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Taiwan

Part 2: Daxi’s garden of paradise

In this second instalment of a 26-part series, GWENDOLYN NG checks out Daxi’s filming locations for TV dramas

Gwendolyn Ng

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 THERE

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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‡‡ACHIMGARI

This valley at Mount Bangtaesan in Inje, Gangwon province, is famous for its trekking course.

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Those looking to escape the summer heat and humidity can find themselves a natural air-conditioner at Eoreumgol.

Located at Mount Cheonwangsan near Miryang, Gyeongsang province, Eoreumgol means “ice valley”, a reference to its freezing temperatures even during summer.

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‡‡
MOUNT GWANAKSAN NADEUL ROAD

There are also mountains and valleys that people can visit in Seoul.

Mount Gwanaksan, which stretches across Seoul and parts of Gyeonggi province, has numerous hiking trails.

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FORGET the ornithopter, and don’t even bother following Icarus’ failed flight plan.

The real way to fly, really fly, is to strap on a paraglider and shoot straight for the skies. Granted, it’s not for the faint-hearted, but sitting in a plane or even a helicopter doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

There are no engines and pollution. Paragliding is a non-motorised form of flight that uses a parachute and air flow to get around, so all that’s involved are man (or woman), fabric, the elements and sheer grit.

It’s a high-stakes form of fun, but so is any adventure sport. By taking the right precautions, flying through the air can be as safe as watering plants.

Husband-and-wife team Ikhwan Azillah and Orkid Jamilah know a thing or two about the thrills and spills of the sport, having indulged in it for the last 15 years.

The couple, who established the Malaysia Paragliding and Hang Gliding Association, got into the adventure sport when Ms Orkid got interested in it while she was in Britain, and introduced her husband to the sport later. When they realised the money-making potential of their hobby, the pair went to New Zealand to earn their international paragliding certification.

So, what stirs someone enough to make them want to take to the skies?

“A lot of people have bucket lists and paragliding tends to be one of the things on the list. Other adventure sports are common, too, like whitewater rafting and bungee jumping,” explained Ms Orkid during a recent interview.

And where this sense of adventure is concerned, women rule. According to Ms Orkid, women make up most of their local clientele. “I don’t know where the men have gone,” admitted Mr Ikhwan sheepishly.

Thrill seekers also include expatriates and tourists from countries near and far, including France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam.

Ms Orkid and Mr Ikhwan have based their service in the historic town of Jugra, off Banting in Selangor. The location, aptly named Paragliding Flightpark, is where paragliding enthusiasts take flight.

The most popular form of paragliding is tandem flight, where thrill seekers merely enjoy the ride while a “pilot” steers the glider. For this kind of ride, no prior knowledge of the sport is required, though a basic understanding of physics is beneficial for working with the pilot to steer the glider comfortably.

Weight is also a consideration – for safety reasons, a tandem flier cannot weigh more than 135kg.

The average flight lasts 10 minutes, costing RM200 (S$72). Students pay RM150.

Those with a greater sense of adventure may opt to fly solo. The fundamental introductory course is a two-day affair. Depending on the level of interest, the training spans four tiers, the lowest for those hoping to fly on their own while the highest for those intending to become licensed instructors.

The introductory course teaches would-be fliers the basics of flying, including packing the chute. It may sound like mundane work, but a wrongly packed chute might not deploy, and that can only spell disaster.

Packing the chute, made of tightly woven nylon fabric, also gives fliers a chance to inspect its condition – safety is imperative.

“The gear we use comes with a five-year guarantee. Small repairs are outsourced to former commandos who were (parachute) riggers,” Mr Ikhwan said.

No purchase of equipment is required for novice fliers, but serious paragliders can look into getting their own gear.

Sure, paragliding isn’t for everyone. And collecting stamps is way safer.

But think of all the times we’ve envied birds and longed to fly freely like them. Well, paragliding takes a similar trajectory – and wax-coated feathers no longer have to be an option.

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