Taiwan has still been lucky enough to avoid any kind of lockdown. So with the yearly Tomb Sweeping Festival coming up, it was another chance to explore, but where to this time? Jess and I had to start getting tactical with our adventures. We’d have an extended break in summer, so we’d leave the big trip until then. But where should we go in the meantime?
We had 3 days to play with, and thanks to the High-Speed train anywhere in Taiwan was within reaching distance. It was probably best to go to a city, and there weren’t much left for us to hit. Except for one big one, Kaohsiung.
Table of Contents
A Bitter Arrial
Thanks to the High-Speed Rail, we went from Taipei to the other side of the country within 2 hours. It was a real sad coincidence that at that very moment breaking news hit Taiwan that another HSR train crashed and derailed on the opposite side of the country. The rest of the journey was a little uneasy, to say the least.
A Day at the Lake
We arrived at the baking heat of the South, winter had come to a swift end! We had no time to lose and headed straight towards the nearest sites, which just happened to be some of the most famous.
Lotus Pond attracted some of the biggest crowds in Kaohsiung, and there was little wonder why. The entire shoreline had one attraction after the other, each more fascinating and mind-bending than the last. Patches of lily pads and upward stretching lotus flowers lined the lake’s edge, hence the name.
One corner of the lake had a wakeboarding activity park which actually looked pretty damn sick! They had ski resort-style pullie systems that would take wakeboarders around a small course, great for beginners! I would loved to have tried, just not today.
Into the Dragon, Out of the Tiger
It wouldn’t be a Taiwanese adventure without a temple, and we started with the most iconic in all of Kaohsiung, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas.
I wonder where they got those names from? Well, it may have something to do with the enormous figures of each animal with their mouthes agape as the entrance and exit to the pagodas! Entering the dragon’s mouth and coming out of a tigers’ is meant to symbolize turning bad luck into good fortune.
Inside the animals were murals based on religious tales, which without context was a little creepy. Images of people burning and being tortured for god knows what. On the other side, risking a collapsed lung was worth it to get to the top of the pagoda and look out over the panoramic view of the lake, the best you could get!
Another One and Another One
A stone’s throw away was another set of pagodas, each dedicated to Autumn and Spring. Though they weren’t as striking as our last ones, they had something the others didn’t, turtles, hundreds of them!! For whatever reason, a pond just before the pagodas was full to the brim of that were crawling over each other for space. Kinda cruel really.
It also had another dragon which you could waltz into its mouth, though this one was deceptively long. Its…stomach (I guess?) just seemed neverending kept winding its way deeper into the lake with numerous unexplained murals pasted across its walls.
Not too far from that was another temple, and this one was pretty hard to miss. Atop of it was a monstrous figure of the High Heavenly Xuan God with his back to the lake, which made you feel like a sinner just by approaching it. Around the temple were a couple of mini fortune-tellers and good luck charms. These coin-operated machines are a popular inclusion in many Taiwanese temples. They including machines that have a little woman who disappears into the house to get a fortune as we saw in Sun Moon Lake and a chicken that lays a golden egg with a charm inside. The Taiwanese are very superstitious.
Dinner With His Holiness
As the sun began to set, we called it a day at the lake and headed for our reservation. Jess was in charge of that, as she always is. She has a habit of finding some of the coolest places to eat, and this was no exception!
In true Taiwanese fashion, it was hotpot, despite it being 30 degrees outside! This one though was by far the coolest place I’d ever had one! In the middle of the restaurant was a candlelit river which led to an enormous Buddha head at the end. With the lights dimmed and an occasional burst of mist seeping out from the middle of the river, it was a very serene and mysterious place for a meal!
As it was the only time we’d eat fancily on our trip, we splashed out on seafood galore! Unfortunately, it had a very sad inclusion on the menu (which I hadn’t noticed before we ordered), shark fin. Sadly that stigma doesn’t really exist here in Taiwan, so it’s not too strange finding it on a menu.
The Breakfast of Champions
Time to start the day with a little nibble, and we weren’t messing around. Forget about your ridiculous granola or fruit salad, it was time for a real breakfast. By now Jess has an awesome sense of what I like, so she picked out one of the most famous breakfast spots in Kaohsiung, Dan Dan Burger.
This was none of your light breakfast nonsense, this was pure cholesterol building gold. Burgers and fried chicken galore, pure heaven. Nowhere near your typical breakfast, but you won’t hear me complain about that.
A Day at the Beach
Our second day was focused on exploring one of the main areas in Kaohsiung, Cijin Island. We caught one of the shortest ferries in human history across from the mainland to start our day’s adventure.
The island was home to most of the city’s best highlights. The first target of the day was the beach, but I’ve never really understood the appeal. You can find beaches all over the world, and there really isn’t a big difference between them, just sand and sea. Why waste my time sat doing nothing on a beach when I could be exploring? Jess doesn’t agree.
A Philosophical Dilemma
My sulky attitude successfully brought us off the beach and we kept on exploring. We had a look at a nearby fish market that of course had all manner of freshly caught critters seeing as the ocean was a stone’s throw away! They also had an Asian favourite of dried seafood (imagine dried fruit…but fish) and some really mind-bending combinations. Candied scallop and cheese anyone?
I also saw something I dreaded coming across on my travels, endless bags of shark fins laid out along several storefronts. Each one was full to the brim and with a heavy price tag on them reaching hundreds of pounds. How many sharks had been killed to fill them?
Seeing them got me feeling all philosophical. As a meat-eater, it’s pretty hypocritical of me to happily eat a cuddly farm animal but get annoyed at having shark for dinner. But I guess it’s the fact that such number of killings are making them an endangered species…yet does that alone make their life more valuable than any other animal? I never got an answer, I just felt sad.
I also found a nearby tunnel that seemed to be worth a look. I expected it to be an old war relic or at least something that played a role in Taiwan’s long history. I’m sure it was at some point, though today the innards of the tunnel had been decorated with a psychedelic paint job that had whales and jellyfish floating along it. It kind of ruined it for me.
We also passed a market along the old street towards the port, though we didn’t take much notice. We were heading to a bigger market that night, and by now Jess and I were market snobs anyway. Having explored countless ones together, nothing much impresses us anymore. The stalls are always things we’d seen a million times before, and in the words of Jess, “Taipei has them”.
Another Day, Another Market
While travelling anywhere in Taiwan, you’re certain to run into 2 things constantly; temples and night markets. Though we had seen countless amounts of both during our travels, we’d never seen a night market quite like this before.
This was the most claustrophobic we’d ever experienced. You couldn’t spread your arms out without knocking over both rows of stalls. Yet, it easily had the best selection of any night market we’d ever been to! From classic Taiwanese dishes to Korean, Kebabs, Pizzas, Paella, bakery-style deserts, you name it! PJ was a very happy boy.
One Last Stop
You get the sense that Kaohsiung has a more laid back artsy vibe compared to the rest of Taiwan. The best proof of that was the KW2 Pier. It was a hipster’s dream of an entire neighbourhood of warehouses that had a sporadic selection of museums, mini-galleries and random art pieces. And random they were, like a Transformer or a 10-foot tall red dog with a cock longer than my arm. And on that note, that concludes my Kaohsiung adventure.
A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.