Kaohsiung is a special municipality located in south-western Taiwan, facing the Taiwan Straight. Kaohsiung International airport is Taiwan’s second largest, and the Port of Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s largest, though it’s technically not part of the city! So, why would you want to visit? Thanks to Taiwan’s High Speed Rail system, you can get there from Taipei with ease and for relatively little money (around $50 per person one way). A week would be a waste, but if you find you have a free day, here’s how to see a good slice of Kaohsiung.
Start: Taipei Main Station.
Let’s just assume you’re starting your journey here. Purchase a ticket for the THSR to Zuoying (this website has a search feature and lists times and fares). I recommend catching a fairly early one, let’s say the 0751, which gets you into Zuoying at 0930. Just in time for breakfast!
Stop by the Movenpick Cafe in Zuoying’s lower level for a tasty breakfast and a well needed caffeine hit. Their rice stews in particular are really good, and filling! Great start for the long day ahead. Next, since you’re in the area, catch yourself a bus (Red Line number 35, NT12/50c) from right outside Zuoying train station to right outside the Lotus Pond. This is a huge man-made lake with pagodas and nods to the Buddhist faith. The first one you’ll come to is Lotus Pond’s most famous; the tiger and dragon pagodas. Enter through the mouth of one mighty beast (the tiger), meander through and marvel at the intricate beauty of the pagodas and their outlook, before exiting through the mouth of the other beast (dragon). From here, take a right, and be sure to stop at the many temples that surround the lake. All are most welcoming, and very typical of Taiwanese-Buddhist architecture. I recommend taking the time to walk around the whole lake, so you don’t miss any of its beauty. There are other pagodas, including one flanked by a magnificent dragon, and another with a giant deity sat serenely atop. It’s truly beautiful. I apologise that all my photos are in the dark, Lotus Pond was my first stop, and it was dark when I arrived! But you get the general idea, and there’s more to see during the day!
Phew! All that walking is bound to build up an appetite! Make your way back to where the bus dropped you off, go to the opposite side of the road and catch the same one back to Zuoying station. Here you’ll transfer to Kaohsiung’s metro system (MRT). Purchase a single journey ticket bound for Yangchengpu (the machines are super easy to use, and all have English options). This will involve a change at Formosa Boulevard. Once you arrive at Yangchengpu, you can either walk to the next destination (around 30-40 minutes, maybe less depending on your pace), or catch a bus. The destination? Ai He! Ai He, or Love River to quote it’s English name, is probably Kaohsiung’s most popular attraction. If you want to sit down and eat, there’s a few nice restaurants and cafes along the river to choose from, or you can grab food on the hop at 7/11. Head down to Love Pier and catch a river cruise! It’s inexpensive (NT300/$9.00), and lasts around half hour. There are two types of boat; a standard open sided vessel, or a gondola! Seriously, a gondola! You can have the Venetian experience without the price tag, perfect for a romantic trip. I, being less romantic, opted for the larger vessel, which comes complete with a tour guide and lots of interesting information about Ai He, which is great if you can speak Mandarin! Once you disembark, head back up to the main road, take a left, and just opposite you’ll see a Catholic Basilica. This is the Rose Basilica, and sits at quite a juxtaposition to its surroundings. It’s a pretty little building, worth more than a passing glance. Catholicism is a minority religion in majority Buddhist Taiwan, so don’t expect to see too many buildings like this. Head back to Yangchengpu, then back to Formosa Boulevard, and exit into the main part of the station to enjoy the Dome Of Light, a stunning art installation that’s a permanent fixture. You’ll also find one or two boutique market stalls here, great for tacky/unique gift buying.
Since you’re already at Formosa Boulevard, why not exit and check out Liuhe Night Market? Taiwan is notorious for its Night Markets, and Kaohsiung is no different. Liuhe is relatively small, but there are some interesting vendors and street foods to sample. An hour here is more than enough time to soak it in. Let’s hop back on the MRT and head to San Ming Vocational school (red line, stop R14) for our final destination; the slightly busier Rei Feng Night Market. This is a more authentic Night Market, not changed to suit tourist tastes. It sits in an enclosed grid type space, and is usually packed out. It’s also not open every night like most, closing on Mondays and Wednesdays. Here you can try all sorts of local delicacies (phallic cake, frogs eggs, offal), as well as some international favourites (the French man selling pastries was one of my favourites), as well as shop for jewellery, electronics, clothing, toys, and items of an “adult nature”. There’s also games to be played and people to accidentally bump into over and over again. Here I recommend a good 2 hours at least, to allow you to really see it all (if you can through the throngs). Once you’ve had your fill, cross out of the chaos and into a shopping street opposite, selling clothing and beauty, amongst other things. You can stroll this on your way back to the MRT station. From here head back to Zuoying, get another ticket for the THSR back to Taipei (last train leaves at 2210), and enjoy one last look at the Taiwanese countryside, albeit in the dark this time.
End: Taipei Main Station.
Done! You’ll even be back in time to catch the last MRT to wherever you’re staying! If you find yourself finished in Kaohsiung early, you can always head to Ximending for one of Taipei’s very best Night Markets.
If you have the time, these extras are worth a look.
85 Sky Tower. Kaohsiung’s most famous Sky Scraper, it serves mostly as a hotel but has an observation deck, affording a birds eye view of the metropolis.
Yangchengpu area. The area surrounding the station is good for killing time. Wander through the narrow market-ways and indulge in clothing, tea, jewellery, and more Jade items than you’ve ever seen in your life.
FE21. A large mall complex only a short walk from 85 Sky Tower, great for some retail therapy. It boasts a gym, kids play area, as well as a plethora of name-brand and Taiwan-specific shops.
Budget around $300, especially since the train tickets will be roughly $100 for a round trip. Everything else is relatively inexpensive, especially the MRT and buses, and nothing mentioned has an entrance fee. You could easily keep food spending under $100 if you’re happy to eat light at convenience stores and the street food at the Night Markets. Souvenir wise, I recommend something weird from one of the Night Markets (a tacky T-shirt perhaps, or a phallic cake), or even a cute gift from Zuoying Station’s MRT pop up shop (the postcards are nice and inexpensive, or you can go more extravagant with model trains or photo frames!). It’s best to carry cash as very few places take card. To cut down on costs using the MRT, you can purchase an iCash card from any convenience store for NT500, and top them up at any station. This is more convenient too, as you can tap in and out as you go! Note though that iCash isn’t valid on buses. Take exact change for buses. Most journeys mentioned in this article are NT12.