THE minute you step into Ta Shee Blooming Oasis, a sprawling flower farm in Taoyuan, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped onto the set of a film.
There, waltz through a lush green meadow dotted with flowers in shades of pink and red, and feel the breeze gently blowing through your hair as you tilt your face towards the rays of sunshine.
You can almost hear music playing, too, in this dreamy setting. The soundtrack that was in my head during a recent trip to the Oasis was the melancholic ballad Sea Of Flowers, by Taiwan’s pop prince Jay Chou.
No surprise, really, for if you Google the music video for the song, you’ll notice that the prairie where the couple frolic about looks the same. In fact, Ta Shee Blooming Oasis (No. 27, Lane 1093, Section 1, Fu-xing Road) in Daxi, Taoyuan County, is where the video was shot.
With flowers of all colours in bloom all year round, it’s no wonder that the farm has been featured in over 20 idol dramas as well. Familiar names include Corner With Love, starring Barbie Hsu and Show Luo; and Autumn’s Concerto, starring Van Ness Wu and Ady An.
What’s great about this flower paradise is its relatively convenient location, easily accessible by the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle’s Cihu Route that one can board from Zhongli. Many travellers choose to make a snappy detour to the farm – located in the same county as the Taoyuan International Airport – before heading home.
Mr John Lu, 47, who runs Ta Shee Blooming Oasis, said: “Tourists left with half a day before flying off in the afternoon are often vexed over their wasted morning – the department stores usually open only at 10am or 11am, so they have nowhere to go.”
Many tourists caught in this predicament, he added, “opt to take a quick half-day trip to our garden before their afternoon flight home”.
The farm – which also offers pony rides – opens at 8.30am on weekdays and 8am on weekends. Mr Lu added that you are free to leave your luggage with staff while you explore.
Get round the 31 attractions spanning the 18ha grounds by taking a leisurely stroll, or you can choose to ride a tractor around (this is only available on weekends).
Here, romance is key, so flower patches have been given whimsical names – “Lavender Dream” is filled with lovely purple lavender blooms while “Rainbow Field”, as its name suggests, is lined with rows of brightly coloured flowers that change according to the four seasons.
Drawn by the scenery, couples often flock here for wedding photo shoots. The Oasis hosts an average of five couples and their photographers per day.
All that photo-taking can make one peckish. For afternoon tea, order a lavender-flavoured latte or ice cream at Van Gogh’s Cafe.
Alternatively, try dishes at Van Gogh’s Home Restaurant, a popular spot where idol dramas have been filmed. Staff told me that actor Blue Lan made an appearance at this very restaurant to shoot a scene for his new drama, I Love You So Much.
At the cafe, this reporter was treated to a delightful roasted chicken leg drizzled with a savoury mushroom and garlic sauce, boasting a hint of thyme and rosemary plucked from the gardens nearby.
Fans looking to retrace the steps of their favourite celebrities in Taoyuan will be pleased to know that there’s more to see along the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle Cihu Route, at the Shimen Reservoir stop.
Sure, a reservoir might not sound all that exciting, but fans of the hit idol drama You’re My Destiny are in for a treat. If you’ve been wondering whether “Jiangmu Island” – depicted in the show as the home town of “post-it girl” Chen Xin Yi – is for real, the answer is yes.
Most of the filming was actually done on Pillow Mountain, across from the reservoir’s right bank, which is called Amuping.
But the fictitious name from the drama has stuck, with the island even boasting signage proudly displaying the name “Jiangmu Island”, which can be translated loosely as “Ginger Island”.
To get to the island, hop on a boat at Amuping Wharf (No. 1, Huanhu Road).
One of the boatmen operating there, Mr Zhang Wen Cheng, 46, has seen how the idol-drama effect revived business at the once sleepy Amuping.
He said: “Many fans from Japan and Korea came in search of the island, and were surprised to find that Jiangmu Island is found on the reservoir. When the drama was hot in 2008, the number of tourists who came to take the cruise rides doubled, especially on weekends.”
And, I guess, this particular fan has also helped bolster Taiwan’s tourism economy.
GETTING to these filming hot spots is easy with the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle, both of which are along the Cihu Route.
Board the shuttle bus at the Taoyuan Bus Company’s Zhongli Terminal, which is within walking distance from the Zhongli Railway Station.
For details, check out the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle website at www.taiwantrip.com.tw, or call 0800-011-765 when you are in Taiwan.
To get to Zhongli from Taoyuan International Airport, take a coach or cab.
Take along your air ticket and hotel-confirmation details to the Taiwan Visitors Association Singapore (30 Raffles Place, #10-01 Chevron House) before departing for Taiwan to redeem Taiwan 7-Eleven discount coupons for a free coffee, Slurpee, one-day Wi-Fi card, and more (while stocks last).
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我对于探索克罗地亚（Croatia）、罗马尼亚（Romania）、斯洛伐克（Slovakia）等东欧各国有着无比兴趣，尤其是克罗地亚，因为看了韩 国实境节目《花漾姐姐》，勾起了我对克罗地亚的好奇。首都萨格勒布克罗地亚的首都萨格勒布（ Z a g r e b ） 没有开通往来新加坡的直飞航线。我们选择从芬兰中转到达克罗地亚南部城市杜布罗夫尼克（Dubrovnik），再转搭内陆飞机前往首都。
萨格勒布的主要景点和购物餐饮区都围绕在位于市中心、建于18世纪的耶拉西奇广场（Ban Jelacic Square）。广场后方有一个自1926年起就让城外的农夫贩售农产品的市集——多拉克菜市场（Dolacmarket）。到现在这个市集是每天营业， 从新鲜的蔬果、花卉到日常用品，一应俱全。要了解一个城市的生活水平，来逛一趟市集就能窥探一二。
离开市集往下走，不一会儿功夫就到达圣母升天大教堂（The Cathedral ofZagreb）。这个双塔结构的罗马天主教堂建造于1217年，哥德式的建筑风格让人印象深刻。大家可以免费进入教堂参观。
另一座抢眼的教堂非圣马可教堂（St. Mark's Church）莫属。圣马可教堂建造于13世纪，它七彩缤纷的马赛克屋顶让我们谋杀了不少记忆体。它的红白蓝间隔造型也被运用在国旗上。
圣马可教堂附近有一家很特别的心碎博物馆（Museumof Broken Relationships）。小小的博物馆内展示从世界各地收罗而来的分手“证据”，从信件到物品，让伤心的人以创意的方式抚平受伤的心灵。博物馆的入 门票价为25库纳（约5新元），但如果你购买博物馆里贩售的商品如T恤或纪念品，就可以免费参观。
斯普利特机场也有航班往来欧洲各主要城市，每年吸引大批有钱的欧洲客来这里享受亚得里亚海的阳光。我们也利用交通上的多样性续程前往斯普利特的外岛、以出 产薰衣草而闻名的赫瓦尔岛 （HvarIsland），以及德国的慕尼黑（Munich）。
斯普利特市中心有个古罗马遗迹戴克里先宫（Diocletian's Palace），它坐落于海港旁，也是世界文化遗产之一。这座宫殿完好保存着古罗马帝国统治者和人民在亚得里亚海岸生活过的印迹，现在也成为著名的旅游景 点。
经过1991年的战争而独立，克罗地亚以更坚决的心要赢回在战乱中失去的时光与财富，来提升国家和人民的生活水平。开放旅游业就是最好的方式，韩版的《花 漾姐姐 》就吸引了很多韩国旅客来此。
WHILE it may not be home to the Forbidden City or the Oriental Pearl Tower, China’s south-west province of Yunnan is where one can get a glimpse of one of the most unique and culturally rich sides of the country.
The location of Yunnan, which means “the place of the colourful clouds in the south” in Chinese, contributes to its rich culture and exquisite scenery. Bordering Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, the province has served as China’s main bridge to South-east Asia and home to a large number of ethnic minorities in China.
Among many counties in Yunnan, Yuanmou is best known for tulin, which literally means “earth forest” composed of earth columns or pillars that rise up like a giant forest. The unique and mysterious landscape, formed by soil erosion one to two million years ago, somewhat resembles that of Turkey’s Cappadocia.
From a distance, the “forest” looks like a giant, abandoned castle, covered with countless years of dust. As reflected in its natural landscape, the county indeed boasts a long history. It is where the fossilised remains of the “Yuanmou Man”, a member of the Homo genus which lived 1.7 million years ago, was found in 1965.
Yuanmou’s tulin certainly offers one of the most unforgettable experiences while staying in Yunnan, even if it means having to walk under the scorching summer sun. In June, the temperature in Yuanmou can be as high as over 40 deg C.
But even without tulin, Yuanmou boasts beautiful rural scenery with red soil, dramatic clouds and endless agricultural farms and fields. The county is particularly known for its sun-dried cherry tomatoes, which taste almost like sweeter versions of raisins.
On the cultural side of Yunnan, Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture is recommended. Located in the north-central part of Yunnan province, the prefecture is the residential area of the Yi people – the largest ethnic minority group in the region.
They are known for their practice of a form of animism with elements of Buddhism and Taoism, as well as powerful traditional practices such as rituals for cursing enemies, exorcism and healing.
Visitors are welcomed by the Yis in their colourful, exquisite costumes, who often dance and sing their traditional tunes in public.
On top of cultural performances by the Yis, visitors should not miss out on dining out in Chuxiong. Most restaurants run by the Yi people treat their guests with wine according to their traditional eating customs.
The Yis usually pour the wine in a big bowl first, while everyone is seated in a circle. The oldest of the group will take the first sip, and pass the bowl to the next person after wiping its edge. They repeat the process until the bowl becomes empty.
While dining out, visitors can also experience the Yis’ tradition named “tiaocai”. After all the dishes are ready, performers visit each and every table in a restaurant and sing loudly for guests, using drums and other traditional instruments while jumping and dancing. In some restaurants, the Yis reportedly do the “tiaocai” while carrying food plates on the head.
“We encourage the Yi people to carry on and celebrate their traditions,” said an officer from the Information Office of Yunnan Authority. “We appreciate their existence in Yunnan.”
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
TO BE honest, when I was told I was going to Kyrgyzstan for a work trip in late July, I drew a blank – I had never heard of the country before.
But having spent a week there, I can say with some confidence that it is worth visiting for its people, mountainous scenery, diverse cultures and rich history. The landlocked country is situated in the middle of Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan (to the north), Uzbekistan (west), Tajikistan (south-west) and China (east).
Its stunning natural beauty – more than 80 per cent of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous, and the snow-covered Tian Shan mountains will brighten up even the greyest cityscapes – has earned it the nickname “the Switzerland of Central Asia”.
Kyrgyzstan offers travellers some of the best trekking, biking, mountaineering and horse-riding experiences in the world.
Kyrgyzstan, also known as the Kyrgyz Republic, has a continental climate and covers an area of slightly under 200,000 sq km.
Its population of about six million people are mostly Kyrgyz and Muslim. And they converse mainly in Kyrgyz and Russian (due to its Soviet Union legacy).
The capital, Bishkek, has a population of about one million and the country is further divided into six administrative sections known as oblasties.
INTO THE UNKNOWN
In Kyrgyzstan, a journey from one place to another takes longer due to its hilly terrain and lack of highways. However, Bishkek is a modern city with wide streets and all the usual urban amenities.
Things appear quite slow-paced but Kyrgyzstan is by no means an underdeveloped country. On the roads, you can see European and Japanese cars – and, would you believe it, Proton Wiras. The police force uses Malaysia’s Proton, among other makes, as their patrol cars.
Zebra crossings abound not just in the city but throughout the country. The best thing is that drivers are courteous and will stop to allow pedestrians to cross.
Some popular landmarks in the city are the Victory Monument and Ala-Too Square. The Victory Monument was built to commemorate the victory during World War II as well as the country’s fallen soldiers. What is striking are the three curved arcs – representing a traditional round and portable Kyrgyz tent – with the figure of a woman awaiting the return of her husband and sons from the war, near an ever-burning flame; very poignant. Many a wedding party would make a stop there to pay their respects.
Ala-Too Square is where the locals hang out and conduct many activities and festivals. Different bicycles are available for rent too, from morning till late at night.
There are no seas to head towards to. The next best thing is Issyk-Kul Lake, which is the 10th largest lake and the second biggest saline lake in the world. The body of water, with a 182km span, is situated at the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan. The name Issyk-Kul means “hot lake”, but do not be fooled because the water can be icy cold even in the summer.
The locals believe that the lake’s water has healing properties and, during summer, it is a major tourist spot. Ferry services are available to bring visitors to the middle of the lake for a swim. Indeed, the water isvery clear, clean and inviting.
Another popular destination the Kyrgyz and Russian tourists throng is the Keremet Suu hot spring in Chong-Oruktu village near Issyk-Kul.
Other locales to consider visiting include the Burana Tower in Tokmok. A historical tower, it was built in the 10th century on the site of the former Karakhanid city of Balasagyn.
During my stay, I also realised other reasons why Kyrgyzstan finds favour with some tourists.
I bumped into a couple of 23-year-old students from New Zealand who said they chose to holiday in Kyrgyzstan because it is not a usual vacation spot. Also, it is not very commercialised, and food and accommodation are cheap.
“I hardly see Western or European tourists here. The Kyrgyz are so friendly, warm and beautiful. It’s a very peaceful and stunning country,” said one of them.
Food in Kyrgyzstan is quite an incredible experience. Finding halal food is not a problem too.
The country’s staple is bread, which is usually eaten with vegetables, dairy products and red meats. And to the locals, drinking tea – green or black – is like drinking water.
Vegetables served seem to be a combination of onions, tomatoes and capsicums sprinkled with olive oil. Forget chicken; instead, think beef, mutton, buffalo or even horse meat.
The locals’ nomadic heritage appears to figure into the type of ingredients used for their cooking, as well as how food is prepared.
Do try the kimiz (horse milk), kuurdak (sauteed meat) and traditional noodles known as beshbarmak, which is similar to spaghetti and contains a mixture of meats. Beshbarmak means “five fingers”, because that is how the dish is eaten – with your fingers. Also, try the wheat drink called jarma.
OF TENTS AND TOILETS
The country’s nomadic tradition, which has been passed down from generation to generation, is still very evident.
While the majority of Kyrgyz live in houses and apartments, some natives live in portable round tents, called bozui, accompanied by herds of horses, goats and sheep.
Bozui are usually found in rural areas and used by the shepherds. Being portable, they are designed to be easily dismantled and carried about.
Assembling one takes around two hours, and is done by both men and women; usually the men are in charge of the wooden structures while the women handle decorations and roofing.
Many bozui are also set up along the highway or in the city as makeshift restaurants to offer visitors a unique dining experience in a traditional house.
Then there are bozui camps like those in Tash Rabat, the House of Stones at Bashy and in Jeti-Oguz (Seven Bulls) Valley near the city of Karakol on Issyk-Kul Lake.
Be prepared, however, for their toilets; in some places, they can be very simple.
BEFORE YOU GO
Getting to Kyrgyzstan from Singapore takes about 12 1/2 hours or more by air and may include transit stops. Do make sure to change your currency to United States dollars.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
This trip was sponsored by the government of the Kyrgyz Republic.