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Part 4: Kaohsiung, Tainan

Map of route in Taiwan
24-25.3: Munich -> Beijing -> Taipei
26.3: Taipei -> Hualian
27.3: Hualian -> Taroko gorge -> Hualian
28.3: Hualien -> Ruisui -> Hualien
29.3: Hualian -> Qingshui cliffs -> Kaohsiung
30.3: Kaohsiung -> Tainan
31.3: Tainan
1.4: Tainan -> Guanziling
2.4: Guanziling -> Alishan
3.4: Alishan
4.4: Alishan -> Lugang
5.4: Lugang -> Taipei
6.4: Taipei -> Beijing
7.4: Beijing -> Munich

30.3: Kaohsiung -> Tainan
Hotel Good Ground, Tainan. 2540 TWD for a rather basic room. This hotel is a disappointment, because the description does not match the description on the booking.com site. The main problem is that the room is very small. My estimate is that the room has an area of about 4m x 3m, i.e. 12 square metres. Even adding the 3 sqm of the toilet, the total size is far less than the 30 sqm advertised on the booking.com site. In addition there is no WLAN in the room, even if the booking.com site promises otherwise (but there is a cable Internet connection).
Except for a fridge, a small table, and an LCD TV there is no other furniture in the room.
The beds consist of mattresses hard like stone on the ground.
Initially there are only two towels in the room, which makes me think that perhaps the hotel gave us a double instead of a quadruple room. The hotel staff however claims that all rooms have the same size. The toilet is not worth mentioning of - rather basic with a bathtub shower.
Then the hotel insists that we pay the room in advance (the entire amount for two days) and adds a 5% surcharge for paying by credit card. The A/C in the room is only on/off, i.e. you cannot set a temperature, but at least the temperature is ok. On the positive side, the location of the hotel is good. It's in a shopping area, surrounded by zillions of shops (Shirley could shop all night).

Weather: sunny with a thin clouds layer the entire day. The sky varies from a very light blue to almost white. Quite warm, probably 28C (I'm wearing shorts and a T-shirt the whole day). No rain.

We get up at 8:25am, have breakfast, pack our stuff and check out  by 10 something am. We are still a bit unsure about what to do today. The idea is to spend the day doing sight-seeing in Kaohsiung, but the fact is that there are not that many "official" sights in this city. The various guides I consult (the Rough Guide, the Lonely Planet, wikitravel) do not agree on what the highlights of Kaohsiung are.

 So we start by taking a taxi to the Lotus pond. It takes about half an hour to get there from the hotel. The Lotus pond is a small lake in the north of Kaohsiung which is surrounded by a number of beautiful Chinese temples. On a good day, when the sky is nice blue and the lake is filled with water, it's a very scenic place.

But today the sky is sort of milky-blue. more white than blue and hazy. The waters in the lake are low and construction works are ongoing on the dragon-tiger temple. No great panoramic views, but the temples are still beautiful.

Lots of people are around on this Saturday morning. A group of (Buddhist?) nuns wearing black and white robes are having a function in one of the temples.

We walk a bit along the pond, trying to get to the next MRT station, Xinzuoying, but realise quite soon that it is too far away to be reached by foot with a small kid. So, around 12pm, we take a taxi to this station.

Supposedly the MRT in Kaohsiung is relatively new, having been inaugurated in 2008. The Xinzuoying station is a combined train and MRT station. It makes a clean and functional impression, and lacks fancy decorations or artwork.

We take the underground and get off at the Formosa boulevard station. Here we have a look at the Dome of Light, a public artwork consisting of glass of different colours on display in this metro station. Quite nice, and the area surrounding it is used as a public theatre for artistic performances (somebody plays the piano while we are there).

It's 12:50pm now and we need to have some lunch. I suggest to get to the Xinyuejiang shopping mall near Central Park. This mall exists according to the Rough Guide for Taiwan. So we take the metro for one more stop and get out at the Central Park station.

Surprise, surprise there is no such thing as a Xinyuejiang shopping mall here. Xinyuejiang is simply the name of the entire area, which is full of smaller and larger shops according to the locals. We check a small mall, but find no good place where to eat. So we ask some people and then walk to the nearby Talee mall.

The Talee mall consists of a department store with some basic eating facilities, and a second connected building (the Star palace if I remember correctly) with upmarket shops selling luxury goods. In this place we have lunch in a good Chinese restaurant on the 9th floor. The bill totals just 1000 TWD, which is good value considering what we get and the pleasant environment.

Around 2:40pm the restaurant closes, so we leave the place. We then walk to the entertainment area on the 12th floor of the Talee building. This is full of games for children, coin machines, and there is even a small open air fun fair one level higher on the roof.

There Shirley will spend an hour with the kids, playing with the various machines. This is an activity we have done so far almost every day in Taiwan: bringing the kids to a fun fair/children entertainment area, so that also the kids enjoy the trip.

It's about 4pm when we finally get out of the mall and get into a taxi. It has been an intensive day today, but the day is by far not over yet.

I tell the driver to bring me to a spot along the harbour from which there is a good view of the skyline of Kaohsiung with the main skyscrapers. It takes some guidance (I tell the driver where to go and into which streets to turn) because the place I want to go is a bit unconventional.

In the end it appears that the street I found with Google Maps is deep inside the port area. Here, between anchored ships, there is a great view of the skyline of Kaohsiung. Getting in is surprisingly not the problem (in fact the guard just registers the licence plate of the taxi, then lets us go through), it's getting out which turns out to be complicated.

Suddenly when we are about to get out the guard stops the taxi and wants to see our passports. Some discussion ensues.
At one moment, from what I understand, the guard accuses us to be clandestine immigrants to Taiwan (or something like that). Wow, how brilliant this guard is. A family of Germans tries to enter Taiwan as clandestines on a cargo ship, even if Germans do not need a visa to enter Taiwan.
Shirley almost has a laugh attack and quickly explains that we are just innocent tourists who were looking for a good sport a some photos of the skyline of Kaohsiung.

It seems that this explanation is sufficient, because the guard finally lets us go. So we tell the driver to bring us to this mall with the Ferris wheel we saw while driving to the port.

Turns out that this mall is the famous Dream Mall, the largest shopping mall in East Asia according to the Rough Guide. We were actually planning to just spend a few minutes in this place (go up and down the Ferris wheel), in reality we'll end up spending almost two hours here (and I'll shoot a total of 186 photos), despite being so tired after the intensive day. Here is why.

When we arrive at 4:40pm we are immediately overwhelmed by a huge amount of activity. It appears that today there is a festival about the Taiwanese aborigines and the entire area is choking full of people. Countless performers dressed in colourful, exotic costumes.

Tons of sexy, very sexy Taiwanese gathered for the celebration. Sort of Brazil carnival feeling. The costumes are for sure not original, traditional ones. For instance one guy is wearing something like a roman helmet with the red crest. Taiwanese girls dressed in colourful bikini costumes dancing something similar to the samba. One daring Taiwanese guy wearing G-string costume, almost like on a gay parade. Even some Westerners are performing as aborigines.

We seem to have arrived at the right time, because at 5pm the show starts. After the show, Shirley spends some time sampling the open air market set up on the square facing the mall. There are lots of local Taiwanese products for sampling. Delicious sweet pineapple for sale, local delicacies etc.

We could easily spend the entire afternoon here, but actually we came only for the Ferris wheel. I have to say that I'm positively impressed by Kaohsiung so far. Lots to see and do, and the city itself is quite pleasant.

After a while in the market we enter the mall and proceed to the Ferris wheel. This is on the roof at the 10th floor. Again here there is a fun fair for kids. My small girls immediately forget that today it was a very intensive day and they are supposed to be tired, and go into hyperactive mode, checking out all there is to do here.

After more playing around, we finally get onto the Ferris wheel at 6:10pm. From here there is a nice panoramic view of Kaohsiung.

At 6:25pm we are done with the Ferris wheel and walk out of the mall. We take a taxi to the hotel, fetch our bags and then drive to the train station. It's 7:05pm and we'll catch the 7:55pm train to Tainan.

At 8:40pm we arrive in Tainan and take a taxi to the hotel.

31.3: Tainan
Good Ground hotel, Tainan.
Weather: overcast in the morning. In the afternoon the sky opens up a little bit, some sun shines through, then the sky closes again. Temperatures reach 28-29C in the afternoon, then cool down in the evening. No rain.

Whole day spent in Tainan, visiting the major sights and experiencing the city. Shirley and the kids are still tired from yesterday, so the entire family gets up quite late. There is also no urgency to leave the hotel early because we have two nights here and the overcast sky does its part in not prompting us to get out. So we leave the hotel shortly before 12pm.

The first stop is at the Chikan towers, which we reach by taxi. Alissia manages to forget her small red bag in the taxi, and insists that we do something to recover it. But how to recover her bag if we do not have the phone number of the taxi driver?

The Chikan towers supposedly are one of the top attractions of Tainan. They are in the historic area of Tainan and are in a walled compound with a garden. Lots of people today wanting to visit the towers. The entry costs 50 TWD. The towers were initially built by the Dutch as a fort and later, after the Chinese take-over, were converted to Chinese style buildings. Overall they are kind of pretty in a nice setting, but not that overwhelmingly interesting.

We spend about half an hour at the Chikan towers, then shortly after 1pm move to the next place, the Official God of War temple which lies opposite to the Chikan towers. The temple is quite nice, old and interesting and dates back to 1690. Inside lots of people come for praying.

Alissia seizes the opportunity to pray the Chinese gods. Shirley has taught her in Taipei how to pray in a Chinese temple and now Alissia is taking the incense sticks, doing the right movements and placing them into the big tray. The small sister joins her and now you can see two European girls in a Chinese temple posting a prayer to the gods. The locals look interested.

After this temple we walk to the nearby Matsu temple. Also this is an interesting and old temple with lots of decorations, rooms, altars, pilgrims etc.

It's 1:45pm when we have had enough of temples and walk back to the main street. There, near the Chikan towers we stop in a small roadside restaurant/cafe and have something. This "something" usually is a dish of noodles, noodle soup, a rice dish or in this case, Taiwanese puddings. These dishes are quite delicious and usually cost in the range of 50-100 TWD, i.e. it is possible to have a simple lunch for four paying less than 300 TWD (~ 7 Euro).

After this brief meal it's shortly after 2pm. I suggest that we visit the Confucius temple which is in walking distance (1km from here). We start walking there, but on the way Shirley spots a big shopping mall, the Far Eastern department store. Since neither Shirley nor the kids are too interested in temples and historic things, we split here. Shirley and the kids will visit this mall, while I will get to the Confucius temple.

The Chinese drivers make a quite disciplined impression, especially if compared to the drivers in Sicily. The cars here have no scratches or bumps and I notice that most cars do not speed and follow the traffic rules.

I reach the Confucius temple shortly after 2:30pm. This temple is located in a big walled compound with gardens in an inner court. Access to this inner court is free, but if you want to enter the actual Confucius temple you need to purchase a ticket for 25 TWD.

Please note that most attractions or historic sites we have so far visited were free or costed a very small amount (1 Euro or less). Compare that with the 10 Euro you need to shell out for tourist attractions in Barcelona (Spain).

The Confucius temple itself is a bit void of decorations and makes a sterile impression. It's just a big hall with some sort of altar inside, with wooden doors to close this hall.

I don't spend much time in this place and by 3pm leave this place. Outside I see an obese dog, fat like a fat pig. Never seen anything like this. I even wonder if perhaps somebody has been raising this dog for slaughtering it later.

I slowly walk to the Dongyue temple, which I reach at 3:30pm. This temple is dedicated to the gods of the underworld and in fact there are statues with black faces. It's quite an interesting place, with many people coming to pray here. The people who come here for praying are wearing yellow or green shirts with inscriptions in Chinese characters on their back.

Around 3:50pm I leave this place and walk to the nearby City God temple. This is smaller than the Dongyue temple but also interesting. The interior is richly decorated and the temple is active, meaning that people come for praying and giving gifts to the gods. I end up spending half an hour in this place.

Around 4:20pm I'm "templed-out", i.e. have had enough for today for what concerns temples. After some time all these temples start looking all the same. So I walk to the next place of interest (this time not a temple), the south gate which according to the guidebook is what is left of the ancient fortifications.

The south gate is not so far away and in fact I reach this place at 4:45pm. It's basically just a piece of the old city wall with the gate and a couple of cannons. There is not that much else here. I take a few shots, then sit down and take a rest.

At 5pm I'm told to leave the place, because the gate apparently closes. So I decide to get back to the hotel. I wonder if it makes sense to take a taxi, but a quick check with Google Maps tells me that I'm only 1.3km from the hotel, i.e. in walking distance.

I'm using heavily the smartphone on this trip and especially Google Maps. It's extremely convenient because it tells me where I am, how far away I'm from a certain place and how I can get there. In fact Google Maps (or any other online maps system) does much more than that. This piece of technology really revolutionises travelling.

I slowly walk back to the hotel, making a few stops here and there, and arriving around 5:30pm. There I meet Shirley and the kids and take a rest.

We'll leave the hotel again around 6:40pm. This time we take a taxi to a large night market, located about 2km north of the hotel on the site of a large parking near a stadium, between the Hewei and Hai'an roads. Here there are tons of stalls selling food of different types, places where to play games, stalls selling clothes and other merchandise. Lots of activity, life, lots of people around.

We'll spend a couple of hours in this place, then take a taxi back to the hotel.

Copyright 2013 Alfred Molon