Backpacking in Taiwan: Touring Lotus Lake, Kaohsiung

Backpacking in Taiwan: Touring Lotus Lake, Kaohsiung

“Haven’t you noticed I ate the Lotus?” – R.E.M.

OK its hardly gonna shoot at you out of the blue, and its doubtful that many readers of this blog will read it consistently enough to notice recurring themes, BUT for some reason, REM songs kept coming up during my first week or so in Taiwan. And for no reason other than they fitted in with the things we did and seen and the places we went; and the way we were feeling. First there was the daysleeper for the lack of sleep throughout. Second there was strange currencies, dealing with New Taiwan Dollars. Then there was all those Temple visits and the threat I was losing my religion (as if…). As a Chinese sun disappeared into the Kenting Beach sky, we also witnessed nightswimming. As a result of the earlier sun burn, it was obvious that everybody hurts sometimes. I could go on…orange crush became watermelon crush. And here just a week ago, the trip to Lotus Lake Kaohsiung (in Northern Kaohsiung) brought about a reminder of an unlikely REM hit back in December 1998. The song Lotus. The album Up. The meaning obscure. Obscure enough for me to play and sing it to Neil and Natalja on the train on the way down. And so the pilgrimage to Lotus Lake began…

With an unsuitable diet of fresh guava mixed with doritos and a cold iced tea we boarded a “local train” from Shinying to Kaohsiung, some 2 hours south. There are 4 types of train in Taiwan…generally. These are:
“Local Train” – slow as hell, cheap as anything, stops nearly every stop, poor seating, might have to stand.
“High Speed Rail” – 330 km/hour, fast, beautiful, quiet, smooth, comfortable.
“Tzechiang” – second fastest, comfortable, recliner seats.
“Chukuang” – third fastest, bog standard (the one I used most)
(there is also the special “Alishan Forest Train” which due to the recent typhoons had been destroyed and we didn’t get a chance to try it.) This meant a slow ride, but a relaxed one, all three of us (Neil, Natalja and me) got seats. Neil took the time to catch up on the latest news, reading the island’s only English newspaper. The broadsheet “The Taipei Times”, a decent paper, mentions all the best places to go and gives Neil his fix of football from the UK. Even if its unlikely to be Millwall.

The day we went to Lotus Lake Kaohsiung we were actually staying in Kaohsiung later that day, watching the baseball and enjoying Taiwan’s second largest city. However Neil alerted us that we had to get out of the train before Kaohsuing to see Lotus Lake. You can get out at one of two stops (we managed to do em both – got out at one, got back on at the other). The stop we got out at was Zuoying. A brand new station, which was only completed last year or something. It is one of the stations on Taiwan’s High Speed Rail (don’t even mention the REM song with a similar title), but yet also serves on the other train routes. We got out there and I bought a few postcards and found a stamper at the information office to put a stamp on them (not a postage stamp, an ink stamp). I also stamped my wee “Global Passport Notebook” which I am using to make notes about everything and everywhere I go these days. Its a lot of writing believe me. How I find the time to do it surprises even me.

From Zuoying Station head south west (I think), well take a left out of the station, walk along that road then take a right. When you see a fake 7-11 on the road at the end, its time to walk right across the park. Its literally only a 5 minute walk from the train station and suddenly there you are at Lotus Lake! Its just there. You didnt see it coming, there is no sign. Its quite moving actually. First you see the grass and trees, then the lake and then the bridges and temples and a feast of Eastern promise for your touristic eyes. I was impressed. The feast for your eyes at Lotus Lake is free. It was hot and we were sweating. We all had bags with clothes for a few days in them. Natalja and I were on the first day of 4 days round the island including the very impressive Tailuga and Kenting (to name a mere 2 of the beautiful places we saw in those 4 days). Neil had the weekend off work and was also away from Shinying for 2 days.

What hits you immediately at Lotus Lake is that despite its beauty, its not busy. There are no tourists! Its a wee bit off the beaten track, its barely advertised or known about. And if it wasn’t for my mate Millwall Neil, plus the Lonely Planet Guide To Taiwan then I guess I’d never have heard about it. That makes it better I think. Not many travellers would know about it or have been there. Its a hidden/unknown gem. The Lake itself is calm and peaceful. The setting is superb. Mountains in the background, a random local shanty town (almost) to one side, a big bustling, skyscraper rid city on the other side. The freedom to walk around, take photos, visit the temples and take in the view and unique architecture of the buildings.

You have two main options – walk all the way round the lake or walk all the way round the right hand side to the back, then back round the way you came. We walked along the right hand side, where first up is a Confuscious Temple. It has red walls and yellow tiles. We didn’t go in, but you really do not have time to go into every temple you see in Taiwan! I have seen more than 100 temples in 2 weeks here, and must have been inside about 20 of them. After the Confuscius Temple, you can view across the river at a temple with a Giant Buddha Statue (in grey concrete) on top. On the near side, sits another giant statue. I’m not sure what off, a colourful man. Presumably a Taoist God, as that is the main religion here, and its not Buddha. Its quite big and is on the edge of one of the pier which pierces into the lake itself. The area is sometimes also referred to as “Lotus Pond” though I feel this has been lost in translation. My understanding of a pond is a much smaller water mass. This is definitely a lake, though as irony would have it, further up there IS just A POND. And it had Lotus Leaves and Flowers in it. Its just a name. But a nice one.

On the walk round, you see many arches and some memorials and random statues. Its a very relaxed place. No hustle and bustle or the business of a popular tourist resort. You can walk round comfortably in your own space and time to your heart’s content. I’ve grown fond of lakes since I did more travelling. In fact, my country Northern Ireland has a massive Lake, right bang in the middle – its called Lough Neagh, is the biggest Lake/Lough (Ulster Scots term for lake) in the British Isles and one of the biggest in Europe. I’m well overdue a trip to Lough Neagh – will have to keep it on the itinerary when I next make it back to my wonderful homeland. Other lakes I’ve been impressed by are Lake Taupo in New Zealand (was there 2007) and Lake Erie in Canada (was there 2001). I’m sure many more will impress me as time goes by. There is something quite stress-free and peaceful about a lake.

Further round there are temples both inside the lake compound, and outside. We saw people worshipping there. Then we saw the Dragon. Its a twisting dragon which you can go inside. Colourful and decorative, you “enter the dragon” literally. There’s some information as you walk through the dragon. It reveals the secret powers, some history about the colourful temples and surely too much Chinese writing for my ignorant Northern Irish brain to digest. Neil would translate any relevant interesting points. Me and Natalja were simply enjoying the art. And it is art. You don’t see this sort of thing in Europe.

Just after this dragon was the “lotus pond”, where we couldn’t see the water as there were so many leaves and so much nature. The lotus itself is a pinky/purple flower in the middle of such circular leaves. I’m not sure what would happen if you do a Michael Stipe (him from REM) and actually ate the lotus. Its not to be confused with locust, of course. That’s an insect. This is a flower. This mini pond may be the reason for the name “Lotus Lake.”

For me though, the best part of Lotus Lake was right at the back. The far right side as you walked up. Standing tall are two towers. They are called Pagodas. They are octagonal. They are true works of art. They are known as the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. You leave a donation going in through the dragon. You get a free postcard for that. The first Tower/Pagoda is the Dragon one. Mini dragons line the tiling all the way up. Me and Natalja walked to the top of it. It was a great view over the lake and very clean and tidy. A bridge then linmks you across to the Tiger Pagoda. We didn’t go to the top of this one. As Natalja said “the dragon one has a better view”, which it does as the Dragon one would actually obscure the view over the lake from the Tiger one. Again, both Pagodas contain information on the walls, 90% of it in Chinese obviously. They must re-paint these types of buildings, I found them immaculate, clean, tidy and the art is precise.

The Taiwanese have put a real passion into things t=like this. And yet they don’t seem to boast about it, or even promote it to Europeans. Go there and check out their culture and their art. A lot of effort and passion has gone into it. These buildings are excellent. Soon though, all 3 of us had come out of the tiger’s mouth and there ended the walk round Lotus Lake. At the back there was a tourist information office, which we thought we’d call into. Neil wanted to check where to get the bus to Cheng Ching Lake for the baseball match later on. They spoke English in there and were very helpful. A number 60 bus we heard, from the main train station forecourt in central Kaohsuing. We were sorted now for the baseball bus as well. There was a young kid in there, a son of one of the workers presumably. We must have been the first foreigners they’d seen in ages. The kid kept looking up to me and offering a few words in American English. I heard “Hey Man” but also “Hello” and “Nice to meet you.” A genuinely nice kid, thinking we were aliens!

We certainly must have been the first tourists for a while. We didn’t see any others when we were there! And moreover when in the tourst information office, the guy working there had a world map up on the wall and wanted to know where we were all from. We pointed out our various countries on the map. I was particularly impressed as not only was Northern Ireland clearly on the map, but they had flegs (flags) for every country and they had a Union Fleg (Union Jack) with the words “Great Britain and NORTHERN IRELAND” below it. Ironically it was next to Natalja’s Estonia fleg. We got photos with that, but also the guy gave us a marker pen each and we all signed our names on it next to our countries. They were the first names on it. I was the first to sign it.

As we left and walked away I told Neil maybe we should return to Lotus Lake in 10 odd years and check if the map is still there, and to see how many people have signed it and from where after we started the ball rolling. We drank water to quench our thirst in the sun, we popped into another 7-11 store and this time headed to Zouying South station to get a single train into the centre of Kaohsuing (10 – 15 minutes I think). After the trip to Lotus Lake next up would be Baseball and seeing Kaohsuing at night. More blog entries to come as and when the time and internet lets me. I hope you enjoyed reading about it and maybe the pictures will do it justice. Lotus Lake – go and check it out someday!

FROM WIKIPEDIA:

Lotus Lake (蓮池潭) is a man-made lake and popular tourist destination on the east side of Tsoying District in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan. Opened in 1951, it is famous for the lotus plants on the lake and the numerous temples around the lake, including the Spring and Autumn Pavilions (春秋閣), the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas (龍虎塔), and the Confucian Temple (孔廟).
Lotus Lake was the site for several water sporting events for World Games 2009, including canoe polo, water ski, and dragon boat.

Transport Used – Train (get out at Zuoying Station and its 10 minute walk if that).

Cost – Free, but a donation to the Tiger and Dragon Pagodas is expected to get in, which comes with a free postcard of the Pagodas.

You can get an English translation/guide here on Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_Lake

Key Song – Lotus, that lost single by REM (1998)

REM – LOTUS (Live 1998):

LOTUS LAKE FROM DRAGON PAGODA:

LOTUS LAKE, 2 PAGODAS – DRAGON AND TIGER:

ENTRANCE TO LOTUS LAKE:

ENTERING THE DRAGON AT LOTUS LAKE:

CONFUSIUS TEMPLE, LOTUS LAKE:

Don’t Stop Living! I’m a travelling Northern Irishman living a lifestyle of travel! Lotus Lake Kaohsiung – loved it!

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