Life in Kaohsiung

March 01, 2020 Travel

If I were to take a moment to imagine what a perfect life for me would look like, it would probably involve morning coffee in a stylish café with my female friends and my pet(s), then a walk on the beach in the afternoon while watching kids play and fly kites. I would probably end up in a bar for a couple of beers while watching the sunset. Then, I would cap the day with more good food and drinks in a food market. Maybe my weekends would be spent walking around a lake or probably cruising in it, or immersing myself in the arts or watching wonderful performances.

Such is life in Kaohsiung. 

I got a glimpse of that life when I and some friends from the media were invited to visit this beautiful city by AirAsia Philippines, which flies to Kaohsiung from Manila, Clark, and Cebu. The airline partnered with the Kaohsiung City Government Tourism Bureau and Golden Founders Travel Services Corporation.



We spent 4 days in this city, and after experiencing the life that people in Kaohsiung enjoy, I didn’t want to leave!

Kaohsiung, reimagined and repurposed

But Kaohsiung has not always been like this. It is hard to imagine that, years before, Kaohsiung was a city of polluted waters, toxic fumes, and arid lands. 

What I did was embrace its highly industrialized past and not shun it by creatively redesigning its remnants. One impressive development is Kaohsiung’s warehouse district, which were once abandoned warehouses. Now it is Kaohsiung’s capital of hip culture. 

In Pier 2 Art Center, there are exhibition spaces for artists, open market for quirky finds, imaginative installations and murals, and, of course, cafés and restaurants. There was everything, from a fenced-off estate to a cool place to spend an afternoon with friends, walk pets, or even enjoy some “me time.” 




We visited just before sunset, which was the perfect time, as the colors are more vivid and the air was cooler. We explored for a while, then walked beside the rail tracks, to see more fascinating street art and graffiti, then we went to one of the most fun Kaohsiung activities.




Our guide repeatedly told us during the day to keep hold of our pass. He said we would need that in the afternoon. So, I was ready for a proper train ride, but lo and behold, what we did was something way more enjoyable. 

At Hamasen Railway Cultural Park, we rode mini trains, and it was the best train ride ever! 



Near the railway park is Warehouse No. 2, which is filled with shops and restaurants. It is even a place for a good selection of craft beers, at Zhangmen Brewing. 

All these are accessible via bikeways, the MRT, the light railway, and the ferry terminal, which is another aspect enviable for a person like me, who lives in crowded Manila, where there is always traffic and limited options for transportation.


Also notable, although not located in the same area, is the Ten Drum Ciaotou Cultural Creative Park, which was a sugar refinery plant transformed into a creative park. The place is home to the Grammy-nominated Ten Drum Art Percussion Group. 

Our group learning to play the drums at  Ten Drum Ciaotou Cultural Creative Park
More Rebirths

Another impressive transformation is the cleanup of the Love River. This was once a polluted body of water and had already been tagged as being a dead river. Now, life flows around it.

There are many ways to explore. There is a bike path around it, where it seemed nice to wander and admire. It can also be cruised on-board a solar-powered boat, which we did in the early morning. It was actually nice and relaxing, and we got to see more of Kaohsiung. 


They say that, at night, it sparkles.

The same transformation happened to Cijin Beach. The dark sand beach also used to be polluted. Now, families come in the afternoon to fly kites, ride bikes, or just have picnics. 


There are also large sculptures around, like the giant golden shell, and art installations, like the Rainbow Church, which is a popular sunset photo spot for couples having their pre-nuptial pics. There is also a shell museum. 

For those who want to lose an extra pound while still enjoying the view, the Cihou Port gives an excellent vista of the harbor on one side and the cityscape on the other. It sits atop a small cliff and is accessible by a short path.


After the trek, a bottle of beer at Cijn’s Sunset Bar is the best. A beer and the sunset: what else would anyone look for? If there is room for more, the Cijin Night Market is just in front of it. 


Kaohsiung, I tell friends, has the best and most intense night markets. I was able to see three – Cijin, Ruifeng, and Kaisyuan.

Renaissance

Another symbol of Kaohsiung’s transformation is the National Kaohsiung Centre for the Arts.

The structure, inspired by the local Banyan trees, has a 1,981-seat concert hall, a 2,236-seat opera house, a 1,210-seat drama and dance center, a 434-seat recital hall, an open-air theater, and an open space that can be used for street performances, practicing Tai Chi, watching outdoor movies, and participating in other cultural gatherings. It is now considered the cultural hub for East Asia. 


Imagine this space accessible to everyone, both day and night. 

When I think of Kaohsiung now, I think of how creative this city is, and it is not just in this spaces. Even some of the hotels we stayed in were very picturesque, with wall murals and decors. Both Legend Hotel Liu-He and E-da Royal are wonderlands for kids of all ages. Even the first hotel we stayed in, Garden Education Culture Hotel, is not bad, even if the names suggests it is like staying in a college dormitory. 

E-da Royal is located at the E-da Amusement Park, one of the two amusement parks we visited. The other is Suzuka.

Another place for fine arts and also good food is 1300 Porcelain, which displays creative ceramic arts.

More of Kaohsiung

While Kaohsiung is putting attention to contemporary, it certainly did not overlook its classics.

While I am a practicing Catholic, I certainly appreciated the walk we had at Lotus Pond, where we visited the local temples. There about 20 around the pond; the most popular are the Confucius Temple, the Spring and Autumn Towers, and the Dragon and Tiger Towers. 



Remember to enter through the dragon’s mouth and exit through the tiger’s mouth for good luck.


I read in guides that the pond sits between two mountains and is also glorious during sunsets, with the mountains’ reflections on the ponds. So, this man-made lake is popular during late afternoons and weekends, especially with its very extensive cycling and foot paths. It is also a plus that there are good noodles nearby at Mei Hua. 

More appreciation of local religion can be done at Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum. I first spotted this when we virtually flew over Taiwan at the I-Ride Experience Center.

Its main attractions are the eight towering pagodas that lead to the 108-meter-high golden Fo Guang Big Buddha, the tallest bronze sitting Buddha in the world. Inside are several shrines, including those of the Jade Buddha and Gold Buddha.


The Fongyi Academy is another good place for cultural immersion. It is the largest preserved Confucian academy in Taiwan. 




Thank you, Kaohsiung!

I left Kaohsiung with vivid images of its lively and vibrant art districts, food markets, river and harbor-side parks, and cultural spots. It has never been in my bucket list, but now, I encourage everyone to go and see why it is always described as an underrated destination and truly a gem. 

AirAsia flies to Kaohsiung. Details at airasia.com. 

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