The Ultimate Travel Guide: Kaohsiung
While Taipei represents the fast-paced city life of the North, Kaohsiung encapsulates the easy-going laid-back vibes of the South. Though don’t be fooled by its casual nature, as this city packs quite a punch!
The beachside municipality epitomizes the blossoming artistic and alternative cultures that resonate through Taiwan’s youth with an energy you’d find in any other surfing hotspot! Even the city’s temples and holiest sites can’t help but be influenced by the unrelating wave of creativity that makes Kaohsiung the most vibrant city in Taiwan!
So just before you add one more stop to your Taiwanese itinerary, let me guide you through everything you need to know about Kaohsiung!
Where is Kaohsiung?
Known locally as the “Harbour Capital”, Kaohsiung acts as the central hub for Southern Taiwan. With vital industries that gravitate around its coastlines, from the nation’s freshest seafood to a constant stream of international shipments, the city plays a vital role in shaping this fabulous nation.
Kaohsiung City is classified as a special municipality which is governed as its own little province. It also finds itself neatly placed between the ancient capital of Tainan and Kenting National Park.
Where Is Cijin Island?
Cijin (or Qijin) Island is the getaway within a getaway. The little island district 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 explore, most of which relate to the vibrant oceans that surround it.
How to Get to Kaohsiung?
Being a major Southern hub and international port city, Kaohsiung is very well connected both domestically and internationally. Kaohsiung is easily accessible from all forms of transport, and this guide will hopefully show!
How To Go To Kaohsiung by Plane
Kaohsiung International Airport is the 2nd largest in Taiwan. Despite that, international flights are limited to nations within Asia, including China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines.
Sadly, direct flights from any major capital are rare, so you’re better off taking a flight to Taoyuan International Airport near Taipei.
Kaohsiung Airport also has 3 domestic routes which are run by Mandarin Airlines. As the flights are within the country, prices generally remain constant. Of these routes, only 1 stays within the mainland.
|Penghu Island||0:40 hrs||NT$1,579|
|Kinmen Islands||1:05 hrs||NT$1,967|
How To Go To Kaohsiung by Train
Kaohsiung is well connected by rail, both the high-speed (HSR) and regular variety. The city marks the end of the HSR and Western line as well as the beginning of the Pingtung Line.
How To Go To Kaohsiung by High-Speed Rail (HSR)
The high-speed rail arrives on the edge of the city at Zuoying Station. This is also the terminal station for the HSR.
There are a couple of highlights nearby the station, though if you’d like to travel further into the city centre then you need to transfer to bus numbers 218A, 218B or 301. Alternatively, you could walk to the World Game Metro Station and take the red line which will guide you towards the centre of Kaohsiung.
|Taipei||1:45 – 2:15 hrs||NT$1490|
How To Go To Kaohsiung by Regular Train
It’s also easy to get to the city via regular trains, though of course, it’s going to take a little longer! For a detailed guide on the train times to Kaohsiung, check out the Taiwan Railway Website.
|Taipei||3:30 – 7 hrs||NT$650-843|
|Hsinchu||4 – 5:30 hrs||NT$257-333|
|Taichung||2:30 – 4:15 hrs||NT$301-469|
|Tainan||40 mins – 1 hr||NT$68-106|
How To Go To Kaohsiung by Bus
Buses depart for Kaohsiung from almost every major point across Taiwan regularly. There are several independent companies to choose from with various stops in between.
|Kenting||1:5 – 2 hrs||NT$184|
How To Go To Cijin Island
Though Cijin Island is in the central part of Kaohsiung, getting to the island itself takes an extra step.
The island can be accessed by bus number R9A which will drop you off at the southern end of the island. However, I highly recommend taking the Cijin ferry, which is a highlight in itself!
There are 3 routes available which leave from Kaohsiung Port Warehouse No. 2 (KW2), Gushan or Cianjaen.
|Kaohsiung Port Warehouse No. 2||10 mins||Saturdays, Sundays|
and National Holidays
Every 30 mins
|Gushan||5 mins||Every 10 mins||NT$30|
|Cianjaen||15 mins||Every 15 mins||NT$30|
If you don’t need a full guide, why not skip to the best Kaohsiung has to offer!
20 of the best sites to see in the artistic and cultural centre of Southern Taiwan
How to Get Around Kaohsiung?
Being a major international city, Kaosiung’s public transport systems are vast and well organised with plenty of info available online.
As with every other city in Taiwan, all public transport can be paid for by using an iPass or EasyCard.
Currently, there are only two lines available, the red line and the orange line. Trains operate at 5-10 min intervals and cost between NT$20-60 each journey. You can find a guide to the metro lines of Kaohsiung on Google Maps or any decent navigator.
Light Rail Transit (LRT)
The LRT consists of one line with 26 stations currently open. It’s intended to be a looped line that not only intersects the metro lines but also takes passengers along the coastal ports. It also makes use of the abandoned railway lines that guide themselves through the southern half of Kaohsiung.
As of yet, the line has not been completed, with 12 more stations to be opened sometime in the future. As such, you can’t make a full loop just yet, but it’s still a great way to sightsee around the city!
With frequent departures and extensive routes, Kaohsiung’s buses are a great option for getting around the city.
As with many other cities in Taiwan, fares are based on mileage zones. If the trip is shorter than 8 km, you will be charged for one mileage zone; whereas a trip longer than 8 km will be charged for 2 zones. Bus tickets cost NT$12 per zone.
Kaohsiung Sightseeing Bus
Another option for the keen sightseer is the Kaohsiung Sightseeing Buses which guide you around the city with their classic open-top designs. It’s a great way of having a glancing look at the city! There are also audio guides available in English, Japanese, and Korean. Adult tickets cost NT$300.
Another fantastic feature of Taiwanese cities is YouBikes! These can be rented throughout the city by registering your iPass or EasyCard on YouBike’s website or App.
You’re charged NT$5 for the first 30 minutes, NT$10 per 30 minutes for the next 4 hours and then NT$20 per 30 minutes between 4 to 8 hours.
If Kaohsiung wasn’t enough, how about a guide on Taiwan’s greatest mountain ranges?
Alishan National Forest Park.
What’s There To See in Kaohsiung?
As the cultural and artistic centre of the south, Kaohsiung has plenty to offer all types of travellers. From tranquil temple courtyards to intense watersports, it covers the spectrum of energy levels. It also finds itself in a prime position up against the coast allowing it to reap the harvest of what the ocean provides!
Dragon and Tiger Pagodas
Not only is this Kaohsiung’s most iconic site, but it’s an image that’s become synonymous with the city! The pair of matching pagodas amongst the sprouting lotus flowers might make for quite a photo, yet their most noteworthy feature is their animal guardians.
Stretching out before each pagoda is an open-mouthed dragon and tiger, which mark the entrance and exit to the pagodas. In Taiwanese culture, these creatures symbolise the order through which you should enter and leave; enter the dragon (shoutout to Bruce Lee) and out through the tiger. This order represents turning bad luck into good, so you better stick to it!
To learn everything about Taiwanese temples, check out The Ultimate Guide to Taiwanese Temples!
The inner walls of the animals winding innards are lined with vibrant murals depicting heaven and hell, which illustrate the punishment awaiting any mischievous visitor. The inner tunnels lead towards the set of matching pagodas that have spiral staircases leading toward their peaks. As hard as it may be, it’s worth getting to the top for that perfect shot of Lotus Lake!
Fo Guang Shan Buddha Monastery and Museum
Taiwan knows a thing or two about temples, and Kaohsiung isn’t short of them! Just on the city’s outskirts is a place that many consider to be the most spectacular temple in the country!
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!
Amongst the extensive number of pagodas and individual temples, the showstopper 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!
Spring and Autumn Pavilions
Further down the shorelines of Lotus Lake, the Spring and Autumn Pavilions are yet another matching pair of pagodas, yet these come with an added twist! The temple also has its own open-mouthed dragon, though this one comes with a never-ending mural lining hit guts!
The mighty beast is also ridden by an enormous statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. According to legend, this very deity came to Earth riding a similar dragon, and worshippers were expected to commemorate this monumental moment!
Behind the temple, a pristine boardwalk stretches towards the centre of Lotus Lake towards a central pavilion. It’s the perfect spot to sit back and marvel at the spiritual surroundings of the water.
Pier 2 Arts Centre
What was Once a collection of disused warehouses, in true hipster fashion, Pier 2 has since been revamped into a funky collection of art spaces that now host some of the best exhibitions in Taiwan!
Now forming the foundations of Kaohsiung’s artistic scene, the area surrounding the warehouses is home to numerous quirky galleries, theatre shows, street performances and anything that takes the slightest creative touch!
Oh, and why not ride the tiny train that chugs its way around the warehouses!
Formosa Boulevard Dome of Light
Kaohsiung’s fascinating art pieces are not limited to the streets, but rather underneath them! Right in the heart of the Formosa Boulevard MRT station, the Dome of Light is a collection of 4500 multi-coloured glass panels that create one hell of a light show! No wonder it’s considered one of the most beautiful subway stations in the world!
The light show depicts 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. The piece also hoped to convey a message of love and tolerance as it commemorates a significant Taiwanese pro-democracy movement that took place in the 70s.
Though the shorelines of Lotus Pond have plenty of treats, the lake itself is also a worthy highlight!
Whether you’re into a bit of fishing or looking for something a little more exhilarating in the form of some water-based activities, then it’s all here for you!
On the more energetic side of things, you can spend your day kayaking or paddle-boarding across the gentle water. You can even try your hand at wakeboarding on the southern end of the lake! Definitely a unique experience!
For keen spiritualists in Kaohsiung, here’s a guide on everything you need to know about temples in Taiwan!
Learn everything from the detailed symbolism to how to pray like a local.
Zuoying Yuandi Temple
There’s plenty more to find around the shores of Lotus Lake! The water’s edge holds yet another fascinating temple, and this one is pretty hard to miss!
Known locally as the Zuoying Great Temple, this is the main temple of the Zuoying District. You might be able to tell who the main deity is as there’s a monumental figure of him sitting above the temple! As the High Heavenly Xuan God is said to have the power to repel monsters and cure illnesses, thus he’s known as the guardian of the people of Zuoying.
Now we finally come to that quirky little man-made island just a short ferry ride away!
Cijin island has a high density of sites worth exploring amongst the multitude of quaint little bars and restaurants. Some of the noteworthy spots include black sand beaches, Southeast Asia’s largest shell exhibit and a vibrant fish market. Just be warned, you’ll come across endless bags of shark fins at the market…a sad reality here in Taiwan.
Taboo aside, many of Cijin’s sites are highlights in themselves. Speaking of which…
Cijin Old Street
In traditional Taiwanese fashion, there’s an old street to be found nearby. The streets of Cijin, like any good old street, come with a gathering of street vendors selling typical Taiwanese street food, this time with a bit more of a seafood twist due to its close proximity to the ocean.
From freshly caught swordfish to entire lobsters, nothing is off the menu here…including shark fins…but let’s stay far away from that one, shall we!
Worried about eating street food? Check out 15 Tips for Eating Street Food Safely!
Once a remnant of the Japanese colonial era, this former military tunnel carving its way through Cihou Mountain has since been transformed with trippy LSD-inspired glow-in-the-dark murals.
The tunnel decorated with depictions of constellations and sea creatures leads toward a coastal path that circles the cactus-covered beaches on the northern end of the island.
Looping around the northern half of the island, you’ll have a beautiful view back towards the mainland. The path leads past several other worthwhile sites, such as…
Keeping with our colonial theme, our last Cijin attraction worth a mention is the remnants of a Qing dynasty fort that overlooks the rest of the island. Once guarding the northern entrance to Kaohsiung Harbour, today the fort is the perfect place to enjoy the panoramic views back towards the mainland.
Better yet, make sure you’re here on time to watch the sunset across the ocean’s horizon! Of the many places to enjoy the evening’s glow, this is one of the best!
Rueifong Night Market
Onto another Taiwanese staple, the city also has a decent selection of night markets. If there’s one you have to visit during your time there, it has to be Rueifong Night Market!
As the market is right in the heart of the city’s youthful centre, the market attracts a younger demographic, bringing with it an upbeat appeal compared to others in Kaohsiung.
With over a thousand vendors packed into claustrophobically narrow lanes, you’ll spend your evening shuffling from one stall to another flogging everything from mouth-watering snacks and knock-off fashion to rigged carnival games and dodgy electronics.
Do you think you’d prefer to find a nice restaurant? Well, find out by reading Street Food vs Restaurants: Which is Best?
Tien Shui Yueh Hotpot
Enjoying a wonderful meal following a day of exploration is the cherry on the adventurous cake, even better if it’s a photogenic experience! In Kaohsiung, there’s only one place you must highlight on your guide!
Tien Shui Yueh is not just a simple hot pot restaurant, a favourite cuisine in Taiwan, but it’s the awe-inspiring decor that makes it worth a visit! A central misty, candle-filled river leads towards an enormous figure of Buddha’s face which overlooks the restaurant’s patrons. Combined with the dimmed lights and wonderful ambience, there’s no better place to end your evening!
Love River has been a favourite amongst smitten teenagers and hopeless romantics for years! The 12 km of tranquil waterways guide ramblers passed a multitude of riverside parks, bars, restaurants, and swanky riverside cafes on their way through Kaohsiung.
Though walking along the peaceful stream is a must, 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. Better yet, take a lovers’ cruise along it to enjoy all the sites in all their glory!
The British Consulate at Takow
Despite the tragic reminders of Taiwan’s colonial history scattered throughout the country, this is one of the few relics that have a positive history! Built in 1865, not only is it the oldest surviving Western building in Taiwan, but it also became the first formal foreign consulate in the country. For years to come, the consulate served as a positive example of international cooperation!
If for nothing else, it’s worth visiting just to see the traditional British postbox!
For those with an adventurous touch, Shoushan is the perfect mountain escape while still being in the heart of the city. Known more commonly as Monkey Mountain, Shoushan is also home to troops of cheeky little Formosan Macaques that play amongst the immense number of plant species.
Shoushan is also home to some other incredible sites, including a set of archaeological ruins that date back to 5,000 years! The main trail should take about 2-3 hours to complete, so be prepared!
Kaohsiung Martyrs’ Shrine
Whilst still on Shoushan, the Kaohsiung Martyrs’ Shrine is yet another fascinating site that deserves a place on this list! Though it began as a Japanese Shinto shrine, today it serves to stand in honour of Taiwan’s fallen soldiers.
Despite its sombre overtones, the shrine also attracts endless streams of visitors who come to enjoy the views back towards the city. From here you’ll have a spectacular panoramic view of Cijin Island all the way to downtown Kaohsiung. As amazing as it may be, the real star of the show for wanna-be influencers is the iconic LOVE sign on top of the viewing platform.
Kaohsiung really knows how to make a beautiful temple, even better if it can earn a place on your Instagram! Though it may not be the most significant, Sanfeng Temple is most definitely one of the most photogenic!
Dating back more than 300 years, this Taoist temple has always been a hidden gem of Kaohsiung! Above the central courtyard, an enormous canopy of swinging red lanterns provides some incredible photo-ops!
85 Sky Tower Observation Deck
For a towering view across the city, head straight to the 75th floor of the 85 Sky Tower for the thrill of your life! Housed inside Kaohsiung’s tallest building, the observation deck provides an extraordinary panoramic view of the city as it stretches out into the ocean.
The building itself is a one-stop shop that functions as its own miniature community! From high-end hotels, apartment studios and spas to indoor amusement parks and a multitude of plenty of restaurants, what else do you need?!
Just like with any other profession, to become a high-ranking Confucian priest, you’re going to have to work for it! And thus, the Fongyi Academy was created as a place for prospective holy men to take their all-important exams!
Constructed in 1814, it’s the largest Confucian academy preserved in Taiwan, and has seen little change since. It’s one of the most authentic sites in the city and provides a great new perspective into the life of Taiwan’s holiest individuals!
Where To Stay in Kaohsiung
As a major southern hub for the country, there are plenty of options across all pay scales. You can find hostel dorms for as little as NT$360 and can even find basic hotel rooms for around the same price, but don’t expect too much luxury for that!!
What To Eat in Kaohsiung
Traditionally having more agricultural-based industries, Southern food tends to be much more hearty and filling compared to its northern counterpart! Kaohsiung cuisine is served in large bulks and always bursting with flavour, so let me guide you on some of the best eats out there!!
Milkfish congee (shi mu yu zhou) and fish ball soup (qi yu wan tang) make the most of the sea’s harvest and are typical snacks found across the city.
When it comes to breakfast, they don’t disappoint. Pot burn noodle soup (guo shao yi mian) and batter omelette (mian hu dan bing) are local favourites, while scallion pancakes with pork (cong you rou bing) will always be a personal favourite of mine!
For something a little more unique, try some duck rice (ya rou fan), or for the sweet-toothed amongst you, have some white sugar cake (bai tang guo). Either way, you won’t be leaving hungry!
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