SOUTH | 南部
Southern Taiwan carries the tradition and history of Taiwan. Life moves a little slower here. Things are a bit more spread out. The sun beats down a little harder. The food is a little sweeter. Rules are looser and Hokkien is more prevalent. This is where people go to steep in Taiwanese culture. Whether its temples and forts in Tainan or surfing and music in Kenting, Southern Taiwan is a popular destination (and easily accessible via HSR). Southern Taiwan includes Chiayi (home to Alishan), Tainan (the oldest city in Taiwan), Kaohsiung (the southern anchor to Taipei), and Pingtung (the lush paradise that feels the most island-y of the island).
Kaohsiung is the biggest city in southern Taiwan and the biggest port city in Taiwan. The industrial and maritime oriented city has in recent years gotten a bit of a makeover with investments in creative destinations like Weiwuying and Pier2 to benefit locals and visitors alike. The sunny weather and slower pace offers a more laid back lifestyle in comparison to Taipei. Kaohsiung is situated right along the western coast with incredible scenic views, from Xiziwan (a bay with panoramic views of the South China Sea) to the popular Love River that snakes through the city. Things are a little more casual here, and a little cheaper than Taipei too. While locals still prefer to zip through on motor scooters, the MRT and buses make it easily accessible, while the trains and HSR make it well connected to the rest of Taiwan.
Tainan is often thought of as the Kyoto of Taiwan. It’s steeped in nuanced history and rich culture and a popular destination for visitors looking for something a little more traditional. There are hundreds of temples and shrines dotted throughout the county and the city center has many areas that maintain traditional architecture. The oldest city in Taiwan, it’s seen a lot over the centuries, including a brief Dutch rule in the 1600s (the Dutch fort continues to be one of the top attractions in the city), and of course Japanese rule that maintains visible influence throughout the city. Tainan also has a distinct cuisine that tends to be on the sweeter side, with many speciality dishes that are an attraction in itself.
Pingtung is the southernmost part of Taiwan. Surrounded by mountains and water, the region is like a tropical paradise conveniently attached to Taiwan, warm (well, let’s be honest, hot) throughout the year. Most people come here to go to Kenting, a national park and beach town that offers views of the southern tip of Taiwan. The lush landscape and beaches make it particularly popular for outdoorsy-types and surfers. Here, the rules are relaxed, the water is clear and alt cultures are embraced. Besides the scenery, the county also has a thriving agriculture and fishing industry, and is home to prominent indigenous tribes. It’s a little more remote, but easily accessible (and a popular day trip) from Kaohsiung.
Chiayi is tucked between Yunlin county to the north and Tainan to the south. While the city itself is fairly small, it’s a popular destination for its scenic attractions, with mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Alishan is known for ethereal sunrises, lush forests and a quaint historic train that runs up the mountain. Along the coast, there’s the thriving fishing and oyster industry with wharfs that have become popular tourist attractions too, with rafts that take you out into the lowlands. Each spring, Chiayi also draws in a lot of visitors for the Matsu pilgrimage. But perhaps the most famous thing to come out of Chiayi is the turkey rice, which, although it can be found throughout Taiwan, is a must-eat if you’re in town.