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March 11, 2012

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Golden vistas of golden flowers herald spring

THIS is the perfect time to view golden fields of rapeseed flowers that move like waves in the wind and create the impression of a yellow sea. Chen Ye finds the best spots for a view.

As the dreary weather finally lifts, it's time for one of the rites of spring - an outing to enjoy the blossoming fields of golden rapeseed flowers that bloom in late winter and early spring.

The peak viewing season is from mid-March to early April.

Rapeseed (also called oilseed, rapa) flowers in dense clusters so it appears that fields and mountains are carpeted in yellow under sapphire blue skies.

Add some trees, a river and farmhouse, it's picture-perfect. Plants can reach close to two meters in height and one can get delightfully lost in the aromatic fields.

Rapeseed is an annually blooming plant in the same family with mustard, cabbage, broccoli and turnips.

The name rape (in this case) comes from the Latin word rapum, meaning turnip.

It's used for biofuel, industrial operations, lubrication and human consumption. People in many Asian countries eat the stems, leaves and flowers.

The seeds are rich in Omega-3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, but they contain other harmful chemicals; only a special variety canola oil is safe for human consumption, often chosen for its high Omega-3 content.

Here are a few places to appreciate the flowers.

Zhuanghang Town

Fengxian District, Shanghai

It takes less than an hour to drive from downtown Shanghai to Zhuanghang Town where more than 13 hectares are in bloom.

The drive is scenic and rapeseed is in bloom everywhere along the way.

It's tempting to stop, take pictures and go for a romp in fields where flowers are as tall as some people. Children chase each other in the fields and couples stroll along holding hands, and kissing.

"We can see many beautiful brides wearing their pretty white wedding dress standing in rape flower fields taking pictures," says a farmer who is known as uncle Zhao.

"This golden sea of flowers becomes a holy destination for those seeking blessings and happiness."

Visitors can spend "happy farmer" days in the country, going for hikes, feeding poultry, catching fish, flying kites and savoring home cooking.

How to get there:

The best way is to drive. Take the South-North Highway to Jiyang Road, exit at Puxing Road. Road toll is around 40 yuan (US$6).

Lotus Island

Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province

Also around an hour's drive from Shanghai, Lotus Island in Yangcheng Lake (famous for hairy crab) is famous for its fields of rapeseed.

The flowers are everywhere, around quaint farmhouses and wooden bridges; wooden boats ply the streams. Wooden plank paths make it possible to walk among the golden flowers.

The best vantage point for viewing flower fields is on the north side of the island. Many people hire a speedboat and go ashore at ports on the south side of Lotus Flower Island; then they walk or take a bicycle through the fields.

How to get there:

There are frequent trains and buses between Shanghai and Suzhou. From Suzhou take bus No. 78 to Yangcheng Lake. The shuttle boat to Lotus Island departs at Yangcheng Lake Tourist Center and the return trip costs 50 yuan.


Yunnan Province

For those willing to travel further afield, Yunnan Province in the south offers oceans of yellow flowers and many opportunities for hiking. Luoping is recommended.

In Luoping County, nearly 7 million square meters (7,130 acres) of rapeseed have been planted. Flowers bloom in fields, on hillsides, around cottages, along the roadside and on riverbanks.

Through mid-March the spectacular golden fields attract tourists from around the world to festivals and fairs involving lion dance, weapon dance, stilt walking and other activities.

They are staged by the Yi, Zhuang and Bouyei minorities.

Locals say the best vantage point is Jinji Peak, on the northeast side of Luoping County town. Standing on the peak, visitors can see the rippling yellow waves of flowers. In some places farmers are already plowing to plant corn.

How to get there:

Tourist train is available every day during the rapeseed flower season between Kunming and Luoping. It departs at 8:10am from Kunming and returns from Luoping at 2pm.

Or people can drive and enjoy the scenery. Kunming-Kunshi Highway-Luliang West Bridge-Luoping. The road toll is 60 yuan.

Many small hotels and farmhouses provide more than 12,000 beds; prices range from around 140-500 yuan.


Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province

About 750 years ago, farmers in Ganggu Village, Xinghua, started to use elevated fields to plant crops and eventually rapeseed flowers took root and spread.

Today Xinghua is the place where the spectacular flowers are best viewed by boat, with butterflies and bees flying over the flowers.

The Xinghua Rape Flower Festival takes place from April 2 to 25.

How to get there:

It's convenient to drive there from Shanghai. Take the Huning (Shanghai-Nanjing) Expressway, cross the Jiangyin Bridge and take the Xinghua Exit. It takes around three hours.


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