A quick dip into Southern Taiwan

There was no queue for foreign passport holders at Kaohsiung immigration, instead we spend quite some time waiting for our bags.

Then we got MTR passes and given we were staying in the old part of the city to the north, spent quite some time on that. The airport and MTR had hardly been busy but when we got out of the station it was deserted. It was 10:30pm.

Luckily our guest house had told us which exit to take and given us the address in Chinese to show a taxi. The driver, an old guy, didn’t know where it was but wasn’t at all phased. He asked the driver behind and with a rough idea put it into goggle maps. We knew we were down an alley off a street, when we reached the rough location our driver got out and walked the deserted street until he found the alley. He was very sweet and also walked us to the door to make sure we could get in. We’d been given the door code and when he saw it was a traditional Taiwanese house he motioned if he could have a quick look so we let him into the courtyard. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. We had a lovely big room and great bathroom, fridge, kettle and aircon. All for around NZ$65 a night. Much better value than Hong Kong!

The next morning there was no sign of anyone at our digs and the streets were also still deserted. We wandered down a couple of alleyways until we hit the lake. A hub of pagodas and temples we were saving a proper exploration of them until the next day. Our plan for the day was to catch a bus to the main thing we wanted to see. Fo Guang Shan Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Taiwan. It is also a museum and houses a relic said to be Buddha’s tooth. The big attraction for us though is the world’s tallest bronze sitting Buddha statute on top of the museum. 50m tall and made of 2,872 tons of bronze, it’s base takes it to an auspicious 108m.

We’d done some google research which told us we could get there by bus #8010 from the stop the other side of the MTR.

We got to the station and got straight onto bus #8010. A German family also got on which we took to be a good sign. Then after half an hour the bus terminated at a deserted theme park next to an equally deserted university campus. The German family however had got to their destination. We asked another bus driver waiting there and he told us that we needed bus #8010 and it would arrive in 40 minutes. We were bemused. We hung out on a wall and waited, and again wondered where all the people are.

The next bus did indeed go to the temple, dropping us at the entrance. The whole complex is huge, around 100 hectares. The welcome building entrance is flanked by an elephant one side and a tiger on the other, each accompanied by their offspring. The other side of the building is the Way to Buddhahood Path. 240m long and 123m wide it is flanked by 8 Chinese pagodas and the end is a big courtyard before the museum and the Fo Guang Big Buddha looking over all. There were not many visitors so it was quiet and peaceful. We explored the walkways and statues around the sides of the courtyard and spent a couple of hours visiting most of the museum before heading out onto the terrace to get the closest view possible of the Buddha. It’s impressive and well worth the trip. We finished by visiting each of the stupas.

We were lucky in not having wait long for a bus, this time we had a straight run back, albeit a different route on a (once again) deserted highway. It terminated at the MTR station and we decided to explore the shops that side. We needed a SIM card and some food provisions. It took a while but we scored a SIM and we also found a bakery and scored some dinner and breakfast. Around our accomodation there were no shops and nothing open when it went dark (however it was also probably the quietest place we’ve ever stayed). We decided to head to one of the night markets so randomly picked one and jumped on the MTR. It was almost dark by the time we got off. In the heart of the city it still wasn’t busy but there was life. At the night market we finally found all the people. It was a good market, lots of weird and wonderful foods. Not feeling in the mood to be too adventurous we didn’t try much. We were shattered when we got back but had a good laugh when the taxi at the front of the queue turned out to be the driver we’d had the night before.

The next morning Emma went in search of a laundrette. We still hadn’t met the caretaker of our accommodation but she was incredibly helpful on WeChat. Emma soon discovered that down our road the other way only 300m it hit a main road with supermarkets, banks and a few food places. She’d also found the laundrette. Self service and open 24hrs that meant the laundry could wait. Instead we borrowed bikes from our accommodation and headed out to explore the sights around the lake.

We had huge fun whizzing down the narrow lanes down to the lake. Emma finding a bit of confidence on 2 wheels after her pillion adventures in the Philippines. 

The lake is called the Lotus Pond, it covers 42 hectares though, which means it’s definitely a lake! Surrounded by 20 temples, numerous pagodas and palaces it is a real burst of culture. There are pathways all the way round it to cycle and walk, with a number winding through trees. We cycled like a pair of kids with it being a novelty and stopped at everything we found so it took us a few hours to loop all the way round. By then it was early afternoon and hot. We found a small place making small stuffed bread rolls in a tandoor. We hung out in the shade of a tree until the first batch were cooked. They were a perfect lunch. Emma went back for extra after trying one that tasted deliciously like donut.

Hot and tired we decided it would be a good time to do the laundry. Naturally we weren’t going to walk now we’d got bikes. The main road was busy compared to other roads but there were a number of locals on bikes so we figured why not. It was a fun adrenaline rush!

A woman helped us work out how to buy laundry soap and switch the machine on. Then we chilled out on the waiting chairs outside excited at the prospect of having properly clean and fresh smelling clothes.

In the evening we cycled to the MTR station. Given it was dark we stuck to lit roads and pathways. We’d picked another night market to try out. Again it was good and we tried a few different things. The people are so friendly one even refused to charge us. Not finding anything quite to our palate when we got back to our digs we cycled back up our digs and up to the main road and went to the MacDonalds down the road for dinner. On the way back we stocked up on snacks and drinks at the supermarket. It was huge fun whizzing down the streets in the dark.

Our final full day in Taiwan and we cycled to the MRT station, parked the bikes and walked through to the Train Station above it. Then we hopped on a bullet train. Our destination was the next city of Tainan. The oldest city in Taiwan it is the country’s birthplace and is known as its cultural heart. The journey took 13 minutes on the bullet train. The station is out of town so they run free shuttle coaches which take an hour to get into town. We’d decided to get off at the Confucius Temple and then explore by foot.

The temple had renovation work going on and was small and pretty unexciting. Afterwards we headed across the road to the explore the old streets. Bursting with traditional charm they were home to many nice craft shops and hipster style cafes. It was really quite a cool place. We’d marked on our map a few key places we wanted to go and explored as we went. We visited dozens of temples, stumbled across a street procession to move some statutes between temples, found street markets, old alleys, had some amazing fish for lunch, tried all kinds of local drinks, different iced teas and bubble teas, talked to friendly locals and returned the waves of the woman on the back of the rubbish collection truck.

We were shattered as we made our return journey, however not wanting the day to end we picked a final night market to try. In the art district of the city it was a reasonable walk from the nearest MTR station past a big park. It is probably a lovely area to explore in the day. The market was small but good. We tried lots of different foods, the verdict for each ranging from yuk to that’s vile. When we got back to our MTR station we had MacDonalds again for dinner before racing each other the 2.5km back to our digs. 

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