For too long, Kaohsiung has only been known as a port and a bicycle-friendly city, but it is time to give this Taiwanese city the culture and culinary attention it deserves. A three to four-night stay is perfect if you are a chill traveller like me, but if you are one who loves an intense, packed schedule, a two-night stay is probably sufficient. Below is a list of places that you would not want to miss (also, insta-popular places that we do not recommend).
Where to stay
As a self-proclaimed hotel aficionado, I stayed at two hotels just to get a more comprehensive experience of the Kaohsiung hospitality scene. The first was a more local establishment, Han Hsien International Hotel, in the Lingya district.
To make the most out of your stay, I would really recommend getting the corner room (called "panoramic king"). Waking up to this view alone could make your day. The even better news? It comes with a huge mark-down from the average price tag. When I booked for a room over a public holiday, it was about USD120 per night (which would cost you at least twice the amount in Taipei).
Hotel breakfasts are always something I look forward to - this one serves up all the local, hearty dishes like five-grain congee with Taiwanese condiments, steamed buns, spare rib soup, and rice noodles with marinated minced meat.
Han Hsien hotel is just a 15-minute ride away from the airport, and the location is great for exploring the city. There is also a small night market nearby that we visited on our first night - the extremely fresh fruit juices quench the worst thirst! The downside though, is that it looks slightly dated, and its size of 300+ rooms makes it harder to cater to each guest's needs.
The second hotel, Silks Club, is also located in the Lingya District but is much more contemporary. Silks Club celebrates style and art, with carefully curated art pieces juxtaposed against the backdrop of a stunning city view over the administrative center.
When entering the guest room, we were greeted with a mini bar packed with complimentary drinks. We applaud the choice of furnishing and design elements incorporated in the hotel - North American oak wooden floor, seven choices of pillow, and Italian handmade Falomo mattress that features an ergonomic design set the scene for a relaxing stay. (I need those thick Parisian paper blinds installed at home, they block out any noise and distraction completely.) A bubble bath at the spacious bathroom became my everyday activity, looking out at a beautiful cityscape from the floor-to-ceiling windows while playing some music was as soothing as it gets. They also have the comfiest fluffy bath robes I have encountered thus far.
Their hallways are covered by the the Swedish Bolon rug collection. Hotel facilities include a fully-equipped fitness center, an outdoor infinity pool, and atmospheric saunas and steam rooms.
Service was impeccable and we were carefully attended to. Breakfast is served daily at the lounge, with a choice of mains (ranging from local delicacies, eggs-any-style, to Japanese style bentos), fruits, and a pastries section. It also hosts michelin-starred U-kai tei teppanyaki, as well as the first Dassai sake bar outside Japan.
Based on my research, Cozzi hotel also looked like another stylish and convenient option.
Things to do
Do pay a visit to the Heart of Love River for gorgeous harbour view, and the Dome of Light at the Formosa Boulevard Station to admire the largest glass work in the world.
I, however, enjoyed the Pier-2 Arts District the most. Founded and funded by the government's Bureau of Cultural Affairs, Pier-2 is unique in that it doesn't have to be commercialized to survive. Formerly a warehouse complex located near the harbor, it became home to local artsy shops, spaces housing different exhibitions (try taking the miniature train while you're at the railway museum!), trendy coffee shops, and theaters.
One of the great finds was WuGuan (literally, "Unrelated") Books, an experimental bookstore that allows you to explore the darkest corners of our being.
These bookstore rules got me very curious:
The bookstore is extremely dark (hence the rules on being stepped on, and shouting "Lumos!"), with each book and a standing desk dimly lit by small light bulbs. When you tread along the bookshelves carefully, you see books about death, drugs, and hidden desires, a selection of books that does not seem wholly "unrelated" - they are the kind of books you would want to read alone, in your own world, without anyone judging or knowing. The owner added that this allows customers to be focused, and explore with their other senses.
Pier-2 Art Center, 1 Dayong Road, Yancheng District, Kaohsiung;
open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Public artwork is seen everywhere at Pier 2 Art Center, and there are so many more specialty shops. Bandon Grocery Store is an adorable zakka store where travelers can make their own notebooks, and Tools to Live By is a heaven for every stationery lover.
You can also do day trips to Cijin Island (known for hiking, seafood and sights), Tainan (Taiwan’s oldest city, known as the city with the most delicious local food) or Kenting.
One thing I didn't know before I visited Taiwan is their artisan bread culture, there is no lack of award-winning bakeries across the city. We went to two of the three premier bakeries in Kaohsiung that serve the highest quality freshly baked breads and pastries daily. Shakespeare & Co. Boulangerie and LePain both won world championships and (instead of getting the classic pineapple cakes as souvenir) I got a few loafs back home to share with my family of bread-lovers.
Where to eat
Sushi 27 is the finest sushi place in the city, 14-seat, serving omakase only. Sushi 27 specializes in dishes from the Edo era, the chef is friendly and knowledgable. Of the 15+ sushi, sashimi, and cooked dishes, I absolutely adored the maki of Tokishirazu Salmon（時不知鮭, one of the rarest among the Japanese family of salmons, meaning "salmon that does not know the time") and Oma chutoro nigiri. Their tamagoyaki came with a surprising touch as well - they added Chinese yam in the mixture, with a crystalised sugar layer on top, making the egg fluffy and slightly sweet like a sponge cake.
No. 27, Yongming St., Lingya District, Kaohsiung
Be sure to make a reservation: +886 7 211 9262
Chen Q Black Sugar Shaved Ice is a must-go, their signature black syrup poured on coarse chunky ice, topped with fresh hand-made assorted toppings totally won our hearts over. You can choose 5 toppings for each order - the black sugar mochi, taro chunks and grass jelly are totally recommended. We visited three times on our three-day trip, that's how good it is!
No.147 Wufu 1st Road
Other places worth trying include seafood restaurant Tai Nan Wang, Ya Rou Zhen (local's go-to for sliced duck with rice), and Kebuke for hand shaken tea.
As to cafes and coffee in between:
YES: Lab 146 (super delicious pasta), bookstore 123 (a Japanese style bookstore serving matcha pancakes and delicate traditional sweets), TFFC (minimalist cafe serving dishes created using only organic local produce).
OK: Piefee (specialty coffee but average savoury pies), Tootday (nice spending an afternoon there reading and doing some work, young local crowd), La One by Thomas Chien.
NO: Le Love (a very popular cafe on instagram, but the menu simply deterred me from going in), Caffafina
Lastly, if you would like to visit a night market, Ruifeng Night Market and Lingya Night Market are at the top of my list. Great layout and good mix of food stalls as you can imagine.
With 38 administrative districts, Kaohsiung is the second city in Taiwan. Most of the points of interest are located in the areas shaded in orange, around the harbour and lower Love River area (in the Gushan, Zuoying, Lingya and Yancheng districts).
HKG to KHH: more than 10 flights per day operated by different airlines including Cathay Dragon, duration of 1.5 hours. Visa required but can be obtained online, processed within an hour for Hong Kong and Macau citizens.
Getting around. KHH is the only city in Taiwan other than Taipei to have its own metro rail system. Taxis are easy to catch. It has all the conveniences of a modern metropolis minus the pace. Click here for a google map marked with the points of interest for a day of sample itinerary.
One of the things I loved most about Kaohsiung is its vibe. It may be cosmopolitan but it’s more laid back than its counterparts in the north, like Taipei or Taichung. Hope you will enjoy Kaohsiung as much as I did, happy to get in touch for more recommendations!