Many people have heard of Taiwan as only a tiny island that China is forever laying claim to, somewhere off in the Far East. A quick geography lesson reveals Taiwan being situated just east of China, north of the Philippines. However, Taiwan has a vibrant history and culture all its own. The city we’ll be visiting today is Kaohsiung (also spelled Gaohsiung), the second largest city in Taiwan and a bustling port city.
Linguistically, the population speaks Mandarin Chinese, but a large amount of the population (particular older generations) in southern areas of Taiwan will speak Taiwanese Hokkien. Some born before around 1940 will also speak Japanese, due to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. Many Taiwanese will have taken English, but it will be difficult to find many who are conversationally fluent (it may be easier to write something down and for them to read it). If you are visiting Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese is your best bet!
The currency accepted everywhere is the Taiwanese dollar, which usually runs around 30NTD to 1USD. At established stores such as department stores, it’s possible to use international credit cards.
*Note: there are not many intercontinental direct flights to Kaohsiung; you will probably have to fly to a large Asian airport in the area and make a transfer flight.
Without further ado, here are the top five things to do in Kaohsiung, in no particular order!
1. Love River: 爱河 The Love River is the ‘spine’ of Kaohsiung, cutting through to empty in Kaohsiung Harbor. Along the banks are parks and cafés, and there are boats that tourists can take to ride up and down the river. It is one of the most beautiful river-in-a-city combos ever, right up there with Seine/Paris. It’s undergone beautification, and even more gorgeous lit up at night.
2. Lotus Lake: This lake or pond is a very popular tourist destination in Zuoying district. It’s named after the lotus plants that are on the lake, as well as the temples that surround the area. On the lake also lie the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, and the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. (Fun fact—it’s considered good luck to enter via the Dragon’s mouth and exit via the Tiger, not vice versa!). Inside the structures are painted scenes from Chinese literature. There is also a turtle enclosure on the side of the lake.
3. British Consulate at Takao: Formerly the English consulate in the 1800s, the area by the sea is very beautiful and a popular spot; it’s now designated as a class-2 historical site. The area is near National Sun Yat-sen University, and Sizhiwan Bay. It is located in Gushan district, and currently is a café and tourist area. It’s the area that’s worth visiting—overlooking the Port of Kaohsiung from high ground, and is stunning, especially at sunset! (A side note: Takao is what the original name of the city was, back when it was a village. When the Japanese took control of the city, the meaning changed as the characters and pronunciation stayed the same. When it was translated back into Chinese after World War II, it became Kaohsiung, meaning ‘high hero’.)
4. The Dome of Light 光之穹頂: Built for the 2009 World Games, the Dome of Light is a major piece of public art in Kaohsiung. The world’s largest glass piece by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata, it lies at Formosa Boulevard MRT Station. The dome is lit so that the vibrant colors of each panel of class (every color of the rainbow!) shine clearly. It took almost four years to finish, and was shipped from Germany to be installed in Taiwan (talk about globalization!). The Dome depicts four themes: Water: The Womb of Life; Earth: Prosperity and Growth; Light: The Creative Spirit; and Fire: Destruction and Rebirth. It is one of the most gorgeous public art pieces I have ever seen, especially in a metro station.
5. DREAMMALL (夢時代購物中心) This mall is the largest shopping mall in Taiwan and East Asia. It opened in 2007, and houses a department store, a banquet area, an amusement park on the roof (home of the Kaohsiung Eye Ferris wheel), a movie theatre, and hundreds of stores. There are often celebrity appearances or marketing promotions scheduled here. The Dreammall would be worth a visit simply for the fact it is East Asia’s largest mall, but the vast array of quality restaurants and cafés combined with some of Taiwan’s (and Japan’s) trendiest fashions make this a great experience.
There’s a good bus system out in Kaohsiung with a lot of English names. Also, the MRT metro system is really good and new for getting around Kaohsiung. There are not a lot of stops for the metro yet, but the bus system is very extensive and more English friendly than other systems of travelling. There is an EasyCard system where it is possible to add money onto cards and that will work on buses and the MRT system to make it easy to get around.