Holidays inspired by movies and TV shows

Petite France is a popular location for Korean TV dramas. -- PHOTO: CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL
Petite France is a popular location for Korean TV dramas. -- PHOTO: CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL
You can see red lanterns all over the Qiao Family Compound.
You can see red lanterns all over the Qiao Family Compound.
Dubrovnik has stood in for King's Landing.
Dubrovnik has stood in for King's Landing.
Visitors on the Harry Potter tour can see Professor Dumbledor's office (above) and ride a Quidditch broom on a green screen (left).
Visitors on the Harry Potter tour can see Professor Dumbledor's office (above) and ride a Quidditch broom on a green screen (left).PHOTOS: WARNER BROS., DYNASTY TRAVEL, CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL, CHANIKUL DECHPHOLKRANG
Visitors on the Harry Potter tour can see Professor Dumbledor's office (above) and ride a Quidditch broom on a green screen (left).
Visitors on the Harry Potter tour can see Professor Dumbledor's office (above) and ride a Quidditch broom on a green screen (left).PHOTOS: WARNER BROS., DYNASTY TRAVEL, CHAN BROTHERS TRAVEL, CHANIKUL DECHPHOLKRANG
Stay in a hobbit house in Thailand, in a farming village 260km north-east of Bangkok.
Stay in a hobbit house in Thailand, in a farming village 260km north-east of Bangkok.

Itineraries planned around places featured in hit movies and TV shows are popular with fans

The world of movies can become so real to travellers that they are inspired to visit the places where their favourite films were shot.

According to Tourism New Zealand, about 15 per cent of travellers to the country say J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord Of The Rings series and their film adaptations influenced their decision to take the trip. More than 800,000 people have visited Hobbiton, the hobbit village in North Island, since it opened 12 years ago.

For years, Star Wars fans have made tracks into the Sahara Desert to visit Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata, Tunisia, where scenes from several Star Wars movies were filmed.

The hotel's rooms are carved out of the desert stone and were Luke's home in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977).

Some of the original props and decor are still at the hotel, which is open to tours and for a night's stay in basic accommodation. The owner will put the Star Wars film on, and may even get his set of light sabers out to play.

James Bond fans can stay in the 007 suite at the Seven Hotel Paris (www.sevenhotelparis.com), which comes complete with plush leather furniture, mood lighting, mod decor, a James Bond mural, a bedside lamp made in the shape of a golden gun and a full-length mirror on the ceiling above the bed.

Tour operators around the world have also created movie- and TV show-themed itineraries anywhere from a few hours to a few days long, to cater to people's fandom, while amusement parks such as Disney World and Universal Studios aim to make the fictional world a part of people's reality.

Websites such as A Novel Holiday (anovelholiday.com) provide guides around sites of Tolkein's England and New Zealand for Lord Of The Rings fans, Dan Brown's Europe for Da Vinci Code fans, and a tour of Harry Potter places around the United Kingdom, to help literary fans see the places which inspired their favourite books.

Freelance visual effects artist Chanikul Dechpholkrang, 36, and his family have built a hobbit home, complete with round doors and windows, an earthen roof and an interior modelled directly on the hobbit homes of the movies, in a Thai farming village roughly 260km north-east of Bangkok.

Despite its remote location, the house, which is rented out on Airbnb, has proved popular, and the family is planning to expand the project to create a hobbit village, building more hobbit houses with a small pond and a stone bridge in the coming year.

He says: "I told my brother that we needed to share this experience with other people, especially with those who are as passionate about the film as us.

"Most of our guests are hobbit fans and some travel a long way just to stay here. We love seeing the reactions of our guests when they first get a glimpse of the house. Some scream while others even cry with excitement. I think people would like to be part of a movie, especially a movie they love."

Though he admits that few would expect to find Middle Earth in Thailand, its unique location has been a pull factor, he says, and his Baan Hobbit Facebook page has received close to 1,500 likes since it was launched a few months ago.

As their hobbit village expands, he hopes visitors will feel like they have stepped into Middle Earth.

But some tour operators feel that a movie- or novel-themed itinerary alone is not enough to sustain most tours.

Chan Brothers Travel has been running tours based on movies and TV shows since 2002. Mr Jeremiah Wong, its communications manager, says the demand for such tours greatly depends on the popularity of the show, as well as what the destination has to offer overall.

"Demand is highly dependent on other pertinent factors, such as the overall destination and package details, such as other surrounding attractions, accommodation, meals and price," he says.

Earlier this month, primary school teacher Tan Choon Kiang, 40, took an 11-day tour of New Zealand's North and South islands with Dynasty Travel.

On the tour, he visited places such as Milford Sound, Lake Pukaki and the Waitomo Glow Work Caves, where scenes from Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit movies were filmed.

While he is a Lord Of The Rings fan, he chose to visit New Zealand mainly for the scenery, though a tour of Hobbiton, a hobbit village in the North Island, increased the trip's appeal.

"To see what the village looked like, to hear the details about the set and production and funny things about the set, like how the director wanted a live tree painted green to make it look more real, was all very interesting. I went to New Zealand for the scenery, and the Hobbiton village was a bonus."

vlydia@sph.com.sg


HARRY POTTER

Harry Potter fans can head to London, where they can fill a couple of days with wizardly fun. Stay at the Georgian House Hotel (www.georgianhousehotel.co.uk), a boutique hotel which has created a set of Wizard Chambers - rooms designed to look like the Gothic dormitory rooms at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with grey walls, four-poster beds, potion bottles, vintage luggage trunks and cauldrons. The rooms cost £209 (S$428) a night for two people, including breakfast.

The hotel can help to book a Harry Potter-themed tour, such as the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making Of Harry Potter (www.wbstudiotour.co.uk), which must be booked in advance.

About 32km north-west of London, Potter fans will find the Warner Bros. Studio where all the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Adjacent to the working studios is the Harry Potter set, which has preserved many of the films' iconic props and costumes.

Fans can take a tour of the set, ride a Quidditch broom on a green screen just like the actors did during filming, sip a mug of butterbeer on the backlot and purchase Harry Potter memorabilia such as a 24k gold recreation of Hermione's time turner necklace or some of Dumbledore and Ron Weasley's favourite chocolate frogs.

You can get to the studio by boarding a specially designed Harry Potter Tour bus which departs hourly from Victoria Station and Baker Street. It costs £29 for a round trip, or £59 for round-trip transportation and the Harry Potter studio tour.

Or take the walking Muggle Tour of London (www.muggletours.co.uk) and explore some of the locations where the movies were filmed, such as the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, and sites which inspired the books' author J.K. Rowling, such as the alleyway off Charing Cross Road that is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley. The 21/2-hour tour costs £12 an adult, and £10 for children aged 11 and under.

Before you leave London, stop by King's Cross Station where Hogwarts students would catch the Hogwarts Express at Platform 93/4.

In honour of the books, a half-vanished luggage cart has been installed at one of the train station's walls, beneath a "Platform 93/4" sign, where fans can pose and take pictures. Nearby is the Platform 93/4 store, where fans can buy Harry Potter merchandise, from wands to stationery to Quiddich sweaters and scarves.

Those looking for the Harry Potter experience closer to home can head to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, where Hogwarts has been recreated to dazzling effect, complete with Dumbledore's office, a Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom, moving portraits and a sorting hat.

Take a ride on the family-friendly Hippogriff roller coaster, then grab a bite at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, a wizards' village where you will find shops such as Ollivanders, to buy your first wand, or Filch's Emporium of Confiscated Goods containing items taken away from Hogwarts students, and other shops selling Harry Potter memorabilia. A one-day pass costs 6,980 yen (S$77) an adult and 4,880 yen (S$53) a child.


LORD OF THE RINGS

When most people think of Lord Of The Rings, they think of New Zealand where the iconic movies were filmed.

Fans can stay in a hobbit-themed motel, with rooms built into the Waitomo hillside at Woodlyn Park Motel (www.woodlynpark.co.nz), which is just 700m from the famed Waitomo Glow Worm Caves where some scenes and audio for the films were recorded.

Those looking for an in-depth, specialised Lord Of The Rings experience can sign up with Red Carpet Tours (www.redcarpet- tours.com). The company has specialised in tours of Middle Earth since 2001 and can take you to remote locations where many movie scenes were filmed - such as Braemar Station and Lake Pukaki, where the hobbit fellowship was chased by orcs and wargs in their search for Riverdell.

There are also the striking peaks around Queenstown where the city Isengard and fairy forestland Lothlorien were set.

One of the best ways to see these places is by air, and companies such as Reid Helicopters (www.helicoptersnelson.co.nz) lead tours out of Nelson in South Island to take fans to see the region, which is home to Mount Olympus and Mount Owen, the setting for Rivendell and Dimrill Dale.

In North Island, fans can take a tour of hobbit homes in Hobbiton (www.hobbitontours.com), the set of The Shire. There are 44 hobbit holes in Hobbiton, as well as a mill, a bubbling creek spanned by a picturesque bridge, beautiful gardens and The Green Dragon Inn where visitors can rest after the tour, have a bite and a pint of ale.

If special effects are what you are after, head to Weta Workshop (www.wetanz.com), the multiple Academy Award winner in Wellington. The Weta team was responsible for the special effects in the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit films, Avatar, District 9 and The Adventures Of Tintin.

Take a tour of its world-class design and effects facility, visit its mini-museum of movie props and collectibles, and watch a special 25-minute video of behind the scenes footage from the Lord Of The Rings films.

But New Zealand is not the only place where you can find a bit of Middle Earth. You can find a few fanciful accommodations on Airbnb's website, such as The Shire of Montana, a hobbit home built in the lush hillsides of Whitepine Valley in the United States. There you will find a hobbit village, with toadstools, little doors carved into trees, a hobbit house and gardens and stunning views of the surrounding valley. The house, which sleeps three, costs $396 a night.

Or spend a few nights in a hobbit house closer to home. A family of Lord Of The Rings fans has built a hobbit house in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, about 260km north-east of Bangkok.

There, in the remote farming village, freelance visual effects artist Chanikul Dechpholkrang, 36, and his family have built a hobbit home, complete with a round green door, round windows, an earthen roof, arched ceilings and an interior modelled after the homes of the movies. Amenities such as a television set, fridge and hot showers are hidden within the hobbit furniture, handcrafted by local carpenters.

Guests can immerse themselves in all things Lord Of The Rings, thanks to the collection of books, films, music, Lego sets and costumes available in the home.

Despite its remote location, the house, which sleeps three people and costs $84 a night, has proved popular with Airbnb guests, and the family is planning to expand the project to create a hobbit village, building more hobbit houses, a small pond and a stone bridge in the coming year.


GAME OF THRONES

The extraordinary settings in HBO's Game Of Thrones may be the stuff of fantasy, but their majestic cities, impenetrable fortresses, fog-filled forests and snow- covered mountains have their setting in real locations.

Castle Ward in Northern Ireland stood in for the Stark's Winterfell residence and its Dark Hedges was the road from King's Landing.

Iceland was the setting for the wilderness and ice fields north of the wall. And the ancient Moroccan city Essaouira is the set of Astapor, the city of the Unsullied warrior eunuchs, where scenes in Season 3 were set.

The capital of the Seven Kingdoms, King's Landing, has been filmed in two cities. In Season 1, Mdina, the old capital of Malta, was the setting for it and its Mdina Gate and Fort Ricasoli were featured.

For Season 2, King's Landing moved to Dubrovnik, Croatia, and many of the street scenes were filmed in the sand-coloured, winding roads of Dubrovnik's Old Town.

Climb the walls of the city and you can look out onto the bay where the Battle of Blackwater was filmed or take a trip to Lovrijenac Fortress, the model for the Red Keep.

Dynasty Travel has a 13-day, 10-night tour of Slovenia and Croatia, which includes stops in Dubrovnik and Split, where scenes of the upcoming season were filmed at the Diocletian's Palace and Klis Fortress, for $3,488 a person.

If you go on your own, why not take a Game Of Thrones Walking tour of Dubrovnik?

The three-hour tour is led by an English-speaking guide who will take you through the city's Old Town to point out where famous scenes were filmed.

You can climb the city walls and, if you have the time, go to Trsteno Arboretum, where the King's Landing's stunning garden scenes were filmed. The tour starts from US$73 (S$94) and can be booked at www.viator.com.

The travel website also lists a full-day Game Of Thrones tour of Northern Ireland, which costs US$55. It starts from Belfast and includes stops at the Dark Hedges and the Gray Cliffs of Ballintoy Harbour.

If you have trouble deciding where to go, Hopper, a travel research and planning website, has a search function which allows fans to discover and plan trips to their favourite Game Of Thrones settings.

Available as a tool on the  website (www.hopper.com/flights/tools/got/index.html), you can filter your search by the show's seasons and by your favourite characters so you can see where scenes featuring Baratheon, Stark or the Night's Watch characters were filmed in season two, for example.

To top it off, the website will also show you the best flight deals to get there.


RAISE THE RED LANTERN

Though this is an older movie, few who have watched Raise The Red Lantern can forget the haunting, award-winning film, acclaimed for its rich cinematography and breathtaking scenery.

The 1991 film stars Gong Li as a 19-year-old student in the 1920s who is forced to become the fourth mistress of the wealthy Master Chen after the death of her father.

Directed by Zhang Yimou, the film was shot in Shanxi Province in northern China.

Most of the film was shot in one location - the Qiao Family Compound, the 18th-century mansion of the Qiao family, which has more than 25 courtyards and 300 rooms.

Now that it is a museum, visitors can stroll through the courtyards to enjoy the mansion's intricate brick and wooden carvings and beautiful gold murals of Chinese fables, flowers, birds and even modern subjects such as railway stations and clocks, painted under the eaves of the compound.

The compound is located about 30km north-east of the ancient city of Pingyao.

The city was founded in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644). It is one of the best preserved Han Chinese cities and shows the development of Han architecture and urban planning over five centuries.

Surrounded by the original city wall which was constructed in 1370, there are close to 4,000 preserved Ming and Qing-style residences.

Walking along cobblestone streets, visitors can see historic temples, traditional buildings with gently sloping tiled roofs, and modest storefronts which have retained their history. And everywhere you look, you will see the famed red Chinese lanterns.

You can rent a bicycle in Pingyao and ride north to visit the Qiao Family Courtyard and enjoy the scenery made famous by the film along the way.

If you would prefer a formal tour of the region, Dynasty Travel has an eight-day six-night Best Of Shanxi package which includes stops at Pingyao and the Qiao Family's courtyard house.

The tour includes world-renowned sites such as the Hanging Temple, built 75m above ground on a sheer cliff-face more than 1,500 years ago, and Mount Wutai, one of the four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism. The Unesco World Heritage Site is said to be the home of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. It hosts more than 50 monasteries and some of the oldest wooden buildings in China, which have survived since the Tang Dynasty (AD618 - AD907).

The tour costs from S$868 a person.


MY LOVE FROM THE STAR

Korean dramas have won ardent fans around Asia and brought renewed attention to South Korea's beautiful cities and natural landscapes. Variety shows such as Running Man and dramas such as Stairway To Heaven, We Got Married and Winter Sonata have inspired vacations to Seoul and the surrounding countryside, where fans explore the locations where their favourite scenes were filmed.

The latest K-drama sensation sending fans flying to South Korea is My Love From The Star, about Do Min Joon, an alien who has been living on Earth since the Joseon Dynasty 400 years ago. He falls in love with a famous modern actress, Cheon Song Yi.

For fans who want to explore on their own, the Korea Tourism Organisation's Visit Korea website (english.visit korea.or.kr) has a list of filming locations for My Love From The Star, including the location of the cartoon cafe which appears in episode three, the udon noodle hot pot restaurant where the main characters share a meal in episode seven, and the Jangam Reservoir where scenes of Cheon and Do in the snow-covered wilderness were filmed for episode 11. The list includes the names and addresses of the shooting locations, plus instructions on how to get there.

Other popular filming locations for K-dramas include Petite France, a French cultural village set in the Korean countryside where visitors can experience French food, clothing and culture, N Seoul Tower and the love locks at its base, Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Lotte World.

Lotte World is the world's largest indoor theme park which is open year round and has been featured in shows such as Stairway To Heaven, K-Variety, Running Man and We Got Married.

Those looking for a more structured itinerary can join Chan Brothers Travel's six-day Korea My Love From The Star tour.

Launched in August, the tour has proved so popular that there have been weekly group departures from last month through next month, and bookings till March next year.

The tour will take fans to filming sites including the Korean Folk Village, where the show's historic scenes were filmed, N Seoul Tower, Provence Village and Ilsan Lake Park.

Other highlights of the trip include snow- and ice-sledding and a cable car ride to the snow-topped Mount Seorack to see picturesque waterfalls and verdant valleys. The tour costs from $1,488 a person.