Temples of Taiwan

So my next stop on this weird and wonderful world tour sees me get off in Taiwan. A place I have visited, briefly overnight previously but have never made the effort to visit properly and check out what it has to offer.

Taiwan actually has an awful lot to offer the discerning traveller, it may often get overlooked for some of its more well known neighbours but it definitely deserves some of you travel time.

I started in the capital, Taipei, where I based myself for a couple of days to take in the city and it’s temples.

Sadly the weather decided to become somewhat hit and miss, so bright sunny spells became interspersed with crappy rainy spells…sometimes for most of the bloody day! Still I had a pack a mac and an umbrella…may as well use them!

So…day 1…somewhat overcast and threatening rain…I head out to check out a few of Taipei’s main temples. The first stop was the Confucius temple.

I then headed off to the famous Dalongdong Balkan Temple which happens to be a UNESCO world heritage site.

After Dalongdong I wandered around the city checking out side streets, small local temples and quirky shops before air stumbled across a small but beautiful temple that was totally devoid of people, leaving me free to amble around alone taking in the vivid colours and the delicate but detailed carvings. According to my map it’s the Shú Ren Shu Yuàn Wen Chang Ci temple.

First day of temple spotting was a success and the rain held off until the afternoon when I was back at the hotel.

The next day the weather was terrible but there were still temples to be seen and steps to be walked, so I donned my pac-a-mac and grabbed my umbrella and begrudgingly headed out into the rain.

I stopped off at the Xing Tian temple and took a couple of quick snaps in the rain.

The rain began to get heavier so I retreated to the hotel with a plan to head out later on and see the Longshan Temple and the night market.

However, the weather had other ideas and I was not traipsing about in a torrential downpour so I spent the afternoon and evening watching films and eating M&Ms. That’s how it goes some days!

The following morning I left the rainy skies of Taipei behind and got the high speed train down to Kaohsiung on the south coast of the island. The HSR brings you to a station outside of Kaohsiung so I had to jump on the MRT (metro/subway/tube) and travel a couple of stops to my hotel.

I checked in, dumped the bag and had a quick go on the massage chair that was in my room….then as the weather was nice I made for the famous lotus lake and the absolutely stunning temples I had come to Taiwan to see.

I walked across town for 45 minutes to reach the lakeside and then circumambulated around the lakeside path taking in each temple as I went.

Firstly I headed to the temple/pagoda I was most looking forward to visiting…The Dragon & Tiger Pagodas.

I spent a good half an hour wandering about the Pagodas, you enter via the dragon’s mouth and climb up to the top for great views before descending and exiting via the tiger’s mouth. Pretty cool and is one of the most spectacular Pagodas I have seen.

I then continued my stroll around the lake and then came across the Spring and Autumn Pavilions Pagoda. Again another wonderful, brightly coloured masterpiece worthy of a good explore.

I continued on towards the next temple, past a weird karaoke booth where an elderly man was merrily banging out a tune for all to hear..I was briefly tempted to make a request but my ears demanded that I move on out of earshot of his ‘singing’.

The next pagoda was the immense Xuan Tian Shàng di Shen Xiáng Pagoda featuring a colossal 24m high statue of the mighty god Xuan Tian Shàng di.

After these 3 spectacular Pagodas I completed the circumambulation of the lotus pond…briefly stopping at the Hù An Sì temple and the Chingshui temple.

Circumambulation completed I wandered back to my hotel via Carrefour and then spent the evening snacking in my massage chair whilst watching unfathomable Taiwanese films.

The next day I headed out to a cool place called the Pier 2 Art Centre, the weather kept threatening rain but I managed to spend a couple of hours wandering around this open air art gallery with its quirky street art, bizarre sculptures and art installations and independent eateries and retail units.

I then took a scenic stroll along Kaohsiung’s “Love River” and back through the cute city to the hotel.

I have to say I really liked Kaohsiung, it had a real relaxed and friendly atmosphere to it, with beautiful pagodas and walking opportunities. Somewhere I would definitely go back to again.

Sadly the next day I had to leave Kaohsiung and take the high speed train to Tainan where I was going to stop for a day. The journey on the HSR is 10 minutes from Kaohsiung to Tainan, however, what I failed to learn was that the HSR station in Tainan is not actually in Tainan…it’s in the middle of nowhere a good 25 minutes outside of Tainan!

I soon discovered that I needed to jump on a local train from Tainan station to Tainan station! Might help if they give them different names to differentiate!

So, I eventually arrived at the second Tainan station and headed to my guest house. I had come across a guest house in a tiny backstreet which was owned by a Japanese guy and set up as a traditional Japanese ryokan. Thought it would be novel for 2 nights….it was but it’s basically sleeping on the floor on a wafer thin mat which to me felt like indoor camping!

Sadly the next morning the torrential rain was back, so my plan to roam about Tainan went slightly awry.

Eventually the rain abated and I managed a quick wander around. I popped to the Confucius temple which sadly was under renovation so I was unable to venture inside to properly check it out. I did find this dude in the gardens though….

Frankly there wasn’t much else to see in Tainan so I spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out at the Ryokan.

The next day I had to head back to Tainan station, get the local train to Tainan station and then pick up the HSR back to Taipei as my time in Taiwan had come to an end.

Mother Nature decided that an appropriate way to mark the end of my Taiwan trip was to wake me up at 4.15am with a 5.1 richter earthquake and a emergency presidential alert to my mobile all in mandarin! I grabbed some trousers, in case I needed to evacuate and cleared a space under the desk in case of aftershocks and went back to bed! Thankfully there were no aftershocks or further presidential alerts so the rest of my nights sleep was undisturbed!

It have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Taiwan it’s a fascinating island with modern cities that blend effortlessly with ancient temples and traditions. The people are friendly, the streets clean and the food is pretty good too.

I hope to go back there at some point and travel across the mountainous central region to the wilder east coast with its famed treks and cycle routes. I’ll add it to the ever growing list of places to re-visit!

Next stop Seoul!

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