Exploring Taiwan's Rural Side
Homestays and Leisure Farms Offer Tranquil Getaways and Plenty of Hospitality
Only a few decades ago, Taiwan's economy was mainly agriculture-based. Although Taiwan has now transformed itself into a manufacturing powerhouse, agriculture still plays an important part in the economy, and in the scenery that exists outside the island's bustling cities.
Experiencing Country Life
Tourist farms are those that provide fruit, vegetable, or flower-picking activities, such as the strawberry farms of Miaoli County's Dahu Township and the sunflower nurseries of Nantou County's Jiji Township .
Recreational farms, similar to tourist farms, allow visitors to carry out DIY harvesting in orchards and fields, but also offer facilities for such other activities as picnicking, hiking, bird-watching, and swimming. They often have animals such as sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, and turkeys as well. According to Council of Agriculture statistics, more than 2,000 hectares of land have been officially converted into tourist farms and more than 180 recreational farms have been established.
One of Taiwan's most famous recreational farms is Cingjing Farm in Nantou County [25 Dingyuan Lane, Datong Village, Ren-ai Township, Nantou County; tel: (049) 280-2748, 280-2749; http://chingjing.tw.trip.net]. It is hectare upon hectare of rolling meadow dotted with sheep, cows, tea bushes, and fruit orchards. This farm is located at an elevation of 1,700 meters and is framed by towering mountain peaks. One of the favorite activities here is to enjoy the scenery by taking one of the six walking trails, each to a different destination within the farm. Those looking for more adventure may want to try grass-skiing.
Also in central Taiwan is the Flying Cow Ranch [166 Nanhe Li, Tongsiao Town, Miaoli County; tel: (037) 782-999; www.flyingcowranch.com.tw]. This is a dairy with a history of more than three decades. Its name comes from the plethora of dairy cows. In addition to viewing cows, there are also rabbits and goats for children of all ages to dote on. The entrance area features a restaurant and the ranch's dairy products, such as milk and ice cream, as well as a giftshop selling cow-themed items.
Down south is another well-known recreational farm, the Tsoumalai Farm [61 Ciliwa, Ersi Village, Danei Township, Tainan County; tel: (06) 576-0121~3 or (06) 576-0280~4; www.farm.com.tw]. It is situated near the start of the spectacular Southern Cross-Island Highway . This farm includes orchards and a ranch. In addition to picking fruits and vegetables, there is a wide range of activities such as grass-skiing, horseback riding, archery, and miniature golf. Traditional farm implements are available to allow you to work the land like Taiwan's earliest farmers, to give you an appreciation of their hard effort. Or, if looking for food already prepared, head to the farm's restaurant.
In Taiwan's northeast is the popular Toucheng Leisure Farm [125 Gengsin Road, Toucheng Town, Yilan County; tel: (03) 977-2222; www.tcfarm.com.tw], sporting vegetable patches, fruit trees, creeks, a bamboo grove, and pigs, sheep, chickens, and geese.
This farm was opened by a former schoolteacher as a way to enjoy retired life and to allow families the opportunity to come in contact with nature and farming. Activities include barbecues, guided nature walks, T-shirt printing, and bamboo-art classes. At night, launch a paper lantern into the sky or enjoy some of the wines made from the farm's fruit. The owner may even share a glass with you.
This is only a small sampling of the farm, ranch, and dairy fun that awaits you in Taiwan's rural areas. For more information on these and other recreational farms visit the Tourism Bureau's website at http://taiwan.net.tw and click on "Travel Suggestions", "Hot Spots." A map will appear. Click on the area you plan to visit and then on the farms category in the attractions menu.
Feeling Right at Home in a Homestay
It is often possible to combine an agritourism experience with a homestay experience. For example, Lu Ding Manor [10-18 Dongding Lane, Jhangya Village, Lugu Township, Nantou County; tel: (049) 275-0100~3; www.ludin.com.tw] is situated on top of Lugu's Dongding Mountain , famous for its Oolong tea. Endless rows of tea plants wrap around the hillsides, which are often cloaked in low-lying mist in the afternoon. Lu Ding Manor was opened by Liou Chong-li and his wife with earnings from a successful industrial-ceramics business. Liou uses his experience to teach visitors how to make ceramic art. An outdoor patio looks out on the mountain scenery and is a perfect spot to enjoy a pot of the local tea. In addition to single and double rooms, there are two very unique four- and six-person suites, with surrounding large-picture windows to take advantage of the spectacular views and a live tree growing through the center.
A homestay can also offer the chance to understand the local culture. Chashan , a village in the southernmost section of the Alishan National Scenic Area , boasts a harmonious mix of indigenous Tsou and Bunun culture and Han Chinese culture, as well as about a dozen homestay options. Former Chashan village chief Li Yu-yan , a member of the Bunun tribe, has created a mini-paradise called the Old Village Chief's Guesthouse ; [60, Lin 3, Chashan Village, Alishan Township, Chiayi County; tel: (05) 251-3122 or (0937) 356-402]. The rooms are neat but come with only the basics, a bed, dressing table, and chair. The bathroom is located to one side of the complex and is shared. Behind the rooms is a mini-zoo with monkeys, rabbits, chickens, and ducks, as well as a vegetable garden. For breakfast there are always fresh eggs and vegetables.
Nearby is the Jhih Zai Cih Shan Jhong Guesthouse ("Only on This Mountain"); [82, Lin 4, Chashan Village, Alishan Township, Chiayi County; tel. (05) 251-3352 or (0921) 684-258], run by Luo Shao-cin , a Hakka woman, and her Tsou husband Foryou. There are only two rooms available here and they are usually filled on weekends. This home features a coffeeshop and a giftshop selling Luo's handicrafts, as well as the handicrafts of other local artists. Foryou's brother, Pasuya, is a kayaking enthusiast and is available to take people on kayaking adventures.
Pingtung County's Wutai Township is home to the Rukai tribe and a number of unique homestays with indigenous families. The best-known is Dream House ; [38, Lin 5, Wutai Village, Wutai Township, Pingtung County; tel. (08) 790-2312; www.dream-house.idv.tw]. It is very eye-catching due to its striking dome-like doorway. Owner Du De-jhih , also known as Gilagilaau, is very enthusiastic about sharing Rukai traditions and culture with visitors. In the rear of his home is a coffeeshop with windows that look out onto the mountain scenery.
Rueisuei Township in Hualien County is also home to numerous indigenous peoples, primarily members of the Amis tribe . However, it is perhaps just as famous for its white-water rafting and hot springs. There are a number of resorts in the area, but the hot-spring waters can also be enjoyed in the many homestays, such as at Shansia Bulao Hot Springs Guesthouse ; [137 Wencyuan Road, Sec. 3, Rueisuei Village, Rueisuei Township, Hualien County; tel. (03) 887-1620 or (0919) 289-920)], at a much lower cost. This homestay is run by Huang Jhao-jhang and his wife, both retired schoolteachers. A large yard has several pools which are filled with hot-spring water during the winter season. Or, soak in the waters in the privacy of your room. Bicycles are available for overnight guests to explore the very sleepy central Rueisuei. If the Huangs don't have a room available, there is a handful of other homestay options on the same stretch of road.
It is interesting to note that about a decade ago or so, the concept of the homestay was very new to Taiwan. However, it has caught on fast. As of June 2006 there were 1,426 registered homestays offering a total of 5,733 rooms. Thus, the above is just a small sampling of all that is available. Many homestays do not advertise, depending solely on word-of-mouth, so ask around for recommendations. In addition, the Tourism Bureau has published a guidebook listing 115 of the best homestays in Taiwan, entitled "Taiwan Homestay Accommodation for International Youth Travelers." This is available at overseas offices of the Tourism Bureau and at international and domestic airports in Taiwan, as well as at visitor information centers. This information can also be found online at http://info.taiwan.net.tw/homestay/english/index.html.