Travel

Kaohsiung is the second largest city in Taiwan and is located in the south of the island. Kaohsiung is known for its harbor, although more for commercial than tourism reasons. Hence it is also known as the Harbor Capital of Taiwan. Its year-round fine weather and the low cost of living makes Kaohsiung the place to visit.

Districts

Kaohsiung is divided into 11 administrative districts. Distinction between the districts are often not of great importance to an average visitor, but it is essential in looking for an address. They are roughly grouped by their characteristics.

Downtown

  • Sinsing (???)
  • Cianjin (???)
  • Lingya (???)

The Old City

  • Cijin (???)
  • Gushan (???)
  • Yancheng (???)
  • Zuoying (???)

Outer Districts

  • Sanmin (???)
  • Nanzih(???)
  • Cianjhen (???)
  • Siaogang(???)

Understand

Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second largest city (with 1.5 million inhabitants) and its largest port. Although the ranking has declined steadily over the last few years, Kaohsiung is still the world’s sixth largest cargo-container seaport.  The city has high concentrations of heavy industry, including steel production, shipbuilding, and other exports that have led to Kaohsiung’s relatively high levels of air pollution (though the situation has improved substantially in recent years). Unlike Taipei, Kaohsiung is a planned city with wide streets and slightly less traffic congestion than the capital. In recent years the city has made great strides in transforming itself from a primarily industrial city into a modern Asian metropolis, and several areas of the city, such as along the banks of the River Ai (Love River), have benefited from major beautification projects under the tenure of former mayor Frank Hsieh. The city is often known as Taiwan’s “Harbor Capital” (??) because of its close connection and heavy reliance on the ocean and maritime transportation.

The Love River flows through the heart of  Kaohsiung.

The Love River flows through the heart of Kaohsiung.

Kaohsiung began in the 17th century as a small fishing village named “Takao” (??), derived from the local aboriginal name meaning “bamboo forest”. The name was changed to “??” (meaning: “high hero”) by the Japanese in 1895, also pronounced “Takao” in Japanese, as they found the original name of ?? (“beating the dog”) to be vulgar. The modern name of “Kaohsiung” is the pronunciation of “??” in Mandarin.

Get in

By plane

Kaohsiung International Airport (IATA: KHH)  is about twenty minutes to the south of the city center. 1997 a new terminal was added dedicated to international connections and transfers to Taipei international airport . This airport is very small and cannot compete with other international airports around the world. International flights from Asia arrive daily, with frequent connections between Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and Kaohsiung. The airport is on the MRT Red Line and is also easily accessible by scooter, car or taxi.

By train

  • Taiwan High Speed Rail line (HSR). Traveling by train is a viable option for getting to Kaohsiung, as the fastest trains from Taipei cover the distance in just 90 minutes. There are 3 types of tickets: Business Reserved, General Reserved, and Non-Reserved. Reserved are approx. NT$1500 ($50 USD) and non-reserved slightly cheaper at NT$1400.

Please note The HSR terminal is in Zuoying (??, also Tsoying) on the northern outskirts of town, and you’ll need to connect to the city center via the MRT Red Line(approximately NT$20-25), bus, ordinary train, or taxi (approximately NT$250-350). The MRT Red Line now extends to Kaohsiung Main Station (#R11) and the HSR Station (#R16) and beyond (see system map here: http://www.krtco.com.tw/en/service/service-1.aspx). Kaohsiung is also served by the Taiwan Railway Administration’s Western Line and Pingtung Line. The city is roughly 4 to 5 hours away from Taipei by normal express train.

By bus

Buses run the length of the island, with stops in major towns. They feature fully reclining seats, baggage transportation and, on most, video game consoles or televisions for each seat. Prices run around NT$1000 per trip, give or take, depending on the initial and final destination.

Most major bus companies have their office and stops close to the train station. They are located on the same road as the train station, about half a block down the street.

By boat

Because Kaohsiung is also a harbor, transportation by boat will bring you directly into the city.

Get around

On foot

As the sidewalks double as scooter parking areas, caution and awareness are a must when walking through unfamiliar areas off of main streets. Generally, it is best to walk between the scooter parking row and store fronts, rather than between parked scooters and the road. Pedestrians should be especially aware when crossing a road as cars and motorbikes often run red lights. Exploring Kaohsiung on foot is highly recommended, as many of the distances between sites of interest are not far.

By metro

The long-delayed Kaohsiung MRT opened in 2008, with two lines. The Red Line runs from north to south, offering a handy route from both the THSR Zuoying station and the airport into the downtown core, while Orange Line runs across the city from the Port of Kaohsiung in the west to eastern suburb of Daliao. The Metro Line is very clean and offers a convenient way to quickly move within the city. However as the metro is rather young the network is yet not very dense and often you have to walk few minutes to the next station. Operation of the MTR stops as early as about 11:30 p.m. (at least an hour earlier as compared to Taipei).

Feeder buses are available to bridge network gaps and provide better access to the metro lines. The MRT stations are all well connected to the city bus lines for further transfers.

By taxi

The city government has established Taxi English Service to allow travelers to search for English-speaking taxi drivers in chosen areas.

Taxis can be an easy way to get to somewhere unfamiliar, and are fairly common in the city. If you have the business card of a location, or the Chinese characters written down, they can easily get you there far faster than most other means.

It is best to get the price in advance, and, if possible, buckle up. Few taxi drivers speak English, and the majority ignore any and all rules of the road. Do not be surprised if they drive the wrong way, up a hill, through heavy traffic. Typically, going from one end of the city to the other should never be more than 400 NT$. This behavior of cab-drivers is rarely seen nowadays however may still happen more often on the country side.

Do not be surprised if they open the door and spit what looks like blood. In actuality, the taxi driver is chewing betel nut (binlang)  This commercially available product is a mild stimulant and is used by many taxi drivers.

By bicycle

Bikes are also common in Kaohsiung, and the large number of locally produced bikes (often rebranded and sold overseas) means purchasing a new bike will often be cheaper relative to its counterpart in other countries (primarily Europe and America).

The city operates a bicycle rental service. Renting points are located at MRT stations and bicycles can be dropped off at any station, not necessarily the one from which it was hired.

Giant, a well-built, recognized Taiwanese brand, has shops throughout the city, and some of the store managers speak English. Bikes are street legal, even without a helmet, but theft is common for any bike over 3,000 NT$. Until recently, even serious violations of the traffic rules by cyclists are were not fined, however, government authorities are planning to change this in the not too distant future.

As Kaohsiung is predominantly flat, a great way to see the city is by bike. Riding along the Love River north towards the Art Museum area offers a pleasant ride and some scenery of the old Kaohsiung that is fast disappearing. Pleasant bike routes can also be found around Sun Yet-Sen university and on the coastal side of Shoushan mountain, but expect a few hills to climb. It is best to avoid this place on the weekends when hoardes of young Kaohsiung couples head to the mountain for some romantic sunset views of the city and ocean at one of the countless coffee shops. Cijin Island also offers some nice riding around the streets at the northern end of the island.

By scooter

Scooters are the primary means of transportation within Kaohsiung. With a dedicated two-wheel vehicle lane on most major roads, and with frequent and varied scooter shops around town, renting or purchasing a scooter is very easy; however, see the Taiwan article for legal issues including licenses.

Scooters come in several engine sizes from below 50cc to more than 250cc. Most common in recent years are the 4-stroke 100 and 125cc models, which are also suitable to explore the surroundings of the city. The larger scooters, 150cc and more, often include a greater subset of amenities for a second passenger, including a backrest, wider seat, full windshield and footholds and can rival a motorcycle overall size, weight and fuel consumption. Often, they come with larger wheels as well.

All passengers on a scooter must wear helmets by law. Helmets are sold almost everywhere, and range in price from 100 NT$ to upwards of 2,000 NT$. A helmet with visor is strongly suggested.

Legal Issues

Scooters with an engine size of 50cc require a light motorcycle license to drive, and should be insured and registered in the owner’s name. If you have a Taiwanese automobile driver’s license or a valid International Driving Permit you do not need an additional license for these small scooters. Motorcycles with an engine displacement of 51 to 250cc require a heavy motorcycle driving license. However, foreigners often drive scooters up to 250cc with no license, insurance or registration. Due to a loophole in Taiwanese law, scooters registered to foreigners who have left the country cannot be bought by Taiwanese citizens because the registration cannot change hands, legally. An underground market in “foreigner scooters” allows visitors to purchase scooters without insurance or registration.

City police are often more lenient on foreigners. Short of being towed for parking in a red zone (a stripe of red paint on the edge of a sidewalk or road), foreigners are usually waved through stops, or, at best, ticketed. If the scooter is not registered to you however, its hard to say what exactly happens when the ticket is sent out. Often the best idea is to speak a language other than English or Chinese, play dumb and hope the officer will get flustered and let you go – that is, if you’re the type who likes to break laws in foreign countries.

By car

Rentals are available in various locations across town, but obtaining a license within the city can be a problem. It is recommended you call ahead if you have an international drivers license to insure it will allow you to drive. In addition, license laws in Taiwan fluctuate from year to year for foreigners. Currently, as of 2006, you must have an Alien Residence Card for more than a year to take the license examination.

Parking is scarce, but available. The city recognizes this problem, and attempts to make the city more car-friendly by building parking garages and painting designated parking spaces alongside streets. However, for travel within the city itself, or only locally, it is recommended you get a scooter.

By boat

An inexpensive ferry service connects various areas of Kaohsiung City, including Taiwan’s nearest island, Xiao Liuqiu (???) – Little Ryukyu – which is a coral island located just south of Kaohsiung and is reachable by ferry from Dong Gang (??), which is itself only a 15-minute scooter or taxi ride from Kaohsiung International Airport.

See

  • The Cijin District (??) is located on a slender island in Kaohsiung harbor which serves as a natural breakwater for the harbor. The district is filled with seafood restaurants selling freshly caught seafood which can be prepared right after you pick it out. Cijin is connected to the rest of Kaohsiung City by underwater tunnels, but the transporation of choice is one of the many ferries that traverse the harbor. Fare for the ferry ride is NT$15 per person. The area is especially crowded on weekends with many visitors bringing their entire family along.
  • Dream Mall (???????) is the largest shopping mall in Taiwan and 2nd largest in Asia (07/2008). The mall is a bit out of the way, but worth it to visit the Hello Kitty Ferris Wheel on the roof.
  • British old Embassy You can enjoy a beautiful view of Kaohsiung city.
  • The Dome of Light (????) is a public artwork in the Formosa Boulevard MRT Station. Created by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata, it is the world’s largest stained glass installation. The dome is divided into four sections: water, earth, light and fire. It also takes the form of a yin and yang symbol. An audio guide (available in several languages) can be borrowed from the KRTC Art Shop inside the station. It costs NT$30 and gives a half hour narration of the key features of the artwork.

Do

  • Kaohsiung Lantern Festival: Join the Kaohsiung Lantern Festival on the middle of Chinese New Year near by the Kaohsiung harbour and famous Love River,fill with variety traditional lanterns, excellent firework, delicious Taiwan food, and great art program and live concert.(The 2010 Kaohsiung Lantern festival it will start at Feb. 20th to Mar. 07th.).
  • Urban Spotlight,  During the day it is a normal city park with coffee shops. In the evening local live bands perform on the venues and nice lighting is turned on. After a hot day it is most enjoyable to sit in one of the outdoor coffee shops and listen to one of the music bands.
  • Feast on fresh seafood in the Qijin District.
  • Visit the Liuho Night Market.
  • Enjoy a coffee in one of the waterfront-side cafes along the Ai River.
  • Visit the Dream Mall

Learn

Kaohsiung is home to a number of Universities. However, unless you are fluent in Mandarin Chinese, the primary focus for visitors will be language learning.

There are two major Language Institutes in the city: Taipei Language Institute (TLI) and Wenzao College Of Languages.

TLI is located in the heart of downtown Kaohsiung. They focus heavily on spoken and conversational Mandarin, and teach primarily through the use of Hanyu Pinyin.

Wenzao offers courses in a number of languages, including English, French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Mandarin. Chinese classes focus on the full spectrum of the language, and traditionally begin with BoPoMoFo phonetics and move into character production, tone use and full immersion.

Both schools are excellent and highly respected. On average, Westerners can become conversationally adept in 6 months to 2 years, depending on intensity of study and frequency of class attendance.

Work

For foreigners, currently work in Kaohsiung falls into two branches. The majority of employment involves English as a Second Language (ESL) work in bushibans, kindergartens and schools (public, private or university). Most of the others are businessmen and women in the employ of multinational corporations here to manage, oversee or deploy production in Taiwan for their home company abroad. Others, such as the large engineer force currently present, have come to participate in the construction of either the High Speed Rail or the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (KMRT).

Substitute work is easily available and can be obtained through internet groups such as Taiwan Teaching Jobs …. or Connect Kaohsiung or through local postings in expatriate hangouts. However, without the paperwork above, you will need to leave the country every 2-4 months to renew your Visa. You will also be working illegally, with no national health insurance and a number of other inconveniences (including lack of phone and Internet access). Most kindergartens are also highly illegal and few, if any, provide work permits. As a general rule of thumb, if you are paid in cash, you are working illegally.

Eat

Budget

Night markets are a great place to pick up cheap local foods, including stinky tofu, barbecued squid, red bean pancakes and the like. The one not to be missed is the Liouho Night Market (????) which has several interesting dishes such as salty glutinous rice balls (???) stuffed with pork, oyster omelette, and tofu pudding (??).

Lunchboxes are common throughout the city, and a choose-your-order buffet take-out typically ranges from 50 to 100 NT$. The food is typically fried, with a mix of vegetables and meats.

The ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores have tea eggs, hot dogs, packaged beverages and junk food. Lunchbox style microwavables are also available, including dumplings, spaghetti and curry rice.

Mid-range

  • Smokey Joes offers Tex-Mex, including fajitas, tortillas and other Western staples at affordable prices (170 NT$ and up). The menu is in English and the staff usually understands some English as well. They offer a ‘VIP’ card for people who spend over 1,000 NT$ on 20 separate meals which gives the holder at 10% discount at any store operated by Amy (the owner of Smokey Joes). This includes Mama Mia’s, an Italian restaurant located downtown.
  • General Panchos, a Mexican restaurant near the ZuoYing HSR, offers slightly cheaper Mexican cuisine, including taquitos, tacos and burritos. Prices range but stay under 200 NT$ for a meal. 302, JhihSheng Rd, SanMin District. (?????????????) Tel: (07) 556-0056 English language site
  • Enoteca Wine Bar & Bistro, Enoteca, formerly Bistro 238, includes a wine shop selling imported wines. The bistro serves a Mediterranean cuisine. Prices run 300-500 per person. 562-1 HeTi Rd, San Min. Tel: ((07) 345-1326
  • The Pantheon serves traditional Greek and Mediterranean food at good prices. Known for their Gyro lunch (around 200 NT$), they are one of the few (if only) restaurants that serves lamb. They also offer a 20% discount on takeout.
  • Cosplay Cafe offers a Cosplay themed restaurant. 161, ChangMing St, SanMin District. Tel: (07) 235-0128 Hours: 12-9:30 pm every day English language review Japanese language site[www.uni-c.com.tw]
  • Bull Fighter Restaurant is located in downtown near Love Reiver (5 minutes by foot) and the Central Park (10 minutes). Address: 79, Wu Fu 3rd Road, Cianjin District. TEL: (07)241-5530. It mainly serves steaks and grilled seafoods and is suitable for most Western visitors at fair costs (around 4 or 5 hundred NTD each, free salad bar included). Or, if you do not like to eat too much meats, you can choose pastas (only 200 NTD, free salad bar included).
  • Escape 41 a little bit hard to get to without your own transportation (if you are sporty, a bicycle will do, but don’t be afraid of uphill-riding, cab might drop you off there as well) though you’ll be rewarded. Its located directly on the coastline behind Zhongshan University, far off the cities hustle and bustle. Great at sunsets, big terrace; western food, not cheap but ok. 41-2, CaiShan, Gushan District(07) 525-0058.

Splurge

  • The Spice Shop, 508 Mingcheng 2nd Road. Tel:+886 7 558-5709.  An Indian restaurant serving a-la-carte style meals, with each dish ranging from 120 NT$ to 270 NT$.

There is also a Ruth Chris in town.

Drink

Two local beer companies, Tsingtao and Taiwan Beer, are ubiquitous throughout the island and can be purchased by visitors cheaply with little hassle about age restrictions. Most major soft drinks are available, and tea stands on almost every corner offer concoctions of fruit, yogurt, green tea, the Taiwanese specialty “bubble tea,” and a variety of other flavors.

While tap water is most certainly NOT potable, good reverse osmosis filtration will remove bacteria and heavy metals, and is considered safe for consumption. Water dispensers, which resemble gas stations, are present throughout the city. However, they, along with many of the bottled water brands, are suspect. Both have been found, in the past, to simply bottle or distribute tap water. To avoid ingesting non-potable water, only purchase bottles that are sealed with an expiration date clearly printed on the bottle. Often, it is easier to simply purchase green tea at a stand or a convenience store, or a soft drink. Restaurant water is safe, with the exception of some lunchbox eateries and stands on the street.

  • 2 Coins Bar (2 COIN? ??), 350 Fujian St (1/2 block from the Lees Hotel at Wu-Fu 1st Road and Fujian). 2 Coins Bar is a small bar down the street from the Lees Hotel. The bar owner is quite nice, but doesn’t speak English. Good music and decent prices are standard for this relaxing bar.

Nightclubs

  • Lamp, 3F, 42 Zihciang 3rd Rd (MRT Sanduo Shopping District Station Exit 1, across from the 2 legged skyscraper), Open Tu~Su @ 10PM~4AM.
  • Dreams, 125 Nantian St (MRT Sanduo Shopping District Station Exit 4, behind Sogo,),  Open W~M. All-you-can-drink Guys 100~500NT; Girls Free~100NT.

Lounges

  • Siang Shia Zou (???), B1, 323 Xintian Rd (behind Hanshin Department Store). 6PM~2AM.

Sleep

Budget

  • Austria Star Bed & Breakfast 10 min away from the HSR (free shuttle bus every 30 min from 6.15 until 22.45)
  • Kaohsiung 202 Right in the middle of the tourist area next to the Love River!Air-con beds start at NT$280 for the night.There is free internet as well. Kaohsiung 202 has River-Front Studios for those who want a single room equipped with television and a private bathroom.

Mid-range

  • Venus Hotel, (???????) 311, Cing Nian 1st Road. (????311?). (SE Corner of Jhongshan 2nd Road/Cian Nian 1st Road). Tel: +886 7 333-5111.  (note: website is in Traditional Chinese). Clean and affordable hotel near the city center and shopping centers (Far Eastern 21 shopping mall, night markets) and minutes from KMRT stations (between R8 and R9 stations). Free breakfast is included in room rate with choice of traditional Eastern or Western style faire. The hotel offers free internet and the front staff speaks enough English to get you what you need or to get you where you need to go. Rooms from US$27 (NT$880) for students; US$33 (NT$1099) for everyone else.
  • Huahou Hotel, (?????) 219, Gong Yuan 2nd Road. Tel:+886 7 551-8251. Clean hotel near the river. From US$30, including brunch.
  • Hotel Holiday Garten, 279, Liouhe 2nd Road (????279?),. Clean and modern tourist guest house. Around 4 star service and rooms. Staff speak English and are very forthcoming in helping you in anyway. All rooms have free highspeed WLAN-connections. Taxi drivers recognize the hotel by the Chinese hotel name “????”. Close to Love River and behind hotel there is a orange-line K-MRT station.
  • T-Hotel (????), 177 Datong 1st Rd (??????????177?) (5 minutes walk from Formosa Boulevard (???) KMRT station), ? +886 7 231-2141,. Newly renovated, clean, comfortable and modern. Standard hotel room offers LCD TV, iPod docking sound system and free broadband internet connection. Extra services include laundry, bike rental service and a recreational area. Full buffet breakfast included with accommodation. Rooms from US$58 (NT$1880).

Splurge

  • Howard Plaza Hotel Kaohsiung, (?????) 311 Chihsien 1 Road. Tel:886 7 236-2323
  • The Splendor Kaohsiung, (????) 7-85F, No. 1 Tzu-Chiang 3rd Road. Tel:886 7 566-8000
  • The Royal Lees Hotel Kaohsiung, (????????) No.105, Wufu 1st Road. (??????????105?) The Royal Lees runs about $3000-4500 NT$ (about $100-150 USD) per night. The staff all speak English and they are extremely helpful in every way. The hotel is well maintained and in a nice district.

Stay safe

Although by Taiwan’s standards Kaohsiung’s crime rate is high, it is much lower than probably any city of comparable size in the West, so tourists need not be too worried. Theft tends to be the most common form of criminal activity encountered by foreigners, and expensive bikes and scooters are frequent targets.

As a major seaport, organized crime has also become an increasing problem in the city, and a fair number of businesses are nothing more than a front for local gangs. That said, the gangs do not resort to random violence or theft.

In general, Kaohsiung offers a very safe environment as long as you mind your own business and don’t get involved with local rivalries. Violent crime is very rare, and visitors should not encounter any problems – though, like any major city, it is always wise to err on the side of caution.

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