Taipei, the capital of Taiwan and most travellers’ gateway to the island that is rightly considered one of the world’s friendliest places, is one of the greatest cities on Earth for day trips. Less than an hour after you’re slurping beef noodle soup in the city centre you can be up a mountain sucking in lung-cleansing air, perhaps while considering messing around in a waterfall or two.
For this reason Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second city – reached after a two and a half hour journey on the wonderfully efficient high speed train from Taipei – is often overlooked. Surrounded by mountains, it also boasts rich day trip choices such as the Wushanding mud volcano or Kenting National Park, but an exciting 24 hours can be had there without leaving the city.
It’s one of those great cities that seem to have vastly more mid-range hotel rooms than are necessary, so prices are low. Once you’ve dropped your bag off at any of its adequate quality, fairly bargainous crash pads you can grab a bite at one of the city’s many quirky themed restaurants.
Kaohsiung is the proud home of Funny Sex: the island’s first sex-themed restaurant, where you can dine in the company of a blow-up love doll, drink soup from a bowl shaped like a pair of breasts and eat chocolate pudding shaped like a penis and testicles. Don’t expect a world-class meal, but for a lifetime’s worth of new Facebook photos it can’t be beaten.
Once you’ve had your fill of food shaped like genitals you can head to Chichin Island, found an eight-minute ferry ride from Kaohsiung Harbour. Despite being so close to the main city, the island has a fun holiday feel, with people stumbling around in enormous garish traditional masks as vendors dish out ice creams and seafood.
Cihou Lighthouse, built in 1883 by British engineers, is a highlight, but the most invigorating experience is a long coastal walk down the quiet western side of the island. As the weather worsens the place becomes more atmospheric with the black and grey sand, crashing waves and swathes of trader ships moored in the distance forming a mildly spooky yet relaxing atmosphere.
Back in the main city area, as evening sets in, it’s time to visit a couple of of the city’s famous night markets to quell the coastal walk-derived hunger. Go to Ruifeng Night Market first, found next to the Kaohsiung Arena metro station. A blurry whir of colourful funfair-style games, zany clothes stalls and steam from countless food stands billowing into the atmosphere, it’s an invigorating people-watching spot. Play some air gun games, grab a huge mug of 7 Up, crushed fruit and vodka, but save space in your stomach for Liuhe Night Market, found further south on Liuhe 2nd Road.
A normal road by day, at night Liuhe is pedestrianised. There are clothes and bags on sale but really, it’s all about the seafood. To the eastern end of the market many seafood barbeque stands and ramshackle restaurants offer garlic-soaked lobsters, oysters, fat shrimps and squids on sticks. Go large and fork out 1,000 TWD (£20) for a huge seafood variety barbeque platter, washed down with a local beer.
With the city’s young flocking to the night markets and only a small boozy expat population, Kaohsiung doesn’t have a thriving late-night bar scene. However, there some good spots seldom frequented by visitors from outside the city. Try Ann Cocktail Lounge (34 Daren Street, Xinxin district) for friendly service and decent cocktails. The bar is as good for language practise as its Old Fashioned drinks; on my visit the barman explained that I was only the fifth westerner who had visited in three years. A venue with a more hidden feel is the classy Mini Fusion (No. 4, 10th block, Linde Road, Lingya district), found down a traditional lane.
It’s hardly the bar frenzy of, say, Hong Kong or Shanghai, but there’s enough going on to have a cosy toast to your 24 hours in the city. And, if you really want, you can always go back to Funny Sex and drink milk tea from a mug shaped like a penis.
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