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Sunday, 8 December 2013

Da-Keng Leisure Farm 大坑休闲农场 - The Family-run Paradise in Tainan, Taiwan

The entrance to Da Keng Leisure Farm
Arriving just in time for dinner, we were introduced to the food before being introduced to the owners! And a hearty dinner it was:
From top left: Chicken in herbal tea soup, bamboo shoot and leafy veggie rice porridge, Vegan rose pasta, free range roasted whole chicken, baked sweet potato, pork veal roasted sausages, sauteed fish in herbal gravy, deep fried veggie fritters and fresh bamboo shoots.
Ka Mei was so excited she started to dig into that chicken, but we called the expert out before she ruined it =P
Ruby Tsai (pictured above, right) is the culinary-genius-of-a-daughter of the Da Keng family. Every dish that was laid out before us was prepared by this 21 year old, and I can definitely see (or rather, taste) why they are so well-known! Even with the absence of their famous "grilled mini pig", we still ate so much we could barely move, and there was still about half of each dish left!
When fresh fruit was brought out for dessert, I thought I was in heaven: it was all so juicy and sweet! The apple, guava, "love fruit" and, in the middle, flower buds, were by far my favourite part of the meal - and with Ruby's amazing cooking, that's saying something!
Lobby / Restaurant
Source: Da Keng Facebook Page
As we filled our stomachs, the Tsai's shared stories on how Da Keng came to be: Starting off as a small farm, Papa Tsai took over the business from his parents, and, along with Mama Tsai, invested money, sweat and blood into the now much-larger agricultural leisure farm Da Keng is today. Mama Tsai diligently perfected her culinary skills to become one of Tainan's most sought after eateries; the three Tsai daughters each grew up and became experts in each of their related fields: Chai Ling, the eldest, handles the farm's PR, Ruby is an excellent cook, and Eva is the most organised manager you will ever meet - not to mention a qualified bartender!
Eluba House Boat, Da Keng's bar where we got to try Eva's special cocktail, which includes white sugar on a lemon slice - which goes up in flames! (The burnt sugar with lemon is so good though!)
Source: Da Keng Facebook Page
As for Papa Tsai? Hats off to this hardworking man! Most of the farm is hand-built, and because of it's hilly terrain, logs etc had to be hand-carried all the way up as there were no roads yet.
These steps are an example of Papa Tsai's hard work - he laid them himself!





After dinner, we were taken up to the bar for *posh English accent* a spot of tea before bed. Ana, Sherrie and I tried True Love Flower Tea (真爱茶), Peppermint Milk Tea, and Floating Pretty Lady Tea (飘飘美人茶). Not a fan of milk tea or peppermint in general, but the flower teas were to die for! Definitely recommended! Would have liked to sit there and just enjoy it a while longer, but we were all quite tired from our long day...
Yes, there are huge teddy bears just sitting at the end of this gorgeous bar!
These - Lemons - On - FAIYAR~~!!
Full and contented, we were then taken to our rooms, where we all slept like logs in anticipation of an early morning - the famed sunrise at 二寮观日亭 (2nd Lookout Point), 草山月世界 (literally, Hilly Moon World or CaoShanYue ShiJie).
The room was really comfy! Ours was a room for 3, so Ana, Sherrie and I shared.
Photo credits: Sherrie aka Cutebun
At 5am, we all crawled out of bed and met at the lobby. While most of the team climbed into the back of a pick-up for the 10 minute ride up to the lookout point, a few of us got to enjoy the comfy back seat of Ruby's 4WD. The pick-up truck looked like so much fun, we decided to take that on the way back though!

The first rays of light breaking through the misty morning.
CaoShanYue is apparently a very popular spot, for photographers and youngsters alike (after singing karaoke all night), to catch a glimpse of the break of a new day. The lookout point got its name from the way the hills below remind their onlookers of the surface of the moon, which are also frequently covered by a sea of clouds.
Waiting for the perfect shot, or just taking in the breathtaking view
A rather misty morning; on a clear day you can see right across the valley to the mountains on the other side.
Packed into the back of an old pick-up truck~
Could be lyrics to a country song =P
It was a fun ride back, but I was literally freezing in the cool morning breeze!
When we got back, a small buffet breakfast was ready and waiting for us to fill our growling tummies with - much needed, as we'd be hiking to the farm's observation platform next!
After feeding some free-range chickens, that is!
Da Keng is known for its hormone-free poultry and pesticide-free vegetables - health is wealth, as they say!
As expected, the scenic hike up the steep slope was a challenge in itself for me, and luckily I wasnt alone! ;p
An obstacle course on the side - for those of you who are about 10x fitter than I am lol
To reach the observation tower, you still have to climb steep steps (bottom right), but the view is definitely worth it!
After catching our breath for a few minutes, someone suggested the girls do a lil jumping shot - this is why I dont do anything exercise-related: it makes me look SO attractive. Not.
Getting back to the farm was an easier journey, with a walk through the lush forest (ooh, I almost forgot! IMPORTANT TIP: Do remember to smother yourself with the farm-provided mosquito repellent before this hike - it's nature after all, so there are plenty of mosquitoes waiting for their buffet breakfast!). To create a "short-cut" back, there is a sky slider (a zip line with a chair?) or a rope bridge you can take across the ravine.
No prizes for guessing which mode of transport I chose
Arriving back at the farm, we explored a little further and found the hot spring spa pools. Unfortunately, they were closed for cleaning when we arrived, so we settled for taking a hot shower in our rooms before bidding farewell to Da Keng and the heart-warming Tsai family.
A hilarious sight just before we boarded our bus - a real live chicken had somehow gotten into the toy vending machine! He looked quite content, but Ruby was racking her brains trying to figure out how he got in!
Taiwan is now in the top 5 list of leisure farming countries in the world, all thanks to dedicated and resourceful farmers such as Papa Tsai, who recognised the dangers of "靠天养" - depending on crops/poultry alone to survive. With hard work and belief in their dreams, farms like Da Keng incorporated education and experience into their land for travellers to beautiful Taiwan, and unwittingly went from small farms, to helping the tourism industry of a whole country.
Souvenirs from Da Keng! The dried mango is to die for! =D

Da Keng Leisure Farm
Tel: +886 65760121
Web: www.168big.com.tw
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Dakeng520
Address: #82, Dakeng Li, Sinhua District, Tainan City, Taiwan
Group photo with the Tsais!
AirAsia flies from Kota Kinabalu (BKI) to Taipei (TPE) once daily and twice daily from Kuala Lumpur (KUL).
Til next time,
Calista xx

*Once again, all photo credits to Ana Jonessy & Chun Tak!

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