I woke up with an odd feeling – I have never been overseas and not had that nights accommodation booked. It was kinda scary and truly exhilarating. After heading to the train station and organizing a train to Kaohsiung (pronounced “gaoshiung”) I sat down to ring around hostels. The actual process of booking a train ticket was extremely simple – the staff at the station spoke English, and even told me which platform to board the train from. I found a hostel that sounded good, and booked it with the girl over the phone.
Train travel in Taiwan is another mix between china and Japan. Not quite as “high class” as Japan, but certainly up there. Trains are very clean and comfortable with stacks of legroom, and a stewardess roams around with a food trolley. There are shelves overhead for smaller luggage and spots about the carriage for larger items Seating is assigned, but it’s common to find someone in your seat – passengers who haven’t booked an assigned seat will sit in any free one, but will move quickly if you’re standing there looking at your ticket and the seat. Announcements are made in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka (local dialect) and English, although the ticket also says the time the train will stop, so you have an idea of when you’ll be arriving. You can book tickets at the window, or at larger stations there are bilingual computer terminals that also let you search, book and pay for tickets.
At Kaohsiung I found an interesting shop called “carton king” – the entire shop was full of packs of DIY cardboard models, including an almost-life size train! I transferred to the MRT to head to my hostel, stopping at Formosa Boulevard. I had scribbled a note in my diary saying that I wanted to stop there, but completely forgot about it until I exited the MRT. Walking into the “dome of light”, you are confronted with an amazing stained lass ceiling showing off beautiful colours and patterns. Worth checking out if you’re in the area.
My hostel was simple to get to, and I was warmly greeted by the manager. It has only been open a few months, and they are still setting up some of the rooms. Great location, cute “rooftop bar” and a lovely big table to sit around and chat with other travelers. The manager and another guest pointed out some things for me to do the following day, and told me which night markets to head to in Khaosiung.
The first night market was the Liouhe Tourist Market, literally around the corner from the hostel. Definetly a tourist attraction, there were lots of “yellow hat” mainland tourist groups getting around. Regardless, the food was fantastic and cheap too (TWD $4 per Shanghai dumpling). There was a stand that had a line a mile long every time I went past – I eventually hung around to figure it out. It was a famous juice stand, there were newspaper clippings and photos of the owner standing with famous locals and international artists. I lined up, and was at a loss what to ask for, as there wasn’t an English menu to be found. I just asked for “whatever is number one” and was rewarded with a local favourite: papaya milk. Yum!
The second night market was the Rueifeng Night Market, accessed from exit 1 of the Kaohsiung Arena MRT station. This market still had plenty of tourists, but more locals as well. Food was abundant, cheap and delicious (New York Hot Dog style tofu stick anyone? – I’ve now discovered that this was the infamous “stinky tofu”, not. Ad!) and there was a selection of fashion shopping as well as amusement games and massages. Taiwan is an interesting country – it is illegal to smoke in public in most areas, littering is a crime, and there certainly isn’t a lot of rubbish kicking around. Eating in public (ie walking along and eating) is a no-no, but night markets are a different story – it’s all about the food!
When I started looking a little closer, I noticed that little dogs are everywhere. If you’re ever in Taiwan, assume that every women carrying a large handbag (and indeed men too) are harboring a small pup – there’s a fair chance they are! In fact, I’ve been sitting next a girl on a train for the past two hours, and have just noticed she has a small dog in her handbag!