You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. Since I was 18 I’ve been living in big cities, from Cardiff and Beijing to Taipei and Kyoto. To be honest, cities have always freaked me out. You can walk across my hometown in 10 minutes, yet here in Taipei, it takes me just as long to walk to the subway every morning, madness! I’ll always be a country boy, and this upcoming holiday, I was looking forward to getting back to my bumpkin ways. So for our first trip of 2021, Jess and I would be spending the weekend on a farm in Hualien.
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Birth of an Idea
With New Years coming up we had yet another opportunity to travel. Jess and I had covered quite a bit of ground in Taiwan recently, and there wasn’t much we could do in just a weekend. So I asked Jess “what do Taiwanese people usually do?”
“How about going to farm?” she said.
“…hahahaha…oh you’re serious?”
I grew up with fields full of cows in view from my bedroom window. My hometown is encircled with miles upon miles of farmland filled with many thousands of beautiful sheep (especially for a Welsh boy) with only a scattering of villages in-between. A farm was nothing special to me.
That being said, as if she knew me too well, I couldn’t have thought of anything better!! The opportunity to get up-close and personal with some farm animals, yes, please!!
Picking the Right Farm
I had no idea there was such an industry around giving city-folk a taste of country life. This isn’t even specific to Taiwan! Around the world, large farms and country houses open their doors to city-slickers to give them a sense of how the others live.
There are quite a few around the country, but we finally settled on a farm just outside of Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast, Shin Kong Chap Feng Ranch. You could even stay the night there, but we couldn’t get a room inside (it was too expensive anyway). Nevermind, we still managed to find a cute little country house nearby.
A Look Into My Future
I already have my hopeful plans for retirement; to settle down in a farm full of animals. The place we’d chosen for the weekend was a little slice of what I always hoped for.
Our little getaway was hidden down a quiet country road far away from civilization amongst orchards filled with oranges. A man-made stream ran through the garden to a pond filled with clacking ducks, geese and a plethora of chickens. The owners were well aware of the importance of an instagramable spot with a bunch of swing chairs and fairy lights placed precariously at the prettiest spots. Ultimate paradise!
Besides the owners’ house was a set of attached holiday homes, one of which would be ours for the night. The top of which had a little balcony, perfect to absorb the beauty of the area in much-welcomed silence and bask in nature once more.
Another Day, Another Night Market
Though being so far from the outside world was a relief, it also a bit of a problem as we didn’t have anything to do that night. We headed back on the train towards Hualien to find something to do. Tour guide Jess picked out some worthy spots along the way, passing by local craft markets and the city’s most iconic snack sites. The most iconic of which was left until last.
Just like temples, I’ve lost count of how many night markets I’ve been to. But that doesn’t keep me from seeing another one! Each one is unique in their own way, such as this one was the most well-organized and one of the biggest I’d ever been to. The enormous paved avenues were lined with the typical stalls and snacks like we’d seen everywhere before; seafood, fresh juices, bubble tea, meat on meat on meat and plenty of rigged games to part with your cash.
Welcome to the Farm
It’s the morning, and that can only mean one thing; it’s animal time! We headed down the long country road to the grandiose entrance to the farm, by far the fanciest my backwards country ass had ever seen. I’d never really seen anything like it before. It was part farm, part zoo, part hotel, part hot spring. Just an all-round relaxing animal experience.
The incredibly fancy Shin Kong RanchLike a kid on Christmas, I briskly dragged Jess past the manor house and headed straight towards the cute animal section, obviously! We arrived just in time to catch the first show of the day. You’ve heard of horse racing, even dog racing, but I bet you’ve never heard of pig racing! 10 adorable little piggies were set up in cages and released one by one so we could analyze their speed. Shit was about to get serious, it was betting time. I chose number 4 a.k.a Chris P. Bacon.
They were all lined up around a circular obstacle course ready for the big race aaand they’re off!! Trotting away at a truly blistering pace, soaring over wooden planks and sprinting rubber tires. The tension couldn’t have been higher as my pig pulled out a slight lead until “WINNER, NUMBER 4!” The crowd went wild, champagne and confetti flying everywhere… or at least that’s what it felt like. As I chose the winning pig (fuck yeah) I was rewarded with a free bag of food. As much as I was hungry, it wasn’t for me…
Feeding Time at the Zoo
This is the moment I’d been looking forward to for months, the whole reason I wanted to go in the first place! We could go around each pen and feed every one of the animals by hand, pure heaven! Well for me at least. One of our pair (who shall remain nameless), is afraid of every animal on God’s green Earth! So naturally, a farm is the best place to go…
Nevermind, I was determined to train her as much as the animals at the farm had been. We started off slow and headed to possibly the least threatening animal on Earth, some slow-ass turtles. The paddock was full of them, all of varying sizes! I don’t think I’d ever had the opportunity to get so close to one that was so big (that’s what Jess said, wheyy).
For what seemed like hours, we went up to each different animal pen for a bit of quality time. They were mostly the typical farm animals; goats, horses and donkeys. The animals had clearly grown accustomed to people, they had no problem coming up to scout what snacks they had on offer. They also had a couple of the more unexpected animals like lamas, rabbits and even a camel. What kind of farm is this?!
The star of the show had to be the adorable little piggies, and little they were! They weren’t micro pigs, but they were definitely a hell of a lot smaller than a normal pig. The staff at the farm had announced that they were from China, and in their words, had “escaped to safety”.
Either way, it was my turn to give these cute little bacon baps some happiness. They came right up to you enthusiastically and leaned against the very short fence, which was just too big for them to jump over. They all just leaned there like a bunch of people leaning on a windowsill with their happy little faces waiting for some love which they got plenty.
Being Joe Exotic
Standing nearby the paddock was a woman wearing a cowboy hat, a telltale sign of something weird and unique. As you’d expect from the way she dressed, she had a couple of exotic animals around her. She was one of those people who would introduce these animals to little kids for photos. Well, she was about to have a run-in with a 26-year-old child!
There were a couple of fluffy rabbits but BORIIIIING, we want something a little more exotic, and that’s what we got! She had an animal I’d never seen before, a coati. It looked a bit like a raccoon but had a longer nose and tail. It was on a leash and wearing an adorable little harness which she without hesitation handed it to me! The little snooty fluff ball had no problem exploring about my person, sticking his nose in wherever he could.
Patiently waiting for me nearby was my next exotic experience, a gorgeous little parrot. Cowboy woman put it on my arm and immediately he began tapping his beak against my hand, he expected something from me. Miss Yee-Haw handed me some sunflower seeds which he happily ate and nodded enthusiastically to show his thanks. Much like Jess, as soon as I ran out of food, she got angry. She started tapping my hand aggressively and tugged at my hoodie sleeve demanding more.
The cowboy woman said I had the potential and temperament to be an animal trainer, probably the best compliment anyone’s ever given me. Not that I’ve taken it to heart, but I’m already looking for applications.
The farm also had a miniature zoo nearby, not that it was anything too spectacular. It was mostly made up of a large collection of exotic birds, some of which were actually unique. Some even talked to us! We came across a friendly little cockatoo that said replied to us when we said hi!
The little zoo also had a couple of smaller mammals with a couple of monkeys, more coatis and some raccoons that were in the midst of a little domestic when we arrived. I believe every boyfriend could sympathise with the poor little guy.
There was one area of the farm left to see, something every farm can’t do without, cows. Just to illustrate the sheer size of the farm, it took 15 minutes just to walk to the ranch on the other side of the complex!
Once there they sold enormous baby bottles filled with milk which we could give to the little baby moos. Jess wanted no part of it and stayed well away. Sadly as it was late in the day, they didn’t really seem interested, they must have had their fill from the other visitors. But still didn’t stop me from having a little kissy kiss with the little milkshakes. Needless to say my time on the farm in Hualien was one of the greatest days ever.