Saturday July 28, 2012
That farm-fresh feeling
By NG SI HOOI
For those who enjoy being close to nature, Taiwan’s family-run farms are bucolic retreats offering ‘cloud-nine’ experiences which will rejuvenate tired souls.
JUST three hours’ drive from the hustle and bustle of Taipei is a farm so serene and tranquil that you would never imagine something like it could exist so close to a vibrant city with an ultra-modern marvel like Taipei 101.
Known as Roll In Farm and located in Taichung County, the farm cum resort is just next to a forest reserve and is said to boast one of Taiwan’s most scenic countrysides. Thick clouds – it is said – would dreamily float over the farm, giving the impression that they are so close you could reach out to touch them.
We were thrilled at the thought of being able to spend time at a place so beautiful and so close to nature.
It was a bright and sunny day when we arrived all excited at the farm. Alas, such “good weather” meant no clouds!
“You have a better chance of seeing a sea of clouds from November to March, especially during the rainy season,” said farm operator Duncun Wu.
But fret not, he assured us, his farm had much more to offer than just rolling clouds.
And Wu was quite right, of course.
I checked into a room which had two glass walls facing a picturesque bamboo forest. It is certainly not something you come across every day.
Lying on the cosy bed and looking at the bamboo forest made me feel as though I was sleeping in a jungle – but without having to worry about mosquitoes.
An outdoor bathtub was available, which meant one could bathe to the sound of chirping birds, Mother Nature’s own “piped-in music”.
A word of caution, though: taking a bath outdoors at night, as adventurous as it sounds, can be a rather daunting experience for a city slicker, as the sounds of insects, frogs and what-nots can be overwhelming!
It is as though they are playing in an orchestra.
Each room at the farm offers a different view, including one that looks out upon a vast stretch of land. On a cloudy day, guests in this room would be in for a treat as the view is said to be magnificent. The farm is, after all, situated 1,100m above sea level and surrounded by a forest.
All rooms are without TV sets or Wi-Fi connection.
“The whole idea is for visitors to enjoy the scenery and be close to nature,” said Wu, who has been running the farm with his family for the past 18 years. “This is a place for you to relax, admire the natural environment and enjoy the slow pace of life.”
According to Wu, visitors could catch a glimpse of fireflies during the mid-April to mid-May season.
“It feels as though the stars have fallen from the sky. It is amazing,” Wu said, making us think that perhaps it would be a good idea to visit again during that “amazing” period.
Visitors who are adamant about “touching” the clouds can check out their website, www.rollin.com.tw, to get an idea of the best time to visit as the farm operators record the days when seas of clouds bestow their magic on the place. In 2010, they recorded 159 days such days.
Rooms are quite limited at the farm, though. There are only 19, with prices ranging between NT$3,600 and NT$7,600 (RM380-RM800). The rates include breakfast and dinner.
If you can’t get a room at Roll In Farm, you can always look at other options. Taiwan has quite a few farms that entice those who want to be close to nature. Long Yun Holiday Farm, for instance, is situated 1,500m above sea level at Alishan (Mount Ali).
Its owner, Teng Ya-yuan, 47, kept reminding us to enjoy the relaxed pace of life when we were there.
“Forget your deadlines!” he urged us. “You should take it slow to enjoy Mother Nature.”
Long Yun is also a family-owned farm, which means Teng and his family members are always on hand to give their guests a taste of Taiwanese hospitality and add that “home feel” to their establishment.
Teng took us for an early morning hike in the forest behind his farm so that we could enjoy the fresh air. The one-hour hike was a “breeze” – you don’t get tired or bored because Teng is a knowledgeable and witty guide. He pointed out herbs and plants along the way, keeping us interested.
For those who have more time and want to challenge themselves, there are hiking tracks that require a longer time to complete, and Teng or his helpers would gladly accompany them for the trek.
Meanwhile, early risers could catch a great sunrise, Teng said – weather permitting, of course.
Teng has outlined a host of activities that guests can choose from. For example, you can try your hands at making a bamboo windmill. It looks deceptively easy but is really quite a challenge.
After numerous attempts, and with guidance from Teng, I finally managed to make myself one.
At night, visitors can follow Teng as he takes a stroll down a hill slope in search or fireflies. We tried this, of course. It was a funny feeling to walk on the trails without any light illuminating the way, save from the moon.
The third place we visited was Sen Who Leisure Farm in Tainan, a farm run by a father-and-son team. Sen Who (which literally means the “Lake of God” in Mandarin) sits on top of a mountain and is shrouded in clouds on certain days. Longan trees grow abundantly along the way there.
They were bearing fruits when we visited. We wanted to jump off the bus to pluck them. The harvest season is between August and September.
Strong Wu, so named because a farmer should have abundant strength, is the younger Wu. He served us dried longans upon our arrival. It was yummylicious!
“Our farm is famous for various types of fruits. Besides longan, lychee is also much sought after here,” Wu said.
Visitors to the farm get to learn the process of turning fresh longans into dried ones.
“We use longan sticks to cure longan on the stove. During the process, we need to control the fire every two hours, so we have to ensure that there are people to oversee the process, day and night.
“We also have to stir the longan once a day to ensure that each fruit is cured evenly,” he said.
The sunset is breathtaking at Sen Who, its pretty colours reflecting off the newly-built swimming pool there. The meals we were served were mostly sourced from the farm, as it should be in any self-respecting farm. This means that the vegetables here are always fresh.
Even the coffee is harvested from the farm.
All the three farms may not have a fanciful lobby to greet visitors, and neither do they come with five-star amenities, but they are family-owned, and the people who run them are passionate about their farms.
You can rest assured that they will provide you with service that comes from the heart.