KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan — I’ve never heard of Bruceploitation until I had to google the phrase “enter the dragon, exit the tiger.” At the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas at Lotus Lake in Zuoying District, our tour guide, Midas, liked to remind us, “Enter through the dragon, always.” It was noon and the sun in Taiwan at noon assaulted the skin and senses. I would have been happy to go through any door that led to some place cool, but the dragon’s mouth, according to our guide, was the gateway to auspicious power. Following the path from the dragon’s mouth to the tiger’s means increasing good luck and decreasing bad luck. In 1970s China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the phrase, in reverse, is the title of a film under the Bruceploitation genre. It starred a Bruce Lee lookalike, apparently known as “Lee-alikes,” released after the actor’s death. As a firm follower of the Why Not It, Can’t Hurt school of thought, I did exactly as told, entering and exiting accordingly. My good luck started immediately at lunch, when I found a non-squat toilet.
1. Visit the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas at Lotus Lake, then go on a temple run. The area has several beautiful temples and pagodas that are also worth seeing.
KAOHSIUNG BY NIGHT
Kaohsiung as city resembles what you might discover in Taipei, if you wander far enough from the Ximending and Xinyi Districts. It has an interesting mix of city and old-street life, temples on staggering plots of land separated by staggering plots of land, and markets that would keep any foodie out and about until the wee hours of the night. Rei Feng Night Market in Tsoying District, the largest in Kaohsiung, is best navigated when reasonably hungry (not “hangry,” which based on experience is a disposition that doesn’t go well with elbow-to-elbow situations). We went on a Saturday night, and as most Saturday nights are anywhere in the world, it was crowded, sticky, and there were many, many different smells. Good smells, of course — bread baking, squid grilling, meat sizzling. Milk tea’s fragrance throw isn’t strong (or none at all, actually), but it’s easy to find anyway, since it’s sold in various concoctions at every other stall. Despite being congested on weekends, it would still be the best time to go to get the complete night market experience, all the wonderful food aromas sticking to your hair, included.
2. Fight for your right to enjoy street food at Rei Feng (Ruifeng) Night Market in Tsoying.
Founded in the 17th century, the special municipality of Kaohsiung has grown into the second largest municipality in Taiwan, with a population of 2.77 million. It is the economic center of Southern Taiwan, with the Port of Kaohsiung being the largest and busiest harbour in the country, and Kaohsiung Airport the second busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic. Those looking to visit Kaohsiung in particular (without having to take the bullet train from Taipei) can fly direct via AirAsia from Clark International Airport. The city is connected to other major cities via rail and national freeways, so it’s also a convenient jump-off point to other locations in Taiwan.
3. Explore scenic Love River onboard a solar-powered boat (or a human-powered gondola. (P.S. The river doesn’t exactly have romantic origins, just so you know.
PIER-2 ART CENTER
Over the years, Kaohsiung has developed a special interest in the arts, investing tourism and cultural industries. Among these investments is Pier-2 Art Center in Yancheng, which bears the skeleton of Kaohsiung’s roots as an industrial zone — wide-open spaces, warehouses, old train tracks — but is dressed up as a center for tourism and contemporary art. The space offers plenty to look at, starting with huge installation pieces, iron works, and graffiti art, as well as things to do. Kids and pets seem particularly fond of the open field area, where kite flying is a popular pastime. The once-abandoned warehouses, previously used by the port industry for storage, have been converted into dining and shopping sites where Taiwan’s modern food and leisure culture are on display. The most popular attraction among adults is the mini railway with a mini train that goes around Pier-2. If you’re not too opposed to looking funny saddling a tiny bullet train, this is a good way to see the area in one go. A solar-powered boat ride down the length of Love River (Ai He) can take you to the Arts Center, passing by some of Kaohsiung’s popular sights, including 85 Sky Tower.
4. Ride the mini train around Pier-2 Art Center.
5. Hang out at Pier-2’s open field. Bring your kids and pets! Fly a kite.
6. Shop and dine at Pier-2’s converted shipping warehouses, now contemporary restaurants, cafés, art galleries, book stores and retail shops.
7. Have a social media field day with the art installations, ironworks and murals around Pier-2.
NATIONAL KAOHSIUNG CENTER FOR THE ARTS
The interest in the arts extends to 65-hectare Weiwuying Metropolitan Park, the site of the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts. Designed by Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo, the impressive structure is the largest arts center on Earth, and it’s kind of out of this world. An aerial perspective prompts questions: Is it a massive undersea creature or an alien spacecraft straight out of Deep Space Nine? According to the architects, the objective was to blur the boundaries between space and void, which it does in interesting fashion, mixing a façade of fortress-like robustness with gaping spaces indoors.
The outdoor amphitheater integrates seamlessly with the landscape and offers “reversible” seating. Thee audience would either be looking down on the massive field below, or up the concrete bleachers. If it feels somewhat unfinished, it’s because it was meant to be that way — to answer the question above, it’s actually fashioned after a container ship, complete with nautical markings, steel skin, and an overall worn vibe.
Inside is a cavernous concert hall that holds the largest organ in Asia, with more than 9,000 pipes and 2,000 seats, designed by architectural acoustics master Albert Xu. He also designed the other three spaces: the recital hall, the playhouse, and the 2,236-seater opera house, equipped to hold five different shows at once. All four halls were conceived with classical and traditional music in mind, so don’t expect Katy Perry to show up here (John Williams, maybe?).
8. Explore/roll around in the unique architecture of the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts in Weiwuying.
GO BIG OR GO HOME
Places of worship have also become popular destinations in Kaohsiung. The Confucius Temple near Lotus pond is the largest Confucian complex in Taiwan (in the vicinity is a wonderful coffee shop that overlooks the harbour). Located in Dashu District is Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, a landmark in Taiwan. Most tourists come to see the Fo Guang Big Buddha, which was cast with 1,800 tons of metal and measures 40 meters tall, but it also holds little known treasures, such as one of the tooth relics of the Sakyamuni Buddha, and several collections of Buddhist art, sculptures, and statues.
9. Enjoy your coffee while taking in Confucian wisdom and the Confucius Temple, also near Lotus Pond.
10. Trek through the massive pagodas of Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum in Dashu.
Still in the tradition of “go big or go home,” Dashu is also the location of E-DA Theme Park, which is, curiously, Greek-themed, complete with a Santorini replica village and Trojan horse statue (that frames the sunset rather nicely). It has shops, rides, and various family activities, but the real highlight is E-DA Royal Hotel, for its spacious rooms and bangin’ buffet spread. Bonus: Little Prince amenities at the thematic kids’ rooms!
11. Unlock your inner 5-year old at E-DA World. Book a thematic kids’ room. Enjoy the buffet and Little Prince amenities.
12. Enjoy a different kind of tour of Taiwan at i-Ride Experience Center Kaohsiung’s 360-degree visual flying theater.
13. Check out the attractions at 8.7-hectare Taroko Park, an amusement park and shopping center in Cianjhen, Taiwan. (Not to be confused with Taroko National Park, which is in Taichung)
For an even more “unfiltered” experience of Taiwan, head to Cijin Island for a day trip. Since it’s by the beach, this district is where all the so-called outdoorsy activities are — including biking, hiking, and surfing. Don’t expect a strenuous hike, though. It only takes about 10 minutes to get to the top of the hills to see the Cijin Lighthouse (and a nice view of the city from Cihou Port). The best part is coming back down, hungry, and enjoying the fresh seafood at the market. The Shell Museum and Rainbow Church (not actually a church but more of a place for Instagram worship) are also famous stops. You can get to Cijin via a 15-minute ferry ride from Gushan Ferry Pier.
14. Take the ferry to Cijin Island for a quick hike and a long, delicious seafood lunch by the beach.
Kaohsiung offers a side of Taiwan that’s relatively unobstructed by commercial development — while the latter obviously has its advantages and Taipei is awesome, the laidback streets of Kaohsiung, its earnest commitment to arts and culture, and knack for going all out sans irony, whether with its Grecian amusement parks or devotion to ancient wisdom, is worth going through the mouth of a dragon for.
MORE THINGS TO DO…
15. Visit the “Rainbow Church” and Shell Museum at Cijin.
16. Visit 1300 Space porcelain gallery for some art and delicious food. Note: It’s members only, but for a minimum purchase of NT 3,500 (around P6,000), you get access to the restaurant.
17. Check out the Xian Danshui River Steel Bridge for a photo-op, on the way to…
18. …Ten Drum Creative Park in Ciaotou. Take a percussion class, explore the park, and watch the Grammy-winning Ten Drum Percussion Group perform. Tickets to the show have to be booked in advance, but the park is open to all.
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