Going South: Kaohsiung
Having visited the area surrounding Taipei as well as the north of Taipei and having been impressed on all of these trips, I jumped at the opportunity of joining my roommate and two of his friends on their trip to the very south of Taiwan. Our destination would be the city of Kaohsiung, the second largest city on the island, after Taipei. It is the island’s largest port and one of the world’s largest as well. We planned to stay for three days and three nights. I had heard that the mentality in the South was different than that of the north (a fact that seems to be international) and I braced myself to discover this new side of Taiwan, as my roommate heeded me with the words “Kaohsiung is lawless, it’s the south”.
On a late Thursday evening, we boarded a bus, which cost NTD 500 (15 dollars!) to head to Kaohsiung. The trip lasted approximately 4 hours and we arrived at 5 in the morning at the main train station. First order of business was to find a hotel for the weekend. After walking around the sleepy city for half an hour, we found a cheap hotel (which had actually been advertised to us by a promoter, which resembled more a random late night pedestrian). If I remember correctly the hotel cost us NTD 300 a night (about 10 dollars). Later on in the trip, through a conversation with a Kaohsiung local, I would come to find out that our hotel was a ‘love hotel’, where couples can check in by the hour, lodged right in the center of the red light district. A fact hardly obvious, as prostitution is illegal throughout Taiwan, therefore the only hint is found on street corners, as older folks sit on scooters in order to solicit customers. In fact, our hotel was great, it was clean, safe and the reception clerks were very friendly.
The south definitely has some differences compared to the north. Differences include: 1) the scooter regulations are not as strict and helmets are not as strictly enforced as in Taipei. In Taipei, you would NEVER see someone without a helmet, as you would be fined immediately, 2) people regularly speak Taiwanese versus Mandarin, although they can speak either one fluently, 3) in general, food and products are less expensive than in Taipei. Also, the city streets were wider, therefore in general the atmosphere felt less crowded and hectic, although we were visiting the city on a weekend where a Typhoon was expected, explaining the lack of crowds. Additionally, that particular weekend was the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, one of the four major holidays in Taiwan. Traditionally, people return home to spend time with their families, as well eat moon cake and moon watch. The most recent trend added to this festival is to barbecue, therefore we spotted families on the street sides, lighting their grills and cooking all sorts of vegetables and meats. My friends and I also joined in the festivities with new Taiwanese acquaintances and relaxed outside, eating grilled goods.
During the daytimes, we visited all sorts of great sights: