Though the capital city, Taipei, tends to get most of the attention when it comes to traveling to Taiwan, it’s time for Kaohsiung to have its day in the sun. After all, Kaohsiung is the second-largest city in Taiwan and a powerhouse for both industry and culture that has developed a quirky, colorful style all its own.
Stopped in on a Kaohsiung cruise, you’ll experience the romance of Love River or the Instagrammable perfection of the Dome of Light, the largest public glass installation in the world. Then there’s the Pier 2 Art District, a new area where funky installations and street art collide with the cruise harbor. No matter how you choose to spend the day in Kaohsiung during your Asia cruise, the city will quickly capture you.
The romantic in all of us comes out at Love River in Kaohsiung, where you can take a gondola ride running through the south of the city. Cafes and bars line the riverfront, reminiscent of other romantic destinations like Venice and Paris.
This uniquely designed Taoist temple built from local stones and shells is one of the most memorable sights you’ll see in Kaohsiung. It’s a fantastical, surreal take on a sacred site, built by migrant road workers who were once stranded in the Kaohsiung area. Each day, the temple workers make a vegetarian meal to feed visitors, so it’s best to stay for lunch.
One of the best budget-friendly things to do in Kaohsiung is take a trip to Lotus Lake, where you can explore over 100 acres of walking trails and loops around the scenic artificial lake. There’s even a colorful installation of a dragon where, as legend tells it, you’ll have good luck when you run into its mouth.
The world’s largest glass installation can be found in Kaohsiung. The Dome of Light holds trippy and colorful light shows each day. It’s part of the Formosa Boulevard MRT station, sure, but it’s a beautiful piece of art you shouldn’t miss.
On a Kaohsiung cruise, the night markets are practically a rite of passage. Surround yourself in the bright lights and hunger-inducing smells of these markets, which offer everything from clothing and souvenirs to every type of Taiwanese bite available. You can eat your way through Kaohsiung simply by hopping around its night markets.
Located near the cruise harbor in the very industrial warehouse district is the quirky Pier 2 Art District. Think Miami’s Wynwood Walls, a neighborhood of compelling street art and installations, transported to South Taiwan in the middle of a busy commercial port. The art district pays stunning tribute to Kaohsiung’s underground and emerging art scene. Photos are a must.
No trip to Taiwan’s second-biggest city is complete without a great view, and the 85 Sky Tower delivers. When you ascend to the 75th floor, you’ll be welcomed by a panoramic view of Kaohsiung. Whip out your phone or camera and snap away, but you just might find that photos don’t even do Kaohsiung’s skyline justice.
During your travels to Taiwan, you have to experience authentic Taiwanese cuisine. After all, the food here is comprised of an incredible mix of inspiration from China, Japan, and even American influence. While strolling through the local night markets, don’t miss the chance to participate in the “small eats” trend in Taiwanese culture, where you can load up on multiple small plates to enjoy several different dishes in one meal.
Of course, Taiwan is famous for dishes like beef noodle soup, slowly braised and bathed in soft noodles. The hotpot is a staple in the home of nearly everyone in Taiwan. Try gua bo, the Taiwanese equivalent of a juicy pork belly burger. Green onion (also called scallion) pancakes are a fixture on almost every menu in the city. Savory to comforting, sweet pineapple cake to stinky tofu, three’s something for every palate here.
Aboriginal populations lived in what we now call Kaohsiung for thousands of years, but by the 12th century, Genghis Khan had claimed the area as part of the Chinese empire. In the 17th century, Europeans arrived in South Taiwan, specifically the Dutch, who were then challenged by both the Spanish and Chinese wanting control of the territory. It was during the Chinese Qing dynasty that Kaohsiung became a critically important port city, and its role in trade sped up urban development over the 19th century. In 1895, claim to Taiwan was granted as a bargaining chip to end the war between Japan and China, and Japan took control of Kaohsiung. Today, the city is an industrial hub and in the process of a major restoration. More and more cultural events, art projects, and attractions are popping up every year.
Upon arriving at the Kaohsiung cruise port, most passengers take the public transit system, the KMRT, to the center of town. Today, it’s a major commercial and cargo port in the process of a cultural renaissance and renovation from an industrial town to a trendy metropolis. The growth of the cruise port is all part of a plan to get more international travelers and visitors to explore this part of Taiwan.
Once you get into the city, Kaohsiung’s main sights are well within walking distance of one another. The city has an extensive bus and train network that makes navigating fairly straightforward, but few fellow passengers will likely speak English. Bus routes are mapped in English throughout the city. The MRT, or the public transit system here, also has signs in English.
Kaohsiung’s shopping mostly centers around the bustling and extensive night market scene, of which there are more than a dozen scattered throughout the city. Ruifeng Night Market offers various delights, from clothing to a variety of snacks and small dishes from hundreds of available stalls.
The official currency of Taiwan is the New Taiwan dollar, or NTD. ATMs are commonly used for currency exchange and easily found throughout the city. Tipping taxi drivers isn’t usually anticipated in Taiwan. Restaurants will just add a service fee if they expect a tip, so you don’t have to provide any additional tip.