KAOSHIUNG -- Taiwan is more than just it's capital city Taipei because this island north of the Philippines has other destinations travelers can choose from. And one city Pinoys should consider visiting is Kaohsiung City.
Kaohsiung is the third largest city in Taiwan. Located at the southern part of the island, it is home to more than 2.7 million residents. The city is strategically situated between Taiwan's mountainous region to the east and the sea to the west.
It's a thriving city, rich in history, culture, art, and entertainment. It is home to impressive infrastructure from its train lines to the massive national Kaohsiung Center for the Arts. It has one, if not the best, night market scenes in Taiwan and the art culture in the city is just picture perfect.
And Kaohsiung, despite being an ubran metropolis, is more laid back than the capital city. The pace is slower and there are, well, less people. The city actually has a surf town in Cijin district for that ultra relaxed vibe.
It is just an hour-and-a-half away from Clark International Airport in Pampanga, a gateway that is increasingly being chosen by Filipino travelers from Manila. Air Asia Philippines recently added Clark-Kaohsiung flights and the airline flies to and fro the city three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday).
So before the visa-free entry for Filipinos gets lifted, get that passport ready and grab those sweaters (the sub-tropical country cools down from December to February) for a trip to Southern Taiwan.
1. THERE'S ART EVERYWHERE
Kaohsiung's art scene is as vibrant as the graffiti on building facades and cute illustrations in hotel rooms. It's an art city home to a massive state-of-the-art art center and a gentrified district home to local shops by artists and designers.
One of the city's art districts is the Pier 2 Art Center, located along Dayong Road at Kaohsiung harbor. It's a stretch of refurbished warehouses that contains local retail shops and restaurants. It's conveniently located along the city's LRT line.
The area is filled with art installations and graffiti and is one of the stops included in the LRT 2-Day Tour, a card pass for touring around the city via the city's train system.
Located in the same area is Warehouse 2 or W2, another warehouse that was converted into a commercial space with coffee shops, restaurants, and retail stores. A lot of the stores in this area (including Pier 2) are all contemporary and hipster-ish.
This is where travelers can get Western eats like at Zhang Men Craft Brewery, a restaurant that offers an array of craft beers and Western food like pasta and pizza.
For art lovers and architecture enthusiasts, a visit to the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts is a must. It's a massive complex that houses several theaters including one of Kaohsiung's largest opera houses and vineyard-style concert hall.
The unique structure has been likened to a stingray but its design was actually inspired by banyan trees. The Banyan Plaza, a public space, mimics the gaps between banyan trees. The impressive Outdoor Theater is an amphitheater-like structure connected to the roof or the main structure of the building.
Even hotels put art as a major draw for guests. Legend Hotel Liu-he at Qianjin District is a themed hotel filled with colorful and adorable illustrations. The orange building already stands out from the rest but inside, the lobby walls are plastered with mural prints then inside the bedrooms, hand-painted murals bring life to ordinary white walls.
Don't forget to visit the art installations at Cijin district, an island off the coast of Kaohsiung accessible via a tunnel or ferry ride. The Rainbow Church, a rainbow box facing the sea, is one of the most Instagrammable installations in the city. Tourists line up just to get a photo here.
2. BUDDHISM, RAILWAYS, AND DRUMS
Kaohsiung has a long and rich history and as Taiwan's Harbour City, it's a hub for maritime trade today and in the past. The historic train depot at the harbor was turned into a park, with the old railways still sticking out from the ground. There's even a fun mini train ride at Hamasen Pier 2.
The railways are an important part in Kaohsiung's economy. That is why even the Dashu Old Railway Bridge has been preserved and has become a favorite attraction located at Dashu district in the outskirts of the city. It previously held the record of the longest bridge in Asia, spanning more than 1.5-kilometers long.
Just a few minutes away from the bridge is the famous Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum. It's a sprawling park and 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.
In the main hall, there are several shrines including the Jade Buddha, Gold Buddha, and Mount Potalaka Avalokitesvara shrines.
But to really immerse yourself in the culture, try learning basic traditional drum lessons at the Ten Drum Ciaotou Cultural Creative Park, a former sugar refinery plant transformed into a creative park. It houses the Waterfall Power Chimney Theater, home to the Grammy-nominated Ten Drum Art Percussion Group.
An attraction closer to the city is Lotus Lake which is surrounded by various temples with their own pagodas on the lake. One of the most famous is the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. It's a custom for visitors to enter the Dragon Pagoda first then exit the Tiger Pagoda for good luck. The Confucius Temple is likewise a must-visit.
3. VIRTUAL ENTERTAINMENT
When it comes to leisure and entertainment, Kaohsiung has a lot of options. For a leisurely time, try the solar-powered boat tour on Love River. Cruise up and down the famous Love River while getting a beautiful view of the city including the newly built and uniquely designed Kaohsiung Music Center.
One of the city's most famous attractions is the i-Ride Flying Theater, located at the Software Technology Park at Cianjhen district. Locally developed by Brogent Technologies, it's an immersive “5D” experience that lets riders “fly” over various destinations like the whole of Taiwan in just a few minutes.
Taroko Park at Qianzhen district is commercial center with a small theme park. Enjoy karting at the Mini Suzuka Circuit or just try one of the many rides at the park while some can enjoy the mall for a little retail therapy.
Head toward the highlands, about an hour away from the city center, to visit E-DA World, a comprehensive tourism destination perfect for families. It's composed of two hotels, an outlet mall with a ferris wheel on its rooftop, a theater, and theme park.
The theme park has an indoor and outdoor spaces with various attractions including VR (virtual reality) Station,“the largest VR theme park hall in Asia.” The virtual reality hall has four attractions like the Zombway and Horror Hospital. It's an interactive virtual game where participants need to solve something to win.
E-DA World is home to E-DA Royal Hotel, one of the grandest and biggest hotels in Kaohsiung. One of its major features, aside from the five-star restaurants and facilities, is the themed rooms. There's a total of 18 rooms with various themes like princess, pirate, and dinosaur, which are perfect for families.
4. FOOD AND NIGHT MARKETS
Some say that the food and night market scenes in Kaohsiung are the best in Taiwan.
The Ruifeng Night Market at Zuoying district is the largest night market in the city. It offers retail stalls and food stalls. The variety of street food here is impressive, from the classic bubble milk tea to stinky tofu to dumplings to fried buns. Must visit also are the Kaisyuan and Liuhe night markets.
Foodies must not forget one of Taiwan's signature dishes, the beef noodle soup. Try the big and very filling bowl of regular or spicy beef noodle soup of Mei Hua Noodles at Lotus Lake. During the winter season, this is the perfect food to survive cold days and nights.
And for those looking for something unique, the 1300 Only Porcelain restaurant at Dashu district is a must-visit. It's a restaurant and art gallery that features works of porcelain art. Walls are covered with scale-like porcelain tiles while the food is more on the global cuisine. It's a one-of-a-kind experience.
This tour was arranged by the Kaohsiung City Government Tourism Bureau and Golden Founders Travel Services Corp.