Taiwan will always be special to me because it was the first country overseas (with the exception of Malaysia) that I travelled to with my family. It was also the first country that I travelled to with Clara. My first trip was to Taipei and surrounding areas, the second was to Taichung and the mountains. So, it seemed like a natural continuation that we toured Southern Taiwan this time. As for Clara, she hasn’t been to Taipei proper yet, so one day we hope to go back (it has probably changed a bit)! Anyway, back to Kaohsiung and Kenting in Southern Taiwan!
I’m going to do things a little different this time, by listing the good and bad things that happened!
When people think of Taiwan, the cities of Taipei or Hualien usually comes to mind. These are undoubtedly the more well-travelled areas – the beaten tracks. Kaohsiung and Kenting are two facets of Taiwan people don’t always get to see, because they’re always scrambling to the aforementioned areas. Even having been to Taiwan twice before, Kaohsiung and Kenting felt completely different from Taipei, Taichung, Nantou and Chiayi and from each other. The good thing here was the unique experiences as well as the fun derived from the unpredictability and flexibility of planning an itinerary which not many have done up before. We were not bound by expectations, conventions or recommendations of sorts.
Secondly, while the seas were never far, and the mountains loomed like faint shadows in the distance, and Kaohsiung was the second-most populated city in Taiwan, crowds were not a thing during our trip. Perhaps it was still the school term. Also, the pace of life was slow. The laidback, carefree attitude of the people in these places (Kenting, after all, was perfectly suited for getaways) translated to a relaxing (although still tiring) trip for us. We aimed to have none of the franticness of past trips, and did not hesitate to cut items from the plan (although those were still painful decisions).
Thirdly, with Kaohsiung and Kenting being coastal areas, one does get more of the sea while travelling less, and ocean views become the norm. Never has the South China Sea been any more accessible. Kenting particularly has lots of beaches (some of which we did not manage to visit) and for Kaohsiung the sea can be seen from the harbour. Seafood lovers will definitely enjoy the freshly-caught food. Also, temperatures did not vary much (assuming that is a good thing).
Also, speaking of food, what is Taiwan without any mention of food? We could better appreciate Taiwanese cuisine than Hong Kong cuisine, and it was cheaper! About the same level of affordability as food in South Korea I would say. And that means very affordable. Breakfasts for two on our last two days didn’t break the NTD100 (SGD4-5) mark. The average price for a street food item was about NTD60 (SGD3). Needless to say we bought a lot of them every time we went to a night market!
Lastly, I think transportation deserves to be mentioned. Kaohsiung had a very simple metro system consisting of just two main lines, and which shared its name with that of Singapore, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). It was extremely easy to navigate around and comprehend, especially when compared to the systems in Seoul or Busan, and even more so than the Hong Kong MTR.
The red line ran from north to south, while the orange line ran from east to west. Naturally, the simplicity of the system left out some areas, but from what we saw that was being addressed; construction of the light rail system (denoted by the green line) had already begun. In fact, operations had commenced within a small part (C1-C8) of the system; free of charge for a limited time, we made good use of it!
Kenting was not served by trains, although that should be set to change. We were initially apprehensive of the bus services plying through the area, for those who we have read about who have gone there rented electric bikes. Virtually no one gave the bus services a mention. However, when we actually got there and used it, it exceeded our expectations – we never had to wait longer than 20 minutes for a bus, contrary to what some had told us. That said, we were there on a weekend, so bus services could well be dialled down on weekdays.
Both iPass (natively Kaohsiung) and EasyCard (from Taipei) could be accepted on trains and buses in Kaohsiung and Kenting, although it must be noted that EasyCards (which we used since we got them free-of-charge) could not be topped up at MRT stations, but only at convenience stores (of which there was certainly no shortage of in Taiwan).
The biggest ‘bad’ thing of our trip to Kaohsiung and Kenting, and I’m pretty sure we both agree, was the hot and dry weather! It was even hotter than what we had in Singapore, and the lack of cloud cover meant that the sun was free to project its harmful UV rays on us. We ended up getting rather tanned (and some photoaging probably occurred)! I think we can say that it is a must to bring either sufficient sunblock (not the small bottle that we brought) or a hat or cap, or both. Also, the dry weather meant that we had to consume more water than usual, and our lips cracked like dry weather.
The second issue arose from the same fact that relatively fewer people have been to these two areas. We faced a lot of uncertainty with regards to the (sometimes crucial) details, such as opening hours and whether the ‘panda dog’ was still at Jing Yuan Leisure Farm. For example, Jinzuan Night Market started operating only on weekends, so when we arrived on a Tuesday, we found a dark, silent plot of land. One of the main reasons we wanted to go to Jing Yuan Leisure Farm was to see a certain ‘panda dog’, but when we arrived it was no longer there (we’re still not sure what exactly happened to it). However, this did not affect us in a big way, and we have the up-to-date information now to prevent similar occurrences!
The third problem is comparatively minor, and it happens elsewhere, but is worth mentioning. There were a lot of people trying to convince or coerce us to use their services. Right after we stepped out of the customs and before we even stepped out of the airport, a man already was asking if we were heading to Kenting. While waiting for the buses in Kenting, many a van or taxi driver stopped over in front of us asking where we were headed to. We kindly but assertively declined them all. When we were leaving Kenting for Kaohsiung, some taxi drivers tried to ask us to take their taxi instead of the bus back which we had already paid for (and was non-transferable). They even resorted to distracting us when the bus arrived in hopes that it would drive away! Fortunately, we were alert and careful. Even so, it seemed that they would not go beyond using words, so being steadfast certainly helps. Eventually, we got used to it.
Despite these disadvantages, which could ideally be mitigated to some extent, we had an amazing trip with new experiences and things that we would never find in Singapore. We got to see more of and learn more about Taiwan, which in my opinion never fails to disappoint. Travel is always an eye-opener, and it contributes to the richness of life in many small ways (we are grateful for the means to travel, and it’s not something everyone can afford to do!)