Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kaohsiung and Kenting

This past weekend was my latest jaunt around southern Taiwan, including days spent in Kaohsiung (where I'd been before) and Kenting (where I'd never been).

On Friday afternoon Emily and I took the HSR down to Kaohsiung and quickly located Kaohsiung 202, a neat little backpackery hostel near the Love River. Kaohsiung 202 was great, the first backpacker's hostel I've stayed at in Taiwan. Our room, although extremely basic, was also clean and extremely cheap. The shared bathrooms were sufficiently clean. And there was free Internet. The hostel is marketed entirely to foreigners, and the women who run it didn't seem Taiwanese (we think they were Filipina).

Although it's a bit of a walk from the MRT, the hostel is centrally located. We headed to the Kaohsiung municipal film archive, just a short walk away, which has excellent exhibits on the history of Taiwanese moviemaking with an emphasis on southern Taiwan. We got dinner at Liuhe Night Market - often reviled as excessively touristy, but you can count on it for a fine meal - and returned to the Love River for drinking Taiwan Beer at a riverside cafe.

There's the view from the roof of the hotel. The Love River is visible beyond the parking lot.

The Love River used to be known as a dirty polluted mess. Now that it's cleaned up and the riverside area is developed, it's a center of Kaohsiung civic pride.

There's an election coming up in November, and like Taipei, Kaohsiung is covered with political posters. Beyond the obvious political differences with northern Taiwan, the other thing I noticed was that almost all the politicians running for office here have little South Park-esque cartoon avatars of themselves in their ads. Chen Chu, the mayor of Kaohsiung and easily the most visible political figure in all of southern Taiwan, is the most obvious example, but even the old male KMT candidates for office have their cartoon avatars.

Chen Chu's cartoon self spreading the word about a municipal hotline. Chen's adorable avatar is seen on all manner of information billboards and signage that have nothing to do with politics or the upcoming election.

On Saturday we met up with Emily's former housemate Robin, a Kaohsiung native, and went off exploring the British Consulate and Cijin areas. The old British Consulate is now a museum and a cafe (Jenna and I visited the cafe when we were there in 2008); at the moment the consulate's home to an exhibit on the Beatles and the city of Liverpool, and how Liverpool compares to Kaohsiung. I assumed they were sister cities, but Wikipedia says I was mistaken. So why Liverpool then? I don't know.

Flags and visitors at the very touristy British Consulate.

Cijin is an island in the harbor best approached by ferry. We'd had substantial Japanese noodles for lunch so we were not yet in a mood to appreciate Cijin's seafood offerings. Instead, we took a look at the historic lighthouse (closed) and the ruined fort.

The fort, and Kaohsiung beyond it. The fire in that last picture looked pretty serious, but I never found out what it was from.

That evening Jenna arrived via HSR after working all day, and we rented a car and headed south. (We headed south eventually. Thank to our unfamiliarity with the city's road network, it took us longer than it should have for us to be definitely going in the right direction.)

We stopped for dinner at Donggang, a coastal city south of Kaohsiung that's become quite wealthy as a center of bluefin tuna fishing. Jenna and I visited Donggang on two consecutive weekends last year to see the King Boat festival, which climaxed with the burning of a huge boat on the beach in the early hours of the morning. Central Donggang has several well-known seafood restaurants, but if you want the best food in town you do what we did: go to the harbor and eat at one of the outdoor restaurants there. We got there after ten in the evening, and there were still several places open and doing good business. We didn't have tuna, but we had oysters and crab legs and clams and non-tuna varieties of fish and it was all quite excellent.

We reached Kenting, a town of bars and restaurants designed to separate tourists from their money, after one in the morning. Driving right through it, we located a campground off the road south of Kenting. We paid, set up our tents, and realized our rented car had suffered a flat tire for some reason.

We fixed it in the morning, after a very hot and muggy night (the guy who'd set up a large fan to blow through his tent had the right idea). The car came with a spare tire, tools to change it, but no jack. The guy who ran the campground had a jack. Emily, being the most mechanically competent among us, was able to change the tire. Problem solved. We washed up (the shower facilities were extremely basic, but I was amazed they had hot water) and went off to explore the southernmost parts of the island of Taiwan.

The big stone marker at Taiwan's southernmost point.

The seaside at Kenting.

It was enough to make me regret not bringing snorkeling gear. I'd assumed there wouldn't be enough time.

Emily with coconut. They're available everywhere in Kenting.

Later on we turned inland, driving through Kenting National Park.

To tell the truth I think Jenna took these pictures; her camera was unavailable so she used mine.

Hengchun is one of the largest, if not the largest, town in the Kenting area. The oldest part was lies within the well-preserved old city walls.

That's the old North Gate, as the barely-visible Chinese characters say. Jenna's pictures.

Emily atop an old tank by the North Gate. There's nothing to say you can't climb up on it, and after Emily got off some kids got on. Again, Jenna's picture.

On the way back we stopped in Donggang again, this time at a decent restaurant near Donglong temple. Then we hustled back to Kaohsiung before the deadline passed before returning the car -- it was a relief when we saw giant billboards with photos (not cartoons) of Chen Chu, meaning that we were getting close to our goal. We got back to the HSR station with some time to spare, and they didn't charge us for the flat tire (good thing, too; we would have protested if they had). Hooray!