Kaohsiung is the second biggest city in Taiwan so it's been one of our check-list destinations for a while. Very accessible from Taipei, we took the high speed rail late on Friday afternoon which only takes between 1.5 and 2 hours to travel from the top to bottom of the country. *A tip to riding THSR; reserved tickets are very hard to get because you have to book them far in advance and they sell out quickly. So when we buy a non-reserved seat ticket we go to the platform early, get in the line but miss the first train so we can get in the front of line for the next one. This means you're one of the first onto the train to occupy one of the hot non-reserved seats and you only have to wait about 30 minutes instead of standing for the whole journey.
There are many choices of good hostels but we stayed at Fly Inn hostel which was literally opposite the MRT Sanduo Shopping District station so was a really convenient location. It was very modern with a good seating area and very quiet. We had a private room with shared bathroom which was comfortable and very clean. We would definitely stay here again. The only bad thing was that there wasn't any coffee at breakfast!
Kaohsiung > Donggang > LiuQui
In the morning we went to Kaohsiung main station to catch the bus to a town called Donggang. We thought this would be easy to do but it proved difficult as we couldn't find the bus stop. It turned out it wasn't the main bus station but a smaller one around the corner in a hidden garage. We always doubt each others navigation skills because we've been lost so many times but we always laugh about it in the end. We'll share the location in case you need to find it. Eventually, we took bus 9127 to the fishing town of Donggang which took about an hour. When we got there we had another mission on our hands to find the ferry port which was a 15 minute walk in the heat from where the bus driver told us to get off.
The ferry terminal was absolutely packed with Taiwanese tourists. There are two terminals next to each other run by different companies with separate tickets and time tables. One is 30NT$ more but was much less busy, a cheap price to pay not to stand in a mile long line in the 36degree heat if you ask us. Luckily we got on the boat soon after and it only took 20 minutes. Let us note that the ferry was the craziest boat experience we had ever experienced as we flew across the water creating splashes 5 metres high. Not one for those with sensitive stomachs.
LiuQui is a small, beautiful touristic island created by coral rocks. It was still bigger than we expected and had a lot more amenities too. There are lots of scooter rental companies at the ferry port and it's recommended that you rent them to transport yourself around the island efficiently. We rented some electric scooters for 350NT$ (£9) for the day and felt very safe on the rural roads.
Vase Rock is the most popular destination on the island due to the coral erosion formation of its cool top-heavy mushroom shape.
We heard from numerous people that we would "definitely" be able to see turtles here but we were unsuccessful. We tried to snorkel but the waves were rough and the water wasn't very clear, unlike pictures we'd seen. We found the same disappointing situation at every spot we tried. We concluded that it must've been due to the previous week's typhoon and rainy weather that had churned up the rock's moss and weeds, making the water murky. It was such a shame because it was a perfectly sunny and clear day and our hopes were high.
We gave up trying to snorkel after the third spot so we stopped for lunch at one of the roadside tourist 'restaurants' (a hut with a makeshift kitchen and tables). They actually had a menu in English which was awesome, saving us having to guess with the Google translate app. The pan-fried shrimp were really nice and fresh too.
After that we drove to a few other sea-viewing areas and caves and followed the tourist signs. Taiwan is a beautiful place that you truly get to appreciate at destinations like these and you suddenly forget the city traffic and over-population situations.
We caught the 4pm ferry back to Donggang and shared a taxi back to Kaohsiung with some Taiwanese guys who were heading back the the train station.
That evening we went for dinner and drinks at some very nice and chilled bars (BEAST, Inn Bistro, Urban Soul, A Luz). Taiwanese drinking culture is very different from what we know in the U.K. You have to be seated and everything is very organised and civilised.
On Sunday we headed to Shoushan National Park or 'Monkey Mountain' and got lost on our way in the crazy humid heat which wasn't fun. We ended up finding a hike trail and we're very happy to find a bunch of monkeys right at the bottom of the path. It was a bucket-list moment as we both really wanted to see wild monkeys while we are in Asia.
It was incredible to see them so close and we didn't feel threatened by them at all, probably because we were sure not to take any food with us, unlike another man who had a bag of Cherrios hanging out of his backpack. The cheeky monkey jumped right on him and snatched them within 4 seconds. His 3 year old son was not happy and burst out crying. It was quite comical to watch. Who takes Cheerios to a monkey trail and doesn't expect them to be stolen?
After losing our weight in sweat we returned to the hostel for a shower and late check out.
Then we went to Lotus lake to see the Spring & Autumn Pavillions and Dragon & Tiger Pagodas near Zouying. Taoist temples are a perfect representation of Taiwanese culture and beauty. You can really see the amazing detail in the buildings and decoration. They were really impressive and cool to see and there wasn't half as many tourists as you get in Taipei. They are so different from any type of European or Christian architecture which makes them fascinating to us.
After that we headed back to the train station for lunch and caught the HSR back to Taipei. While we didn't see any turtles as hoped, we had a really fun weekend away in a cool city. It's so nice when you can take a trip in the same country and it still feel like a holiday with change and diversity. We really liked Kaohsiung because it was so much quieter and chilled compared to the constant business everywhere in Taipei. Taiwanese people are generally very friendly but we were able to see this a lot more down South where Westerners are a much rarer sight, so people seemed extra happy to see and help us. We can't wait to go back to attempt turtle tour no.2.