Kaohsiung’s island getaway Cijin is an idyllic retreat rich in History, scenery, and seafood.
CIJIN MAY BE TINY just 8.5 kilometers long and an average of 400 meters wide-but it pitch visitors a wide range of attractions and amusements, from history to nature to delectable fresh seafood, as well as a quick getaway from city life The area is a barrier island that protects the port of Kaohsiung. Over the years sand built up, turning Cijin from an island into a peninsula linked to the city. Then, in the late 1960s, Cijin became an island again as the local government cut through the link to create another entrance to the expanding Kaohsiung harbour.
Xu Feiqing, a local cultural tour guide, says that before there was Kaohsiung, there was Cijin. “Half of the Kaohsiung people in ancient times were Cijin natives,” he says. “Cijin may be small place but it was the first developed area in Kaohsiung. It used to be very prosperous.
Cijin’s history began as a typhoon shelter used by Fujian fisherman who sought refuge from the region’s unpredictable storms. Not only did they find shelter, they found an abundance fish, so much so that they built a fishing village, bringing with them their families and the statue of Mazu, the Goddess of Sea( or Tianhou in Chinese). In 1673, 12 years into the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, the first Tianhou Temple in Kaohsiung was built on Cijin to bless fishermen before they took to the sea. Today, the temple on Miaocian Road, and the area surrounding it, is the liveliest part of the island.
For centuries, Cijin had a thriving fishing industry but in recent years the sector has seen many changes. “The landscape of the fishing industry here has been altered by the expansion of the harbour and shrinking of the coastline, “says Xie Rongxiang, of Heritage group Haishan Group Studio.
Tourism, however is a thriving trade in Cijin thanks to its seaside setting and proximity to Kaohsiung, which is linked to the island via a cross-harbour tunnel. Most visitors arrive in Cijin on tour buses through the tunnel but a picturesque alternative is the ferry from Xizi Bay. The NT$15(about HK$4) ride offers spectacular views of the harbour and Kaohsiung’s modern skyline.
Most of Cijin’s attractions can be reached on foot,or you can hop on a tricycle to travel in nostalgic style. Just 15 minutes from the Tianhou Temple, Seaside Park play at making sand castles and surfers catch waves just off shore. Stroll southwards on the Seaside walk for a tropical experience marked by coconut palms and trees planted as windbreak surrounding the park. Nearby Windmill Park hosts an ecological wind farm, public art and recreational space.
Cijin celebrates its sea-going heritage in several maritime museums. The seashell Museum houses rare and extraordinary shells from around the world. On the other side of the island you can visit YM Museum of Marine Exploration Kaohsiung whose permanent exhibit, Cross Century Classic Ships, is well worth seeing.
A trip to Cijin is not complete without a visit to Cihou Mountain. The Cijin Tunnel of Stars that cuts through the mountain near Seaside Park is a magnificent replica of a starry night. The “stars”, set against the tunnel’s dark ceiling, are illuminated by fluorescent light.
Cihou Fort was built in 1875, the first year of Emperor Guangxu’s reign during the Qing Dynasty, to guard Kaohsiung against foreign invaders. The fort is believed to be the first of its kind built with an East-meets-West style and is therefore listed as a historic monument by the city government. Kaohsiung Lighthouse, on the other side of the mountain, dates back to 1883. The octagonal brick tower is a rare architectural feature in Taiwan.
Cijin also has a lot to offer to gourmets. Miaocian Road,also known as Seafood Street, is teeming with seafood eateries. For many Kaohsiung natives, Cijin is he place for inexpensive, fresh local seafood. Assorted friend seafood, grilled skewered squid and whelks are among the most popular dishes. Miaocian Road also offers a wide variety of snacks, or xiaochi, as the locals call them.
Try the crispy meat soup, which features pieces of friend mat soaked in silky cabbage soup. Fruit platters make for a great dessert. The tomato platter, a refreshing dish contrasting multiple layers of flavours, is served with a thick topping made with sweet soy souce, powdered ginger, sugar and liquorice.
If you fancy bringing home some treats from Cijin, San Ho Cookie Shop is ideal. The family-held bakery has been run by five generations since it was established more than a century ago. Delicacies such as pineapple cake, white cake, auspicious cake and the traditional big cake are favourites among tourist. The dried black fish roe is a savoury winter delight and is widely available in Cijin’s Zhongzhou district.
Touris, is one of the most important sectors for Cijin though heritage buff Xie is concerned about the serious coastal erosion in Cijin, which will undermine the perennially thronged with tourist and suggests that the tourism authority promotes other parts of the island.
The trend is perhaps understandable, given the strong appeal of the seaside location and its abundance of appealing attractions.