Citizens of Kaohsiung were delighted last month to learn their fine metropolis has been named by Lonely Planet (LP) the fifth best city in the world to visit in 2018. Even before that announcement, an article published on LP’s website during the summer made it clear that the guidebook giant was falling for Kaohsiung in a big way.
We at Life of Taiwan aren’t sure if Kaohsiung deserves to be visited ahead of some other cities on the island. After all, the former capital, Tainan, is incomparable. We also have a very tender spot for Hsinchu. But Kaohsiung is without doubt the country’s most improved city. Now that Lonely Planet is bringing Taiwan’s self-styled ‘maritime capital’ additional attention, we – as leading Taiwan travel specialists – are bringing you our very own ‘best of Kaohsiung’ recommendations.
In 2010, the city limits were moved northwards. The metropolis (current population 2.78 million) now stretches all the way from the warm waters of the Taiwan Strait to the south face of East Asia’s highest mountain, Mount Jade. Kaohsiung’s attractions aren’t clustered like Taipei’s, and the city’s bus and metro networks aren’t as comprehensive as the capital’s. For this reason, asking Life of Taiwan to arrange a car and guide for you makes a great deal of sense.
Migrants from the Chinese coast began settling in the Kaohsiung area in the early 17th century, initially on the island now called Cijin. The town at the northwestern end of Cijin is a mish-mash of old and new. The main reasons to visit it are seafood restaurants, the remains of a fortress built in 1875, plus a ferry connection with ‘mainland’ Kaohsiung that gives good views of the city’s mighty harbour and the rugged ridge on which our next highlight is sited.
The Former British Consular Residence is a relic of the period when Western powers forced China to open several towns and cities to foreign trade. Kaohsiung, then called Takow, was one of these places; businessmen from the UK, the US and other countries set up shop here, eager to deal in tea, camphor and other commodities. British diplomats lived in the former residence between 1879 and 1897, the actual consular offices being on the waterfront at the bottom of this hill. Both are open to the public and much-enjoyed by history buffs. If your interest in 19th-century trade is limited, do still come for the views inland and out to sea.
Lotus Pond is in the northern part of the urban core, and what makes this body of water unusual is the religious architecture that surrounds it. Especially beguiling are the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, the Spring and Autumn Pavilions and the highly attractive Qiming Temple. This part of the city hosts the annual Wannian Folklore Festival.
Further inland, near the Buddhist monastery and pilgrimage centre at Foguangshan, those familiar with the backcountry can find one of the south’s best-preserved traditional courtyard houses: the Gupoliao Jhuang Family Residence. It’s a little over 100 years old. Ownership is divided among scores of male descendants of the two wealthy brothers who commissioned its construction.
These suggestions just scratch the surface of Kaohsiung. Other places within the city that are likely to appeal to you are the Hakka township of Meinong, the indigenous communities in Namasia and the strange mud volcano at Wushanding. Kaohsiung City Government has a useful multilingual travel-information website, but for a tailor-made itinerary, you cannot do better than contacting Life of Taiwan.