If you are looking for fresh air and a total escape from the city, CiLan Resort is a great overnight getaway in the mountains of Ilan County.
By Stuart Hill
Just a 2-hour drive from Taipei through the XueShan ShuiDao Tunnel to Ilan County, CiLan Resort (棲蘭山莊) is a no-fuss laid-back retreat set in the lower reaches of the Xue Mountain range of Ilan.
The site was once the camp for forestry workers in the region and later became one of the residences transferred to Chiang Kai Shek after he moved to Taiwan.
Similar to the forestry operations of the more famous TaiPing Mountain nearby (which also has a mountain village resort), CiLan was subject to aggressive harvesting of the highly valued Taiwan Red Cypress and Taiwan “Hinoki” Cypress trees that grow in the area.
While TaiPingShan was exploited by the Japanese government during its occupation, CiLan was opened by the KMT in its attempt to generate hard currency in the early days of its relocation to Taiwan.
Today, the steep mountain areas are protected by the government and all kinds of forestry are banned. Despite widespread harvesting of the area up to the 1970’s, the CiLan forests include Taiwan’s only remaining examples of remnant cypress species. Various hard-to-access trees now form a significant part of the regeneration efforts to regrow the ancient forests.
Tree specimens in the area have been dated back to approximately 500 BC so it is definitely a long-term investment to return the mountains to something close to what they may have looked like at the turn of the 20th Century. That said, regrowth is slow but abundant and the mountains are home to mammals, birds and various plant species that are endemic to Taiwan.
It is possible to take tours of the “Divine Trees” (神木) but as daily visitor numbers are limited to just 750 people, bookings with the local tour agency (YeZe Lin – see link below) is necessary.
The “road” to the start of the ancient cypress tree reserve is not open to the public for individual exploration. The road is narrow and in most places only allows a single car to easily pass. The track winds its way against the edge of some very steep cliffs making the views in places quite spectacular.
Tour groups depart in mini-vans and small buses from the CiLan Resort at either 7:30am and 10:30am and return in the afternoon after lunch.
Accommodation in CiLan Resort is available in a number of options, including a range of rooms in concrete apartment style housing closer to the administration center and cafe, while 2, 4, 6, and 8 person cabins are also available further down the hill among the camps various gardens.
The cost of each cabin depends on the number of people it fits, but a rough calculation is $3000 per double bed. Given the limit on accommodation in the area, bookings for CiLan Resort are essential. YeZe Lin agency can arrange to pick you up from the Sun Yet Sen Memorial Hall.
A night’s accommodation includes a basic buffet style breakfast with a mix of western and Chinese/Taiwan offerings.
Dinner options include a set meal for 2-4 people, as well as individual dishes served to suit larger groups. A 2-person set meal includes several dishes, soup, fruit and desert, with some ingredients sourced locally. Total cost NT$660 (incl 10% service charge).
For More Information:
- Taiwan Road Trips: Ilan County
- Ministry of Culture
- Bureau of Cultural Heritage
- “YeZe Lin” Cypress Forest group tours and CiLan Mountain Village accommodation (for bookings) in Chinese
- Bring a rain coat — the cypress forests enjoy around 250 days of rain each year. Even on fine days, the high humidity and cloud-like mist makes walking through the forest a moist experience
- Wear light, long pants — some species of plants can cause irritation. Although the CiLan Village may seem warm, if you visit the cypress forests in the high mountains you can expect to be colder than down in the valley floor
- Bring a bottle of wine — the facilities in the mountain village camp are basic. Yes, you can get a coffee, dinner and breakfast, but you might like to enjoy an evening drink under the stars listening to the nearby river as it rushes by
- Visit on a week day and outside school or public holidays — weekends are obviously going to have more crowds. Choose a day where everyone is at school and work and expect to enjoy a bit more tranquility.