Taiwan's Kingdom of bananas
Chishan 旗山 (sometimes spelled as Cishan or Qishan, originally Fanshulien 蕃薯寮, lit. "Sweet potato shack") is a small town around 1h from Kaohsiung City (by bus). The town has recently (in 2010) become a district 區 of Greater Kaohsiung, but that's just a Taiwanese bureaucratic absurdity and does not reflect the reality. This is a town full of history and interesting spots (something that surprised me). It's famous for its Hakka population and bananas: Some of the best bananas in Taiwan come from Chishan, which is sometimes called "Kingdom of bananas" (香蕉王國). A big impact on the town's development had the Japanese, that occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. Chishan was one of their most important towns in the area and therefore they even built a small railway, which was used for the transport of bananas and sugar cane, that was robbed from the area and exported to Japan's main islands. A lot of infrastructure was built by the Japanese and an Old street with Japanese colonial architecture is still preserved, as well as a dojo and the Old Chishan Railway station (info source), which is not in operation anymore. Aside from these "historic" sights, Chishan can pride itself with a remarkable catholic church and a huge Confucian temple, that was built above the town (of merely 40.000 inhabitants) and is probably one of the most beautiful temple complexes in Taiwan (see all these famous spots in my photos below).
What I liked in Chishan were the friendly laid back people. Unlike in Ilan City and Nantou City, where I was stared at a lot in very creepy ways, people here gave me a feeling of being welcome and did not care, that I looked very different from them. That's why walking around the town was a pleasure. It was very hot and humid that day and an afternoon rain storm almost completely spoiled our adventure (read more about it here). If you go to Chishan in summer, I advise you to carry with you a huge umbrella, the rain can really be strong and very sudden.
Let me share with you my best photos from that dayin Chishan:
After 10 min of walk from my wife's relative's house, we reached the first famous historic sight: The Old Chishan Railway station 旗山車站, part of the Chiwei Line 旗尾線. It was built in 1910 during Japanese occupation and at a time, when Chishan was still called "Sweet Potato Shack". They renamed the station into Chishan Station in 1920 (the whole town was renamed), however in 1979 the railway line was closed and the building preserved. Renovations between 2005 and 2009 polished it up and it looks like new today. Inside is an exhibition of Chishan's history, some is about banana and sugar cane industry, some is about the railway. I liked that part a lot, the building itself didn't impress me (info source).
And this is the Old Street, full of Japanese colonial houses. Each of them has the family name written on top (interestingly it's written in Latin letters). One can get the atmosphere of the old colonial Japan from the 1920s and 1930s. However, only few houses are preserved, the rest of the "Old" street is the typical post WWII style residential buildings with tiled facades.
Vegetable vendors on the street looked interesting, but were were headed to a famous ice cream shop named 枝仔冰城 or Giya Bingshia in Taiwanese (marked with yellow). If you ever make it to Chishan, you have to try their ice cream, it's very popular among locals and visitors.
This is their famous ice cream. What is so special about it, is the ice at the bottom, not the gelato on top. And guess what? The same day Taiwan's opposition leader Tsai Ying Wen went campaigning to Chishan and she stopped at the same shop to have some ice cream. You can check the photos on her Facebook page. We knew she will be coming, but we didn't have time to see her, because we had to head back to Kaohsiung City and then home. It's a pity.
And then we spotted this dojo nearby. It was built in 1934 by the Japanese. Interestingly the building has a modern glass roof, but the original was Japanese styled and black. In 1994 the dojo burned down and in 2001 it was reconstructed and someone thought a glass roof is better. Go figure. Unfortunately I haven't seen any karate kids around there, only old men chillin' in the shade (info from an info board, more here).
Finally on top of the hill and another paifang right before the entrance of the complex. Another bizarre thing is the name of the temple, which was changed from Chishan Confucious Temple to Kaohsiung City Confucious temple. Obviously, this is not Kaohsiung City, it's Chishan, a small town pretty far from the city. Actually in Kaohsiung City, there's another famous temple dedicated to Confucious, so please don't mix them up.
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To visit Chishan, you take a bus from behind the Kaohsiung Main Railway Station. The bus station is very old and here's a photo of it. We paid 99 NTD for 1 way (around 2.5 Eur), the buses usually go once per hour, so you better plan well, when you gonna take it and when return.
I like this town and I will probably visit it again in the future, since some of my wife's relatives are living here. But not only that, I will return for the ice cream, the Hakka food and the laid back ambiance. And I think these would be the exact same reasons, why I would recommend you to see this lovely town yourself.