Day 10: Kaohsiung – 4.5.2015
After another excellent breakfast at the Fuward Hotel, we decided to walk to the Tainan Train Station, as we had planned a day trip to Kaohsiung. We bought a train ticket to Fengshan Train Station, which turned out to be cheap and easy, even without speaking the language. At all the train stations the staff mostly spoke at least some English, and we also had printed out the station names where we wanted to go in Chinese. We left with a local train around 10.30 a.m. and an hour later arrived at Fengshan Station.
We chose the Fengshan Station because a Taiwan Tourist Shuttle starts its tour there. While our experience with the Tourist Shuttle in Tainan was less than pleasant, the Kaohsiung Tourist Shuttle (“Dashu Route”) was fine. We found the bus stop for the Tourist Shuttle just outside the train station but nearly walked into the wrong bus. There was also a Taiwan Tour Bus, which looked like the Tourist Shuttle, but was more expensive and is a guided tour with a group. The Tourist Shuttle, which we later entered, is cheaper (a one day pass costs about just 1,50 Euro!) and basically a bus that stops at tourist attractions in different areas and you can hop on and hop off as you like.
At first, we were the only guests of the Dashu Tourist Shuttle – that came as a surprise after experiencing the crowded ones in Tainan the day before. On the way, it filled, but still, everyone got a seat. It had English announcements for the stations, and the bus had a brief stop at the Bamboo Mountain Winery. There – to our delight – the friendly bus driver encouraged us to take free pineapple and mulberry juice samples, that were delicious.
Soon we arrived at the last station of the Tourist Shuttle, the main reason for our visit to the Kaohsiung area, the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center. Everything there was massive and rather monumental. It is quite impressive, and they have several exhibitions about the history and different aspects of Buddhism in the many towers, prayer rooms but also restaurants and souvenir shops. Opened to the public in 2011 it’s not exactly a historical site, but the massive Buddha statue and the rest of the complex are quite a sight nonetheless. The exhibitions range from “The Life of Buddha”, “Museum of Buddhist Underground Palaces” to “Museum of Buddhist Festivals”. I found it very interesting, and it was also the first time, where I entered a complex, where you are explicitly not allowed to bring non-vegetarian food and betel nuts inside…
We took our time visiting the complex, had some fruit juice, freshly baked cookies and also coffee at a Starbucks there. It was quite a surprise that they have their own Starbucks in the complex! Then we returned to the bus stop for the Tourist Shuttle and returned to Kaohsiung, this time exiting at the MRT Dadong Station. There we found the Dadong Arts Center (more by accident) and took a look. I really admired the architecture there.
At the underground station, we bought tickets at a machine (English service) and took an MRT to Formosa Boulevard Station. The highlight here is the ceiling, the Dome of Light, which is the most extensive glass construction in the world and also a stunning one. In the train, we also chatted with a friendly Taiwanese woman, who recognized us as tourists, asked about our journey and gave us travel advice – very lovely.
At the underground station in busy and modern Kaohsiung, we changed trains and went to the MRT Ecological Park District Station. Opposite the station is the Bo’ai Park, where the bus stop for the bus 51 is located. That bus goes to the Lotus Pond, our next destination. We didn’t want to wait long and also weren’t too sure at which bus stop we had to exit, so we took a cab instead and showed the driver our destination on the map. It cost less than three Euro and only took a few minutes.
We wanted to visit the Lotus Pond, because there are several attractions, including the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. We walked there first and were careful to enter from the dragon’s mouth and exit from the tiger – this is supposed to bring good luck!
Opposite the Pagodas was a temple, that we took a look at, and there was also a bakery, which we really indulge ourselves – there was just so much to choose from, and it all looked delicious.
It was already getting dark, and so we skipped the plan to walk further to the Confucius Temple, which is also located at the Lotus Pond and then walk to the Xinzuoying Train Station. Instead, we took a cab, for a bit more than 2 Euros, bought train tickets at the large station, which also is a stop for the Taiwan High-Speed Rail, and finally were on a (regular) train back to Tainan.
I have to say, that travelling by train in Taiwan proved to be very easy for us as non-Chinese speaking visitors and also very cheap. The ticket from Kaohsiung to Tainan cost just about 2 Euro per Person – and that included seat reservations. It is also very convenient, that the trains are so frequent, that you don’t have to wait long for trains and don’t really have to plan ahead.
We also entered the building opposite the hotel, which turned out to be the Hayashi Department Store. We were curious after always seeing so many people in front of it, at times even in a queue to enter the building. We walked up to the top and had enjoyed the view. There was also some ritual, where you throw coins for good luck, I presume, which many people tried out.