Dec 11, 2008|
With credit crunches and airport sieges aplenty, where can you fly for a weekend break these days? Sure, there is boring old Taipei, but a new hour-long Dragonair flight to Kaohsiung, the southernmost city in Taiwan, makes a greener escape to the countryside more convenient than ever.
Most tourists head straight for the remote mountain areas outside of Kaohsiung. But before we left for the countryside, we decided to poke around the port city itself to see what it had to offer. It is the second-largest city in Taiwan, and though its urban sprawl might seem rather dreary when you step out of the airport, persevere, because there’s a lot to see if you know where to look.
If street food is what you’re after, trawl the stalls of the famous Liouhu Night Market, where locals and tourists alike haggle, snack and enjoy the atmosphere. The best way to eat is to just show up with an empty stomach and point at whatever strikes your fancy. Hawkers serve all kinds of Taiwanese treats, from cooked squid, satays and buns to freshly squeezed juices and the ubiquitous “bubble tea”—iced sweet tea with sago pearls. Afterwards, take a walk or bicycle ride around Cijin. A short ferry ride away, this little island has plenty of great seafood restaurants, a beach and several temples that you can visit for a couple of hours before catching a ride up to the mountains.
The Maolin Scenic Area has served as a retreat for locals from Taipei and Kaohshiung for many years. However, international tourism has yet to take off in the area, making it a real escape. Our car journey from Kaohsiung airport took us out of the urban sprawl and straight into the mountains. Passing through the town of Liouguei, or Six Turtles, we drove alongside the chalk-gray Laonong River, which winds through the mountains. At certain times of the year visitors can even go white-water rafting through the pass. The area is home to a huge variety of flora and fauna, from alpine trees to brightly colored butterflies, monkeys and snakes. Our journey ended up in the remotest part of the Maolai Scenic Area: Baolai. Set high in the mountains and 550 meters from the valley floor, it’s a supremely tranquil, cool retreat, where you can relax in hot springs or take long, leisurely walks down mountain passes and over precarious-looking rope bridges. Log on to www.maolin-nsa.gov.tw to find out what else you can do in the area.
There are plenty of small, humbly furnished guesthouses in Liouguei where you can stay for a few Taiwan dollars per night, but seeing as you’ve already saved so much on flights, why not push the boat out and stay somewhere special? Shanyan Villa (19 Zhulin Rd., Baolai, Liu Kwei Hsiang, Kaohsiung County, 886-7688-2838) is one of the best lodges in the area. It’s a family-run resort with just eight rooms, each equipped with its own hot and cold outdoor plunge pools, set in a private garden with all the fittings of a hotel in the city. Enjoy breakfast on an open deck overlooking the valley, or take a walk around the grounds. If you go in the spring, when the plum blossoms are in bloom, the entire area looks as though it is carpeted in snow.