Taipei is Taiwan’s capital and largest city. You would expect it has the best, the most, the latest, and the largest of everything in the country. But nah, it is Kaohsiung that claims to have it all. This southern city is the second of Taiwan, yet it boasts and praises until you start to believe it. And if you might discover it doesn’t have the best, the most or the latest, it surely has the largest of many things. Here we go!
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The largest shopping mall: Dream Mall
Kaohsiung is a bit of a city with an attitude. It is a bit more alternative that Taipei and feels more like an unpolished diamond. You will see more funky street fashion as opposed to sweet and preppy Taipei. And all of that begins in the malls, of which there are many. But the one that Kaohsiung brags of is the Dream Mall. It is the largest of Taiwan and the brochures claim it is the largest of East Asia.
Now, I don’t know if that is based on thorough research, but boy, it is big! Big and shiny, with stores selling stuff from “car beauty” products (I love Chinese English!) to shoes, and from fashion to stones and train models. I have dinner in Thank God it’s Friday, the American food chain that brings me back to my study time in Mississippi (Oooole Miss!). And by the time my dishes arrive, I realize I have to eat it with fork and knife! The first time since I arrived here over a week ago and I hadn’t once thought of it.
The largest harbor and port of Taiwan
This one is undoubtedly true: Kaohsiung has the largest port of Taiwan. You can see it at the beach, where you can see tens of container ships outside of the port waiting to be let in. Quite an unusual sight!
The largest illuminated glass art work in the world
On my travels through Italy, I remember coming across one after the other church that is really really the oldest in the whole country. It seems that Kaohsiung is for real. In the subway station Formosa Boulevard Station (next to my guesthouse) there’s an impressive underground glass art piece in all colors of the rainbow. It is about the elements and time, all the basics of life, and it commemorates a student uprising back in the seventies around this area in Kaohsiung. Because this is the city that fought for human rights for the Taiwanese, especially for the freedom of speech. And they got it, ultimately making Taiwan the most democratic country in Asia that it is today.
Largest night market
I kind of think it is cheating, but the largest night market of Taiwan is in Kaohsiung. It exists of two nights markets that grew together and you walk from one to the other without a stop: Kai Xuan Night Market with Jin Zhuan Night Market. I haven’t been to this night market, although I can recommend the Liouhe Night Market in Bridal Dress District (not kidding). All of Taiwan’s cities have many night markets and the largest markets are not by definition the greatest. Let me know what you think if you have been to this one!
The tallest spooky tower
Until the immense Taipei 101 was opened in 2004, the Suntex Sky Tower was the tallest of Taiwan. It’s not nearly as beautifully shaped as the Taipei 101, but it does dominate the skyline of Kaohsiung. An oddity: the floors 80 until 85 do not have an elevator. But who cares? Almost the whole building is unused since 2015! Spooky. And that makes Kaohsiung have the tallest unused building in Taiwan.
Largest constellation map in Mandarin
This is my favorite boast of Kaohsiung. It says it has the largest constellation map in Mandarin. Pretty random. It is 2 meters wide and shows the zodiac signs that are so important in the Chinese (and Taiwanese) cultures. And as the city advertises the amazing astronomical museum where the map is found, there is no website nor images of the map online. It’s tempting, but I am not staying in Kaohsiung long enough to see this museum. I love these dorky things.
Is Kaohsiung worth it?
If you have time, Kaohsiung is worth a visit. It has enough sightseeing to do for a day or two (maximum). Other than the above, it has many cycle paths, some beaches you can visit, some history in the port area (a fort, a former British consulate that is really nice) and some temples.
The biggest draw is Lotus Pond, where lotus flowers blossom indeed. On the lake there are pagodas to visit, like the dragon tiger pagoda. If you enter through the dragon entrance (literally a giant dragon’s mouth) and leave through the tiger (a giant tiger figure, you guessed it), the Taiwanese believe this will bring you good luck. If that doesn’t satisfy you, there are two Taoist temples along the lake, of which one is especially elaborate. There’s also a Confucius temple, which is nice to see.
The lake is very nice during sunset. Most pagodas close after this time, so no dragon and tiger. It is best to arrive on time and stay until twilight. You get there from the subway nearby (R16 on the red line), taking a bus (51 or 301). The stop is called Lotus Pond, so that can’t go wrong. I think it would be very nice to rent a bike and ride around the pond. This will bring you faster from one point to the next.