Taiwan - Kaohsiung

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January 24th 2017
Published: January 25th 2017
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Suzanne here...

I wanted to get a bus to Kaohsiung but we couldn't find any details online so it seemed easier to get a local train. It only took an hour, although we did have to stand for much of the journey. At least the overhead luggage racks on Taiwanese trains are big enough for backpacks - take note Europe.

The J Hotel was about five minutes walk from the station. Check in was at 3pm but, very unusally for Taiwan, they let us check in early at 2pm. The hotel was fine, clean room and the usual fridge / kettle / separate shower etc that we've come to expect in Taiwan. Although to be fair we are spending a bit more on hotels than the rest of Asia.

We didn't linger in the hotel room, and were soon walking up to the Fine Arts Museum, taking a minor detour through a new looking and rather nice park. This is something we would come to notice about Kaohsiung. Everywhere we went it looked like money had been spent regenerating the city. In some ways it has more of an American than Asian feel about it. The museum itself was ok, if not amazing. Free, and worth the walk anyway.

That night we decided to give Mexican another go. We were nearly stumped when we could not for the life of us find the MRT station. Turns out it's in front of the main station and we were at the back. A sign would have been nice! Quick tip for anyone in the same position - it would take ages to walk around so look for the guard with the little paper tickets which allow you to cut through the station without a train ticket. Once we found it the MRT was easy to use.

The restaurant, Pancho's was a bit disappointing. More fast-food than a proper restaurant. We both had enchiladas and although the filling was nice the sauce was way too sweet. Never mind, it wasn't dreadful.We then popped for a couple of drinks at The Black Dog. It was ok, but the music was terrible. The last straw for me was a truly vile song which may have been by someone called Akon. Although I can't be sure as I've never heard of him. If this is popular culture then I'd rather remain in ignorance thanks. God, it was shit.

The next day we toyed with the idea of Kenting, but it seemed a little far. So we settled on the nearby Fo Guang Shan temple, about 40 mins away. We failed to find a bus at Kaohsiung bus station, although they allegedly exist. In the end we got the MRT to the high speed rail station and easily caught the regular E03 bus from there.

Fo Guang Shan is the 'mothership' of the modern Buddhist temple we'd stumbled upon in Keelung. The majority of temples we have visited in Taiwan have been Tao. Fo Guang Shan is the HQ of a new international Chinese Buddhist religious movement based in Taiwan. Building began in 1967, and it is the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. A large museum was added to the site in 2011. Well, the complex is massive. If you wanted to explore every inch you would need the whole day. For us, three - four hours was enough.

We enjoyed the day. David was a bit more cynical about the place than I was. I could see why. There were lots of gift shops, and cartoon characters, and even a Starbucks. David felt it was a bit 'Buddhaworld'. While I did baulk at the Starbucks, the rest of it did not bother me so much. It was somewhat lighthearted, but I was ok with that. The gift shops raise funds (they are a charity) and they don't charge admission. Much like the Keelung temple, there was one bit that felt just slightly 'cultish' (I backed away quickly) but in all honesty I think this was more my natural suspicion of religion than anything they actually did. Everyone was very open and friendly.

We caught the 8051 bus back to the high speed rail station and walked about 20 minutes to Lotus Lake, picking up some beer on the way (surprise, surprise) and spent a happy hour watching people falling off some kind of watersurfing zip-line contraption. By this time it was early evening. Given that we were within walking distance of the restaurant we planned to go to, and we'd skipped lunch, we opted for an early tea.

Foster Hewitt's is a bar and grill with a good reputation for burgers, which is what we had, along with some chicken wings. Actually very good. The only disappointment was the lack of beer. They had run out of Taiwan beer and San Mig. Our options were Stella (ugh) or expensive bottled beers that didn't really tally with our budget. A bit poor in a bar we thought. We stuck to diet coke. The music was crap, and with no beer there was little point in staying once we'd eaten. We did pop to a place called Beer Belly for one though. Perfectly nice but again not our taste in music. It really does make a difference to our enjoyment. We were back at our hotel early, but had a few things to look up anyway.

On our way down to breakfast we took our laundry and were pleased to find the machines were available, and cheap. Reception even provided some wash powder. Breakfast was ok, not great, but David did get some ice-cream which made him happy. It was a bit of a lazy morning, waiting for our wash, but worth it as we had a full set of clean clothes ready for the next stop.

Our final full day in Taiwan was quite relaxed. We took the ferry over to Cijin Island. There was not a lot to do, but we enjoyed sitting by the black sand beach. A few people were surfing, although frankly the waves were poor and it looked like hard work and a waste of effort to us. We were sitting on a nice covered bench. There was an identical one next to us but someone had made it into a temporary shrine with plastic disposable cups, water and incense. Now this was clearly a makeshift job, nothing permanent or official. But interestingly people kept approaching it and as soon as they saw it backed off rather than move the stuff to sit down.

After a while we made our way back across via the ferry and walked back to the hotel. We grabbed a slice of pizza on the way from a little roadside stall, randomly run by a Brit. Then we took the route along Love River. Probably rather nice in the summer, but there was not a lot to see in January.

For our final Taiwan dinner we chose Cow On Fire. This was billed as an Argentinan asado restaurant, and I guess it was although it had a vey Taiwanese feel. It was two hours of all you could eat for $599 each. Very good value, especially as we thought the quality was excellent. We did have a bit of salad, mashed potato (or mushed potatoes as it said on the menu) and pork. But mainly we just had steak. Lots and lots of steak. Obviously we didn't manage two solid hours of steak-scoffing. Probably one. But we did eat a lot of steak! We also had to have a couple of Taiwan beers each (even though soft drinks were free) as at $90 for a big bottle it was the cheapest we'd seen. All in, a great choice.

Unfortunately it was time to leave Taiwan. Moving on was easy as ever here, about a 30 minute trip on the MRT and then a very speedy passage through the efficient airport security. We thought that given it's a small island, and winter, two weeks in Taiwan would be enough. But we could easily spend longer here. The weather has helped. Bar a few cool days at the start in Taipei it has been low-mid 20's, British summer temperatures, in the daytime anyway. But we also feel there is more to see that we just could not fit in. Despite the language difficulties, Taiwan has been a very easy country. Modern, progressive, efficient. Free, clean public toilets everywhere you go. Numerous free wi-fi spots. Excellent public transport. Free museums and parks. The people are really nice too. It's been a great stop for us and we are sad to leave

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