Weekender guide to Kaohsiung

Discover the charms of Taiwan's second city

It’s a tough life being a second city anywhere, but when you’re playing second fiddle in Taiwan – an island approximately twice the size of the Beijing municipality – being heard is doubly hard. Thankfully, this 400-year-old port has a wide range of attractions for tourists, and the high-speed rail connection to Taipei makes it easy to include in any Taiwan trip.

What to see

A delightful spot for a daytime wander, The Pier-2 Art Center (1 Dayong Road, Yancheng district; +886 7521 4899) is a series of converted dockside warehouses that now host artists and artworks alike. It’s a fraction of the size of Beijing’s 798 Art District, but has featured everything from National Geographic photography exhibitions to Star Trek events. It does get packed out on weekends, though.

If the crowds are getting to you, tranquillity can be found at Lotus Pond (Liantan Road, Zuoying district), also known as Lian Lake. Even when the lotus flowers aren’t in bloom, there are plenty of attractive pagodas and temples to explore on its edge. Rent one of the public bikes available around the city (free for first half hour, then 4RMB per hour afterwards; www.c-bike.com.tw) to explore more easily. For a slightly more strenuous trek, ascend the titular mountain in Shoushan National Nature Park (Gushan district; +886 75213065) for some stunning views of the island. The routes have wooden steps to make the hike easier, though beware the numerous light-fingered Formosan rock macaque monkeys – they love stealing food.

The Starbucks in the entrance of the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center might put you off, as could the ‘spiritual Disneyland’ vibe, complete with Buddha keychains and T-shirts. But this sprawling site has appeal for both dedicated Buddhists and curious laymen. For the former, it claims to house one of Gautama Buddha’s teeth– an invaluable relic – and for the latter, it works as an impressive introduction to the religion and its founder, with interactive displays and opportunities to practise meditation. For a slightly more serene experience, the nearby Fo Guang Shan Temple is worth a visit– but, like the memorial centre, it is huge, so make sure you allot enough time to explore it properly.

Just off the shore of Kaohsiung is Qijin Island (tickets cost 3RMB one-way from Gushan Ferry Pier,17 Penglai Road, Gushan district), a fairly developed area that is nevertheless home to a number of rustic and inexpensive seafood restaurants selling fresh catches of all kinds, as well as Qijin Seaside Park (990 Qijin Third Road, Qijin district) which offers a beach, swimming area and trails. If you’re planning to explore the island, make sure you rent a bike (you can bring them over from the mainland) as it’s a lot bigger than it first seems.

As evening sets in, many tourists take to the electric ferries on the frankly over-ambitiously titled Love River. Truth is, it’s hardly the most romantic trip anyone could ever take, but at around 25RMB per person for 20 minutes, it’s a decent way to end a night– especially when passing under the bridges. Look out for kingfishers perched on the bridge’s struts. They sit as still as statues until – zip! –they launch themselves down to the water and rise with a wriggling fish pinned in their beaks.

Where to eat

For local food and a memorable experience, head to Liu He Night Market (Liu He Second Road, Xinxing district) where everything from snake meat and pig’s blood cake is on sale, as are slightly less scary offerings. Keep your eyes open for the guy scooping Turkish ice cream out of a cart with a long metal pole. He’ll often stick cones of ice cream to the end of it, and tempt passersby to grab them before he yanks it out of their reach.Give it a try! You won’t be able to snatch any, though. Trust us. We speak from bitter experience.

A more traditional sit-down meal can be found at Quanwenzhou Wandan King (No 1, Lane 163 Xinle Street, Yancheng district),a rather sparsely decorated little restaurant that nevertheless attracts locals with delicious dumplings in steaming broth.

If you have a longing for American food, Pasadena in ThePier-2 Art Center (see ‘what to see’) compound offers decent (and sizeable) burgers and pizzas, and features cool artworks, including an immense stone installation that looks Mayan in origin but actually features details borrowed from consoles and computers.

Where to stay

For a room with a view, 85 Sky Tower Hotel is just the ticket. While it’s showing its age a little, the accommodation– located on floors 46-69 – offers spectacular views of the city and docks from around 1,200RMB per night for a double room.

For those on a more down-to earth budget, Legend Hotel provides no-frills accommodation elevated by excellent customer service and spotless rooms. It’s a little far from the metro station, but with doubles from around 240RMB per night, you can’t go wrong.

How to get there

Air Macau flies to Taipei via Macau for 2,446RMB return, including taxes (booked on Ctrip). The Taiwan High-Speed Rail takes between 90 and 120 minutes to get from Taipei to Kaohsiung’s Zuoying station, and costs 327RMB one-way.

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