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Kaohsiung Nature and History Series: Discover the Rich History of Old Fongshan City and Turtle Mountain in Zuoying

Posted by:  Anusha Lee
Published date: June 23, 2023
Kaohsiung, the third-largest city in Taiwan, has a rich history and stunning natural beauty that many locals and tourists alike are unaware of. From Old Fongshan to the modern metropolis of Kaohsiung City, there is so much to explore. Hiking trails like Turtle Mountain (Guishan) and scenic spots like Lotus Pond (Lotus Lake) offer breathtaking views of the city and its surroundings.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Old Fongshan City North Gate in the sunset
In this post, I'll guide you through planning your backpacking trip or day trip using various modes of transportation, including UBike, MRT/Tram (light rail transit), bus, or on foot, starting from Taiwan High Speed Rail.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The trail that connects Big Turtle Mountain and Small Turtle Mountain
This is Part 2 of our Kaohsiung History and Nature series, with Part 3 covering Monkey Mountain, Pier-2 Art Center, Chihou Lighthouse, and more.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Riding a bike is a great way to explore Lotus Pond and Old Fongshan City.

Table of Contents:

About Old Fongshan (Fengshan) City and Turtle Mountain and Why You Should Visit Those Places

It's difficult to put Kaohsiung's 400-year history into short paragraphs. Here is only a rough picture of Kaohsiung's past so you can gain a basic understanding. Therefore, I highly recommend you visit the Center of Old Fongshan City History if you are also into history.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Diorama of Guishan (Turtle Mountain) and Old Fongshan City

Brief History of Old Fongshan (Fengshan) City: A County with Two Forts, Also Kaohsiung's Past

Zuoying's development can be traced back to Zheng Chengong 鄭成功 or Koxinga, the Ming Dynasty loyalist who continued to fight against the Qing government.
Zuoying was close to Wandan Harbor (now Zuoying Navy Port), with Turtle Mountain (Guishan or spelled as Gueishan) and Snake Mountain (Sheshan) as the natural barriers. Snake Mountain is the north tip of Shoushan (Monkey Mountain) nowadays.
Koxinga temple in Jiantan Taipei
Due to the strategic benefits, Zuoying (called Xing Long Zhuang 興隆庄 in Qing Dynasty) was deemed the ideal base when Zheng Chengong brought the army to southern Taiwan.
The early Qing Emperors, Kangxi 康熙, Yongzheng 雍正, and Qianlong 乾隆, prohibited the construction of forts or defensive walls in Taiwan to prevent possible rebellions like Zheng Chengong from rising again. During Kangxi, the Qing Dynasty conquered the remaining uprisings from Zheng Chenggong in 1683.
However, the lack of proper administration and endless corruption pushed people over the edge, so the riots and pirates never ceased.
Caught between the Qing prohibition of fort construction and the recurring insurgence, the governor came up with the idea of using dirt instead of standard bricks to build defensive walls in 1722.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The differences between dirt forts and rock forts from Jiancheng Exhibition Hall
The first dirt fort in Taiwan was born. Later the fort evolved and was equipped with 4 canoes at the four gates in 1760.
In 1825, the old dirt fort underwent renovation and expansion. To save the cost of the fort's construction, the Taiwan governor asked the local people to donate money and finally gather enough funding to start the project.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Part of North Gate
The abundant materials of coral stones 咾咕石 from the nearby mountains were widely used to build the defensive walls. The new fort was finished in 1826, and it is also the first stone fort in Taiwan.
Kaohsiung Zuoying Banpingshan
Coral stones are abundant in Kaohsiung.
In 1786, Fongshan City was seized twice by Lin Shuang Wen 林爽文, an uprising leader. In 1788, the Qing government relocated Fongshan City to Xia Bi Tou 下埤頭 (now Fongshan District of Kaohsiung).
In order to distinguish both places, the one in Zuoying was called Old Fongshan City, and the other was called New Fongshan City. As a result, Fongshan County was the only administrative area with 2 forts in Taiwan.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Old Fongshan and New Fongshan from Google Maps

WWII and Formosa Air Battle

New Fongshan City/Fort was dismantled during the Japanese Occupation to build new infrastructure. However, Old Fongshan City couldn't escape the damage, either.
The Japanese and later governments tore down more walls and turned Takao (Kaohsiung's old name) into one of the Japanese most important air and naval outposts during the Japanese occupation. During WWII, the Japanese government established many advanced industries to support their attacks in Takao. On October 12, 1944, United States fighter planes started days of aerial attacks on Formosa, especially Takao (Source).
This battle lasted for five days. But the ordeal of Takao didn't end there. There were more air strikes later. According to records of the Fifth Air Force-Air War against Japan, the shelling in Takao (Kaohsiung) alone reached 2,559.2 tons (2,321,665 kg) between October 12, 1944, and August 10, 1955 (Source). It's not a surprise that many buildings were destroyed during that time.
Image from Jiancheng Exhibition Hall
After the KMT government built more military dependents' villages in Zuoying, the residents also added more illegal structures along with the old walls.
Military Dependents' Villages - Juan Cun
Military Dependents' Village: Mingde Village
Finally, the remaining Old Fongshan City in Zuoying gained recognition after local historians worked hard to preserve history. The past of Old Fongshan City was presented in the public eye.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Milestones at Jiancheng Exhibition Hall

Old Fongshan City Renovation: Transformed from the Ruins

Fast forwarding to today, Kaohsiung City started the Old Fongshan City Renovation project in 2016 to present this history to the public. The Old Fongshan City Wall Historic Route 見城之道 is part of this renovation and was open to the public on March 26, 2023.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The Center of Old Fongshan City History or Jiancheng Exhibition Hall 見城館
According to this renovation, this route is meant to 'sew back' 縫合蓮潭 Xiao Guishan (Little Turtle Mountain) 小龜山 and Da Guishan(Big Turtle Mountain) 大龜山 separated by Shengli Road 勝利路 since 1930. This 'sewing back' is also meant to recover the Fengshui 風水. The length of this route is 770 meters (2,526 feet) long.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The overpass is the trail that connects Little Turtle Mountain and Big Turtle Mountain.
Other projects under this renovation are still underway.

Lotus Pond, Lian Chi Tan 蓮池潭

The history of Lotus Pond can be traced back to 1868 when a Fongshan governor built the Confucius Temple. It was called Ban Chi, a half-circular pond, and a pond like this was an essential amenity for building a Confucius Temple. At that time, the governor planted many lotus flowers, and that's where Lotus Pond got its name from.
Kaohsiung Zuoying Banpingshan
Looking at Lotus City, Guishan (Turtle Mountain), and Shoushan (Monkey Mountain) from Banpingshan
In the old days, the area of Lotus Pond once reached 75 hectares (185 acres). Due to the increased population and development, it shrank to 45 hectares (111 acres).
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Lotus Pond in the late afternoon
Kaohsiung hosted the 8th edition of the World Games in 2009. Lotus Pond was chosen as the Canoe polo, Water skiing, and Dragon Boat race venue. To deepen the water depth from 1 meter to 3 meters, the Kaohsiung government embarked on the largest scale of dredging.
You will find more than 20 temples surrounding Lotus Pond. The famous landmark: The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, belongs to one of the temples here, Zuoying Ci Ji Temple 左營慈濟宮. The custom to visit the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas is to enter the Dragon entrance and exit from the Tiger one because you don't want to send a sheep into a tiger's mouth 羊入虎口.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Those two Pagodas are the most famous landmarks at Lotus Pond.
In 2017, CNN's story, Why Kaohsiung should be on your travel lis put Lotus Pond and the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas in the spotlight and vising Lotus Pond has become popular among the international tourists.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Lotus Pond Gate

Itineraries, Maps/ GPX Data, How to Get There and Accommodations to Consider

Brief itinerary: High Speed Rail Zuoying Station ➔ Banpingshan ➔ Farewell, 886 - Cultural Park of Taiwan Military Veteran Village, and Admiral's Residence ➔ Jiancheng Exhibition Hall (Center of Old Fongshan City History) and City Gates/relics ➔ Guishan Trail ➔ Lotus Pond ➔ High Speed Rail Zuoying Station

Public Transportation and UBike

This route starts at Zuoying Station on High Speed Rail. You can get there by Kaohsiung MRT, train, or bus. If you travel with your luggage, there are lockers at Zuoying Station (MRT, High Speed Rail, and Xin Zuoying Station).
If visiting all those places is too much in one day, you can arrange the destinations you are interested in.
To make this loop walk/hike, you can do it on foot or by UBike to connect those stops. Here is the map for UBike docks.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Bike trails by Lotus Pond
You will see the bike paths around Lotus Pond, too.

Accommodations to Consider

To transform the old military dependents' houses and give them a new life, the Kaohsiung Government initiated a project called Living to Replace Maintenance (I can't find the official English translation) 以住代護 to preserve those houses in Huangpu Village 黃埔新村 of Fongshan in 2014. This project extended to Jianye Village 建業新村 of Zuoying.
Military Dependents' Villages - Juan Cun
Big old trees at Military Dependents' Village
This project encourages those interested in Juan Cun culture to send their proposals of how they will run businesses with those houses. Some houses have transformed into B&B, restaurants, workshops, etc.
If you want to have a taste of Juan Cun's life, you can click here to see those B&B and book your stay in Kaohsiung. Some B&B owners grew up in Juan Chu, and they have tons of stories to share.
Military Dependents' Villages - Juan Cun
You can find a B&B coverted from the old military dependents' house to stay and ride a bike to Lotus Pond.

Find the Trace of Kaohsiung's Past Life: Old Fongshan City and Gates

You can rent a UBike and cycle from Farewell 886 to Lotus Pond. Then, turn to the Center of Old Fongshan City History because you might be in time for the guided tour.
The Center of Old Fongshan City History

A Must-visit Place: Jiancheng Exhibition Hall (Center of Old Fongshan City History) 見城館

  1. Admission fee: NT$49
  2. Closed on Mondays, except for public holidays.
  3. No food or drink is allowed.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
According to this center's website, this video and diorama display is the first one that integrates videos, animations, diorama, and projection mapping to demonstrate the history.
The four remaining gates and the site of West Gate are listed as national historic sites.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Collage of the four old gate models
After watching this video, you will have a clear idea about the history of Kaohsiung (the old name, Fongshan) in the past 300 years.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
A cool display to learn history
With the help of an AR handheld, I saw the stele's inscription and description of the displayed items in this center. As an old Kaohsiung ren (meaning person 人 in Chinese), I never fully understood the past of Kaohsiung, and I was truly in awe.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
When you put the AR handheld in front of the displayed object and the yellow icon pops up, the gadget will show you more details about the objects.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
You can also have a VR experience to have a different experience.

Old Fongshan City Gates: East Gate - Fongyi Gate 東門 - 鳳儀門

After visiting the center, you can take the Old Fongshan City Wall Historic Route. Or take a loop walk to see the four gates.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The route is short and easy to follow.
You can do it clockwise or counterclockwise, on foot or a bike. It took me one hour to finish the loop on foot, but it would be much better if this were a guided tour.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The renovated North Gate
I visited Fongyi Gate, the east gate, by following the historic route and returned to the ground level to see the remains of the defensive walls integrated with residential houses.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The defensive walls have been integrated with civilians' houses for years.
Following the gate wall and the shallow moat, you can see the details of the wall materials, mostly from coral stones 咾咕石.
The appearance of East Gate from the inside
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The appearance of East Gate from the outside. The banner says Fongyi Gate
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The gate, moat, and modern day buildings
When I got close to South Gate, I saw huge trees and their roots intertwined with the wall.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
This is close to South Gate.

Old Fongshan City Gate: South Gate – Qiwen Gate 南門 - 啟文門, Rebuilt, but Not the Original Style

Soon you will reach a big rotary or roundabout. Before the rotary, you will see a slide on your right. This place used to be a Hai Jiang Orphanage 海強幼稚園.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
A slide near South Gate
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
South Gate
This orphanage was established by the National Women's League of the R.O.C. 中華民國婦女聯合會 (婦聯會) to take care of the children of the deceased sailors. National Women's League was founded by the wife of the former president, Soong Mei-ling 宋美齡.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
This place has become a park now.
Most buildings of this orphanage were demolished, and only this slide and the gates were left.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The front gate of the old orphange
The building at the center of the rotary is South Gate, Qiwen Gate. However, this is not the original style. It is said it was a replica of Taipei City South Gate.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
South Gate
When the Kaohsiung government was trying to rebuild this gate in 1961, the lack of proper archeology and history research contributed to several mistakes, and the south gate ended up like this.
You can take the crosswalk to see South Gate.

Old Fongshan City Gate: West Gate – Dianhai Gate 西門 - 奠海門. Now West Gate Ruins Park 西門遺址公園

During the Japanese Occupation, the Japanese government demolished the South Gate and the walls of the West Gate in 1921. After 1937, the Japanese Navy leveled furthermore to build houses for sailors and their families.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
West Gate Ruins Park
West Gate, Dianhai Gate, was long gone; only the walls were left. A military dependents' village was built here, and the residents built extra housing along the walls. After the village was relocated in 2014, the walls were dug up and finally revealed to the public after over 100 years.
You can down load the app and scan QR codes at the park for more details. Not sure it has English.
This area has been converted into West Gate Ruins Park and open to the public in March 2023. You will find displays with years and contents to explain the history. Many items from prehistory were dug up when the city government demolished the military dependents' villages.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
When the government tore down the old military dependents' villages, they found prehistoric objects.
This park is vast and worth visiting, but it was too hot when I was there. Not many shades gave me a getaway, either. I quickly moved on to my next destination.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
An old vocational school at the south side of the park

The Shinyo Attack Units 震洋特攻隊

During WWII, the Japanese government deployed 10 Shinyo Attack Units 震洋特攻隊 in Taiwan. 4 of them (No. 20, 21, 29, and 31) were located in Zuoying or Old Fongshan City.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Some parts of the defensive wall at the West Gate Ruins Park
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The base of Shinyo Shrine 震洋神社基座.
The Shinyo Attack Units were one of the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army units specialized for suicide missions. The Shinyo meant Sea Quake 震洋, and they were the suicide speedboats carrying explosives.
The dormitory of No. 21 was built inside West Gate, and there were bunkers for them to hide from the air strikes. A square bunker was excavated, estimated to be the command center.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
A square bunker at West Gate Ruins Park
You can check out a famous historian/hiker, Tony Huang's video to see West Gate and the relics of the Shinyo Attack Units here.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The wall from West Gate
I am not sure whether there are toilets at West Gate Ruins Park 西門遺址公園. I saw one at the nearby Triangular Park. I had to pass this park to return to North Gate anyway.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Crossing Zuoying Avenue to Yimin Lane. This avenue was part of my daily life decades ago.

Yimin Lane and Donglai Village 東萊新村義民巷

To return to North Gate, I took Yimin Lane 義民巷. You might find those houses at Yimin Alley similar to the military dependents' homes, but they are not less organized and even messier.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
You can see North Gate from Yimin Lane.
Those residents are not dependents. Their parents or grandparents were civilians from Chang Shan Ba Island 長山八島 in Shandong Province and voluntarily came to Taiwan with KMT in 1949. That's why they were called Yimin, literally meaning Righteous People in Chinese. They were awarded tiny houses here.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Donglai Village is inside North Gate.
The old generations are mostly gone, and people who are not their descendants bought houses here. As a result, their status does not comply with the regulations to rebuild and renovate the military dependents' villages. The Defense Department didn't evict them, but the residents here can't renovate their houses, either. This place is like being forgotten.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Donglai Village

Old Fongshan City Gate: North Gate – Gongchen Gate 北門 - 拱辰門, the One with Menshen, Door Gods

North Gate, or Gongchen Gate, might be the most famous one in Old Fongshan City. Gongchen Gate is the only one among the four that has two door gods or Menshen 門神: Shen Tu 神荼 and Yu Lei 鬱壘.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
North Gate after renovation
Yu Lei 鬱壘 is the one whose right hand held a ring.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Do you see the ring?
There was a well called Gongchen Well 拱辰井. With the urban planning, this well is now in the middle of a busy intersection. The well was leveled and covered up to prevent traffic accidents. It looks like a manhole now. You can check the link here to see what the well looked like.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Gongchen Well is in the middle of the intersection, and looks like a manhole now.
Across the intersections, a small temple sits quietly, looking over people and the heavy traffic. This is Zhen Fu She 鎮福社, a small temple worshiping the earth god. This small temple was built in the 17th century when Zheng Chengong 鄭成功, or Koxinga, came to Taiwan. This temple is also listed as a national historic site.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Zhen Fu She before renovation in 2020
Zhen Fu She has been in my memory since my adolescence. I noticed this temple when I studied high school in Zouying because I thought it looked adorable. Whenever I visit Zuoying, I would come here to check out this temple.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Zhen Fu She after renovation in 2023

Back to the Historic Route and Turtle Mountain (Guishan) Trail

On the way back from North Gate, I took the steps and first hiked to Da Guishan (Big Turtle Mountain). This mountain is on the south side of Shengli Road, while Xiao Guishan (Little Turtle Mountain) is on the Lotus Pond side.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Shengli Road, Big Turtle Mountain, and Little Turtle Mountain from Google Maps
So, there are two Turtle Mountains (Or Turtle Hills), to be exact. My friend Glenn has a post about Turtle Mountain.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Guishan and Lotus Pond
The footpath at Big Turtle Mountain is easy to follow, and it's more like a stroll. The highest point at Guishan is 63 meters (207 feet) above sea level.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The footpath at Big Turtle Mountain
The mountain resembles Banpingshan, full of limestone rocks and exotic trees.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Old bunkers at at Big Turtle Mountain
You will find many old bunkers along the footpath, indicating the strategic significance of its past. I climbed to the top of a bunker and overlooked the Old Fongshan City Wall North Gate.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
This old bunker is the best spot to overlook North Gate.
The renovation of North Gate looks new, but almost too new to recognize its history.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
This is what I saw from the previous bunker.
This trail has several exits, but I took the overpass and walked to Little Turtle Mountain. This overpass is part of the Old Fongshan City Historic Route, trying to connect Big Turtle Mountain and Little Turtle Mountain again.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The footpath/overpass that connects Big and Little Turtle Mountains
This much smaller hill is next to the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. I walked to the deck and had a full view of Lotus Pond and Banpingshan in the distance.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
The small deck at Little Turtle Mountain
Legend has it that when Shengli Road was built and cut through Turtle Mountain, it destroyed Fengshui, like severing the head of a turtle. The villagers even reported that the water on this side of Lotus Pond turned red, like a wound oozing blood.
Looking at Banpingshan from Little Turtle Mountain, the distinctive contour of Banpingshan is long gone, along with many stones and walls of the Old Fongshan City. Only the history and stories remain.
Old Fongshan City and Lotus Pond
View from the deck at Little Turtle Mountain

Lotus Pond and Guishan (Turtle Mountain) Trail

Lotus Pond might be the most famous attraction in this post. There are already hundreds of posts sharing Lotus Pond. You can find the details of Lotus Pond from Foreigners in Taiwan.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Confucius Temple
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Spring and Autumn Pavilions
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas with reflections and Mt. Beidawu in the distance.
You even can find water activities here, Lotus Wake Park 蓮潭滑水主題樂園.
Lotus Pond is also a great place to beat the summer heat.
When the weather is good, I was surprised to see Mt. Beidawu 北大武山, 3,092 meters (10,144 feet). Mt. Beidawu is the southernmost 100 Peaks in Taiwan, located in Pingtung.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
My first time seeing Mt. Beidawu at Lotus Pond
I passed a small area with hundreds of turtles here. I wondered whether I had seen some of them in the 1980s when I was in high school.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
The crazy amount of turtles at one of the pond by a temple at Lotus Pond
You can either walk or rent a UBike to cycle around this lake. You can cycle from Lotus Pond to Love River, around 25 km (15.5 miles). You can find the bike docks here.
Lotus Pond in Zuoying Kaohsiung
Cycling at Lotus Pond

Related Posts:

On Taiwan Hikes

Kaohsiung Banpingshan and Military Dependents' Villages

English Posts

Outredording: Turtle Hill Recording – Kaohsiung
Then and Now: Mt Banping by Michael Turton
Taiwan's first walled city, then and now
Exploring the Lotus Pond (蓮池潭) of Kaohsiung – Taiwan
I hope you enjoy this post. Are you planning to visit Kaohsiung if you have yet to be here? Many people told me that Kaohsiung is the city they like the most in Taiwan. What do you think? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.
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