city of 108,000.
Near the train station, Yun Zhong Cultural and Creative Area (雲中街文創聚落) is a quaint shop and café housed in a Japanese-era police dormitory. Also nearby, Taiping Old Street (太平老街) is a street of lovely heritage buildings. Around Lunar New Year, there’s usually a canopy of lanterns over the street.
South of Douliu, the township of Gukeng is practically synonymous with coffee production in Taiwan. Coffee beans were first planted on Hebao Mountain (荷苞山) there during the Japanese colonial period.
Visitors can find several cafés in the Gukeng / Hebao Mountain area, some of which are operated by the coffee plantations themselves. Many of these cafés have lovely view or natural surroundings, but you’ll likely need your own transportation to reach them.
Another popular local attraction in Gukeng area is Gukeng Green Tunnel Park (古坑綠色隧道公園). In Taiwan, a “green tunnel” is two rows of trees which form a canopy over the path. There are others at Sicao Green Tunnel in Tainan, Wuling Green Tunnel in Taitung, and more.
There’s also a Honey Museum in the same park as Gukeng Green Tunnel.
Also in Gukeng district is Janfusun Fancy World (劍湖山世界主題樂園), an amusement park that is a household name in Taiwan. While the amusement park is getting a little old, it still has some good rides, including a couple rollercoasters, 88-meter Ferris wheel, and a waterpark with waterslides.
If you plan to visit the theme park, definitely buy your tickets online first, where you can get a big discount.
Huwei was once a powerful aboriginal village. In the 1950s, it was the center of the Golden Era of Taiwanese puppet theater. At one point in the 1960s, these puppetry performances and television adaptations of them became so popular, and people were watching them so much, that the Legislative Yuan even banned them for a few years.
Today, visitors to Huwei can see puppets and puppet stages from various eras at the Yunlin Hand Puppet Museum. The museums is housed in a Japanese Victorian-style building, which for many years had been used as a police station. Besides the puppetry exhibits, you can enter the original jail cells at the back.
Unfortunately, the displays in the museum are only in Mandarin. But you can learn more in this article I wrote about Huwei and its hand puppet history, or this more general article about Taiwan hand puppetry.
Across the street from the Hand Puppet Museum, Starbucks Huwei shop is one of the coolest Starbucks in Taiwan. It is housed in an old fire station. In the second floor of the café, you can even see the original sliding pole down to the first floor (don’t get too excited – you can’t slide down it after your matcha latte).
Just down the street from Yunlin Hand Puppet Museum, there’s one more interesting building worth checking out. Yunlin Story House is a wooden Japanese-era building that once housed the Huwei County Magistrate.
There are a few old bicycle carts on display, which Japanese used to ride around to sell candies and tell stories to kids using movable illustrated papers. It was a practice called kamishibai, or “paper theater.”
At the south side of Huwei town, Huwei Old Station and Sugar Refinery is lovely decommissioned wooden train station and adjacent sugar plant. There are old locomotives, interesting displays, and a few shops with yummy iced desserts on site.
Beigang is a small township in southern Yunlin, right on the Beigang river and border with Chiayi. It is mainly known for its Beigang Chaotian Temple, one of the most important Matsu temples in Taiwan.
The temple features extravagant designs and is a classic example of Taiwanese temple architecture. It is visited by over one million pilgrims per year, especially during the Baishatun Matsu Pilgrimage (see “Events” section at the end). Besides the pilgrimage, there are often temple fairs and other traditional festivities taking place around the temple.
Beigang Old Street is lined with shops and eateries selling traditional foods. It stretches for several blocks from Beigang River to the temple.
How to Plan Your Yunlin Itinerary
I’ve never heard of any traveler doing a full tour of Yunlin county specifically. What’s more likely is that you are interested in just one or a couple spots in Yunlin. So how you tackle this county will depend on which of those spots you are interested in.
If you want to go to Janfusan Fancy World or explore the cafés in Gukeng coffee growing area, the best way to arrive is by TRA to Douliu station and travel to those spots from there. If Huwei or Beigang appeal to you, access them from Yunlin HSR station.
Go back to either station for continuing your round-island travels.
What to Eat in Yunlin
For a long time, I thought that because there’s a traditional Taiwanese ice cream chain on Cijin Island in Kaohsiung called Douliu Ice Town (斗六冰城), Douliu city in Yunlin must have good ice cream. It turns out that’s just because the shop owner in Cijin is called Douliu – I don’t think there’s any relation to Douliu city.
Still, if you want to find some delicious traditional shaved ice desserts and traditional ice cream in Douliu, this dessert shop by the train station is particularly famous.
There are two decent night markets in Douliu – Douliu Night Market (Tuesday and Saturday, also called Douliu Renwen Night Market or 斗六人文夜市) is the better known one (see photo above). The second one is Douliu Zhuangjing Night Market (斗六莊敬夜市, also called Douliu Chenggong Night Market or 斗六成功夜市, Wednesday and Saturday). Learn more about Taiwan’s best night markets here.
When I visited Huwei, I had lunch at Yunlin Memory Cool (雲林記憶Cool). They have cold sesame noodles, Japanese curry with two kinds of local rice, and shaved ice desserts. It is just across the street from Yunlin Hand Puppet Museum and is housed in another heritage building, a former land registration office.
If you visit Beigang, you can enjoy traditional noodles and stews from simple eateries around Beigang Chaotian Temple. I recommend going for Spanish mackerel stew (土魠魚羹) here – it’s a Tainan specialty and is always tasty.
Some specialties on Beigang Old Street, which leads to the temple, include duck rice, freshly made sesame oil, broad bean cookies, and mochi.
Beigang’s temple used to be on the main route, but following disagreements between the two temples, Beigang Chaotian Temple was removed from the route (now the main pilgrimage goes to Xingang Fengtian Temple nearby in Chiayi instead). As a result, Beigang Chaotian Temple started its own Matsu pilgrimage.
The Baishatun Matsu Pilgrimage starts at a temple in Miaoli, proceeds all the way to Beigang Temple in Yunlin, and back. Unlike the main Matsu Pilgrimage, which usually happens around Matsu’s birthday, this one happens sometime between January and April every year – the dates vary every year.