From Lakeside to Seaside - Cycling through Kaohsiung
Taiwan’s second-largest city prides itself of being a cycler-friendly metropolis. An extensive network of dedicated bikeways and a wide variety of attractions along these paths make Kaohsiung a place worth exploring on two wheels.
The cleaning-and-greening of Kaohsiung has been one of Taiwan's great success stories of the past 20 years. Formerly a bastion of steel-making, shipbuilding, and other heavy industries, this city has leapt up the livability rankings thanks to sterling environmental protection efforts and major investments in public-transportation, sporting, and recreational facilities.
Cycling from one side of the urban core to the other no longer means enduring exhaust fumes and inconsiderate drivers. Thanks to an ever-growing network of bike trails (501km as of late 2011), pedal-power has become the best way to explore a city which, for all its skyscrapers and malls, has preserved a good amount of its fascinating past.
Following the merger of Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County in late 2010, the municipality now stretches all the way from the ocean to the southern slopes of Yushan (Jade Mountain), Taiwan's highest mountain. Some districts of greater Kaohsiung – rural Meinong, for example – are worthwhile cycling destinations in their own right. However, for this article Travel in Taiwan will stay in the urban core and tackle some of the routes described on the city government's informative and multilingual website Kaohsiung Travel Online (http://khh.travel/en/theme/Bike.aspx).
Starting from Lotus Pond in Zuoying District, we pedaled southward along Love River, all the way to the True Love Ferry Pier – a distance of 31.2km – and then on to the Former British Consular Residence, a 132-year-old landmark that overlooks the mouth of Kaohsiung's busy harbor. The bicycles we used were rented from a station along Kaohsiung City Government's C-Bike network (www.c-bike.com.tw).
Lotus Pond has been drawing tourists for decades, and arriving on a typical winter morning – which in south Taiwan means gentle sunshine and comfortable temperatures – it wasn't hard to see why. This 42-hectare body of water is perfectly complemented by nearby hills, but it's the surrounding religious architecture which makes it truly special. If a criticism can be made, it's that there aren't many lotuses in Lotus Pond!
After renting our bikes at the rental station on the eastern shore, we headed to the pond’s northern end to visit the Confucius Temple. It's said to be the largest Confucian shrine in Taiwan, and if you have a particular interest in the sage and his disciples, you'll learn a lot from the information panels here.
Heading south along the western shore, we made Yuandi Temple our next stop. But instead of going inside, we headed out along the nearby pier toward Lotus Pond's most striking landmark, a 22m-high statue of the Lord of the North Pole. He's believed to take a special interest in the well-being of butchers, sailors, and children, and to keep his followers safe from fire.
In the modest shrine directly beneath the base, we found the snake and turtle icons which symbolize the lord's faithful servants. The former is especially lifelike; it's sometimes mistaken by foreign visitors for a living serpent, perhaps because it's kept in a glass case beside which worshipers leave real eggs as offerings.
Qiming Temple is just 400 meters away, and as I got close I was struck by how colorful it is, even by the ebullient standards of Taiwan's folk temples. Inside, a memorable statue of the general-become-god Guan Gong holds center stage. He's depicted with a dark red face, a full beard, and an unforgiving countenance. The pedestrian bridge here leads to the Spring and Autumn Pavilions and then on to Wuli Pavilion, the closest you can get to the middle of the pond without swimming or boarding a boat.
The seven-story Dragon and Tiger Pagodas are reached via a zigzag walkway, the sharp changes in direction intended to throw visiting evil spirits off track
The pond's single most popular attraction is in its southwestern corner, near the wall and gate that are all that remains of the old prefectural capital of Fengshan. The seven-story Dragon and Tiger Pagodas are reached via a zigzag walkway, the sharp changes in direction intended to throw visiting evil spirits off track. The towers themselves are guarded by a huge blue-and-green dragon and crouching tiger at the base. Buddhists believe that going in through the dragon’s throat and emerging via the tiger’s mouth brings good luck; we did just that, before taking a quick look at Zhen Fushe, a long-closed Lord of the Land (Earth God) shrine notable for its aged, delicate door-god paintings. The tiny temple, located at the intersection of Beizitou St. and Shengli Rd., is a national historic site.
Then it was along the southern shore of Lotus Pond and over the railway line on a bridge built especially for cyclists. Turning left on the other side would have brought us to the Protogenic Plants Garden. This park boasts an extensive collection of indigenous flora and is a must-see for anyone interested in botany.
We turned right, followed the railway line, and then turned left onto Xinzhuang 1st Rd. After about 20 minutes following this road and then Xinzhuangzi Rd., we turned right onto the bike path running beside Love River. The tree-shaded path here, along the northern section of the river, leads through residential areas and a number of community parks. The scenery changes significantly further south, along the middle section of the river, where you can find three distinctive sites.
The first of these, if you're coming from the north, is a park area called Heart of Love River, at the intersection of Bo’ai 1st and Tongmeng 2nd roads. This stirring confluence of shining water and gleaming steel is an ecological-architectural attraction that's particularly impressive at night.
Less than 1km downstream, Kaohsiung Hakka Culture Park has a bilingual museum and a theater; get a Chinese-speaker to call (07) 313-7878 for details on the daily shows. At the time of writing, the museum was closed for renovation, but it should reopen in mid-March. Do go inside if you can; expect to spend an hour poring over the fascinating collection of old-style agricultural tools, furniture, household utensils, and ritual items.
Anyone with an interest in industrial heritage will thrill at the sight of Jhongdu Tangrong Brick Kiln and its twin octagonal smokestacks. Between 1899 and 1992 this kiln produced up to three million bricks and tiles per month. Located on the corner of Zhonghuaheng and Tongmeng 3rd roads, it's now an open-air museum open to the public.
Reaching the mouth of Love River, we turned west and began exploring Hamasen, part of Yancheng District. Hamasen – the name is a Taiwanese version of the Japanese toponym – developed rapidly during the Japanese colonial era (1895~1945) because of its proximity to Kaohsiung's harbor. As a result of the city's center of gravity shifting to the north and east in recent decades, the neighborhood has retained much of its old character.
Several of Hamasen's disused warehouses have been put to new uses. One that used to store bananas before they were shipped to Japan is now a popular venue for wedding parties. Another now houses Pier-2 Art Center (pier-2.khcc.gov.tw), a space where artists create and display their works. Train buffs will like the new Takao Railway Museum (takao.railway.tw), located beside what used to be Kaohsiung Harbor Railway Station.
Xiziwan, on the coast just north of Kaohsiung Harbor, is dominated by a steep ridge that forms part of Shoushan, a small mountain crisscrossed by hiking trails and famous for its lively troupes of Formosan Rock Macaques. Our final stop, the Former British Consular Residence (www.british-consulate.com.tw), is atop this ridge, and can be reached either by cycling around the small fishing harbor on Kaohsiung Harbor’s north side or taking the tunnel that leads to the main campus of National Sun Yat-sen University.
The official home of the British empire's diplomatic representative in south Taiwan between 1879 and 1897, the residence is a spacious single-story redbrick dwelling with superb views of the harbor and the Taiwan Strait. The restaurant/bar/coffee shop here is an excellent place to wind up any Kaohsiung tour, and after more than 35km of pedaling, we felt we deserved our refreshments.
C-Bike bicycles can be returned to any of the 50 official rental points; all of these stations are fully automated and function 24/7
Fortunately, we didn't have to go all the way back to Lotus Pond to give back the bicycles, as C-Bike bicycles can be returned to any of the 50 official rental points. All of these stations are fully automated and function 24/7. If you run into problems, there's a station with helpful staff at True Love Pier (open 10am-9pm daily).
The C-Bike system has other advantages, too. Twenty of the bike-hire stations are adjacent to KMRT stations; others are at museums, parks, and other locations frequented by tourists. The instructions are in both Chinese and English. You can pay by credit card or Kaohsiung I Pass Card; get one of the latter if you're going to be in town for a while, as they can also be used to pay for bus and KMRT rides. However you pay, the first hour is free; after that, each 30-minute period costs NT$20 if you're using a credit card, NT$10 if you've an I Pass Card.
The C-Bike website lists rental-station locations and other details. The green-and-white bikes are suitable even for taller individuals (I am 181 cm, and found my ride quite comfortable once I'd adjusted the seat). The bikes come equipped with baskets, but no locks or helmets are provided.
If you want to rent a bike suitable for longer distances, rougher surfaces, or a larger body, try the Giant Bicycle Store at the western end of Qingnian 2nd Road, near the mouth of Love River; tel: (07) 241-3040, open 10am–9.30pm daily. Whether your approach to bicycling is slow and ever so easy or with a bit of sweat-inducing exercise in mind, you're bound to have a great time in Kaohsiung.
English & Chinese
Confucius Temple 孔廟
Dragon and Tiger Pagodas 龍虎塔
Former British Consular Residence 打狗英國領事館
Guan Gong 關公
Heart of Love River 愛河之心
Jhongdu Tangrong Brick Kiln 中都唐榮磚窯廠
Kaohsiung Hakka Culture Park 高雄市新客家文化園
Lord of the Land 土地公
Lord of the North Pole 北極大帝
Lotus Pond 蓮池潭
Love River 愛河
National Sun Yat-sen University 國立中山大學
Pier-2 Art Center 駁二藝術特區
Protogenic Plants Garden 原生植物園
Qiming Temple 啟明堂
Spring and Autumn Pavilions 春秋閣
Takao Railway Museum 打狗鐵道故事館
True Love Ferry Pier 真愛碼頭
Wuli Pavilion 五里亭
Yuandi Temple 元帝廟
Yancheng District 鹽埕區
Zhen Fushe 鎮福社
Zhonghuaheng Rd. 中華橫路
Zuoying District 左營區
Provided by Travel in Taiwan Bimonthly March April Issue, 2012
By Steven Crook