Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Kaohsiung III

Next we went to the old British consulate for coffee and snacks. The consulate - which hasn't actually served its purpose as a British consulate for over a hundred years - has been turned into a touristy museum and gift shop. (There's another former British consulate in Danshui which is almost identical in terms of architecture and tourist-iness.)

Some views from the consulate cafe.

More architecture and views.

After the consulate, we headed up to Lotus Lake in Zuoying, not far from the high-speed rail station.

Lotus Lake, which is not a terribly attractive lake (it was half dried up when we were there - hopefully the typhoon the next day replenished its water supply), is nevertheless surrounded by cool stuff, with Buddhist and traditional Chinese religious themes.

Here the objective is to enter through the dragon's mouth and exit through the tiger's mouth. (Despite the ominous clouds and weather forecast, the weather was actually still quite pleasant.)

The area around Lotus Lake.

The weather was still holding up, so we went back downtown for dinner at Liouhe Night Market. Liouhe is not all that big as night markets go (a fraction of the size of Shilin or Jingmei in Taipei) but the food was quite good.

Afterwards we went to the bar atop the 85 Sky Tower, the tallest building in Kaohsiung and (according to Wikipedia) still the 16th tallest building in the world. The bar wasn't the nicest ever but the view was pretty neat, and despite our expectations it still wasn't raining when we left at midnight.

We returned to the hotel late Sunday night to the news that Taipei City had officially canceled all work and school the next day. Our train tickets were for 9am Monday.

We woke up to find the typhoon had finally arrived, as a single look outside our window made quite clear. The high speed rail had shut down for the duration of the storm. We weren't going anywhere.

We were in a hotel with an all-you-can-eat complimentary breakfast buffet, HDTV in the rooms and free Internet access. There were worse situations we could have been in.

We only left the hotel once that day, to take a taxi to the HSR station to refund our tickets and buy new tickets for the following morning. Apart from that we stayed indoors, reading and watching TV, as the typhoon drenched Kaohsiung outside. We had to pay for another night at the hotel, but given the discount we were getting we didn't mind.

Tuesday morning we returned safely to Taipei. We somehow managed not to get directly rained on once all weekend, which was kind of a neat trick.

Kaohsiung II

The Love River through downtown Kaohsiung used to be infamously polluted. Kaohsiung has cleaned itself up impressively in recent years, and the Love River is now the pleasant product of an urban renewal project. There are restaurants and open-air bars along the riverside.

As we ended Saturday, the typhoon continued to approach Taiwan but the weather still held up impressively.

On Sunday morning we partook of a complimentary hotel breakfast and then took a taxi to Shoushan, a mountain close to the city center known for its wildlife.

Macaques are most active around sunrise and sunset, but even though we came too late in the morning for prime monkey viewing there were still quite a few around. Unlike Tienmu Old Trail in Taipei, there were no signs posted telling visitors to be cautious around the macaques, but we kept our distance anyway. (Rough Guide says there's been a problem in the past with humans feeding the monkeys, and we didn't want them to think we were bringers of food.)

The ocean, seen from Shoushan.

Kaohsiung-style road repair work. To prevent anyone from hitting the pothole, just stick an overturned office chair in it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Kaohsiung I

I went to Kaohsiung with Jenna weekend before last - the weekend right before Typhoon Fung-wong hit Taiwan. Neither of us had really been there, so we decided to finally buy high-speed rail tickets and spend a weekend there. We paid close attention to the typhoon's approach, but finally decided to take a chance on the weather and make the trip that weekend.

Rather than try to reserve a hotel room from Taipei, we decided to look for a room when we got to Kaohsiung. We ended up spending an hour or so at the travel information desk at Kaohsiung's HSR station - apparently there was some kind of "shopping festival" in town and most of the inexpensive-yet-decent hotels in the city center were booked. We finally found a decent hotel that was a bit distant from downtown but at least it was (sort of) walkable from the subway...

...and it turned out to be surprisingly nice. Horribly tacky lobby but the rooms were really nice (with HDTV) and the complimentary breakfast buffet was as good as you'd find in a good Western hotel. Everything in the hotel looked brand new. It wasn't remotely full and we got our room at a substantial discount. Our theory is that it was constructed in anticipation of the 2009 World Games.

Northern Kaohsiung struck me as somewhat Singaporean in its wide streets and architecture. (Central Kaohsiung would be pure Taiwan.) Typhoon Fung-wong is two days away in this picture.

We took the subway to central Kaohsiung. Kaohsiung's MRT system is brand new, opened just a few months ago. There's only one operational line so far, the Red Line, which runs north-south. The Orange Line is scheduled to begin service later in August, running east-west - we saw a couple of Orange Line station entrances while taking taxis around the city and they genuinely looked ready to open soon.

The Red Line is clean, shiny and new. Unfortunately, trains that Saturday were running 9 minutes apart - I can't ever remember waiting that long for a train on the Danshui or Bannan lines in Taipei, even on a weekend. When the train did come it was crowded, and just got more crowded as it approached downtown Kaohsiung.

We exited at Sanduo Shopping District and I took a couple of pictures.

From there we took a taxi to the harbor, where we caught a cheap ferry to Cijin, a historic part of the city located on an island.

Harbor pictures:

Cijin's got a lot of interesting old-style architecture; it's also quite touristy.

We ate a seafood dinner on a street loaded with seafood restaurants. I'm not usually a big fan of seafood but I appreciate it when it's done well. Saturday's meal was excellent.

Maybe it's just my imagination, but the temple roofs in Kaohsiung and southern Taiwan seem more elaborate than those in Taipei. I like it.

Temple art in Cijin.

We found this fascinating facade after dark in Cijin and have no idea what it is. This is about the best picture I managed to take of it.