The Kaohsiung Rundown
The proverbial second city of Taiwan gets nowhere near the love or attention it deserves. Alas, what can we realistically expect when a bona fide alpha city like Taipei so thoroughly dominates the discussion? When you do tire of Taiwan’s nerve center, however, as addictive as it is, turn south and make a beeline for Kaohsiung. A city of just under 3 million people, Kaohsiung has all the inherent sass and insouciant charm of a good alt-capital and, all in all, is a wonderful place to explore. The Taiwan Strait port and river city lives by the water and hurls a solid parade of vibrant urban enclaves at visitors who take the time to absorb it all.
The proud host of the 2009 World Games is a city on the rise and has enough supertall cranes and traces of a bold new skyline to prove it. The bulk of development looms over the Love River, by far the most significant artery and geographic feature of the city. All the congenital verve of Kaohsiung takes place by or supremely close to the water, from night markets to a host of landmarks and annual festivals. The Old City of Zuoying, a vestige of the Qing Dynasty, is a premier landmark and must-see fare with the likes of Lotus Lake, Cijin Island, Fisherman’s Wharf and Hsitzuwan Beach. From museums to nightlife, restaurants to bucolic peripheral villages, Kaohsiung is a worthwhile gem in Taiwan.
Kaohsiung’s Top 10
10. Love River is the center of the action in Kaohsiung, with many waterfront hives of activity.
5. Lotus Lake is a man-made pond with a necklace of pagodas and temples.
9. Fisherman's Wharf is a port cum tourist area and site of new commercial development.
4. Tuntex Sky Tower, the most distinctive landmark in Kaohsiung, was the top skyscraper in Taiwan until construction on Taipei 101 hit floor 86.
8. National Science and Technology Museum is the biggest in Asia and a memorable attraction for kids and adults alike.
3. Liuhe Night Market is a vital artery of tourist activity and the best place to score a nocturnal snack.
7. Kaohsiung Museum of History unfurls some excellent exhibits in the old city hall.
2. Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts is a beautiful indoor and outdoor facility, with ample gallery space.
6. Hsitzuwan Beach has stellar scenery, calm waters and is a wonderful place to hang out on sunny afternoon.
1. Old City of Zuoying dates back to the Qing Dynasty and the early 18th century.
Kaohsiung has close to 3 million people and covers over 1,100 square miles. The city has 38 districts, with countless subsequent subdistricts and villages.
Gushan District is home to Ape Hill and the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts.
Zuoying District is home to Lotus Lake and inherent landmarks and Monkey Mountain, which harbors a considerable population of Rhesus macaques.
Sanmin District has points of interest like the Kaohsiung Hakka Cultural Museum and National Science and Technology Museum.
Cianjin (Qianjin) District is a downtown commercial enclave of the city.
Lingya District is the geographic heart of of Kaohsiung and includes Tuntex Sky Tower, Kaohsiung Cultural Center and Kaohsiung City Hall.
Cianjhen (Qianzhen) District is home to the massive and famous Dream Mall.
Cijin (Qijin) District covers all of Cijin Island (in addition to Taiping and Pratas islands), a vital tourist nexus in Kaohsiung.
Fengshan District is the home of the Old City of Zuoying.
Dashu District contains the dominant Buddhist monastery in Taiwan, Fo Guang Shan, and several new luxury hotels.
Niaosong District is home to Chengcing Lake and Exotic Marine Life Museum.
Jiaxian District is a hub of taro production that recently got a major facelift in the wake of Typhoon Morakot in 2009.
Namaxia District is a rural, aboriginal enclave with beautiful mountain scenery and wildlife.
Kaohsiung Eat & Drink
Kaohsiung’s restaurant scene is diverse enough to please locals and homesick expatriates alike.
Cosmos (196 Chongcing Street) is a steak and eggs, American diner kind of spot.
Jerusalem (194 Sihwei 4th Road) serves not falafel and hummus but very good Cantonese, with a fine outdoor patio to boot.
Jasmine’s Place (13 Wufu 4th Road) is a convivial pub wildly popular with expats.
4. Ah Rong Seafood Restaurant (339 BoAi 2nd Road) delivers the catch of the day with unfussy flair.
The Spice Shop (260 Chenggong 1st Road) serves good northern Indian classics.
La Maison de Vincent (130 Sihwei 3rd Road) has a Cordon Bleu chef who knows his way around a bain-marie.
Shou-Yu Vegetarian Buffet (274 Jhongsiao 1st Road) is a Taiwanese chain with fresh fare for non-carnivores.
Wudu Organic House (114 Sihwei 2nd Road) is a good antidote to Kaohsiung’s night market fare.
New House (117 Fuguo Road) serves noodles, or pasta rather. The restaurant is the best Italian joint in town.
Lai Lai Seafood Barbecue Restaurant (53 Minsheng 2nd Road) is always full, thanks to cheap beer and huge portions.
- Cijin District – This thin island is connected to the rest of Kaohsiung by underwater tunnels.
- Cihou Lighthouse – Built by the English in 1883 and remodelled by the Japanese into the baroque style.
- Cihou Fort – This military base was designed by an English engineer.
- Tianhou Temple – This 300-year-old temple is the oldest in the city.
- Fongshan Old City Wall – This centuries-old wall is one of the top historical sites in Taiwan.
Kaohsiung Art & Culture
- Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts – Home to a number of art galleries showing sculptures, calligraphy and seasonal exhibits.
- Kaohsiung Lantern Festival – Held at the end of the Chinese New Year along the Love River and features traditional lanterns and lights.
- Dome of Light – A place of public artwork and the biggest stained-glass installation in the world.
- Fo-kwang Shan – One of the biggest Zen Buddhist monasteries in Taiwan.
- Kaohsiung Museum of History – Large and impressive building in Kaohsiung and home to permanent and seasonal exhibits.
- Dream Mall – The second biggest mall in Asia and offers a rooftop Hello Kitty Ferris wheel.
- Liuho Night Market – A local Kaohsiung night market with food, games and shopping.
- Bamboo Street – A wonderful open-air market and one of the best places to find traditional handicrafts.
- Jade Market – The place to find countless items made of jade.
- Star Place – A designer paradise with great clothing and accessories in an amazing atmosphere.
Gay & Lesbian Kaohsiung
- No. 10 Gay Book Store – Only one of its kind and sells magazines, toys, books and other goods.
- 31 – This mixed-crowd, gay-owned bar and restaurant is friendly and popular with local Kaohsiung gays.
- Vanity – This gay and lesbian club features a stage and a large dance floor.
- Marui – A stylish coffee shop with karaoke downstairs and special monthly shows.
- Private Life – A friendly karaoke place that fills up on the weekends with an older crowd.
- Central Park – This park has a small hedge maze in the centre, tennis courts, paths, a pond and a café.
- Shoushan – A lovely place outdoors on the west coast of the island just across from Cijin.
- British Consulate at Takao – A place to enjoy lovely views of Kaohsiung.
- Love River – Ferry rides are popular along this river flowing through the heart of the city.
- Lotus Lake – A wonderful place to walk or bike against a backdrop of local temples.
- Watch some great rugby games at the Kaohsiung National Stadium.
- Tour Kaohsiung by bicycle along its many cycle-friendly paths.
- Golf at the quality Kaohsiung Golf & Country Club.
- See martial arts on the first floor of the three-storey Taoist Temple of the Holy Hall.
- Catch live games on TV at the Lighthouse Bar and Grill.
Kaohsiung has a tidy little festival scene, with some traditional events and those purposively for the tourists.
Kaohsiung Lantern Festival celebrates the Lunary New Year with much revelry and pomp.
Yi Ya Festival livens up the wet season and is a paragon food bender held in honor of the foremost patron of the culinary arts in Taiwan.
Gourmet Food Festival, also in July, is a good time to graze night market stalls.
Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, is a time to party and watch fireworks by the Love River.
Dragon Boat Festival lures muscular longboat racers to the Love River in May.
When To Go
Like most of the rest of Taiwan, Kaohsiung has a tropical wet and dry climate with typhoon-prone activity. More than 65% of annual precipitation - a healthy 70 plus inches - falls in the months June, July and August. To top it off, summer swelters with temperatures between 79°F (26°C) and 90°F (32°C), with not much relief until November.
The “winter” months of December, January and February, or dry season, as it was, offer some modicum of comfort. Rain is minimal, typhoons even more so, and temperatures fall in between 60°F (15°C) and 76°F (24.5°C). The mercury starts to rise in March and April and, on the whole, humidity is omnipresent throughout the year.
What To Miss
Kaohsiung is not Ho Chi Minh City but scooters fill city streets to a such significant extent that among Taiwanese it is often called “the city of a million scooters”. As the primary mode of transportation in Kaohsiung, the mechanized two-wheelers rule the road and, too often, the sidewalks. As a pedestrian or motorist, be ultra-vigilant and check your blind spots much more than at home. Even though helmets are mandatory, it is not uncommon to see people without them and, worse, with a mobile device on the ear. If you rent a scooter, memorize the license plate in order to recognize it among the uniform masses.
Liuhe Night Market is a requisite tourist ritual in Kaohsiung but the scene is not the equal of a Shilin, Huaxi or Lehua in Taipei and, moreover, purists will tell you that the food is not up to the level of a Fengjia in Taichung.
Love River boat tours have become part of the mainstream tourist scene in Kaohsiung too. Visit the busy waterfront areas of the city, without fail, but give the river cruise a pass, as it contributes little in the way of worthwhile charm or diversion.
Kaohsiung International (Siaogang) Airport handles over 4 million passengers a year and links up with the likes of Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi, Beijing-Capital, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Osaka-Kansai, Seoul-Incheon, Shanghai-Pudong, Singapore, Taipei-Taoyuan and Tokyo-Narita. Many, however, simply fly in to Taipei and catch a 90 minute high-speed train ride to Kaohsiung. Regular express trains cover the journey in 4 to 5 hours; coach buses make it to Kaohsiung from Taipei in 5.5. hours.
The core urban layout of Kaohsiung is, on the whole, amenable for cyclists and pedestrians. A new Mass Rapid Transit system currently operates 2 lines and 36 stations. A modest 135,000 people use the subway every day. Notable stations include Central Park, Formosa Boulevard, World Games and Xinzuoying. The city bus network is easy to use and provides access to outer districts. Kaohsiung also operates a superb bicycle rental service.
Kaohsiung - General information
Taiwan's second city gets nowhere near the press of Taipei but nevertheless, Kaohsiung is a wonderful place to explore. With a dense population of over 1.5 million people, the port city in southwest Taiwan is a vibrant little metropolis. A notable industrial and transportation hub, Kaohsiung's waterfront location also provides it with a lot of intrinsic charm.
The 2009 World Games host has a brilliant skyline that looms over the Love River, by far the most significant geographic feature of the city. The bulk of Kaohsiung's vitality takes place near the waterway, from a superb night market to a host of landmarks and annual festivals that take place by the river. Holy Rosary Cathedral, just east of Love River, is the seat of the Archbishop of Taiwan and well worth a visit. The Old City of Zuoying, which was built under the Qing Dynasty, is a premier example of ancient defensive fortifications and remains a popular tourist draw in Kaohsiung.
Attractions & Activities
- Liouho Night Market
- Tuntex Sky Tower
- Museum of Fine Arts
- Fengshan Old City
- Lotus Lake
- Kaohsiung Lantern Festival
- Yi Ya Festival
- Gourmet Food Festival
- Moon Festival
- Dragon Boat Festival
Restaurants & Nightlife
- Lai Lai Seafood Barbecue
- Wudu Organic House
- The Spice Shop
- New House
- Kiss Pub
Liuhe Night Market
Don’t be put off by guidebooks that describe Kaohsiung’s Liuhe Night Market as a “tourism” night market. The busy hive of activity is phenomenal and a great place to score delicious street food and mingle and barter with locals.Dream Mall
The second-largest retail, leisure and entertainment complex in Asia is a prominent Kaohsiung point of interest and among locals, either a source of giddy pride or minor embarrassment. Drop every notion you have about malls at the door - Dream Mall truly has it all.Shou Shan Zoo
Kaohsiung’s Shou Shan Zoo is world class and boasts a rare and exceptional collection of animals from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania.Qijin District
While in Kaohsiung, take a short ride on the Qijin Island Ferry to a region of the city on the verge of a vibrant makeover. The willowy island of Qijin (or Cijin) has a beach, fine seafood markets, restaurants and many beautiful, scenic areas to explore.Hot Springs
Visitors to Kaohsiung who want to escape to hot springs hotels and resorts are in luck. Kaohsiung County and nearby Tainan County contain perhaps the best ensemble of mountain spas in all of Taiwan. Two hot springs hubs within Maolin National Scenic Area, Baolai and Bulao, are especially desirable and popular.
Kaohsiung enjoys a subtropical climate with four distinct seasons.
- Winter (December to February) 5-14°C
- Spring (March to May) 8-23°C
- Summer (June to September) 22-31°C
- Fall (October to November) 12-24°C
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