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The second largest city in Taiwan, Kaohsiung has long been passed over in favor of Taipei.
But in recent years, the city has gone through a sort of rebirth. More and more travelers are starting to add the southern port city to their Taiwan itinerary.
From pagodas shaped like mythical beasts to one of the most impressive monasteries I’ve ever seen, these are the top things to do in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
These pagodas are probably the most recognizable symbol of Kaohsiung.
Situated on Lotus Lake, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas offer some excellent views of the lake, as well as some equally impressive spots if you walk along the water. The zig-zag pathway to the pagodas was designed this way because of the belief that spirits cannot travel in a straight line. It is said that running into the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the tiger can reverse your fortune, eliminating bad luck and increasing your good luck.
Kaohsiung has two primary night markets, but given that the other is literally referred to as the tourist night market, this one gets our nod for being more authentic, more fun, and just flat out more delicious. For food, Ruifeng plays all the Taiwan night market hits: sweet potato balls, sausage in sausage, black pepper pork buns, and of course, the famous Angel’s fried chicken. If you’re done eating and looking to walk off the calories, there’s ample shopping in this area as well.
This is a great, quick trip from mainland Kaohsiung. You simply board the ferry from the mainland for 30NTD and about 5 minutes later, you hop off at Cijin.
To best explore Cijin, rent a bike when you arrive and ride the path along the beach. The bike rental shops are directly across from the pier. You can’t miss them.
After exploring the Insta-famous Rainbow Church and Starlight tunnel, head up to Cihou Lighthouse and Fort for a fantastic view of mainland Kaohsiung across the harbor.
Once a forgotten warehouse district along the harbor, these few blocks are now home to modern art installations and murals, as well as galleries, shops, cafes, and exhibitions. Here, pops of color and creativity have breathed new life into the area, turning bike paths, garbage cans, and manhole covers into 3D works of art. This trendier side of Kaohsiung is a great place for an easy day to snap a few pictures for the ‘gram.
Monkey mountain is the place to go if you’re looking to burn off all that night market food.
Now, there are a ton of places throughout Southeast Asia that have their own version of a monkey mountain. Having seen our fair share, we had come to Kaohsiung’s Monkey Mountain expecting to maybe see a few monkeys scurrying in the treetops or eating stolen snacks in the distance. Instead, we were greeted by the mountain’s namesakes almost immediately.
The monkeys are plentiful and have almost completely lost their fear of humans. They walk the path alongside you or even force you to step over them as they sleep. You can see them play with one another or swing from tree to tree. As with other monkey mountains, just be absolutely sure not to feed them.
Do like the locals do on your hike and bring a bottle or camper mug. You’ll be able to fill up at one of the free teahouses along the hike.
Fo Guang Shan is Taiwan’s largest monastery. It is a sprawling campus with some seriously awe-inspiring things to see. For all of the Buddhist shrines, monasteries, and temples that we’ve come across in our travels, Fo Guang Shan ranks right up there at the top.
The most iconic image of Fo Guang Shan is the long path, flanked by 8 pagodas, leading to a giant seated bronze Buddha. At the end of the path, you can enter the building where the Buddha is seated and checkout the Buddha Museum.
As incredibly impressive as all of that was, though, our favorite spot at Fo Guang Shan was the main shrine.
We found this one to be truly breathtaking, traquil and magnificent. Without realizing it, we both paced the massive hall slowly and silently, just taking it all in.
It wasn’t until we came back together in front of the hall that a monk approached us and asked if we understood what we were seeing. She was then kind enough to give us an impromptu crash course in the history and meaning behind the shrine.
This isn’t so much a thing to do in Kaohsiung as it is a side trip from Kaohsiung, where we’d recommend spending the night.
Yes, you can do Kenting as a day trip, but considering it’s about 2 hours by car or 3 by bus (which is what we took), we decided on an overnight stay.
Kenting gives the beach vibe that Kaohsiung is missing. The main beach of Nanwan is an impressive stretch of sand that’s popular with both surfers and swimmers. You can also rent a canoe, jetski, water raft, or even banana boat if that’s your thing. In true Taiwanese fashion, once night falls, the main strip turns into a mile long night market filled with delicious fried foods and seafood every which way.
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