Taipei is, without a doubt, a bustling, metropolitan city with much to offer, but once you’ve had your fill of night market cuisine, gone up and down Taipei 101 and partied yourself out, it might be time to head south. Extend your Formosan adventure to the cities of Kaohsiung and Tainan and discover their many treasures. Rich history, gourmet delights and distinct regional culture await.
There are no longer any direct flights between Singapore and Kaohsiung (for the moment at least), but it can be reached easily by high-speed rail from Taipei. Once you’ve arrived, you need only jump on the recently completed metro system (also called the MRT) to speed over to any of Kaohsiung’s major tourist locations. Development in this harbor town is keeping brisk pace with that of its northern counterpart, Taipei, but unlike the capital, Kaohsiung is a planned municipality, which means wider streets and lighter traffic. Visitors will find Taiwan’s second-largest city well into its evolution from an industrial hub to a modern metropolis.
Tourists looking for a unique shopping experience can visit Dream Mall (789 Zhonghua 5th Rd., Qianzhen District, +886 (7) 973-3888, www.dream-mall.com.tw, MRT Kaisyuan Station), the largest shopping mall in Taiwan and secondlargest in Asia. If touring an endless row of upscale boutiques isn’t enough for you, this titanic shopping complex is worth visiting for the spectacle of its rooftop Hello Kitty Ferris Wheel alone.
Just down the block from Dream Mall is old Kaohsiung’s Cijin District (it’s a quick $0.65 ferry ride from the MRT Kaisyuan Station). The area is nestled on a slim island just off the city’s western coast and is famous for its wide array of freshly caught seafood.
Foodies should flock to the Liuhe Night Market (Liuhe 2nd Rd., Xinxing District, MRT Formosa Boulevard). This sprawling snack emporium has been rebuilt by the government for maximum tourist-friendliness. Try the crab legs fried in basil and pepper before cooling down with Zheng Lao Pai’s signature papaya milk. The market’s 138 stalls also include games and shopping.
Romantic Riverside Views
Make your way over the Love River (MRT City Council Station, just one stop from Liuhe Night Market) before the stars come out. The aptly-named canal will surely stir romantic feelings in anyone who experiences its soothing ambiance, riverside cafés and live music beneath the streetlamps. Treat your loved one to a boat ride down the waterway and enjoy the lights of the city reflected on its shimmering surface.
Where to Stay
Kaohsiung 202 (202 Gwangfu 3rd St., Kaohsiung, +886 938-020- 304, www.kaohsiung-taiwan.com/202) is the spot for budget travelers looking for high-quality, low cost accommodation. The hostel is located right in the middle of the tourist area next to the Love River. Rates start at $12 per night.
For something a little more luxurious, stay at The Splendor Kaohsiung (1 Tzu-Chiang 3rd Rd., +886 (7) 566-8000, www. thesplendor.com). The tallest high-rise in Taiwan at the time of its construction, this glittering tower forms an essential piece of Kaohsiung’s cityscape. The 74th floor deck offers one of the best views in the entire city. Rooms start at around $290 per night.
A short train ride from Kaohsiung, Tainan is Taiwan’s oldest city and its former capital. Originally established as a Dutch trading base, Tainan is home to some of the island’s most fascinating architectural sights. The city is also known as Taiwan’s snack paradise.
Relics of Old Taiwan
Various periods of colonial rule have left Tainan with a collection of stunning relics. Anping Fort (82 Guosheng Rd., Anping District), originally called Fort Zeelandia, was built in 1620 by the Dutch. Its commanding views of the ocean make it a popular spot to watch the sunset. From Tainan Railway Station, take Tainan City Bus No. 2 and get off at the Anping Fort stop to get there.
Not far from the fort are the Chikan Towers (Section 2, 212 Minzu Rd., West Central District, 886 (6) 220-5647), formerly called Fort Provintia. The landmark, one of Taiwan’s top tourist attractions, was later called “Tower of the Red-Haired Barbarians” by the Han Chinese. Like Anping Fort, the site is popular for its exquisite night scenery. To reach the Towers, take City Bus No. 5 from the Tainan Railway Station and get off at the Chikan Towers train station.
Seasoned tourists know that Taiwan is a regional gastro hub and nowhere is that more true than in Tainan. Sample some “coffin toast,” a fried bread box with any number of savory fillings such as prawns, crab, chicken and vegetables. Other signature foods include spicy duck’s blood and candied guava. All can be found at one of the two dozen night markets throughout Tainan.
No trip to Tainan is complete without a hike up the Cigu Salt Mountain (66 Yancheng Village, Cigu). Originally the spot where the Taiwan Salt Corporation mined its product, the site looks like a snow-covered mountain from a distance. This man-made wonder is now open to tourists. To get there from Tainan Railway Station, take the Xingnan bus to the Jiali stop, from where you take another Xingnan bus (towards Qingkunshen) to Cigu.
Where to Stay
Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel (89 West Section, University Rd., Dong District. +886 (6) 702-8888) is Tainan’s finest luxury hotel and it’s located right in the heart of the city. Rates start at $150 per night. Tayih Landis Tainan Hotel (660 Section 1, Shimen Rd., +886- 6 213-5555, tainan.landishotelsresorts.com) is conveniently located near landmarks such as the Confucius Temple and Chikan Towers. Rates range from about $160 to $340.
• Singapore Airlines flies three times daily to Taipei from about $1,180 (including tax)
• EVA Air flies daily to Taipei from about $800 (including tax)
• Tiger Airways and JetStar fly daily to Taipei from about $350 (including tax)
• High Speed Rail from Taipei to Kaohsiung (Zuoying Station) costs about $60 and takes around two hours