Living in Okinawa Japan puts us super super close to Taiwan, in fact most of our flights have a layover there and yet we still hadn’t toured this island! Since we get 10 long weekend’s per year issued to us courtesy of the Marine Corps, we set our sights finally on a long weekend in Taiwan, specifically Kaohsiung.
Why Kaohsiung? Since we’ve checked off tons of major cities in Asia,(Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore) I was hoping for a smaller town, slower feel which gave me stronger tendency towards Taiwan’s second largest city. Reading numerous blogs and articles gave me the impression Kaohsiung was smaller, quieter, and way more artsy. I had the artsy part right, everything else was way wrong. I’m here to deliver to you the truth (based on my experience) on Kaohsiung, the great, the good, and the concerns!
Let’s start with the great. The people.
I went in with vivid and strong experiences from Shanghai and Hong Kong, thinking the Taiwanese were similar. I was wrong (again). They were kind, gracious, and extremely helpful. We were given free food, warm smiles, and the kids were completely loved. In addition, Koahsiung’s MRT (subway system) was hands down the easiest metro system we’ve ever experienced. Purchase the ipass card at the airport and use it on the mrt, trains, buses, even the 711 and you can top if off at the convenient stores too. But if subway’s still overwhelm you, their taxi’s are reliable, even cheaper and everywhere. Which brings me to the next point, Kaohsiung is very affordable from the mrt to the attractions-all the things we saw were free plus our Peach air tickets were just under $100 per person.
The surprises and concerns. Taiwan is the roughly the size of Maryland but with 23 million people. Full of people everywhere. Many of the places we toured felt like we were in a tour group ourselves; it was shoulder to shoulder. We desperately needed a day out in the country with green and wide open spaces. (I’ll give you some options) Kaohsiung specifically on the weekend is the playground where everyone comes from the North. In fact, my top pick hotel got booked up in a New York minute for our weekend due to this reason. I imagine a weekday here would have given us much more breathing room. Speaking of breathing, our number one struggle-the moped smog. The air quality here is mask-worthy. You will want a mask, thankfully you can purchase them at every convenient store. Overall, I would return, but add a day out of the city and shift our trip to week days! The Taiwanese people won my heart.
I recommend staying as close to the MRT station as possible, it takes you to every attraction, except the Dragon/Tiger pagodas-we taxied there which was no problem and under $7! My top pick which I wasn’t able to book because it booked up so fast, is the Watermark Hotel Main Station Kaohsiung. However, we stayed at the Bamboo Hotel which included breakfast, 8 minute walk to the subway, but wasn’t in the best part of town.Or consider staying in the Pier 2 Arts district, this area felt family friendly with green grass open areas, hipster restaurants and shops plus the green line (Kaohsiung’s newest train) is stationed there. Loved this area so much, absolutely my favorite. Legend Hotel Pier 2 or City Suites look amazing and put you square in Pier 2 Arts district.
The night markets will give you the best way to sample Taiwan’s best eats especially on the cheap. Our favorites were the cubed steak (gluten free) grilled corn on the cob, sausage within a sausage, and the stinky tofu fries with chili sauce! Not to be missed is the milk tea/boba shops on every corner, making your tea fix easy to satisfy!
Here’s our itinerary with alternative green options too
- Friday- Dragon/Tiger Pagodas, Liuhe market
- Saturday- Pier 2 arts/take ferry to Cijin island
- Sunday- Dream mall-Rooftop amusement Park (alternative-Shoushan zoo & Monkey Mountain)
- Monday fly home
Dragon/Tiger Pagodas on Lotus Lake gave a welcomed reprieve from the City, be sure to go in the Dragon and out the Tiger to for good luck. This area offered multiplied pagodas to explore on the Lake and was one of our favorite attractions.
The Lihue night market was walking distance from our Hotel, so we went every night. The kids really really loved the carnival games and food was on the cheap, but it gets packed so go earlier in the night.
Liuhe Night Market
Pier 2 Arts District gave all the good feelings. Stroll through this trendy hipster neighborhood and snap all the insta-worthy pics of the murals and art installations.
Cijin Island is a tiny little island, a short 5 minute ferry ride away. Take the MRT to Gushan Ferry terminal and it will be clear which line to get in to grab your ferry ride over to Cijin. This place was absolutely packed in a sardines type way. I was super disappointed as I was looking forward to this spot the most. We pressed on and rented an electric scooter at the end of the main strip and rode as a family along the water. Super fun, but again super crowded. The art installations along the ocean, rainbow church, the shell, and the pink angular structure all had lines to wait in to just grab a picture. It was a zoo, but I believe on a weekday this excursion would be dreamy.
Dream Mall was solely for the kids, although we had fun too! It’s a giant mall with an amusement park on the roof top of it’s tenth floor, pretty cool! Do ride the ferris wheel for the most spectacular views of Kaohsiung. Alternatively a more green outdoorsy option would have been the Shoushan zoo and Monkey Mountain, but nonetheless we still had fun.