Second trip to Kaohsiung: back to the island of smiles!

There has been a little bit of a hiatus in this blog, but that is merely because I was traveling quite a bit. In April, I returned to the city of Kaohsiung, in Taiwan. This time, as I had a drone with me, I managed to capture a drone view of Kaohsiung. This time, I was traveling with my wife and daughter. We had just one day for visiting all of Kaohsiung, so we tried our best to fit the most into our day. Incidentally, the proximity to Hong Kong and the low cost of the place makes it an ideal place for a week-end trip. For me, it was the occasion of being back to the island of smiles!

Kaohsiung an ideal place for vacations
Kaohsiung, an ideal place for vacations

Cathay Dragon

Previously, I had flown on China Airlines, which was an ok airline, but affected by several delays.

With Cathay Dragon, an affiliate of Cathay Pacific, the trip was smoother, but it still had hiccups. The gate was thus changed at the last minute, and we had to run to the new gate. The plane was ok, and the flight attendants quite nice too. Despite flying economy, the kindness and smile of the flight attendants was the main asset of the airline. On return, some plastic fittings were disarranged, giving the aircraft quite an old and used feel.

In Kaohsiung airport instead, it seems they had a single bus to transload passengers from plane to terminal. After all, it is just a small provincial airport (but very homely).

Despite these little hiccups, we did not have any issues in arriving in Taiwan.

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The Lees hotel

As I was with my family, I booked a more luxurious hotel, the “Lees hotel“. Located quite centrally, near to the Formosa Boulevard station, this hotel provides an excellent and lovely place and a very lovely position.

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The interesting part of that hotel is its position next to a rainbow-colored water castle with a motive “I love Kaohsiung”.

Water castle near Lees hotel
The Water Castle near the Lees Hotel

Everything is bigger in Kaohsiung: from roads to smiles

I mentioned earlier, that the Taiwanese and the people of Kaohsiung in particular are very friendly. My impression was confirmed on this second trip. People were warm and kind everywhere we went. What prevailed was a general impression of happiness among the population, which was very refreshing. When compared to HK, everything is bigger, from the roads to the smiles.

Art2Pier: “art” as a place for living

I mentioned in an earlier article about the Eslite library as a place for living. Art2Pier, the open air modern art exhibition has the same flavour.

Art2Pier container installation by drone
Art2Pier container installation seen by drone in Kaohsiung

A view by drone allows to see a bit more of the expanse of the art2pier installation.

Our daughter loved seeing the art and posing in front of the murals.

MS at art2pier in Kaohsiung
Maria-Sophia at the Art2Pier in Kaohsiung

We also visited the famous stationery shop located at Art2Pier. Unfortunately, they don’t allow pictures to be taken inside, but it is quite a lovely place if you are into Japanese cute stuff.

Grocery and stationery shop at Art2Pier
Mitch and Maria-Sophia before the grocery and stationery shop in Kaohsiung

We managed to have a dronie taken despite the very hot sun…

Family at art2pier
Our family by drone at Art2Pier

The scale of the metallic Optimus prime at the Art2Pier installation can only be appreciated from above:

Art2pier by drone
Art2Pier in Kaohsiung

Hamsan Railway museum

At a walking distance of Art2Pier, you can find another interesting place, namely the Hamsan Railway museum. “Museum” is a big name for a trainyard with a few old locomotives, but there again, the open space and views make it lovely to be seen by drone.

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As it is the city center, the flight height is limited to 60 ms, but that is plenty to take some nice pics (above 60 meters, land features become unrecognizable).

Cijin Island: the island of smiles

I did a periscope on my first trip where I shared my love of Cijin island. This time, not being in winter, heat was much stronger, but Cijin is truly the “island of smiles”. A lot of locals or tourists go to the island and rent “family bikes”, sort of 4-wheeled bikes allowing you to ride together through the (very flat) island. Our family only encountered smiles on the way, and this was truly a heart-warming experience.

Renting an electric “family bike” for two hours costs about 300 NT$ + 150 NT$ for every additional hour. The enjoyment and fun was truly worth the price.

The Kaohsiung lighthouse

Due to my time limitations on my previous trip, I had not gone to the Kaohsiung lighthouse. I realized it was a mistake, this time around, as the view up there is simply gorgeous, especially when shot by drone (in this case, my Mavic Pro).

it requires a short but steep hike up a cemented road (which I did barefoot, of course). The heat of the pavement was at the limits, though.

Kaohsiung lighthouse by drone
The Kaohsiung lighthouse by drone

I managed to capture the lighthouse, with a boat heading out at sea, which provided a nice composition element for the picture.

The view on the island from up there is also interesting (some comparison with Cheung Chau island in Hong Kong, might be warranted).

View of Cijin island by drone
Cijin island seen by drone from Kaohsiung’s lighthouse

 

But the lighthouse is not only a place for scenic pictures. It is also an ideal location for capturing pictures of ships passing by, like this empty tanker.

 

Ship entering Kaohsiung Harbour
A ship enters Kaohsiung harbour

The rainbow chapel

Another must-visit location and a preferred location for selfies is the “rainbow chapel”, located near Cijin Island’s shell museum.

The museum, in itself, is magnificent when seen by drone, as you can appreciate its architectural form, vaguely reminiscent of a shellfish.

The shell museum of Cijin Island seen by drone.
The shell museum of Cijin island seen by drone

The rainbow chapel, itself, provides its best effect when seen from above.

Rainbow Chapel
The Rainbow Chapel in Cijin island (Kaohsiung)

We then pushed with our bike to the windmill farm, but by then, our daughter was already exhausted from running around in the sun. After a quick photo pause at the windmill farm, we headed back to return to the city.

Of course, being in Taiwan, we had to try their famous bubble tea. Taiwan being the place that invented this delicious drink, it was only logical that the milk bubble tea we drank was probably the best ever!

taiwanese milk bubble tea
Taiwanese milk bubble tea

How to get there?

There are regular flights on both China Airlines and Cathay Pacific, at least twice daily. China airlines costs roughly around 864 HKD, while Cathay Pacific is slightly more expensive at 1080 HKD. The difference in price might be worth it for more convenient departure times.

Uber is functional in Kaohsiung, but taxis are also quite cheap. Otherwise, using bicycles might also be a good way of traveling around.

Daytrip to Cijin island

On my last day in Kaohsiung I completed one of my goals, namely take a daytrip to Cijin island. Located barely 10 minutes away by ferry from the mainland, Cijin island is truly a destination to recommend if you are in Kaohsiung. The bucolic atmosphere makes it a lovely traveling destination. Although you cannot swim in the ocean (the red flag is permanently up, probably because of strong riptides), walking in the warm black sand and having your feet in the sea is as relaxing as it gets.



 

Getting there

To get there, you must take the MRT until Sizihwan station where you take exit 1. When you get out of the station (easy, follow the signs pointing to the ferry), you must walk on the main street, then take left at the second or third street. The ferry itself is pretty cheap, about 15 NT$ if you are on foot, and 50 NT$ if you are with a bicycle. Obviously, your best bet is to grab a city bike from the station just near to the ferry pier and take it with you on the ferry. Cijin island, although small, is best covered on bike (it is also the perfect way to enjoy the place).

Other solutions are to hire a local taxi or rickshaw (taxis, I heard, charge up to 300 NT$ to tour you around, which is probably the best way of seeing everything comfortably, but takes away a huge chunk of the fun of biking in the fresh sea breeze).

Rickshaws on Cijin island
Rickshaws available for hire on Cijin island

The beach: no swimming!

Cijin beach has apparently a permanent red flag, probably due to strong currents. This didn’t mean some courageous surfers didn’t attempt to ride the (low) rolls.

Surfer on Cinjin island
A surfer tackles the strong currents on Cijin Island

As to me, I did a Periscope from the beach, sharing a bit the lovely weather and holiday atmosphere I was into. I waded into water to refresh myself (despite being only 25° C, the reverberation from the sea and the sand were quite hot).

Seawater on feet
An incredibly relaxing feeling with fresh seawater bathing your feet.

The black sand is quite visible on your feet, but there are water fountains around to rince your feet. The annoying thing about the beach is that you should beware when walking on the local grass or herbs. There are some quite spiky thorns embedding into your feet (but since my feet were already accustomed to barefoot running and walking, no skin broken for me).

A “rainbow chapel”

A little further from the beach, there is a shellfish museum, and something they call a “rainbow chapel”, with a sculpture of two seahorses kissing.

Seahorses
Two seahorses kissing near the “Rainbow chapel”.

Further down the island, you can see a wind farm. Supposedly installed to promote green electricity, I doubt the small installation can be sufficiently efficient to produce electricity for the whole island, let alone a few houses.

Wind farm
The wind farm of Cijin island

 

Humble shots

But the beauty of Cijin island is that you need not limit yourself to the “official” attractions.

Sometimes, you must not hesitate to take a close look at even ordinary things… Here, some poor flowers on the beach, providing a colorful touch on a beach otherwise devoid of activity or focus points.

 

Cijin island beach
Sometimes, the most humble subjects also bring a touch of color… here some wild flowers on the beach.

Otherwise, other points of interest can be the usual debris found on the beach. Here, I believe black and white provides a better focus on the structure and composition of the picture.

Beach debris Cijin island
Beach debris in Cijin island

Normally, a daytrip to Cijin island does not involve staying at a hotel on the island itself as it is so close to Kaohsiung. Nevertheless, there are a couple of hotels on the island, but I would not advise staying there with the choice available in Kaohsiung itself.

Taiwanese lunch

On the way back, I did a stop at a local restaurant to enjoy some chicken with rice. It was interesting to watch them prepare the chicken behind the scenes.

Restaurant in Cijin island
A nice little restaurant on the way to the ferry harbor.

The food, while simple, was delicious.

Chicken with rice
A simple but delicious chicken with rice

And finally, it was time to head for the last time to my hotel and pack my belongings to head to the airport.

 

Kaoshiung Airport
The wings of Kaohsiung Airport

How to get there?

Cijin island is easy to reach. Just grab the MRT (orange line) until the station KRT Sizihwan. From there, exit 1. Then you walk until the second or third road turning left which leads straight to the ferry harbor. There, climb on the ferry (obvious!).

 

Ruifeng night market

After visiting the Dragon and Tiger pagoda, I caught a taxi, asking him to take me back to Ruifeng night market. Whether I pronounce badly or cannot catch the tones, the driver did not understand… In the end, he understood “MRT”. But then again, he did not drop me at the Arena MRT, he dropped me at another MRT station. I walked to the Arena area to get to my objective, which was the Ruifeng night market.

Two main markets in Kaohsiung

When it comes to food and to passing time, there are two main markets in Kaohsiung. Most tourists hit the Liuhe night market, which is more centrally known and truly geared towards attracting tourists. But Kaohsiung inhabitants go to another, place, namely Ruifeng night market. Food there is obviously, at another level than the more tourist-oriented fare of Liuhe. The difference is understood immediately when you arrive at Ruifeng.

Stinky tofu

When you enter the market, a diffuse stench pervades your nose. No worries, it is not gutters which are stinking, but the ever-present smell of the Taiwanese specialty, stinky tofu. Those who tried it talk about stinky tofu a bit like durian: hard to stomach outside, but delicious once eaten.

Stinky tofu at Ruifeng night market
A cook at Ruifeng night market prepares stinky tofu for customers

I was not that courageous so as to try the dish, but if you are interested, you might want to watch Andrew Zimmern trying it before going ahead with it. The program does a good job about explaining the experience very graphically!

Still, the stench of this food pervades the whole market, but it is discrete enough not to spoil your experience of eating less “risky” food.

Games for a fun time

The interesting cultural aspect of Ruifeng Night Market is that the locals love to play some silly games to pass the time, just before or after meal. As such, the market is also a family outing.

Kids play games at Ruifeng night market
Little children love trying and winning prizes at Ruifeng

In photographic terms, it is an interesting place to get some atmosphere, provided you slip in close with a wide angle (pics were shot with a 20mm).

 

Playing games at Ruifeng Night market
For adults and kids alike, playing some simple cheap games can also be fun.

Having dinner

I toured all over the market, and in the end, not wanting to get my stomach too upset, I settled for a dish of udon. I must confess it tasted very good, but the seating was quite confined as you can see from this pic. The price was about 80 NT$, so still acceptable.

Udon stand at Ruifeng night market
Seating space is quite limited at this udon stand in Ruifeng night market

In the end, as can be seen from this visit to Ruifeng night market, this is a place to go to experience some of the real vibe of the Kaohsiung people. It is a place where mainly locals come (I didn’t see a single foreigner during my visit), but worth visiting if you are after authenticity and real taste.

I concluded my meal with drinking a “papaya milk” smoothie, before heading back to my hotel.

Papaya milk in Ruifeng Night market
A stand preparing a very delicious papaya milk in Ruifeng Night market

 

How to get there?

Getting there is quite easy. You must head to the Kaohsiung Arena MRT station. Take exit 1, and walk a couple hundred meters straight on Yucheng road, and you will find the market located just after a crossing. In the case you are still unsure, I added a map below, of course.

 

Dragon and Tiger pagoda

In my previous post, I mentioned about visting the Eslite bookstore. Thereafter, I decided to visit one of the main landmarks of Kaohsiung, namely the dragon and tiger pagoda. Built with two giant figures of the said animals through the mouth of which you must enter, this pagoda is another must-see in Kaohsiung.

A bit out of the way

To be honest, reaching this pagoda takes some effort as it is located quite some way from any MRT station.

I will provide instructions at the end of the post, but in short, it takes a long walk from the MRT Kaohsiung Arena to reach the pagoda. I was lugging of course, both my camera bag and a tripod. On the way to the pagoda, I came across a railway crossing manned by a guard. Originally, I wanted to shoot the rails extending in the distance with the sunset light, but the guard asked me to pass behind the barrier.

The guard was so kind as to propose me to set up my tripod at his place, as a train was passing. Thanks to him, I managed to get a spectacular shot of a train rushing in the sunset.

Train at a railway crossing in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Kaohsiung: a train rushes at a railway crossing while a guard stands watch

I continued walking on that endless road, and carried on the last bit of the road barefoot, as my feet were truly tired from dragging in my flip-flops. It is strange how my feet got less tired thereafter.

A pagoda built pretty recently

The pagoda’s colors come across as extremely gorgeous during the day as well as at night. This is probably due to the Pagoda not being very old, as it was built in 1976.

At night, the effect is quite stunning, especially if you take the time of using a long exposure. The lights and the color take a special golden hue which makes it look quite special.

Dragon and tiger pagoda
The magnificent dragon and tiger pagoda in Kaohsiung

Other sights

The dragon and tiger pagoda is not the only stuff to see around the lake where it is located. A bit further is another pagoda, called the “Spring and Autumn pavillons”, which was built in 1953. It thus predates the dragon and tiger pagodas, but it is still the same gorgeous style.

 

Near the Tiger and dragon pagoda, the spring and autumn pavillons
Near the Tiger and dragon pagoda, the spring and autumn pavillons rise.

This is not the only sight. If you just turn your back to the dragon and tiger pagoda, then you can play on patterns and lines as in this picture.

Patterns near the Tiger and dragon pagoda
On the gangway to the dragon and tiger pagoda, you can see these decorations which make for a nice pattern.

Again, from a technical point of view, the best results are obtained with a tripod and long exposure, which may run counter to the expectation of some people of “traveling light”.

An old temple.

In the same area, you can also see an older temple, the Tzu Chi temple, the facade of which is heavily ornated.

Tzu Chi temple
Just opposite the Dragon and Tiger Pagoda, stands the Tzu Chi temple.

Tzu Chi is one of the four major Buddhist sects in Taiwan, hence not astonishing that they have a temple in such a prominent position. In this very syncretic typical aspect of Asian Buddhism, the temple hosts Chinese gods as well…

But after coming to this place for shooting the pagoda, I was not going to linger. Up on my list was the Ruifeng night market. So, to save time (and also because I was tired!), I caught a marauding taxi to that place. But that’s the subject of a next post…

A bookstore as a place to live in Kaohsiung

After coming back from the Art 2 pier, I visited the local bookstore, also called “Eslite”. Located on the 17th floor of the mall FE21, this bookstore impressed me by its width. It also impressed me as being a lovely concept of a bookstore as a place to live in Kaohsiung.

One of the biggest bookstores in Asia

The first thing striking you after living for over a year in Hong Kong is how very wide this bookstore is. Its sheer size means that you have a good chance of finding almost any book there.

Eslite bookstore in FE21
The wide Eslite bookstore in Kaohsiung’s FE21 department store

Most of the books are in Chinese, however, with just a small section (from where I took the pic) which is dedicated to foreign books. Some English-language books are also interspersed in other areas though.

A place to live

The concept of a bookstore as a place to read books and where to basically live and let live, is not new nor is it exclusive to Taiwan. When I used to live in France or Belgium, the FNAC was a similar place, where people could read books even if they did not buy them. Where Eslite pushes the concept further, it is in foreseeing even places where you can sit down and read or even take a nap. Some people, like the man below even take out their shoes to be more comfortable!

Man dozing at Eslite: a bookstore as a place to live
An older man dozes in one of the sitting places at Eslite in Kaohsiung

When a bookstore translates a different philosophy of life

 

In short, there are more chances of finding an English-language book in that single bookstore of Taiwan than in 90% of the bookstores in Hong Kong. For a country that does not have an English culture at its basis, it talks realms of the (voluntary or not) rejection of English in Hong Kong.

The approach is also very different in malls, where you can actually sit down and relax instead of being only obliged to buy stuff or consume something. On the long term, Taiwan may seem more laid back, but its people are certainly happier than hongkongese.

A bookstore as a place to live: the concept may seem strange, but it is probably also translating something more deep. A different philosophy of life.

Biking to Art 2 pier

On day 2 of my stay in Kaohsiung, I had recovered from my crazy day just before. I went out in the morning, and decided to go biking to Art 2 pier. Art 2 pier is a place where they have an open air exposition of “modern art”. I am not really a fan of modern art, but since it was a feature of the city, I decided however to take a look.

A lovely biking route

To get to Art 2 pier, you must ride along the harbor tram line. Not a lot of bikers or other people ride over there on a week day, so it was a quite relaxed ride, with interesting views.

For example, they are building right now a sort of “ship” which is supposed to be the center for cruise shipping (yeah, tourism never very far from Kaoshiung’s mind).

Noah's ark in Kaohsiung.
As it is built, this building looks furiously like Noah’s ark!

A bit further, you come across the Kaohsiung harbor which they transformed into a biking lane. A very nice idea for a lovely place to come and take pics. But construction sites abound, so no real harbor activity to witness.

Kaohsiung harbor and constructions
More constructions take place in Kaohsiung harbor. But still nice pics to be shot.

Meet Hero, the mascot of Kaohsiung

Later, as you are about to take the bridge which can be seen to the right of the picture below, you can meet a statue of “Hero”, the mascot of Kaohsiung. Somehow this bear resembles “Kumon”, the mascot of Kumamoto, in Japan. “Hero” is a way to give a “cute factor” to tourism in Kaohsiung.

Hero, the mascot of Kaohsiung
Along with his honey pot, Hero welcomes you in Kaohsiung

These few sights, in themselves, already make the ride worthwhile heading to the Art 2 pier.

What is modern art?

I am a very classical guy in terms of art (see my previous post on the Helsinki museum). So understandably, when I see horrors like the thing below (complete with penis on display), I am bound to question its artistic value.

Living nightmare
At art 2 pier, a “work of art”, looking more like a living nightmare

Of course, other people were trying to take some “funny” pictures in front of the other “artworks” in the area.

Art 2 pier
People trying to take funny pictures before the local sculptures.

I then tried a local specialty, the “Papaya milk” in a little library/stationery shop located close by.

Papaya milk
The delicious papaya milk from the local library

After being done with the Art 2 pier, I headed back towards an MRT station, in order to drop my shopping at the hotel. In the afternoon, I would visiting the Dragon and Tiger Pagoda (which will be the object of an upcoming post!).

I was not too impressed with the Art 2 pier, but it sure has a touristic appeal. Nevertheless, go there only if you are a fan of modern art, otherwise, you may be less than impressed.

Encountering Taiwanese photographers near “Love River”

After I finished my barefoot hike in Shoushan national park, I went back to the hotel, refreshed myself and then, went right back out! In fact, the goal was to visit a place I had seen while returning on bike back to Aozhidi MTR station: the Love River. And that’s where I encountered two young Taiwanese photographers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Biking along “Love River”

A real iconic feature of Kaohsiung, the “Love River” is a place where couples come for a lovely evening stroll, and despite the river being very polluted, it is a beautiful setting.

Love river
Love river, its dilapidated buildings and its flower-covered banks.

While the motionless river (actually, a canal) may seem romantic, it is however also the sign of a lack of life. There is no fish hopping in the water or the habitual signs of aquatic life. This can be explained by the fact that, for a long time, industrial waste from Kaohsiung was thrown back into this canal.

Today, efforts are being made to cleanse the canal, but it will still take some time…

Love river's banks
The banks of love river in Kaohsiung are an ideal place for strolling or riding a bicycle

During the day, “Love River” is charming enough, especially as flowers still adorned the river despite the closeness of winter.

Beautiful view of love river
The beautiful view on Love river

Coming back at night

Obviously, for a romantic place, the best moment is at night, but I came a bit late, towards 9 PM. There was none of the animation supposed to be (like boat rides, etc). Love river signage

The sign of love river reflecting in the still water are a must shoot!

However, couples were still out strolling on this bridge and with some reason: this place is a very romantic place to come and walk together with your beloved.

Couple on overpass of Love River
A couple takes a stroll on the overpass of Love River in Kaohsiung

 

Later, I moved on the overpass over the road and that is where I met two other Taiwanese photographers, Paul and Jimmy, who were shooting the passing cars in the city. We took some pics, talked (gear, of course!). We then exchanged our respective instagrams and finally, took a common selfie with my camera and the remote.

Photographers selfie
Our selfie with Paul and Jimmy

Night Photography

Obviously, the story would not be complete, if I did not share the picture I took on that bridge…

Kaohsiung by night
The view from the overpass over Kaohsiung by night. Large roads!

While “Love River” is an interesting place for photography, there are not many shops or restaurants around past a certain hour, and by the time we were done with photography, it was already nearing midnight. I had a meal quite late that day, I carried out my barefoot hike, without eating.

I hence took leave from my new friends and while walking towards the MRT station, I found out “The Plus”, a homely little restaurant mainly frequented by bikers at that late hour.

The plus restaurant
A view of the inside of “The Plus”.

I must say that while simple, their menu has some tasty bits, like this cheeseburger (beats Mc Donald’s by a hundred leagues).

A local cheeseburger
A (very) late dinner.

Going back: a bicycle adventure

Obviously, by the time I had finished my dinner, it was too late, as the last MRT had already passed. I then walked from Houyi MRT station to Central Railway station… It was however impossible to use a bicycle to ride through the construction site cutting the direct road to the hotel (Sunduo).

I hired a city bike and started a long ride to the hotel, which took all of one hour. In fact, I had to take several turns to finally join the main road. Despite being tired from the day’s hike, this was quite a pleasant ride. In fact, Kaohsiung has a lot of biking lanes and drivers are considerate, and the temperature was just temperate. Furthermore, the main avenues reserve the right lane for scooters and bicycles, so all in all, even at 1 AM, it is still safe.

I saw quite a number of “spas” and night entertainment places on my way, but mostly at provincial level, so nothing sleazy outside, thankfully. Before a gaming place, I spotted this little LINE car. This proves that LINE has penetrated much more in Taiwan (one of its biggest markets – the app is blocked in mainland China).

Line car
A card decorated with cute line stickers parked outside a gaming arcade in Kaohsiung.

I finally got to the hotel at 1 AM and went immediately to sleep in preparation for another day of exploring in Kaohsiung.

Despite being tired, that first day in Kaohsiung had been more than promising! The next day, I was going to visit the “art pier”

 

Barefoot hiking in Shoushan national park

The route to Shoushan national park

In my previous post, I mentioned that I first stopped at Formosa Boulevard station to take pics of the “Dome of light”. The moment I left my hotel, I decided that this hike would be made barefoot or at least without shoes.

After checking the route to Shoushan national park, my conclusion was that I would do best to get down from the MRT at Aozhidi station, and continue on foot… Obviously I underestimated the distance. I got down at Aozhidi station anyway, where I discovered the large city park. By now, was starting to get tired with walking and standing, so took off my flip-flops and enjoyed resting my weary feet by walking in the grass.

This didn’t mean that I was not there for shooting pics. So, some context pics, I did shoot, despite the lighting being really too flat and hazy.

Decoration in the park
Decoration in the park

For being in autumn, with some leaves already falling here and there, there were however still flowers to be seen in the park.

Flowers in the park
Flowers on background of urban cityscape.

As it was a week day, and we were in the morning, not a lot of people were in this park. Just some locals chilling out like this lady. The sight reminded me of that movie’s title “barefoot in the park”.

Barefoot in the park
A lady chills out in a park of Kaohsiung.

City bikes: the ideal way to explore a city

My excursion took another level however, when I discovered that you could rent bikes for a moderate amount (free of charge for 1/2 hr, and only 5 NT$ until one hour).

Rental post for city bikes
City Bikes in Kaohsiung

I grabbed one bike, and as sandals can be dangerous for biking, I biked barefoot, starting thus my journey up towards Shoushan national park. Unfortunately, signage is not very clear, so I took it a bit on the long side.

I managed to find another park near the museum of fine arts, where I took a selfie. The parks are always very lovely in their arrangement and very well kept in Kaohsiung, and that is part of the charm of this little coastal town.

Bridge over pond
A little bridge over a pond in the park of the Museum of fine arts

Getting lost is still discovering

I used  google maps to find my way, but still, the lack of appropriate signage means that I lost an important entrance point to the Shoushan national park. I didn’t mind that in the least, as for me, when you are on a vacation, getting “lost” is still a way of discovering. I was biking/walking in one of the more industrial parts of the city.

Old machine
AN old and rusty machine left in a side treet of the Shoushan district

This allowed me to search for photographic “targets of opportunity”. For example this old and rusty machine in a side street.

Textures

By then, I had returned the bicycle and was continuing on foot. The area, very much an industrial area with a few cement factories and a boating workshop had some interesting gems, both in figurative and in the proper sense. In the proper sense, as I met this gentleman named Ting, who allowed me to shoot some of his wonderful stones and gems.

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Less attractive, but always interesting for textures, was to shoot some details on a boat engine stored on the street.

 

Boat engine detail
Details of a boat engine left out on the street in Kaohsiung.

That workshop even stored some boats outside, giving rise to some quite surreal scenes.

Navigating the city
A boat in the city: a little boat stored outside a boat mechanic workshop

 

At the national park

Buddhist temple in Shoushan

The Bouddhist temple in Shoushan

Finally, around noon, i.e. a couple hours after my original plan, I arrived near the entrance of the national park of Shoushan. This park is open to the public, so no need to pay any entrance fee. There is a big Buddhist monastery at the entrance, with some nice views over the sprawling city below. I used a mirror on the parking to shoot a self-portrait (yes, not a “selfie”).

Near the Buddhist monastery
Near the Buddhist monastery.

However, there are also some stray dogs (which is strange as not far from the park, there is also a pet shelter), and they can be pretty aggressive if you get close (I guess because there was a puppy with them).

Barefoot hiking

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had started running barefoot as a way of allowing my left knee to recover and exercise again. Well, beyond barefoot running, I also started barefoot hiking, and Shoushan national park is an ideal setting for this as there is no rock clambering involved. Barefoot hiking is probably one of the best ways of really “feeling” the nature and your environment.

Shoushan national park
A gorgeous view from up there… In Shoushan national park

Later, as I began my climb in the park I took off my slippers. As I began walking up the park, the stairs and flat areas were pretty easy. Even these rocks were not that difficult to walk upon. The freshness of the ground and the various textures instead were definitely an enticing experience.

Barefoot hiking in Shoushan
Barefoot on the rocks: fun and not painful at all

 

Barefoot hiking: sensory overload

The variety of surfaces makes it an extremely interesting sensory experience when you hike barefoot. From the fresh feel of the mud and leaves, to the angles on the rocks and even every little asperity of the path. Even the most uncomfortable sections still leave you with a lot of sensations. I walked on a very jagged and rocky path which made me understand the saying “death by a thousand cuts”. While not cutting my skin at all, it obliged me to take it extra slow, watch my step at all times, but also was a high demand on my footplant’s nerves. At the end of the day, my foot cried mercy from all the sensation (don’t forget, it was my very first barefoot hike on uneven terrain).

The encounters on this hike were also interesting. I was not alone in doing barefoot hiking. This seems more of a trend in Taiwan. I saw at least 3 other guys doing the same. One of the guys, Xiao, even posed with me for a selfie and of course, the “foot selfie”). Xiao was so happy to see another barefoot hiking, that he even offered me some typical Chinese roots (very delicious).

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It seems Taiwan has a more relaxed attitude towards barefoot hiking or running. I even saw a guy running barefoot on a track near Kaohsiung arena.

The welcoming spirit of Taiwan for hikers

For being a national park, I found Shoushan national park to be very welcoming to visitors. In a rest stop, somewhere in the middle of the trail, you can find a shelter where they offer free hot tea! As I had emptied my water by that point, it was a very welcome halt.

Tea for visitors
Rest stop in Shoushan national park offering tea for visitors

At this point, I believe the distance covered was around 2 kms, but I was walking very slowly, as it was a very jagged and uneven terrain, and my feet were starting to have difficulties. However, before returning, I took a halt at the “4 banyan” rest stop. At lot of retirees keeping active there!

4 banyan rest stop
Old people taking a rest at the 4 banyan rest stop

Later, I headed back down… And found that I was near to the original temple featured earlier.

Back to the beginning
Full circle as I come down below near the Buddhist temple seen earlier.

It was where I met a tour guide, who despite his limited English, tried to explain me about the botanic qualities of several trees in the park. I really appreciated that encounter and it confirmed my opinion that inhabitants of Kaohsiung are incredibly kind and welcoming. The whole excursion took several hours, but were absolutely lovely.

First day in Kaohsiung: dome of light and getting acquainted

Breakfast : finding a place

After arriving the day before, I decided to do some hiking for my first day in Kaohsiung. The goal was to visit the Shoushan national park. Despite my desire of getting out early and filling my day with activities, I only got out of the hotel towards 9 AM. Of course, I helped myself to some coffee with the gorgeous view and the lovely temperature on the balcony of the hotel.

First coffee
First coffee in Kaohsiung

I loaded my heavy gear, my tripod (why or why, did I take it?) and headed out to search for a breakfast place.

In the end, I fell back on the local Starbucks where a croissant and latte were the occasion of a first picture. Somehow, this Starbucks became my go-to solution for breakfasts every day of my stay.

Bfast at Starbucks
A view of my first photographic breakfast at Starbucks.

Kaohsiung MRT

Surprisingly for a provincial city, the MRT system is quite perfected. They even have such marketing gimmicks such as selling “Justice League” MRT cards (also called Ipass). You buy it for 100 NT$ and for another 120 NT$, you can charge it with a full day pass (250 NT$ for two days). Otherwise, you pay per each trip (generally, the maximum being 30 NT$ for one trip).

Justice League Ipass card
In Kaohsiung, the MRT sells “Justice League” Ipass cards

The MRT itself is very fast and convenient. I have one qualm however: the last train passes at midnight, so if you are out late (not a lot of people at that), not many options: bicycle or taxi.

Kaohsiung MRT
This looks very much like the Hong Kong MTR.

The dome of light

Kaohsiung is probably most famous for its “dome of light” in the MRT station Formosa Boulevard. This decoration, made of painted glass and conceived by Narcissus Quagliata has been the main attraction of the tourists and visitors to Kaohsiung. Made of several pieces of painted glass, this is an impressive reflection of the personality of Kaohsiung and its openness.

Dome of light
The dome of light as seen in Formosa Boulevard station.

In Formosa Boulevard station, they have a white grand piano. A sign advises people that they are welcome to entertain travelers by using the grand piano, should they feel like it. Of course, they must request permission in advance, but it is a cute idea, showing how open this city is.

After taking some pics with long exposure (to enjoy the smaller aperture and also lower ISO, I took back the MRT towards Aozhidi, my next stop on the path to Shoushan national park. The real challenge of my first day in Kaohsiung was just beginning…. But you can read that in my next post!

Flight to Kaohsiung: it all starts with a delay…

Last Sunday, I was flying to Kaohsiung, in Taiwan. This trip took place thanks to a promotion of American Express and Zuji, which both offered tickets to various destinations around the world for 30,000 pts on your credit card. The offer was too good not to enjoy (although flights are always on inconvenient dates, but not a big deal if you are taking vacations anyway).

HK airport lounge

As you never know what you might find on the plane as food, I had my dinner at the Premium Lounge of the airport (which you can access with a priority pass card (often given for free by some cards issuers).

Chicken, rice and vegetables as well as mushroom soup were on my menu. Nothing to talk home about, but certainly more tasty than on the plane.

China Airlines nice staff, but chronic delays

China Airlines is the largest airline in Taiwan and is part of the Skyteam alliance (uniting some older European airlines such as Air France or KLM). I didn’t know that company or had never flown on their planes until now. In economy, the service is quite ok, even if the flight attendants had to be scrambling around to feed everyone given the short duration of the flight.

In business instead, I would be a bit more doubtful, as I saw them storing the food temporarily on the floor just outside the plane (all wrapped up, of course).

Food stored
Food stored on the floor for the flight to Kaohsiung.

Departing, we had a huge delay, so we arrived only at midnight in Kaohsiung, too late to catch any MRT. The worst part is probably that on the return flight, they were also delayed! In this case, however, the delay was less meaningful, as HK has plenty of transportation options until late at night (and even during the night).

I mentioned about the short duration of the flight? Well, given their seemingly systematic delays, China Airlines “pads” its flight time and for a flight time of 1h10, they announce actually 1h40.

Arrival in Kaohsiung: already welcoming!

I have had my share of experience with immigration authorities in various countries. However, Taiwan was one of the most welcoming immigration experience I ever had. You must just give your passport and affix your two indexes on a digital print scanner upon arrival as well as upon exit (and complete an arrival card). Less easy than the entrance for residents in Hong Kong, but still easy and fast. Of course, absolutely not comparable to the living hell that can be the Thai immigration.

Conveyor belt
Luggages were distributed pretty quickly from the plane to the conveyor belt.

I then had to catch an Uber which, of course, gouged me with a price of 429 NT$ for just six kilometers. My hotel was the Art Eyes Sunduo, a sort of serviced apartment, which, thankfully had someone on watch despite the late hour. Which pretty spacious as apartment for one person and with an excellent view, I was pretty put off by the sign warning not to dispose of toilet paper in the toilet…

Art eyes
The hotel room at Art eyes Sunduo.

The view from the hotel room was gorgeous, however.

Kaohsiung by night
The gorgeous view from the hotel at night.

The following day, I was getting ready to start a long hike…. Which I will relate in my next post!