After buying the tickets online, I was able to print them out at a kiosk at the train station. The train was very clean and comfortable for the two-hour ride.
With a three-day weekend on my hands, I decided to make like the birds and head down south. Taipei being essentially the northern bit of the island, it was an easy decision to make. Less easy was deciding where to go. Though a relatively small island, Taiwan still offers a wealth of cities, towns, and parks to choose from when deciding where to spend a weekend exploring. Given my location in the north, I decided to head down to Taiwan’s largest southern city: Kaohsiung. This decision was made easier by the fact that Kaohsiung is the southernmost stop on the High Speed Rail line. Within a couple of hours of deciding, my train tickets were booked, and a bed in a hostel reserved. I would spend two days and one night in Kaohsiung, riding down Friday morning and returning Saturday evening.
The ride down was as easy as I could have hoped. A quick jaunt on the MRT from my apartment to Taipei Main Station and some two hours and 200 miles later, I found myself in Kaohsiung. With a few hours to kill before my bus left for the Fo Guang Shan monastery, I took the chance to walk around a bit in the neighborhood surrounding the train station. My first impressions were primarily hot, sunny, and humid. As I would come to learn over the next 48 hours, the pace of life in Kaohsiung seems just a little bit slower than in Taipei. The streets are a little wider, the skyline a bit less crowded, and the pedestrians willing to walk just a little slower.
Kaohsiung is home to many temples devoted to various deities. The sprawling grounds of the Fo Guang Shan monastery were impressive in their scale. Open to the public, the monastery is devoted to education and veneration.
A 40-minute bus ride outside the city, the Fo Guang Shan monastery is a sprawling complex of gardens, statues, museums, sutra repositories, pagodas, and much more than I had the chance to see. I spent a few hours there, wandering the grounds, examining statues, learning from murals, and trying to stay out of the sun. One of the most venerated objects in the monastery is a tooth of the Buddha. Encased in a teardrop of glass, it was in a room deep beneath a massive stupa which itself was before one of the largest statues of the Buddha in Asia.
Upon returning to the city, I ensured that my hostel did in fact exist before making my way to the water. I boarded a small walk-on ferry and crossed the city’s main port to Cijin Island. Once landing, I made my way past several temples and explored a street market dealing primarily in seafood. Upon reaching the black sand beach on the opposite side of the thin island, I walked through the waves as I watched the sunset. Now dark, I made my way back to the ferry and the city to explore the Liuhe Night Market. After a dinner of fish soup, fried rice, and strawberry shaved ice finished, I rented a Youbike and explored the city and its parks and temples by night before returning to my hostel.
Cijin Island is only a five-minute ferry ride from the mainland, but the trip itself is beautiful. In the evening, you can watch some fishing boats heading out to begin their night of work. The black sand beach of Cijin Island is a beautiful place to relax. Locals and tourists alike, it seemed, were relaxing in the gentle waves.
After sleeping in atrociously late (by accident), I was determined to make the most of my second (and last) day. I made my way north to explore Lotus Lake and the host of temples that surround it. In the process, I managed to get lost in a few alleyways, although I got some watermelon juice and pineapple ice cream by navigating them.
Later, I made my way towards the water again, stopping to sample some beef noodle soup and truly delicious mango shaved ice on the way. Determined to watch the sunset again, although running short of time, I rented a bike and rode the ferry back to Cijin Island (this time with all of the motorcycles on the main deck). A quick ride to the tip of the island later, I climbed up to the old Cihou fort and, despite the cloudy evening, managed to watch the sunset.
Night having fallen, I explored the nearby lighthouse before making my way back to the mainland and the Ruifeng Night Market. Running late on time, I managed to just grab some snacks before needing to make my way back to the train station. I got back to my apartment around midnight, sunburned and tired but very satisfied.
Lotus Lake is home to a collection of particularly striking temples. This one is itself formed in the shape of the god it is devoted to. Beyond the temples and flowers of the lake itself, there are several interesting structures built out onto the water.
As big and exciting a city as Taipei is, I am glad that I got the chance to explore another part of the country. With schoolwork and various obligations to fulfill, it can feel hard to carve out a little time, but ultimately, I like to think that these snippets of exploration are the things that I will remember.