FINALLY!! I got down to completing my last entry on our recent Taipei vacation in December last year. Had been sitting on this entry for the past few weeks… Tsk Tsk… But it’s not all that bad since I’d managed to post 3 entries previously:- Thoughts, Taipei Night Markets and Jiufen. Click on the hyperlinks if you are interested to read about them.
Other than Taipei city, we had spent a night at the Shangrila Leisure Farm in 宜蘭 (“Yi Lan”).
There is no special reason on why we had made a stop at Yilan. It is part of the package offered by SA Tours. There are other options as well but since we are limited to a 5-day vacation, the “Taipei City-Yilan” option seemed the most feasible. Though it is a “package” but the mode is still considered “free and easy”. Basically, SA Tours will arrange all the accommodation bookings, logistics and air ticket bookings.
The SA travel agent had “sold” us a wonderful picture of the farm on the various activities specially planned for their visitors. There is also a fruit orchard nearby which we can pick as many fruits as we want. The pictures of the farm featured in the brochure looked quite lovely as well…
Sounds awesome right? And we were sold on this idea. The intention is to check out interesting places beyond Taipei city… Let’s just say on hindsight, we should have remained in Taipei city..
Summer or Spring would be a better time to stay at the farm… Here are some quick thoughts about staying in Shangrila Leisure Farm during the winter season. More details on our experience would be shared in subsequent parts of this entry. Of course, these are just my perspective and may not apply to everyone, so read with discretion.
- Farm stays + winter season don’t quite gel together. We had learnt this fact from our Tasmania vacation (we were there last August, which is still within Australia’s winter season) and now, Yilan. Cos during the winter season, there are virtually no or very little crops in season. Some trees might even be botak!
- Because it is the winter season, most fruits are also not in season. Well, not in the orchard near the farm. Hence, the go-nuts-with-the-fruit-picking activity, which the travel agent had raved about, is not applicable.
- The Shangrila Leisure Farm isn’t the “Old MacDonald” type of farm where there is a moo-moo here and a quack-quack there… We don’t recall seeing any farm animals. Perhaps there is a goat sleeping in some corner but the only animals we had seen were 2 black dogs. If you are looking forward to collecting eggs, milking a cow or patting a sheep, this might not be the right farm for you.
- Most likely, it would be raining during this season. Indeed, it was raining throughout the first day we had arrived, making the weather very cold and sightseeing a total bitch. Imagine balancing an umbrella in one hand and attempting to snap photos with camera with the other hand. All these while trying to avoid getting myself and the camera wet!
Ok, enough with the grouses. For now… Let’s get on with the entry…
On Day 3 at around 7.45am, we had checked out of our hotel in Taipei city and made our way to the Taipei Main Station to catch the 8.30am train to Luodong train station. The entire journey would take around 1.5 hour. Bring a book or just take a short nap on the train but be sure to set an alarm for an hour so you wouldn’t miss your stop. The train timings are pretty precise unless there is a breakdown or delay, which I am sure there would be an announcement loud enough to rouse you from your zzz…
For those, whom like me, had considered dirty toilets as a major pet peeve, I didn’t find the toilet in the train clean by my standard… Heh, I have pretty high standards lah which if going by this “standard”, the toilets in the train had definitely failed the “smell” test..
When we had reached Luodong station, I was dismayed to be greeted by the rainy weather. The weather was perfect and wasn’t that cold in Taipei city. I had made a dumb mistake to assume that the weather in Yilan would be similar. Instead, it was rainy and a lot colder in Yilan. My long jacket over my sweater failed to keep me sufficiently warm. Brrr, I can’t wait to put on another layer of clothing as soon as we had checked in.
The farm is around 20 mins away from the train station. Throughout the ride, Gary was chatting with the driver on the interesting places and key attractions in Yilan while I was zipping in and out of dreamland. I heard the driver rattling off a couple of places such as a cold spring (gosh, who would want to soak in icy cold water in this weather?) and a night market. I believe Gary had set his sights on the night market, which we did visit before joining in the activities at the farm at night.
Arrive at Shangrila Leisure Farm
At first impression, the leisure farm looks more like a nice resort where the buildings or rather, houses, looked more like log cabins in a nature reserve. There is an overall rustic charm about this place. Not a bad place, if not for the rain and the cold.. Brrrrrrr….*shiver*
The check-in time is 2pm so we were 3 hours earlier. Why did the travel agency arranged for such an early arrival?? I guess they had thought we could spend the spare time in between arrival and check-in to explore around. We would have done that, if not for the (as I repeat again), the rain… So we are pretty much stuck in the resort.
Lunch would only be served around 11.30am. Luckily, I had downloaded some movies on my phone, which had managed to keep me occupied till we hit lunchtime. Oh, there are also no cafes or restaurants near the leisure farm. If you are starving upon reaching Luodong train station and have some time to spare, there are some eateries and shops near the “front exit” (also the main entrance of the station).
As you can see, it was rainy AND misty! We are literally exhaling mist throughout the day, even in the afternoon.
The room is simple with only the basic amenities. I am fine with that except for one BIG problem and this is the ONLY problem that spoils my stay here: There is NO heater in the room and I am freezing my butt off at night. The miserable comforter doesn’t help. Wearing my fleece jacket doesn’t help either. Even if we had shut all the windows and turned off the air-con, there would still be cold air seeping in and the room feels like a fridge… :(
Just outside the front reception, there were some containers of soap water where you can make giant soap bubbles. Sad to say, this is the only fun activity for me in this place. It’s not as easy as it seems. Very often, the bubbles will burst before they are fully formed. We had managed to create a couple of them and watch them float away or explode when they land on something.
YES! 11.30am finally came where lunch would be served. We need some food! Orders would be taken at the front reception before we proceed to the dining area on the second floor. If I can recall correctly, it is slightly less than NTD 300 per person. As mentioned earlier, there are no other eateries nearby the farm, so meals would have to be in the farm.
Lunch consists of a couple of small dishes as a starter, soup, main dish (usually a meat dish), rice and fruits. I quite like the food served. There is a certain 家乡味 (home-cooked flavour), which is extremely comforting in the cold weather.
After lunch, we had decided to take a stroll in the “leisure farm exercise trails”, across the road. Walking would have been really pleasant, if not for the rain. But since we are here, it would be a waste to just sleep in the room. Anyway, it’s just a little rain. Thankfully, not the heavy downpour type.
As you can see, we were the only ones in this place…
This would be the perfect area to relax with a beer or some cool tall drink during summer or spring season.
When we were there, it’s just wet and dreary…
See the difference between summer time where the skies are bright blue and clear, and during the misty rainy winter season.
Not much of a view as well… It’s too misty…
This signboard gives a description of the 番石榴 (guava) which we saw none cos it’s not the season. Gary was really disappointed.
The only fruits available were a couple of tiny kumquats but you won’t want to pluck them. Most of these fruits were pretty rotten looking or half-eaten by birds.
There wasn’t much to do for the rest of the afternoon so we took a nap in the freezing room. The activities planned by the farm would start at 8pm so we’d decided to check out 羅東夜市 (“Luodong Night Market”). Don’t think there are any public buses that go to this night market so the front reception had helped us arranged for a cab (think it’s around NTD 200 plus) to bring us there and fetch us back. Luodong Night Market is about 20mins car ride from the leisure farm.
At 羅東夜市 (“Luodong Night Market”)
Believe it would have been more crowded if it wasn’t raining. On a positive note, at least we won’t be seeing long queues especially for the more popular stalls…
Luodong Night Market is like any other night market in Taiwan. Lots of stalls selling food, clothes, accessories and traditional games…
The cab driver who had brought us to the night market had highly recommend this mutton soup stall “阿杜伯”. This is probably the only stall with the longest queue that evening. According to the cab driver, the queue was even longer the night before, when it wasn’t raining.
I know why the cab driver loves the mutton soup from this stall so much. Seriously and I am not exaggerating, this is the BEST mutton soup I had ever eaten. The thinly sliced meat is tender without that gamey smell, which makes me avoid mutton. And the soup, oh my goodness, has an extremely full-bodied flavour with a slight hint of Chinese medicinal herbs. Perfect for this weather. Having to squeeze with other folks at the same table, feeling cramped and flustered, isn’t a pleasant eating experience but it is worth it for this wonderful soup. Heh, I am kind of drooling just thinking about this soup now…
We were also told that spring onions from Yilan are sweeter and nicer cos of the water or something like that. Therefore, 葱饼 (spring onion pastries) are a must-try at the night market.
The pastry is nicely deep-fried and has a gorgeous golden colour. But, I am not a fan of onions including spring onions. Even if the spring onions from Yilan are really nicer, I couldn’t appreciate them. The filling contains more spring onions than meat. Obviously, it’s not called 葱饼 for nothing right? Duh… Anyway, I couldn’t go beyond 3 bites before I passed out from the overpowering smell and taste of spring onions.
The 葱抓饼 (spring onion flat pastry) isn’t that bad. Reminds me of roti prata…
The same stall also sells deep-fried pork cubes. Pasted on the glass display were several pictures of Taiwanese variety show hosts and celebrities patronising their stall. There was also a TV monitor, playing on repeat mode, famous host 无宗宪 gushing over their spring onion pastry and deep-fried pork cubes.
Frankly speaking, I wasn’t too impressed with the deep-fried pork cubes. Think they had over-fried the pork that day. The meat is a little dry and the batter is not crispy enough..
I have no idea why people would go for the 起司马铃薯 (cheese potato). I’d find this one of the biggest waste of calories but Gary had still wanted to try it. Why oh why??
哇靠! Look at that pot of melted cheese!!
Presenting a whole piece of deep-fried potato, drenched in thick melted cheese, plus a dollop of sour cream and laden with sweet corn, bits of hard-boiled egg, ham slices and spring onions. There are other junk food which I am willing to waste calories on. This is definitely not one of them. I am glad Gary didn’t went nuts and finished the whole damn thing.
Another speciality are these egg rolls…
Unlike the egg rolls (a.k.a “love letters”) which are a common snack during the Chinese New Year, these egg rolls are longer and thicker. Other than the original flavour, they’d also come in different flavours including (no prize for guessing since this stall is in Yilan) spring onion, black sesame and cheese. We had bought 2 packs of around 8 pieces of egg rolls in each pack, and they were all consumed by Gary.. Haha… I am not too fond of egg rolls in general. Find them too sweet…
Other than the mutton soup, my other favourite snack is the 糕渣. I have no idea what it is called in English. Neither am I able to find the recipe online. I was told that it’s coagulated chicken fat (from boiling a whole chicken for several hours) mixed with flour and deep-fried. The “raw” form which is in the form of a pale yellow gelatine-like block may look very plain but after it is sliced into chunks and deep-fried, trust me, it’s so délicieux!
The 龙凤腿, which looks like a Taiwanese sausage but consists of minced chicken and shrimps, is pretty good as well.
Night Activities at the Farm…
We had arrived back at the farm slightly before 8pm, just in time for the activities. We were not the only ones. Think there were 3 large groups of tourists from Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The farm seemed so quiet in the afternoon. Guess these folks had arrived just as we were taking our nap. With that many tourists, you can imagine the noise!
Unfortunately, it’s still drizzling…
Before the activities began, fire crackers were lit up. Guess this is also a gesture to welcome the New Year since it’s a couple of days away from 2012. Don’t think I had actually seen a real-live fire cracker display. It was ear-deafening loud! Some of the fire cracker pellets had hit my legs. Thankfully, they were not hot but the impact was pretty hard. Just so you know, fire crackers were banned in Singapore in the 70s cos they were deemed a fire hazard after several people were killed and injured from a fire caused by these fire crackers.
To further enhance the welcoming of the New Year, the 财神 (“God of Wealth”), obviously it is one of the farm staff in some costume, sauntered in to the loud Lunar New Year-type music. The host (also another farm staff) had excitedly encouraged everyone to touch the 财神 for luck and to take photos with him. No offence but I’d find the 财神 costume quite creepy. Think it’s the eye brows… Hey, the 财神 is wearing boots ah! Haha…
The other activity was making 汤圆 (“tang yuan”) cos tang yuan signifies 圆圆满满. An auspicious sign of prosperity and abundance. There is a plate of dough on each table so everyone is supposed to pull off a piece of dough from the main dough and roll it into a little ball. Though the host had requested for everyone to wash their hands before touching the dough, I bet on my money that there were be some dodos who didn’t heed that request.
The tang yuans would be cooked in 2 huge pots of hot ginger (I think) broth… Once they were cooked, everyone would rush to grab a bowl. Eh, it’s just plain rolled-up dough leh… No need to rush like this is a food ration camp… No order in place… Tsk Tsk…
Call me anal but for the sake of hygiene, I refused to eat any of the tang yuans. Seriously, who knows how many dirty grime/drool/booger/go-toilet-never-wash-hands/ any-kind-of-dirt-you-can-possibly-imagine hands squashing and rolling those dough? No thanks, I don’t want to risk the rest of our vacation 上吐下泻…
Gary must have an iron-clad stomach immune to all these grime cos he had happily slurped up a bowl of tang yuan…
There was also a top-spinning competition but I didn’t really pay attention to that. Hehe…
The last activity was the “Wishing-Lantern Making” (a.k.a “天灯” or “孔明灯”). Invented by brilliant strategist, Zhuge Liang (诸葛亮 a.k.a 孔明), this lantern was originally used as a means of communication between troops in ancient China. Today, it is a way of “wish-making” where wishes would be written on the body of the lantern. After that, the lantern would be lighted up and released into the sky.
I had also written a wish: “减肥成功”. It bloody better come true!
The weather was much more pleasant the next day. The rain had stopped and it wasn’t as cold as the day before.
We loitered around and had lunch before heading for the train station. Can’t wait to get back to Taipei where the weather isn’t that cold and also, a lot more exciting.
While waiting for our train, we had this lovely dessert called “包心分” from a small shop in the station. Love the chewy texture. I am not sure what are the actual ingredients but I think within each of these “dumplings” are red beans.
The shop lady had candidly relate the history of the shop to us. The original branch was started by a couple (she said the woman’s a Singaporean too) who later divorced and each of them had started their own 包心分 branch. The difference is the colour theme of their branding- Purple for the guy (Erm, isn’t purple the royal colour of gay?) and Pink for the lady.
We have one more day at Taipei and it’s adios, for now.
There are other interesting places in Taiwan which we would consider visiting someday.
Overall, we had a wonderful time despite a short-4-day at Taipei. Yilan is really a sore point but we had tried to make the best out of it. In future, no farm stays during the winter season!