Monday, March 12, 2012

From Lakeside to Seaside - Cycling through Kaohsiung (Travel in Taiwan)

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.

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.

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...

To read the remaining two thirds of this article, go here. It's also in the March/April 2012 issue of Travel in Taiwan, a free magazine you can pick up at major hotels, tourist information offices and airports in the ROC. The photo above, which comes courtesy of the magazine, shows me on the left, along with Sunny Su, the magazine's managing editor.

No comments: