From the time the jet banked through the puffy nimbus clouds I had a good feeling about this place! As we were making our final descent into the South Taiwanese city I could see bluffs reminiscent of the Southern California coastline, and a skyline reminiscent of Brickell, Miami.
It was Kaohsiung, a city that is seldom lauded on the international stage and it turns out that that’s exactly part of its charm.
You love Chinese food? Check. Fresh Seafood? Check. Pristine Beaches? Check. Hiking? Check. And the locals? Super duper friendly and some of the warmest I’ve ever met.
After a 4 hour flight from Tokyo I landed quite hungry and my first meal it turns out would be all taken care of by the locals. Having been to Taipei [Northern Taiwan] on another visit, I felt an immediate rapport with the landscape that is standard Urban Taiwan: The endless motorbikes, the modern feel of Japan but with a bit of South China mixed in, the sweet aroma of delicious tea flavored eggs soaking in convenience stores like Family Mart and 7-11. I was back in Taiwan and I was elated!
As I walked about scouting restaurants I happened upon an out door banquet consisting of a merry group of motley individuals, old and middle aged men and women and a few youths. I locked eyes with them and was met with gigantic smiles and the words “come, eat!”. There were steamed mussels, fried rice, whole broiled fish, crab souffle, shrimp cocktail and the intestines of some animal stir fried in a delicious soy sauce based broth.
There was also of course Taiwan beer which I described to some of the men as being sort of like water to me. After a bout of raucous laughter their response was to go to Family Mart and buy a bottle of Kaoliang (a type of robust wine derived from the sorghum plant). After pouring me a glass they goaded me with much laughter and proclaimed “THIS IS TAIWANESE WATER!”.
After a great first night the next day I headed about the city in search of Chinese style barbecue and famous Taiwan beef noodles ( two things which I can’t often get in Tokyo unless I venture down to Yokohama, home to Tokyo’s largest Chinese population).
Kaohsiung with almost 3 million inhabitants is the 2nd largest city in Taiwan after Taipei, it specializes in Petro Chemical exports and is the sixth busiest port city in the world. On any given day venture seaside and you can see a queue of cargo ships clogging its shipping lanes along the strait of Taiwan. Kaohsiung is also experiencing a sort of urban revitalization and is largely transforming from its past identity as an industrialized city to a destination.
Some points of Interest….
A black sand beach, Ruins and Strays….
Take a ferry from the mainland and just a short 20 minute ride will find you on Cijin Island, here you can find the Ruins of Cihou Fort, a Lighthouse, Haichan Jie Seafod street and a picturesque black sand beach which allows surfing but no swimming due to extreme rip tides. Be sure to rent a bike and watch out for the pack of stray dogs that inhabit the island which are likely relatively harmless but some due diligence will save you from the hassle of the need to get a rabies shot.
Kayaking, Jet skiing, Pavilions and a Giant Warrior…
Kaohsiungs Lotus Pond has been a tourist destination since its construction in 1951 and is famous for its countless number of lotus plants that line the lake. The modern day Lotus Pond which was the site for Water sporting events in the 2009 World Games is a mash up of an astounding number of temples, pagodas, pavilions and host to a wide variety of water activity such as jet skiing and rowing.
Rui Feng Night Market
Carnival games, Fashion and stinky Tofu
You can’t leave without visiting Rui Feng Night Market, its one of the better night markets I’ve been to in Southeast Asia. The market has a local vibe and is the place where after a long day folks come out to unwind, enjoy a game of mahjong or darts, buy some new threads or chow down on popular street snacks such as stinky tofu.
Taiwan Burgers, Monkeys and Millions of Stairs…
On my last day before heading back to Tokyo I went hiking with a friend we started the day early at 6 a.m. with Taiwan burgers, a Taiwanese take on the classic hamburger. It has all the ingredients you love in a classic burger but with a hint of Star of Anise.
As it turns out the calories would be much needed to scale Monkey Mountain! Shoushan Mountain nicknamed ‘Monkey Mountain’ by foreigners is best known for its inhabitants [Taiwan Macaques]. It’s quite scalable for hikers of all experience levels.
The plush foliage and beautiful wild flowers are mesmerizing and for a few hours it’s easy to forget that you are minutes away from a bustling city! Once reaching the summit you are rewarded with a grandiose view of the Straits of Taiwan!
During my stay I was blessed to befriend the owner of my accomadation and her husband and have a culinary pow wow. Together we cooked some Taiwan dishes and had a family style dinner.
Ever curious about the lifestlye of the locals in every country I visit it was interesting to learn from them about the local sentiment regarding their government, and the low birth rate facing Taiwan. Like Hong Kong, Taiwan is currently in a precarious spot with Mainland China. Citizens of both places are proud to be ethnically Chinese but remain weary of Beijing increasing its influence over their local governments.
Ultimately my friends seemed very happy and currently enjoy a pleasant lifestyle in Taiwan, which I would say reflects much of what I observed from other locals. They seem to enjoy a kind of quiet simplicity which is something I must say I rather admire. With Kaohsiung being a city that possesses such simplicity and innocence, in this often crazy world I pray that Kaohsiung stays the same for ever peaceful, and simple and happy!
For a clean and comfortable accommodation and, expertise on the city of Kaohsiung I recommend my pal Joyce, she will see to it that you have an excellent stay in South Taiwan: