Kaohsiung is the industrial port city that anchors the south of Taiwan. While it has been surpassed by Taichung in population, Kaohsiung continues to be a major city and a rapidly modernizing one at that. Once a modest trading village, Kaohsiung continues to be a major exporting, manufacturing and agricultural center for Taiwan.
Compared to Taipei, it’s a little slower-paced. Things are a bit more spread out, since there is more of a culture of driving and motor scootering around the city as opposed to the walking and public transportation in Taipei. The MRT and bus system is convenient for visitors, but notably less crowded (and marginally less efficient) than Taipei.
Located in the southwest corner of the island, Kaohsiung is defined by its beautiful coast and the Love River that snakes through the city. A lot of the top attractions are centered around the water, and the western coast makes for beautiful sunset backdrops. While Taipei has Taipei 101, Kaohsiung has had their 85 Sky Tower since the 90s, which was the tallest building in Taiwan until Taipei 101 popped up 7 years later.
Like a lot of southern Taiwan, it’s a little more “local” here rather than cosmopolitan, a little more old school practical than new guard glitzy. You’ll hear a lot more Taiwanese (Hokkien) mixed in with Mandarin (with a more Taiwanese accent at that). Kaohsiung residents are as warm as the weather here, and very welcoming to visitors. In recent years, there has been modernization and city beautification efforts to draw in tourists and encourage more activity to sustain the local economy. These new cultural attractions have transformed the urban landscape not only to give it some clout within Taiwan but also put Kaohsiung on the map internationally.
In terms of food, you’ll find a whole gamut of Taiwanese delicacies, but they are particularly known for tempura (fish cakes) and duck rice. The sweet black tea often found in breakfast spots are enjoyed all day, a refreshing treat for the ruthless sun.
Kaohsiung is on the up and up and growing in popularity as a local destination. Easily accessible from Taipei, it is a great home base for exploring southern Taiwan.
Kaohsiung is well connected to the rest of Taiwan. The fastest way to get to Kaohsiung is by the high speed rail. The station is located in Zuoying, in the northern part of the city, but from there you can transfer to the MRT to get into the city center. By the express HSR, it’s only 1.5 hours to zip over from Taipei. It is also easily accessible by train and bus from any city which will get you straight to the city center in the newly renovated train station.
Kaohsiung also has an international airport, the second largest in Taiwan, but only has domestic flights and regional flights within Asia.
While most Kaohsiung locals have cars or motor scooters to commute, the public transportation is still really convenient to get to the most popular parts of the city. The MRT is newer to the city and currently only has two main lines, with another that is under construction. The local buses definitely have more coverage around the city. All of the public transportation can be accessed with the same Easycard system as Taipei. There is also a bike share program, the C-bike, that operates similarly to Taipei’s YouBike.
To get to some of the attractions beyond the city, there are local trains, tour buses and of course, taxis that can take you straight to the points of attraction.
For visitors planning on using public transportation, it’s best to stay at a hotel near an MRT station. Most of the hotels are clustered around the train station, along the Love River, and by the harbor to capitalize on the ocean views. There are many moderately priced local chains like City Suites and Kindness Hotel that are great for families and often include breakfast and snacks. There are also dozens of 5-star hotels, modern design “motels” (which don’t have the same connotation as they do in the U.S.) and many family-run bed and breakfasts for more of a local experience. While Taipei has the Yuanshan Grand Hotel, the Kaohsiung Grand Hotel offers the same traditional Chinese opulence and beautiful views of Chengqing Lake.