While Taipei rules the North of Taiwan, Kaohsiung certainly rules the South! Not only is it the central hub for this end of the island, but it’s also the best representation of Taiwan’s artistic and alternative cultures that come to enjoy the chilled out vibes of a city that takes life one step at a time. Add to that the freshest seafood available nationwide and some of Taiwan’s most noteworthy temples, Kaohsiung has gone out of its way to put itself on the map!
Kaohsiung is one of those city’s that demand a place on any Taiwanese itinerary and for many, it’s the best of them all! So in that case, let’s take a look at the 20 best highlights to see during your time in Kaohsiung!
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Dragon and Tiger Pagodas
We start off our list with Kaohsiung’s most iconic site, and one that’s become synonymous with the city! The pair of matching pagodas surrounded by sprouting lotus flowers is a pretty beautiful image, yet its their animal guardians that have made them so famous!
Before each pagoda is an open-mouthed dragon and tiger, which mark the entrance and exit to the pagodas. The creatures symbolise the order through which you should enter and leave; enter the dragon (shoutout to Bruce Lee) and out through the tiger. This act represents turning bad luck into good, hence why almost every temple in Taiwan is assigned a dragon and tiger door! Learn more about it in the The Ultimate Guide to Taiwanese Temples!
Inside the winding innards of each animals are vibrant murals of heaven and hell to inspire visitors to carry out good deeds and illustrate the punishment awaiting them if they step out of line! At the back, you’ll be met with a set of matching pagodas that have spiral staircases leading towards their peaks. It’s the perfect spot for a of bird’s eye view of Lotus Lake!
Spring and Autumn Pavilions
Just a stone’s throw away from the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas is another set of matching towers, yet these come with an added twist! Though it also has an open-mouthed dragon with a never-ending mural lined gut, this one is being ridden by an enormous statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. According to legend, this very diety came to Earth riding a similar dragon, and worshippers were expected to commemorate this monumental moment!
Though the pagodas themselves are dedicated to the God of War, its one of the most peaceful spots in the entire city! At the end of a long stretching boardwalk which leads towards the centre of Lotus Lake stands a peaceful little pavilion, which becomes the perfect spot to sit back and marvel at the lake and its spiritual surroundings!
Seeing as you’ve already visited to some of the lake’s most iconic spots, why not take a second to appreciate the lake itself?
As this list shows, the lake is surrounded on all sides by an immense amount of spectacular temples, though it has so much more to offer! If you’re a keen fisherman (or a fishermanwoman), then you can easily spend an afternoon here with a rod in the water! If you prefer to get into the water itself, then there are plenty of aqua-based activities too!
You can easily spend your day kayaking or paddle-boarding across the gentle water, though if you’re looking for something a little more exhilarating then check out the wakeboard park on the southern end of the lake! Definitely a unique experience!
Fo Guang Shan Buddha Monastery and Museum
Though Kaohsiung isn’t short of spectacular temples, this one is in a completely different league! The gigantic grounds of the Fo Guang Shan Monastery are an awe-inspiring example of faithful devotion to Buddhism. With 480 figures of Buddha surrounding the main square and over 10,000 separate figures of Guanyin throughout the temples, it’s safe to say they went all out with this one!
Though the monastery is home to an extensive number of pagodas and individual temples, by far it’s most iconic feature is the 108-meter tall figure of Buddha sitting atop the Main Exhibition Hall, which happens to be the largest bronze seated-Buddha in the world!
Though the monastery is quite far out of the city centre, it’s well worth the effort to go. It easily earns a place as one of, if not the, most fascinating religious sites in all of Taiwan!
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Now it’s time for a vacation within a vacation! The little island of Cijin is a district that was forcibly cut off from the mainland to open up a second point of entry to Kaohsiung’s port. Since then it has become a highly popular spot for locals and tourists alike!
The island has a high density of sites to see and explore including black sand beaches, the largest shell exhibit in Southeast Asia, a light house, a vibrant fish market and a multitude of quiant little bars and restaurants. Just a word of warning, be prepared to come across enormous bags full of shark fins for sale at the fish market. Sadly, the practice isn’t really taboo here in Taiwan.
Cijin Old Street
One of the most favoured spots on Cijin Island worth its own mention is the island’s Old Street, which unsurprisingly for Taiwanese standards, is home to a bustling market! Not only does it serve a spectrum of local street snacks, but it also takes full advantage of the nearby ocean!
The Old Street is one of the best places in Kaohsiung to grab some freshly caught produce. From swordfish to lobsters and…um…sharks…there’s nothing off the menu here! If nothing else, it’s a great place to fuel up for your day on the island.
Once a Japanese colonial era military tunnel carving its way through Cihou Mountain, the Cijin Tunnel has now been transformed with trippy mushroom-fuelled glow-in-the-dark murals with depictions of constellations and sea creatures floating above a wooden boardwalk.
The tunnel leads towards a coastal path that circles around the cactus covered beaches on the northern end of the island. As you loop around you’ll come across the straight which separates Cijin from the mainland, giving one hell of a view back towards the city! It also happens to lead us to our next spot…
Our last Cijin attraction worth a mention is a pristine Qing dynasty fort that stands directly above the tunnel! Once guarding the northern entrance to Kaohsiung Harbour, it creates the perfect setting to see the panoramic views back towards the mainland!
Though you can enjoy the sunset from many spots across Kaohsiung, this is definitely one of the best! Particuraly as you get to watch the sun fall slowly across the ocean’s horizon! Be sure to also check out the nearby Cijin Lighthouse which is also worth a look!
Pier 2 Arts Centre
Once home to a large gathering of disused warehouses, Pier 2 has since been revamped into a funky collection of art spaces with some of the best exhibitions in all of Taiwan! Now forming the foundations of Kaohsiung’s cultural and artistic scene, the area both inside and outside the warehouses are home to quirky galleries, murals, theatre shows, street performances and anything that takes the slightest creative touch!
It’s definitely a unique spot to check out and a great place to spend an afternoon browsing some alternative art scenes or even have a drink at one of the many hipster cafes. Oh, and best of all, a tiny choo choo train takes you around some of the warehouses! Convinced yet?
Formosa Boulevard Dome of Light
Continuing with our artistic theme, one of the city’s best exhibits can be found in one of Kaohsiung’s subway stations! Deep in the heart of the Formosa Boulevard MRT is the Dome of Light, a collection of 4500 glass-coloured panelled piece of art, the largest of its kind in the world! It’s for that reason that many believe this subway station to be one of the most beautiful in the world!
The fascinating light show aims to tell the story of human history through four themes, Water: The Womb of Life; Earth: Prosperity and Growth; Light: The Creative Spirit; and Fire: Destruction and Rebirth. Most important of all, the artwork has an overall message of love and tolerance, which became especially true when commemorating a massive Taiwanese pro-democracy movement that occurred in the 70s.
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For a nice change of pace, there’s nothing better than having a peaceful stroll along a lazy river. Luckily, Kaohsiung has just what you need!
The Love River is a 12-km waterway that flows past a multitude of riverside parks, bars, restaurants, and swanky riverside cafes. And as the name might suggest, it’s always been a favoured spot amongst young lovers looking for a romantic spot to make the first move!
Though a walk along the peaceful stream is a must-do, nothing beats visiting at night when you can enjoy the lights of the surrounding city and rainbow coloured bridges flickering off the surface of the water, pervading that sense of romanticism in the air. Better yet, take a lovers’ cruise along it to enjoy all the sites in all their glory!
Zuoying Yuandi Temple
For those with a bit more time on their hands, then it’s well worth exploring the rest of Lotus Pond and the fascinating temples that surround it! And of the other temple’s worth checking out, this next one is pretty hard to miss!
More commonly known as the Zuoying Great Temple, this is the main temple of the Zuoying District. The head deity is pretty easy to tell as there’s a monumental figure of him sitting above the temple! This High Heavenly Xuan God is said to have the power to expel monsters and cure illnesses, thus he became the guardian for the people of Zuoying.
Rueifong Night Market
As you might expect to see in any decent Taiwanese city, Kaohsiung also comes with its own share of spectacular night markets. If there’s one you have to visit during your time there, it has to be Rueifong Night Market!
Due to its close proximity to high-schools and the hip-area of the city, the market has much more of a youthful, upbeat vibe to it compared to the others.
With over a thousand vendors packed in ridiculously tight quarters, its certainly a brutal culture shock! Here you can spend your night shuffling through narrow corridors of delicious snack items, cheap fashion, carnival games and dodgy electronics to your hearts content, or as long as you can handle it!
Tien Shui Yueh Hotpot
After a full day of exploring some incredible sites, there’s nothing better than ending your night in a cool, instagrammable spot to enjoy a bit of world class food! When it comes to Kaohsiung, there’s only one place you will have to add to your list!
Tien Shui Yueh not only has an incredibly delicious selection of hot pot, a favourite in Taiwan, but it’s the incredible settings that make it so worthwhile! In the centre of the restaurant lays an entire misty, candle-filled river which leads to an enormous Buddha’s face at the end. Along with the dimmed lights and wonderful service, there’s no better place to end your evening!
The British Consulate at Takow
Though Taiwan sadly has an endless reminders of its tragic colonial rules from the Dutch to the pesky Japanese, this is one of the few relics that has a has a completely positive history! Built in 1865, it would become the first formal consulate built by foreigners in Taiwan, and becoming was a shining example of international cooperation! On top of that, it’s the oldest surviving western building in Taiwan!
If for nothing else, its worth visiting just to see the traditional British postbox on the outside of the building!
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Not the worry, Kaohsiung is not all about highrise buildings and spectacular temples, there are plenty of nature to see too! More commonly known as Monkey Mountain, Shoushan is the perfect escape while still being in the heart of the city.
Along with the numerous species of plants and cheeky Formosan Macaques, Shoushan is also home to some other incredible sites to see. The most fascinating is a set of archaeological ruins that date back to 5,000 years! The main trail should take about 2-3 hours to complete, so leave enough time in your itinerary!
Kaohsiung Martyrs’ Shrine
Of all the sites to see on Shoushan, the Kaohsiung Martyrs’ Shrine is the one most worth visiting. With a varied history which began as being a Japanese Shinto shrine, today it stands in honour of Taiwan’s fallen soldiers.
Yet its not just a somber reminder of past tradgedies, the shrine also brings a great number of visitors who want to enjoy the spectacular views of the cityscape! Other than having a panoramic view of the harbour, Cijin and downtown Kaohsiung to see, wanna-be influencers come in droves to take photoshoots in front of the iconic LOVE sign on top of the viewing platform.
How do you become a high-ranking Confucian priest? Well, study of course! The Fongyi Academy was where prospective would take their all-important exams! Constructed in 1814, it’s the largest Confucian academy preserved in Taiwan, and it really shows its age! Its one of the most authentic sites in the city! It has seen very little restoration or change since the days it was in use! A great look back at history!
85 Sky Tower Observation Deck
The best way to see any city is from above it, and Kaohsiung has just the right building for it! Towering 378 meters above the city, 85 Sky Tower is the tallest building in Kaohsiung and the second tallest in Taiwan after Taipei 101.
The building itself is a one-stop show of everything you would ever need in life. From high-end hotels to basic apartment studios, spas, indoor amusement parks and a multitude of plenty of restaurants, it has it all! Yet none of that matters to a faithful tourist, the real star here is the observation deck!
All the way up on the 75th floor gives you a perfect bird’s eye view of the city and an even better place to enjoy the sunset as it falls over the horizon! There really are too many places to enjoy a sunset in this city!
It may be the last temple on our list, but easily one of the prettiest! Sanfeng Temple is a beautiful Taoist temple dating back more than 300 years, and has always been the hidden gem of Kaohsiung!
It may not be the most significant temple (as there’s pretty big competition) but it’s definitely one of the most photogenic! Within the courtyard are enormous rows of swinging red lanterns above the central courtyard providing some incredible photo-ops! Great way to end your Kaohsiung journey!
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A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.