Difference between revisions of "Kaohsiung"
Revision as of 16:37, 31 January 2012
Kaohsiung (高雄; Gāoxióng) ) is, with over 2.7 millions of inhabitants, the second most populated city in Taiwan after New Taipei and is located in the south of the island. Kaohsiung is known for its harbor, although more for commercial than tourism reasons. Hence it is also known as the Harbor Capital (港都) of Taiwan. Its year-round fine weather and the low cost of living makes Kaohsiung the place to visit.
Kaohsiung is Taiwan's second largest city and its largest port. Although the ranking has declined steadily over the last few years, Kaohsiung is still the world's sixth largest cargo-container seaport. The city has high concentrations of heavy industry, including steel production, shipbuilding, and other exports that have led to Kaohsiung's relatively high levels of air pollution (though the situation has improved substantially in recent years). Unlike Taipei, Kaohsiung is a planned city with wide streets and slightly less traffic congestion than the capital. In recent years the city has made great strides in transforming itself from a primarily industrial city into a modern Asian metropolis, and several areas of the city, such as along the banks of the Love River (Ai He, 愛河), have benefited from major beautification projects under the tenure of former mayor Frank Hsieh. The city is often known as Taiwan's "Harbor Capital" (港都) because of its close connection and heavy reliance on the ocean and maritime transportation.
Kaohsiung began in the 17th century as a small fishing village named "Takao" (打狗), derived from the local aboriginal name meaning "bamboo forest". The name was changed to "高雄" (meaning: "high hero") by the Japanese in 1895, also pronounced "Takao" in Japanese, as they found the original name of 打狗 ("beating the dog") to be vulgar. The modern name of "Kaohsiung" is the pronunciation of "高雄" in Mandarin.
Kaohsiung International Airport (IATA: KHH)  is about twenty minutes to the south of the city center. 1997 a new terminal was added dedicated to international connections and transfers to Taipei international airport . This airport is very small and cannot compete with other international airports around the world. International flights from Asia arrive daily, with frequent connections between Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and Kaohsiung. The airport is on the MRT Red Line and is also easily accessible by scooter, car or taxi.
The stations and platforms are wheelchair-friendly and all trains include a wheelchair-accessible car (wider doors, ample space, accessible bathroom). Note that the official English guide for online reservations distinguishes between "senior or disabled tickets" and "handicap-friendly seats"; while it's possible to buy a ticket for the former online ("correct passenger ID" required), a ticket for the latter has to be reserved by calling the ticketing office on the phone. 
Please note The HSR terminal is in Zuoying (左營, also Tsoying) on the northern outskirts of town, and you'll need to connect to the city center via the MRT Red Line (approximately NT$20-25), bus, ordinary train, or taxi (approximately NT$250-350). The MRT Red Line now extends to Kaohsiung Main Station (#R11) and the HSR Station (#R16) and beyond (see system map here: http://www.krtco.com.tw/en/service/service-1.aspx). Kaohsiung is also served by the Taiwan Railway Administration's Western Line and Pingtung Line. The city is roughly 4 to 5 hours away from Taipei by normal express train.
Buses run the length of the island, with stops in major towns. They feature fully reclining seats, baggage transportation and, on most, video game consoles or televisions for each seat. Prices run around NT$1000 per trip, give or take, depending on the initial and final destination.
Most major bus companies have their office and stops close to the train station. They are located on the same road as the train station, about half a block down the street.
Because Kaohsiung is also a harbor, transportation by boat will bring you directly into the city.
As the sidewalks double as scooter parking areas, caution and awareness are a must when walking through unfamiliar areas off of main streets. Generally, it is best to walk between the scooter parking row and store fronts, rather than between parked scooters and the road. Pedestrians should be especially aware when crossing a road as cars and motorbikes often run red lights. Exploring Kaohsiung on foot is highly recommended, as many of the distances between sites of interest are not far.
The long-delayed Kaohsiung MRT  opened in 2008, with two lines. The Red Line runs from north to south, offering a handy route from both the THSR Zuoying station and the airport into the downtown core, while Orange Line runs across the city from the Port of Kaohsiung in the west to eastern suburb of Daliao. The Metro Line is very clean and offers a convenient way to quickly move within the city. However as the metro is rather young the network is yet not very dense and often you have to walk few minutes to the next station. Operation of the MRT stops at about 11:30 p.m. for the orange line and as late as 12:30 for the red line. Ask at the information desk to be sure.
Feeder buses are available to bridge network gaps and provide better access to the metro lines. The MRT stations are all well connected to the city bus lines for further transfers. Stations and trains are wheelchair-friendly, but note that when there are multiple exits from a single station, usually only one of these is equipped with a lift.
The city government has established Taxi English Service to allow travelers to search for English-speaking taxi drivers in chosen areas.
Taxis can be an easy way to get to somewhere unfamiliar, and are fairly common in the city. If you have the business card of a location, or the Chinese characters written down, they can easily get you there far faster than most other means.
It is best to get the price in advance, and, if possible, buckle up. Few taxi drivers speak English, and the majority ignore any and all rules of the road. Do not be surprised if they drive the wrong way, up a hill, through heavy traffic. Typically, going from one end of the city to the other should never be more than 400 NT$. This behavior of cab-drivers is rarely seen nowadays however may still happen more often on the country side.
Do not be surprised if they open the door and spit what looks like blood. In actuality, the taxi driver is chewing betel nut (binlang) . This commercially available product is a mild stimulant and is used by many taxi drivers.
Bikes are also common in Kaohsiung, and the large number of locally produced bikes (often rebranded and sold overseas) means purchasing a new bike will often be cheaper relative to its counterpart in other countries (primarily Europe and America).
The city operates a bicycle rental service. Renting points are located at MRT stations and bicycles can be dropped off at any station, not necessarily the one from which it was hired.
Giant, a well-built, recognized Taiwanese brand, has shops throughout the city, and some of the store managers speak English. Bikes are street legal, even without a helmet, but theft is common for any bike over 3,000 NT$. Until recently, even serious violations of the traffic rules by cyclists are were not fined, however, government authorities are planning to change this in the not too distant future.
As Kaohsiung is predominantly flat, a great way to see the city is by bike. Riding along the Love River north towards the Art Museum area offers a pleasant ride and some scenery of the old Kaohsiung that is fast disappearing. Pleasant bike routes can also be found around Sun Yet-Sen university and on the coastal side of Shoushan mountain, but expect a few hills to climb. It is best to avoid this place on the weekends when hoardes of young Kaohsiung couples head to the mountain for some romantic sunset views of the city and ocean at one of the countless coffee shops. Cijin Island also offers some nice riding around the streets at the northern end of the island. However, it is not yet legally possible to bicycle to and from Cijin as the underwater Kaohsiung Harbor Tunnel to and from Cianjhen District is officially closed to bicycles around the clock, even during late nights when ferries stop running.
Scooters are the primary means of transportation within Kaohsiung. With a dedicated two-wheel vehicle lane on most major roads, and with frequent and varied scooter shops around town, renting or purchasing a scooter is very easy; however, see the Taiwan article for legal issues including licenses.
Scooters come in several engine sizes from below 50cc to more than 250cc. Most common in recent years are the 4-stroke 100 and 125cc models, which are also suitable to explore the surroundings of the city. The larger scooters, 150cc and more, often include a greater subset of amenities for a second passenger, including a backrest, wider seat, full windshield and footholds and can rival a motorcycle overall size, weight and fuel consumption. Often, they come with larger wheels as well.
All passengers on a scooter must wear helmets by law. Helmets are sold almost everywhere, and range in price from 100 NT$ to upwards of 2,000 NT$. A helmet with visor is strongly suggested.
Scooters with an engine size of 50cc require a light motorcycle license to drive, and should be insured and registered in the owner's name. If you have a Taiwanese automobile driver's license or a valid International Driving Permit you do not need an additional license for these small scooters. Motorcycles with an engine displacement of 51 to 250cc require a heavy motorcycle driving license. However, foreigners often drive scooters up to 250cc with no license, insurance or registration. Due to a loophole in Taiwanese law, scooters registered to foreigners who have left the country cannot be bought by Taiwanese citizens because the registration cannot change hands, legally. An underground market in "foreigner scooters" allows visitors to purchase scooters without insurance or registration.
City police are often more lenient on foreigners. Short of being towed for parking in a red zone (a stripe of red paint on the edge of a sidewalk or road), foreigners are usually waved through stops, or, at best, ticketed. If the scooter is not registered to you however, its hard to say what exactly happens when the ticket is sent out. Often the best idea is to speak a language other than English or Chinese, play dumb and hope the officer will get flustered and let you go - that is, if you're the type who likes to break laws in foreign countries.
Rentals are available in various locations across town, but obtaining a license within the city can be a problem. It is recommended you call ahead if you have an international drivers license to insure it will allow you to drive. In addition, license laws in Taiwan fluctuate from year to year for foreigners. Currently, as of 2006, you must have an Alien Residence Card for more than a year to take the license examination.
Parking is scarce, but available. The city recognizes this problem, and attempts to make the city more car-friendly by building parking garages and painting designated parking spaces alongside streets. However, for travel within the city itself, or only locally, it is recommended you get a scooter.
An inexpensive ferry service connects various areas of Kaohsiung City, including Taiwan's nearest island, Xiao Liuqiu (小琉球) - Little Ryukyu - which is a coral island located just south of Kaohsiung and is reachable by ferry from Dong Gang (東港), which is itself only a 15-minute scooter or taxi ride from Kaohsiung International Airport.
If you want to get to Cijin District:
The Cijin District (旗津； Qijin)] is a slender island in Kaohsiung harbor which serves as a natural breakwater for the harbor. The district is filled with seafood restaurants selling freshly caught seafood which can be prepared right after you pick it out. Cijin is connected to the rest of Kaohsiung City by underwater tunnels, but the transporation of choice is one of the many ferries that traverse the harbor. Fare for the ferry ride is NT$15 per person. Bikes and scooters can be brought aboard, but the fee is NT$30 with a scooter. The ferry is easily accessible for wheelchairs, which can share the space with scooters and bikes. The street that goes straight from the ferry has about two blocks of snack stands, as well as seafood restaurants near the end. There is also a plaza with a fountain and a beach at the end of the street. If you rent a bike (either before or after the ferry ride), there is a nice coastal path that goes south along the beach. Going a short ways north will lead you to the lighthouse and the fort, which are located on a hill with great views of the city, the harbor, and the ocean. The area is especially crowded on weekends with many visitors bringing their entire family along. The island is also projected to be an international tourism spot in southern Taiwan by the city government. This effort can be seen through series of campaigns made by the government to introduce Chijin to the international level.
Cijin (旗津； Qijin)
For foreigners, work in Kaohsiung usually falls into two branches. The majority of employment involves English as a Second Language (ESL) work in buxibans (cram schools), kindergartens and schools (public, private or university). Most of the others are businessmen and women in the employ of multinational corporations here to manage, oversee or deploy production in Taiwan for their home company abroad.
Substitute work is easily available for native English speakers and can be obtained through internet groups such as Taiwan Teaching Jobs .... or Connect Kaohsiung or through local postings in expatriate hangouts. More permanent teaching work is also available, especially in the summer and around Chinese New Year. Most buxibans require teachers to sign a 1-year contract and provide a work permit and ARC (Alien Residence Card). ARC holders are also covered under national health insurance. Without the proper paperwork - including a 4-year university degree - you cannot get an ARC and will need to leave the country every 2-4 months to renew your visa. You will also be working illegally, which involves a number of other inconveniences (including lack of phone and Internet access). It is also highly illegal for foreigner to work as teachers in kindergartens few provide work permits.
There are numerous seafood restaurants dotting the main street in Cijin Island, all offering the same fresh seafood for about NT100-200 per dish. It is a great idea to go in a small group and order a few dishes to try, probably one more dish than the number of people in your group. In the evening, a night bazaar goes into full swing. There are lots of little eats to eat as per Taiwan's night markets, BBQ squid, mochi to name a few are particularly good.
Night markets are a great place to pick up cheap local foods, including stinky tofu, barbecued squid, red bean pancakes and the like. The one not to be missed is the Liouho Night Market (六合夜市) which has several interesting dishes such as salty glutinous rice balls (咸湯圓) stuffed with pork, oyster omelette, and tofu pudding (豆花).
Lunchboxes are common throughout the city, and a choose-your-order buffet take-out typically ranges from 50 to 100 NT$. The food is typically fried, with a mix of vegetables and meats.
The ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores have tea eggs, hot dogs, packaged beverages and junk food. Lunchbox style microwavables are also available, including dumplings, spaghetti and curry rice.
There is also a Ruth Chris in town.
Two local beer companies, Tsingtao and Taiwan Beer, are ubiquitous throughout the island and can be purchased by visitors cheaply with little hassle about age restrictions. Most major soft drinks are available, and tea stands on almost every corner offer concoctions of fruit, yogurt, green tea, the Taiwanese specialty "bubble tea," and a variety of other flavors.
While tap water is most certainly NOT potable, good reverse osmosis filtration will remove bacteria and heavy metals, and is considered safe for consumption. Water dispensers, which resemble gas stations, are present throughout the city. However, they, along with many of the bottled water brands, are suspect. Both have been found, in the past, to simply bottle or distribute tap water. To avoid ingesting non-potable water, only purchase bottles that are sealed with an expiration date clearly printed on the bottle. Often, it is easier to simply purchase green tea at a stand or a convenience store, or a soft drink. Restaurant water is safe, with the exception of some lunchbox eateries and stands on the street.
Prices start at NT$850/night for a studio. Two bed room river front apartment is available as well - good for families or groups.
Although by Taiwan's standards Kaohsiung's crime rate is high, it is much lower than probably any city of comparable size in the West, so tourists need not be too worried. Theft tends to be the most common form of criminal activity encountered by foreigners, and expensive bikes and scooters are frequent targets.
As a major seaport, organized crime has also become an increasing problem in the city, and a fair number of businesses are nothing more than a front for local gangs. That said, the gangs do not resort to random violence or theft.
In general, Kaohsiung offers a very safe environment as long as you mind your own business and don't get involved with local rivalries. Violent crime is very rare, and visitors should not encounter any problems - though, like any major city, it is always wise to err on the side of caution.
Also please remember: tap water is not potable.