Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends… The mind can never break off from the journey.Pat Conroy
Nov 22-28 2015
Following the Taiwanese capital of Taiwan, we set off towards the southern half of the island. Our destinations included the historic capital of Tainan, the second largest city of Kaohsiung, and the beach town and national park known as Kenting. We also took side trips to visit the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center, bathe in the hot springs of Checheng, and eat fresh sushi at Houbihu Harbor.
To reach Tainan, we took the high speed bullet train from Tainan, as a train lover it was an awesome exerience, smooth and fast.
We got a taxi from the station outside of town and headed towards the historic city center, walking around for a bit before stopping to check out Chihkan Tower. Chihkan Tower, also known as Fort Provintia, was constructed as a Dutch outpost in 1653. Due to lack of maintenance and civilian upheavals, Chihkan Tower needed to be restored and repaired over the years. Thus, the Dutch style building also has added Chinese style architectural parts, with only the foundation remaining original. It was a nice place to roam around with many different statues, all with stories about how they came to be, including a horse with broken legs, and a row of nine turtles, each carrying a tablet on its back.
In the evening we would hang out with some friendly locals that we met. We were watching as people were setting fireworks off in the street, when we were handed some beers and invited to the local temple nearby. At the temple, and the reason for the fireworks, they were celebrating the birthday of the temples god. Each temple in Taiwan is built for to celebrate a different god, and so there are birthdy celebrations going on all year long at various locations. While there we got to watch a Chinese Opera. We didn’t quite know what we were in for as it was very long, like four hours! I would eventually sneak away to go drink with the local men hanging out in the temple, while Maggie would endure through most of the rest of the show. I guess it would have been better if we knew what was going on, but good to experience none the less. Maggie eventually joined us and we partied well into the night. Everyone was super nice and offered us food and drinks, asking for nothing in return.
In the morning we got up and decided to rent some scooters. We worried about it after seeing the scooter chaos in Taipei, but we quickly fell in love. We would spend the entire day riding around the countryside north of Tainan City, checking out Taijiang National Park and the coastline. We would end the days scooter trip back in town, walking around the historic Anping peninsula.
Anping included Fort Zeeland, where seige took place in 1661 and 1662 that ended the Dutch rule over Taiwan. Besides the fort, there were many historic homes and alleyways to explore. One unique house dubbed the Anping Treehouse, included a banyan tree that has overgrown and literally swallowed an old warehouse. It was amazing to walk, and climb, around admiring the trees power and strength.
The next day we would relax in the morning before taking an afternoon ride up into the mountains, visiting the Dongshan Mountain Coffee Road. It was particularly scenic route, with stunning views out across the plains, with gentle twists and turns over lush valleys. There weren’t many signs of coffee actually being grown in the area, but there were plenty of places for us to stop and drink it.
The next morning we would return our scooters before boarding the local train to continue further south. Our next destination being the city of Kaohsiung. We didn’t plan to stay long though, as we wanted to rent scooters again and make a longer drive, this time to the very south of the island and Kenting National Park. The journey would take just under three hours, hitting some rain and stopping for shelter along the way.
Once we arrived though, things cleared up as we settled into our minsu overlooking the areas main street. Kenting is a popular destination for tourists and families who want to escape the busy cities of Taiwan, it was almost a spring break atmosphere with people drinking and eating at the temporary food stands lining the street.
We decided to move to a nearby beachside hotel the following day, spending the morning relaxing listening to the waves.
In the afternnon we took our scooters around the scenic Kenting National Park, taking in the beautiful coastline views and checking out some of the many natural wonders in the area. We went through the National Forest first, which included many beautiful plants and natural areas, we even spotted some monkeys hanging nearby the road. Back along the coast we passed Sail Rock, the result of a giant boulder that broke off a nearby cliff, and Eluanbi Lighthouse, the southernmost point in Taiwan. Turning back north we stopped in Longpan Park, a wide range of grasslands lying between the road and the Pacific Ocean. The area is rich in slumping cliffs, caves, and fissures eroded by rainwater.
Next up would be the Jialeshuei scenic garden. It ended up being a pretty hilarous tour via tram with a guide pointing out rocks that looked like different animals. It was worth it though for the views alone, in an area untouched by any development or outside visitors. Heading back west from there we stopped at the Pingtung Manchurian port drawbridge, which is actually a scenic suspension footbridge, crossing the estuary of a river near the coast.
Lastly, we would stop at a spot known as Hengchun Chuhuo, or the Eternal Flame. It is a natural fire where natural gas leaks to the surface and ignites. There were actually multiple spots in the area where this was occuring, with nothing really keeping you back, we wisely kept our distance though while watching the interesting phenomenon.
To end the day we would leave Kenting National Park and take a short journey north to soak in the nearby hot springs of Checheng. A bit more rustic then what we had experience earlier in the trip in Taipei, but nice and relaxing none the less. After we were refreshed we hopped back on our bikes and returned to Kenting for the night.
We slept in the next morning before heading to the harbor town of Houbihu for lunch. At the harbor we watched as fishermen unloaded the days catch, then we headed into the market and watched it prepared. Here we had one of our best meals of the trip, some of the freshest sushi we had ever tasted. We got an unbelievable amount for a really good value, too. This is a must if you ever find yourself in the Kenting area.
After the excellent meal, we made the scooter trip back north to Kaohsiung. We checked out a couple of notable modern skyscrapers in the area when we arrived, including the Sky Tower and China Steel Headquarters. The Sky Tower has an unusual ‘prong’ design, two separate 39-floor sections which merge into a single central tower rising to a spire. This unique design leaves a substantial space below the central part of the tower. China Steel Headquarters has a multi-faceted image with a geometric 3D facade. It comprises four tubes, bound together by a central core. The facade changes every eight stories, creating several outside terraces.
Instead of continuig straight to Hualien and the Taroko Gorge, we decided to stay the night since there were still some sites we wanted to see. The first was the scenic and lively Lotus Pond area. As you could guess by the name, it is famous for its lotus plants, as well as numerous surrounding temples, including the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, and a Confucian temple.
To end the evening and our time spent in southern Taiwan we took a stroll along the Love River, hand in hand. The river was once heavily polluted, but has since be cleaned up and provides a scenic park along it’s shore. There were many live bands performing while we were there, as well as many cafes and attractive sites such as the Holy Rosary Cathedral and Kaohsiung Bridge, we watched as boats full of people made their way up and down the river.
The next morning we would make one more stop, outside of Kaohsiung, we scootered to the impressive Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum. The site consists of the Front Hall, Eight Pagodas, a giant concourse, and the Main Hall and the Fo Guang Big Buddha. The Fo Guang Big Buddha took more than a year to cast, using a total of 1,800 tons of metal, and was completed in 2011, measuring 131 feet tall on a 33 foot seat. It is a beautiful site and we were able to learn a lot about the beliefs and traditions of Buddhism.
After returning our scooters back in Kaohsiung, we boarded a train for the last few destinations of our Taiwan trip, traveling up the the east coast of the island, to Hualien and the Taroko Gorge. You can check it out the next part in the post Taroko Gorge & Highlands, or go back and read about the first part of our trip in the post Taipei, Taiwan.