The second largest city in Taiwan marks the Singapore-based carrier’s 14th destination in Asia Pacific. The inaugural flight, which I took on 9 July 2015, took a little over four hours to reach Kaohsiung International Airport. Now, I don’t handle medium-haul flights too well, perhaps because it does not give that much time to nap and watch a movie onboard. But I couldn’t feel more comfortable in the two-class Boeing787 Dreamliner thanks to Scoot’s new aircraft’s roomy seats, better humidity, air circulation, cabin pressure and super-attentive staff.
This direct option sure beats breaking journey at Taipei, which was a must until just a month ago, to get from the Singapore to Kaohsiung.
It was only when I was consistently fed with Taiwan’s fresh produce cooked Hakka style for the fourth time in two days on this trip to the harbour capital of Taiwan that it dawned on me – embracing the fine weather, infectious grins and genuinely warm hospitality are the way of life in this transforming Asian metropolis.
Upon landing, our first lunch stop is at Meinong Traditional Hakka Cuisine in Kaohsiung. The restaurant is spacious and filled with old-time Hakka household items. Be sure to try the wild lotus, which many locals recall plucking from local Zhongzheng Lake when swimming as kids, and which has become popular nation-wide since the 1980s.
As with most restaurant entranceways in Taiwan, this one has an outdoor section, which during the summer season becomes less popular due to the hot and humid weather. Once inside, one can see that the restaurant is frequented by office men hosting their guests and locals. We are served endless rounds of favorite delicacies, suggesting how the Taiwanese enjoy their Hakka cuisine, and I do just that as I sample the signature bamboo shoot soup dish and the mouthwatering Pork Belly Bun.
From Kaohsiung, we made our way to the southernmost Pingtung County after lunch. Kenting’s poise is the serene beach and mountain scape, comprising stretches of sun, sea and sand. It is also fronted by a string of fruit stalls, at one of which my travel companions feast on a handful of mangoes and peaches, fresh from the morning’s pluck.
Kenting OTD Paintball is the first spot I set foot upon in the county. And there, with my army-like overall uniform while holding a gun loaded with 50 projectiles, I listen to the staff who speak very basic English demonstrating life-surviving guide in the warzone. If you’re looking for activities to do in Kenting with a large group before your night market strolling, and you have a high threshold for pain, this is a good option to spend a fun afternoon with your friends.
Endless exquisite seafood dish and drinks at Formosa Restaurant by Howard Beach Resort Kenting have, once again, convinced me that if I am up for a seafood party, Kenting and Kaohsiung may just be the perfect place. As if the best of Kenting hasn’t been displayed already, our after-dinner stop Kenting Night Market probably adds the icing to the cake.
We observe local sellers, smiles in place, cooking away. There are clams, hotdogs, desserts and deep-fried food that come in all flavors you can think off. Even the carnival-style games are there with mostly local crowds chipping in or patiently waiting for their toddlers playing board games.
I buy a pair of somewhat tribal-inspired handmade bracelets for NTD 200 (SGD 9). Prices may be fixed in the shopping centres, but they are up for negotiation in the night markets. The streets are lined with open-air stalls selling t-shirts, hats, Taiwanese jelly drinks and seafood snacks. There is something about Taiwan night markets that makes me wanting to go back. Do include visits to at least one of them if you visit.
Our guide from Taiwan Tourism Bureau is a lean-sized man who takes the cliché of the smiling Taiwanese to captivating scopes. He tells us about the southern part of Taiwan, which boasts seascape, mountains and more relaxed communities compared to the North. These blend well with their daily lives; most of them work as farmers of many fruit varieties, thanks to all-year good weather.
A visit to E-Luan Bi Lighthouse, which we catch in the Kenting area on day two, is a good indication of the laid-back lifestyle in this part of Taiwan. Less than an hour from Kenting’s main district, the lighthouse is indeed beautiful. For most Taiwanese and tourists, this is the most popular landmark in the country’s southern hemisphere.
A kilometre away from the lighthouse, we arrive at the southernmost point of Taiwan. The scenic sea, sand and sky views remind me of my beloved back home in Indonesia. I think of my parents and how this whole trip has been very easy to reach so far, and that I would come back again with them.
The southernmost point of Taiwan is on the brick of Bashi Channel, facing Pacific Ocean on our left. A bamboo shoot-like statue stands tall at this point. From another angle, it looks like two separate stones symbolising land and sea depending on each other. We take a good 30-minute here just to ponder upon the million dollar view.
We make our way back to the bustling city of Kaohsiung. That evening, my senses are alive with the bustling Ruifeng Night Market as I walk along the multiple paths in the square-shaped market. I truly enjoy a quick stop on the way back from the market to buy the Stinky Tofu, an infamous street snack with a distinctive pungent smell and flavorful sauce. This one at Kaohsiung is much spicier, compared to the ones I tried in Hong Kong and Taipei.
Day three sees us making a one-hour journey from the city to Dashu, a district known for its plentiful pineapples. The people here are again, friendly, and one can see how families from generations benefit from pineapple industry. I join in a jam-making workshop, an interesting hour-long experience making my own jam from scratch. I still munch that jam with a simple toast of bread at home, a genuine reminder of Kaohsiung. This Japanese-inherited movement has shaped the local businesses, smartly occupying a vast fertile land. I pluck one humongous pineapple proudly, while the real farmer cut the pineapple into smaller pieces for us to sample. How refreshing.
While there are many Buddhist temples in Taiwan, I am happy to know that I manage to visit the country’s largest temple complex, the 30-hectare Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Centre. Upon entering the centre, I am simply amazed by how the “humanistic Buddhism” concept is well translated into a family-friendly shopping complex, including the delicious lunch I have at Grand Hi-Lai Restaurant.
The atmosphere is a true solemn one. One of the monk-guide speaks perfect English while addressing the many parts of the center. I still can’t believe how she catches her breath under the scorching hot sun as she impeccably, and patiently, explains everything. The vibrations, which encircle the magnificent Dafo (Giant Buddha) Statue and the 480 smaller golden Buddha statues, stay with me long after they are gone.
An 8.05pm flight out from Kaohsiung means I have the rest of the day to explore the area in the city, this includes an impromptu visit to the newly-opened Eslite, popular bookstore in Taiwan.
It’s time to fly back to Singapore just when you’re having fun. As I lay back in my seat, I think of the many plans made for us and eliminated. The three-day itinerary originally was to include a luxury yacht experience at Kenting, a visit to Kaohsiung Main Public Library, Shoushan Love Observation Deck – all of which got cancelled, due to weather and time. However, knowing that these are only an four-hour flight away puts a Taiwanese-length smile on me.