Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Kaohsiung Weekend


I'm quite slow with travel posts, often creating them long after the actual trip taken - and this is no different. The reason is simple - unlike writing, which I can just punch out on my computer or even iPad with the help of a Bluetooth keyboard, travel posts require photos, perhaps a touch of background research, online checks for locations, directions and addresses etc. The photos are the most annoying part: years ago I exhausted my Blogger photo storage limit and have been posting from Flickr ever since, and frankly I find it to be a pain. So, I procrastinate.

Anyway, over the summer I had the chance to travel for work to both Tainan and Kaohsiung. The Tainan post for that work trip can be found here, but I'm only now getting the chance to write the Kaohsiung one. I took the HSR down on a Friday, met my colleague, we did our work, and then I was free for the rest of the weekend to enjoy the city. My colleague hightailed it back to Taipei but I love southern Taiwan - I was happy to take the opportunity (and free HSR tickets) to stick around in a part of the country I don't get to go to very often.

The last time we went to Kaohsiung it was very briefly, on our way back from exploring the east coast of Pingdong (a wonderful trip that you can read about here). We met our friend from Dashe - mentioned below - ate at that super local burgers-and-rice-vermicelli chain (Dan Dan?) that is all over southern Taiwan but not Taipei, and went to the Sugar Refinery (one of those government 'creative park' projects that takes advantage of old industrial space, is basically fine, but not the most interesting thing most cities have to offer). A good 5-6 years before that we had a free day in Kaohsiung, also due to my having a business trip down there, and we wandered Hamasen, Qijin Island, Chaishan - to see monkeys - and the British Consulate at Takao after spending the night in the Batman Room of the Eden Exotica Love Hotel - an experience I highly recommend by the way. We'd taken trips before that, but all were quite some time ago, stopping at Love River (really only nice at night, decent beer garden with weirdly no bathroom?) and a few other places.

For this trip, Brendan had work on Friday evening, so I had the city to myself until he could join me around midnight.

I checked into our hotel - a pretty good one though it was one of the many in the 85 Tower (I can't remember the name, but there are a ton and they are all fairly similar) and booked it to Formosa Boulevard Station. Enjoying the Dome of Light was not my main goal, though I always take a moment to appreciate it:



My main mission, though, was to visit the silversmith who has a small shop (half a shop really, he shares space with another vendor) in the MRT station. He makes gorgeous silver flowers: cherry blossoms, lilies and more. I already have two; my sister wanted one. After procuring it, I met a friend for dinner and drinks at Beast (recommended: all the food, though I had the sweet potato quesadillas, and their drinks - I had a cucumber mojito that was excellent).

In fact, I would go so far as to say this is my favorite Western restaurant in Taiwan now, and I am impressed that it is in Kaohsiung, not Taipei (not because I think Taipei is better, but it is bigger, has a bigger international/expat scene and most people think of it as the place to find good Western food).

Beast American Bar & Grill 野獸美式餐廳
118-1 Liuhe 2nd Road, Qianjin District, Kaohsiung (MRT Formosa Boulevard Station)
07 286 5137

The next day we didn't stay in Kaohsiung city at all (or at least not what I consider "Kaohsiung City" - the reorganization of counties into cities in Taiwan is not something I've ever grown accustomed to and doubt I ever will). Instead we headed out to Dashe (大社) to visit our friend, Sasha. We haven't had the chance to see much of Sasha since she moved back to Kaohsiung, so we were happy to have this chance.

The most interesting thing to do in Dashe is go to Guanyin Mountain on the outskirts of town. Near the base of the mountain there is an old memorial arch, and several eateries serving a local specialty: whole chicken in a pot (土雞). At the right time of year you can also buy large quantities of green jujubes, the local fruit of note, around here.

We went through the market and stopped at one random house (was it a house? I'm not sure) whose owners had several pets, including two cats and a lizard. I am not sure they were all very good friends.






...before hiking to a scenic viewpoint and just hanging out for awhile. I have a picture from this but I don't like how I look, so I'm not going to post it. But first, of course, we got chicken:

About that sticker on my water bottle: my favorite question this year was my cousin from the USA, who doesn't really know Taiwanese politics (he actually bought a KMT sun pin, and I told him he was lucky I was letting him in the house with that trash): "Who's Bumbler Ma?"


Anyway, as evening fell we said goodbye to Sasha and headed back to Kaohsiung City, where we met my friend and student Charlene to go to Ruifeng Night Market (瑞豐夜市) near MRT Kaohsiung Arena, a far better night market than the more famous Liuhe Tourist Night Market downtown. We hung out in the market, ate various things, saw some straight up weird stuff:


...and then grabbed a beer at Sojourner Cafe nearby. In fact, there are two fantastic cafes in that area, Sojourner and Reve Cafe. Both are cool places to hang out.

Sojourner Cafe 蝸居咖啡
1035 Yucheng Street, Gushan District Kaohsiung (MRT Kaohsiung Arena, near Ruifeng Night Market)
07 555 2530

Reve Cafe 黑浮咖啡
#2 Wenzhong Street, Gushan District, Kaohsiung (MRT Kaohsiung Arena) 

The next day, in keeping with my theme during these trips of doing the things we did when we visited these cities nearly a decade ago, no matter how touristy, I suggested we take advantage of the good weather and go to Lotus Lake (which, by the way, is very hard to reach by MRT - we ended up taking a taxi).

This was an easy choice because, having to leave on Sunday night rather than Monday morning for Taipei, we checked out of our hotel and stored our bags in lockers at the HSR station: Lotus Lake is not far away. 

The most famous of the many temples around Lotus Lake is the Dragon Tiger Pagoda (龍虎塔) and an easy place to ask a taxi to drop you off. From there, you can wander to a few other spots and there is at least one cafe (but not much in the way of food) in the area. This part of Kaohsiung has been pretty well covered in English travel guides and blogs as it is fairly touristy, so I won't say much more - enjoy some pictures: 














After that we headed down to another touristy area, Pier 2. Again, a place we'd been before but not for many years. Honestly, there's still not that much going on around here, but sometimes a little market sets up and it can be nice to walk around. Though it does feel kind of like a government 'creative park' project that never quite caught on (though I feel the same way about Huashan and Songshan Creative Parks in Taipei, and rarely go to either - I don't think I've been to either in years, in fact). But, you always see interesting things, like this guy who brought his cat. The cat was not into it.


And I will say the large-scale outdoor art is interesting, and makes for good photo opportunities.




...and that all in all, while Tainan has my heart and Taipei is my home, Kaohsiung remains one of my favorite cities in Taiwan. I appreciate that it has acceptable public transit (something my beloved Tainan lacks, though Tainan does have something of a walkable core, unlike Kaohsiung), the weather, my friends there, the general feel of the place - a relaxed, laid-back culture.

In any case, because I had a class on Monday morning, we had to leave Sunday night. We watched the sun go down on Pier 2 and went out to eat at Zzyzx because they had Takao Beer.

Zzyzx 宅克斯
#234 Chenggong Road, Lingya District Kaohsiung (MRT Central Park or Sanduo Shopping District, though neither are very close)
07 269 3438

I know it seems like we went to Kaohsiung and ate all Western food, but I assure you our other meals were entirely local, either from random restaurants and noodle shacks on the street, like the 涼麵 place near our hotel, or at the night market. I'm pointing out the Western food because Taiwanese food is easy to come by in Kaohsiung. But, do try Zzyzx - it's more of a bar and I wasn't a fan of the music, but the burger was good and I actually prefer Takao Beer to Taiwan Beer (sorry).

After dinner, though we would have liked to have stayed, we walked back to the MRT (Central Park) and headed to the HSR. A great trip, far too short.



Oh yeah, one of the things you'll notice in Kaohsiung is how mayor Chen Chu's adorable cartoon avatar is everywhere. Here she is racing a car and getting a massage (which totally looks like she's a sniper aiming at a target while getting an encouraging back rub).


1 comment:

Matt Stone said...

On my one and only trip to Kaohsiung (and Taiwan) early in 2016, I was very impressed with the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center. Not so much for the religious aspect, but just the sheer scale of the bronze Buddha, and the generally tranquil surrounds.

And on the subject of cartoons, there were some intriguingly sexy characters being used to promote the MRT system – e.g. a female train conductor wearing Playboy bunny stockings.

(If I get around to it, will post some examples on Instagram.)