Pilgrimage – Kaosiung

The flight was long. At least on paper it was, but having not traveled outside North America for 8 years I was too excited to sleep through the flight. Even the 3 hours layover in Hong Kong seems novel. All the luxury shops and bright book stores are airport marvels I haven’t seen in years. I have’t visited my parents’ hometown of Kaosiung, Taiwan in 8 years and my memory of the place is a bit fuzzy at best. What new adventures awaited me there?

Making our way from Vancouver to Kaosiung. Paul doing some duty free shopping haha

We land in the wee hours of the night and immediately, we feel the damp humidity in the air that is so foreign to Vancouverites. My uncle, Enrique (my family’s first exposure to western culture was in Argentina, hence the Spanish name), picks us up and drops us off at our apartment quarters adjacent to his own house. Excitement and jetlag keep us from sleep. My companions this time around are Paul, Fiona and Tessa.

Walking about Kaosiung on our first day and some of the awesome food we had for breakfast
Art installments at the artsy district of Kaosiung. A tree the reminded me of the tree of bodies from 300 for some reason, and what can only be described as an anemone made of circles?
Humanoid figures painted according to the artists’ creative whim. I thought the benches here were so interesting!

We have breakfast at a nearby eatery serving local fare including, soy milk, a mild milk tea, xiao long bao, chinese doughnut, buns and various savoury, flaky pastries. We happen to live near the Love River and just across it is Kaoshiung’s art district which had a number of interesting installments. One such was a burly human shape that artists painted to their liking, similar to the Orca displays across Vancouver. The river is wide, dark but much cleaner than the last time I visited. The city is as I remembered it; smelly, kind of dirty, busy, but quaint and beautiful in its own respect. Not to mention the occasional flying cockroach (an abomination).

The Love River taken from the bridge

The next afternoon we have a go at riding scooters which is a chief mode of transportation there. It is AWESOME! You think you’re going very fast but when you see the speedometer, you’re actually going 30kph. Maybe the wind makes it seem like you’re going faster than you actually are. Needless to say, I made a few bubble tea runs on the scooter while we were there! I even made a few beef noodle runs when the party became sick.

Scootering on the sidewalk. Only during practice i swear! (Taken by Tessa Tham)

We spent the next few days with family going to various sites around town. Many of us haven’t traveled in years so I think the novelty of it was still fresh in our minds. We visited my grandmas’s church for a very Taiwanese service, some famous department stores, Monkey Mountain, the local university and a colonial building converted to a museum of sorts. The mountain “hike” was leisurely at best, being a long series of stairs than an actual hike. The views were great and there are many trails so you could easily spend a day there if you had the energy and water for it. There is a very walkable harbour near the university and from here it was endless ocean beyond it.

Climbing the trails of Monkey Mountain. Sweaty as well. These monkeys are aggressive. Keep all your food and gadgets close at hand!

The afternoon wore on and we were pretty tired from walking around all day. In true tropical fashion, the rain started coming down hard just as my cousin came to pick us up and we ended up at an izakaya style place close to our apartment. This was by far one of the coolest eating experiences I’ve had. A 3 story building with open patios, cheap beer and delicious food, all enjoyed just out of reach of the torrential downpour that seem to materialize from the thick air. We were probably the only foreigners there. Unlike the other places we’ve gone to, which were kind of touristy, this was a little gem and but an appetizer for the kind of random places I would seek out on futures travels.

Sitting in the first floor open air (and covered) patio enjoying our izakaya. Torrential rain. The bridge and river right behind us. Cold beer and good friends. This was a special moment.
Food Highlights (clockwise from top right): mango and pudding shaved ice, stinky tofu, custard apple, beef noodle (mom’s is still the best)
More Food Highlights: (top)Various things you can have deep fried with spice and pepper. Basil is added. SO good. Best eaten without remorse. (bottom) A few of the tapas dishes we had at the izakaya restaurant

After a few days in Kaosiung, my uncle arranges a taxi to take us to the southernmost point of the island, where we’ll stay for few days in Kenting National Park.

My Travel Notes for Kaosiung:

  • Traffic is crazy but there is order (we’re not in Vietnam or or Thailand). It is possible to ride scooters and explore but definitely follow the speed of traffic and wear a helmet. Practice on small streets first and move to real roads when you’re more comfortable
  • The night markets there are OK. Great for food and iPhone accessories but nothing much other than that unless you’re in need of socks (Asian socks are the best IMO)
  • Taxis are a cheap way to get around although speaking Mandarin or Taiwanese would be very helpful
  • A bullet train will take you to Taipei in an hours time. Last I checked it was $50 one way.
  • Food is everywhere and its tasty! Street food is a must. Make sure the stand you’re eating from is busy to ensure they have high turnover. Taiwanese beef noodles are $2CAD and tasty as any restaurant. A plentiful breakfast will cost $3-$6. Our Tapas dinner with many beers cost $80CAD for 5 people.
  • Food highlights include salty peppery fried anything, stinky tofu for the adventurous, a cornucopia of shaved ice flavours and toppings, skewers, beef noodles and bubble tea ($1-$3+ for fancy flavours)!
  • Everything you’ll need is at 7-11, including hot meals and the local Taiwanese beer that’s $1CAD (refrigerated too! Don’t know what the public drinking laws are)
  • Water is not OK to drink unless its been boiled. Luckily, cold bottled water is very cheap there.

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