The agricultural area of Yilan in Taiwan is not top of mind for most tourists, who are likelier to head for picturesque Sun Moon Lake or Beitou’s hot springs.
The old tribal name for the region is Kavalan, which is also the name of the whisky made there.
I did not go to the distillery, but I find plenty of unexpected treats on a day trip from Taipei during a recent visit. Thanks to the Hsuehshan Tunnel, the longest in east Asia, Yilan is only about an hour’s drive from Taipei, although the traffic can peak on weekends and public holiday eves.
The glutton in me is especially thrilled by a morning market tour (from NT$1,200 or S$53 a person, go to https://str.sg/wyzh) and the mandatory Taiwan night market experience.
Farmer Fang Li-you and self-styled Young Ah Gong (Young Grandfather, facebook.com/MusicRice) conducts tours in the sartorial get-up favoured by elderly men: cotton shirt, plastic slippers, towel slung around his neck and pant legs rolled up unevenly.
Yilan City’s Shengping Street has a long history as the city’s marketplace, dating back to the early 20th century when the colonial Japanese authorities built a sheltered market on the northern stretch. The southern end is more laissez-faire in nature as locals colonised the street to take advantage of shopping traffic.
Mr Fang grew up in Shengping Street, where his parents still run a clothing shop, and is well-acquainted with the vendors along this still bustling thoroughfare.
Even on a Tuesday morning, it is packed with locals. Shoppers come on foot as well as on scooters, so pedestrians need to be on their toes as motorbikes squeeze through gaps in the traffic.