KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (Reuters Life!) - Taiwan’s second city of Kaohsiung is rapidly transforming itself into a post-industrial, environmentally-responsible tourist hub, and a gateway to the island’s lush and under-explored south.
While Kaohsiung’s attractions may not immediately be obvious, it is a center of traditional Taiwanese culture.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors make the most of the city, one of the world’s busiest ports.
5 p.m. - Kaohsiung’s Love River was once far from lovely; thankfully those days are long gone. It has been transformed into a lively and very green park, with dedicated cycle paths, open-air art performances and chilled-out cafes where you can watch the sun go down with a cold Taiwan Beer. (City Council MRT station)
7 p.m. - Dinner at Old Song’s Beef Noodles, just round the corner from Love River park. Boss Mr. Lin proudly says that he only uses the highest quality Taiwanese beef, and has a special recipe for the tangy soup base. (32 Wufu 4th Rd).
9 p.m. - The less than snappily named Wufu 4th Rd is Kaohsiung’s original bar district, sitting right next to the city’s harbor. While the port’s fortunes may have foundered in the face of competition from China, the pubs are still there, catering to a mixed bag of European sailors and U.S. businessmen. Not glamorous, yet fun nonetheless. (Yanchengpu MRT station)
8 a.m. - Begin the day with breakfast on the street, Taiwanese style. Chow down on fried radish cake, egg pancakes and soy bean milk, hand-ground from organic beans if you’re lucky.
9 a.m. - Once salt fields, today Yancheng is full of classy little shops, cafes and temples. The Kaohsiung Museum of History is a treat, and is housed in a glorious old colonial Japanese building. (Yanchengpu/City Council MRT stations)
NOON - Shanghai Wan-long Sauce Garden is another oddly named Yancheng landmark. Looking like it’s run from someone’s garage, this family-run business has been cranking out the condiments since 1948. Aficionados describe its soy sauce as “liquid gold” — not bad considering it costs less than $5 a bottle. (137 Sinsing St, Yanchengpu MRT station).
1 p.m. - Strange to think that diplomatically isolated Taiwan was once home to emissaries from the Great Powers. Kaohsiung’s old British consulate, built in 1866, has been beautifully preserved on a headland overlooking the port. Steel yourself for the sharp walk up a steep hill to get there. (Five minutes by taxi from Sizihwan MRT station)
2.30 p.m. - If you time it right, the naval base in the harbor has open days and all are welcome, including foreigners. You might even get a tour of one of Taiwan’s still fully operational submarines that date from World War Two.
4 p.m. - Cijin island is a five-minute ferry ride from the city. It’s a higgledy-piggledy sort of place, with a great old fort, a long beach and fabulous sea food restaurants. La Mambo, just above the ferry terminal, is a cool coffee shop-cum-eatery well worth a look-in. (Ferry terminal near Sizihwan MRT station)
7 p.m. - Taiwan is rightly famous for its al fresco dining and there are many choices in Kaohsiung, most notably the Liou-ho night market, just voted one of the island’s best. Each stall has its own specialty, often sourced from a particular part of the island, and almost everything is freshly made in front of you. Don’t leave before trying oyster pancakes (“oh-ah jian”), prawn broth — and stinky beancurd for the brave. Wash it down with a fresh papaya milkshake. (Formosa Boulevard MRT station)
9 a.m. - Jump on Kaohsiung’s wonderful new subway, or MRT, to the Ciaotou sugar refinery. Set amongst gently-swaying coconut trees, the plant closed over a decade ago, but then reopened as a museum-park-gallery. Pick up a bag of dark, pure unrefined cane sugar — great for baking. (Ciaotou Sugar Refinery MRT station)
11 a.m. - There’s only one reason to visit Kaohsiung’s seedy neighbor Fongshan: knives. On “beating iron street” they have been handmaking fine steel knives since the start of the last century. Owner Huang Wen-nan of the Hsin-hsing Iron Store will be happy to help choose the right knife for you. (Sanmin St, Alley 44, No. 7, Dadong MRT station).
1 p.m. - Dream Mall is one of Asia’s largest and a veritable Mecca for shopaholics and fans of artisan products alike. It’s hard to know where to start, so work down from the stall selling Taiwanese neroli shampoos on the 6th floor. Stop off at Eslite bookstore for its vast selection of magazines and finish up at New Tainan Tan-tzai Noodles in the basement for lunch. (www.dream-mall.com.tw) (Free shuttle bus or a 10-minute walk from Kaisyan MRT station)
3 p.m. - Time for some culture after all the retail therapy. That’s perhaps best served at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, an airy and relaxed repository for some of the best in modern Taiwanese art. (www.kmfa.gov.tw) (Ten minutes by taxi from Aozhidi MRT station)
7 p.m. - Dinner at Shantung LauLau Noodles. The reason this place is always packed is the beef rolls — thin slices of beef and spring onions wrapped in a freshly made fried pancake. To die for. (325-1 Huarong Rd, Kaohsiung Arena MRT station)