You’ve spent several days revelling in the natural splendour of Taiwan’s unspoiled east or you’ve just finished exploring Tainan, the island’s historic former capital, and now you have a whole day in Kaohsiung before your fly out from this southern metropolis.
Unlike Taroko Gorge and Taipei 101, Kaohsiung doesn’t have much of an international profile. But a spare day in Kaohsiung isn’t merely time to kill. It’s an opportunity that should be cherished, a chance to visit quirky shrines, sites associated with 19th-century Western traders, and one of Asia’s most important Buddhist monasteries.
We at Life of Taiwan don’t believe in starting on empty stomachs. Our guide will bring you to the city’s best soyamilk-and-crullers place (they also do steamed buns, flatbreads, and other traditional delicacies) before heading to the quaint neighbourhood known since the 1895-1945 period of Japanese rule as Hamasen.
Back when cargo vessels were much smaller than today’s container-carrying behemoths, Kaohsiung’s docks were here. Several of the old waterside warehouses have been preserved and repurposed as cultural-industry venues. Among the nearby historic buildings is an exquisite 1930s butokuden (a hall used for the teaching of which martial arts).
The principal tourist magnet on this side of the city is the former British Consulate. A vestige of the Treaty Port era when Western powers forced China to open coastal towns to foreign trade, this compound was where British diplomats lived and worked between 1879 and 1897. Back then, numerous Western trading firms had offices in Hamasen, buying and exporting commodities including camphor, sugar, rice, and timber. The consul’s hilltop residence is especially photogenic and from it you’ll get great views over the ocean and the city centre.
If it’s getting towards lunchtime, our guide may well suggest one of Kaohsiung’s Michelin Bib Gourmand eateries, of which the city currently has 39. In the words of the Michelin website, these culinary hotspots offer ‘exceptionally good food at moderate prices.’ Of course, we also have other equally excellent but less well-known eating options up our sleeves.
Perhaps your interests are more spiritual than historical. In that case, we can bring you out to Fo Guang Shan for half a day. Founded in 1967 by the late Master Hsing Yun, a refugee monk from China and the first Buddhist in Taiwan to use radio programmes to spread his message, this sprawling complex includes a striking main shrine with three huge Buddhas (and 14,800 smaller Buddha icons ensconced in the walls), various exhibition halls, and the Buddha Memorial Centre. This last landmark was built at great expense to house a venerated relic: A tooth, gifted to the monastery by a Tibetan lama in 1998, which the faithful say was retrieved from the ashes after the Buddha’s cremation 2,500 years ago. All the guests we’ve brought here agree that you don’t have to believe in anything to find Fo Guang Shan both visually impressive and mentally engaging.
Lotus Pond is nearer the city centre and features some of the most-photographed buildings in Taiwan. Just under a mile in length, this body of water is surrounded by dazzlingly colourful temples, pavilions, and other eccentric structures. When visiting the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, it’s customary to enter via the dragon’s mouth and exit by the tiger’s jaw, as this represents changing bad luck into good fortune.
Following the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist government to Taiwan in 1949, a key naval base was established a short distance west of Lotus Pond. The resulting influx of officers and sailors originally from the Chinese mainland, along with their families, had a lasting impact on the district’s food landscape. That generation has passed into history, but several of the restaurants that were established decades ago to cater to their tastes are still thriving, thanks to Kaohsiung residents eager to try different flavours.
In recent years, Kaohsiung has made huge progress in terms of English-language information. That said, the city’s metro and bus systems aren’t as extensive as those in the Taipei area, and its attractions are spread far apart. Touring with a car and a driver-guide is highly recommended.
To make the most of your time in Kaohsiung — or any or every part of Taiwan — get in touch with us today. Our experienced travel designers would love to share their know-how and help you plan a customised trip that suits your every need.