KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) Taichung may have now officially snuck past Kaohsiung to become Taiwan’s second largest city in terms of population, but in the hearts and minds of most Taiwanese people, it is the southern port city at the end of the High-Speed Rail (HSR) network which remains the country's second city.
As well as being the largest port in the country, Kaohsiung also boasts a growing international airport and a diversifying local economy. It still (just about) manages to retain the feel of a traditional Taiwanese city, rather than a modern urban metropolis, although excessive and poorly thought through urban development and gentrification is seeing a growing number of empty apartment blocks and under-utilized public buildings popping up.
As with all cities, Kaohsiung has its core set of tourist attractions, many of which are frankly a little underwhelming. The portside area of Siziwan (西子灣) is home to the Pier 2 Arts Center, which sits at the heart of an old community now populated by increasing numbers of trendy cafés and boutiques. From here, tourists can easily visit the former British Consulate building on Shaochuantou (哨船頭), stroll along Love River, enjoy views over the city from the Martyrs' Shrine (市忠烈祠), and catch the trademark ferry across to Qijin to visit the lighthouse and eat seafood at one of the many overpriced restaurants and food stalls on Miaoqian Road.
The Lotus Pond is a regular stop-off in close proximity to the HSR station, but other than a visit to a night market and perhaps a climb up the 85 Sky Tower (高雄85大樓), that tends to be it. But Kaohsiung is a diverse city with plenty more to offer and it is worth hopping on the MRT or taking one of the city's many reliable buses to explore some of the lesser-known, but nonetheless fascinating sites there are around.
- Chengcing Lake (澄清湖)
Wikimedia Commons image.
Chengcing Lake (澄清湖) is a former residence of Chiang Kai-shek and has only been opened up to the public in more recent times. But it is now a managed park with plenty to offer visitors. It is home to a Bridge of Nine Turns (九曲橋), which dates back to 1960 as well as the Jhongsing Pagoda, which stands 43 metres tall and offers great views to anyone willing to scale the winding staircase.
The house that Chiang used when staying there is still present, but is looking pretty dated and usually not open to the public. But the underground military headquarters he built at the site has now been repurposed as the Cheng Ching Lake Exotic Marine Life Museum. The lake also offers the best views of Kaohsiung’s Grand Hotel, as splendid as Taipei’s from the outside, but rather less impressive within.
Kaohsiung residents can visit Chengcing Lake for free and many take the opportunity to walk around the lake's shore and make use of the green space and children's playgrounds for leisure activities. Visitors have to pay a small entrance fee, but there is plenty to enjoy and it is well worth both the price and the short journey from downtown to Niaosong District (鳥松區).
- Hongmaogang Cultural Park (紅毛港文化園區)
Wikimedia Commons image.
While many tourists take in the harbor from Siziwan (西子灣), far fewer think to head south to the other port entrance. It is a considerable drive through the industrial hinterlands of Xiaogang District (小港區) to the south of the city center and airport. But if you have the transportation, it is worth it.
From here, you can see up close the many huge container ships making their way in and out of the working end of the port carrying goods from all over the world. Harbor boat trips can also be taken from here for those who want to see even more.
But if the port life is not your cup of tea, Hongmaogang has plenty more to offer. An old shipping village, but as the main city expanded, it was slowly swallowed up by the commercial harbor. The remains of the old village remain though and can be explored along with a small exhibition space, shop, and café in the two buildings that remain fully standing.
The port entrance tower, which like its equivalent at Cijin (旗津) is shaped like the Chinese character 高 (Gao) now houses a revolving restaurant too. Although the view easily surpasses the food on offer.
- Shoushan National Nature Park(壽山國家自然公園)
Wikimedia Commons image.
Shoushan National Nature Park is better known as Monkey Mountain and with good reason as any student at Sun Yat-sen University (國立中山大學) who has left his dorm window open will tell you. Tourists will usually venture here for little more than a trip to see Yuan Heng Temple (打鼓岩元亨寺), the Martyr’s Shrine and associated LOVE lookout, or perhaps a trip to the woefully substandard Shoushan Zoo (高雄市壽山動物園).
But for those with the stamina, it is a place to go for a climb and seek out the local Formosan Rock in their natural habitat. There are a number of trails across the mountain (although some areas are still controlled by the military and strictly off limits). There are still a few remains of the former cement works on the mountain which can be seen as well as various birds, snakes, and other wildlife.
Be sure to take plenty of water and sun protection with you, although you will usually find the rest spots populated by at least one enterprising old local selling a drink of some kind. The climb is not too hard, but Kaohsiung’s humidity will make it test even the fittest person.
- Fongyi Academy (鳳儀書院)
Wikimedia Commons image.
For a long time, Fengshan was a separate city from Kaohsiung, but now the administrations have been brought together and Fengshan District (鳳山區) sits to the east of the City Center. It can be reached by many buses or the MRT and has plenty to offer tourists, but perhaps the highlight is the Fongyi Academy.
This former Qing Dynasty Confucian academy dates to 1814 and was where locals could study for and sit the Imperial Examinations. It sat in ruins until the Kaohsiung City Government acquired the site in 2007 and began an impressive restoration.
Today the buildings have been returned to their former glory and give a fascinating insight into traditional education methods. There are 37 rooms to explore, many with exhibitions inside and an array of cartoonish figures help keep younger visitors interested. A highlight for me is the detailed insight into the restoration project itself.
- Fengshan Taoist Temple (鳳山天公廟)
Google Maps image.
A short walk from the Academy (or an even shorter drive in the Fengshan shuttlebus which runs to and from the Fengshan and Dadong (大東) MRT stations past all the major sites) is the Fengshan Taoist Temple, which offers a great insight into not only a working Taoist institution, but the traditional community and businesses that sprang up around it.
The temple itself is sizable and beautifully decorated, set over two levels, and staffed by many helpful volunteers who are quick to point you in the right direction and offer a few words of information in English. A great many locals regularly attend, meaning that it is a place to observe the Taoist religious practices in action.
The building itself sits down tiny, winding streets, many of which are behind the temple populated by a traditional market selling all sorts of food and household items. To the front, Guangming Road (光明路) is home to various small shops selling religious items and artifacts which are also well-worth exploring.
On the second floor of one is an elaborate performance space where traditional shows are put on for worshipers at the temple opposite. If you are lucky enough to catch one of these, it makes for a particularly entertaining spectacle.
- Former Japanese Navy Radio Station, Fongshan (原日本海軍鳳山無線電信所)
(Bureau of Culture and Heritage, Ministry of Culture)
The other site in Fongshan well worth a visit is the Imperial Japanese Navy Fongshan Wireless Communications Station. I included this in my article on the Top 10 Preserved Buildings in Taiwan last week, and it is a building that warrants going out of your way for.
As the name suggests, during Japanese occupation it served as a wireless station, but when the KMT took control of Taiwan it became a detention and interrogation center for military prisoners. Its role in the White Terror saw it being nicknamed the "Fengshan Guest House" by dark-humored locals. Today, it is abandoned but can still be explored along with its pretty grounds and offers a fascinating insight into a dark period in Taiwan’s history.
- Tardy-Hill Natural Park - 漯底山自然公園
Located in Mituo District (彌陀區), to the north of the city, Tardy Hill Natural Park is a fascinating mix of natural scenery and military history. This former military base is still dotted with various disused buildings and pillboxes including a relatively modern-looking covered basketball court which, along with the children’s play area, draws in plenty of locals. For tourists, it is the walks and the views that most appeal.
Various trails criss-cross the site offering visitors the chance to enjoy its array of flora, fauna, and bird life with a few wobbly bridges to to keep children excited along way. The site is home to a smaller version of Kaohsiung’s more famous "Moon World," a unique geological site well worth taking a look at.
At the top of a fairly challenging set of steps is a military building with a viewing platform where viewers get a spectacular panoramic view over the largely inaccessible coastline to the north of Shoushan (壽山). Taxi or car will be needed to get here, but it is a perfectly pleasant place to while away an afternoon and other local sites including the nearby Air Force Museum make it a journey worth making.
- Jiutieqiaoshidishengtai Park (下淡水溪鐵橋)
Wikimedia Commons image.
This little oasis sits on the Gaoping River (高屏溪 – also known as the Xiadanshui River (下淡水溪)) which separates Kaohsiung and Pingtung and is home to the Xiadanshui River Steel Bridge. This beautiful bridge was built in 1913 originally for the local sugar industry. At 1,526 meters in length, it was known as "the longest bridge in far east Asia" in its day.
After becoming a passenger bridge, increased capacity led to the new concrete bridge which sits alongside it opened in 1987. Subsequent decay to the steel bridge saw its central span collapse after the combined impacts of Typhoon Haitang (海棠颱風) in 2005, and Typhoon Morakot (莫拉克颱風) in 2009. But now the section between pillars 1 and 7 have been restored as a walkway offering great views over the river and the adjacent Dashu Artificial Wetland (大樹濕地公園).
The site is also home to the San-He Tile Kiln (三和瓦窯) which itself dates back to 1918. Here they still make traditional tiles and gables for temples and other traditional buildings. Visitors can see the process and sometimes even have a go themselves, while there is also a shop selling various tile-related souvenirs.
- Zuoying Navy Veteran's Village (左營海軍眷村)
Kaohsiung City Government image.
Zuoying Harbour (左營軍港) has been a military establishment since 1904 and after the arrival of the KMT and the huge increase in military personnel in Taiwan, additional military residences were constructed. Today, most of these have been torn down, but the Zuoying Navy Veteran’s Village remains and has recently been made a cultural heritage site.
Today, these beautiful old houses offer an insight not only into Taiwan’s military history and traditions but also a way of life which has been lost in modern Taiwan. The single-story dwellings sit on tree-lined streets with individual plots of land, gardens, and a great sense of community among the residents of those still inhabit it.
Visitors are welcome to stroll the streets but are encouraged not to disturb the locals or invade their privacy too much. Such residential areas no longer exist in most of Taiwan these days, and this naval village offers a reminder of what has been lost.
- Qishan - 旗山
Wikimedia Commons image.
Qishan township lies around 30 minutes east of Kaohsiung and is an unspoiled traditional community which has plenty to offer visitors despite being far more off the beaten track than nearby Meinong.
Qishan Old Street (旗山老街) still retains much of its original architecture and is home to various small shops and food stalls, many of which serve up variations of the local delicacy, bananas. You can buy banana cake, banana cream puffs, banana shakes, banana sweet egg rolls, banana chips, banana ice cream, banana bread, and a few places still sell plain old bananas too.
At the end of Old Street is Qishan Station (旗山車站) a quaint Japanese era building dating to 1912. It has long since been usurped as the local train terminus by a nearby brutal concrete structure, but the building remains and has since been carefully restored.
Other sites worth a look include St. Joseph Catholic Church (旗山聖若瑟天主堂) which was completed in 1959 and boasts impressive imitation gothic architecture, The 100 year old Qishan Elementary School (高雄市旗山區旗山國民小學) and the nearby Qishan Confucius Temple (旗山孔廟). Visitors need a car and a spare day, but Qishan has plenty to offer those who make the effort.