Kaoshiung is a vibrant city in Taiwan that has an overwhelming amount of options if you only have one day. If you love culture, perhaps hire a car to go up to the monastery that is home to thousands of Buddhas (be warned…. it isn’t quite an authentic experience with giant LED fake lotus flowers.) If you love nature, hiking up the monkey-filled mountain to the Kaohsiung Martyr’s Shrine is a great choice. But if you want a more relaxed day to immerse yourself into the essence of Kaoshiung… I’ve got the itinerary for you.
Your day will begin at Pier 2 Arts District. It is a converted warehouse covered in 3-D art and graffiti that is home to galleries and coffee shops. Seeing art from other cultures is a gateway into understanding the political and cultural opinions of the local people. This particular area features art that celebrates everything from human beauty to technology to abstract thoughts, and I get the impression that the Taiwanese are forward thinking individuals who value the creation of humans as well as what humans can create.
Make your way down to Now and Then coffee shop for a breakfast that won’t disappoint. The platters are spectacular, with fluffy biscuits and thick slabs of bacon alongside an ample serving of eggs. If you want something sweet, the chocolate lava cake is ooey gooey perfection with a molten chocolate center that is rich and just sweet enough. Tie it all together with a latte or coffee to get the body buzzing and ready for the adventures ahead.
The shops will be waking up by now, and even if you don’t want to drop money on nice earrings or unique wall art, they are certainly worth a look through. Make your way over to the Singijong Night Market away from the tourists into a local market that you won’t find on blogs or in guide books. We happened upon this street when in search for a meal to accommodate a vegetarian friend about a year ago, and were taken aback by the amazing street food options.
Stop one was a stall dishing out a Chinese burrito of sorts. A thin pancake was topped with eggs and chives, followed by a layer of cheese, corn, and lettuce, rolled up with two crunchy crackers and a touch of mystery sauce. The textures and flavors work together in perfect unison, and was nothing short of delicious. Each one was 40NDT, which is a little less than $1.50.
Stop two was for some freshly cut fruit. We picked out a pineapple, watermelon, and some mystery item that the friendly man quickly chopped up. The pineapple was delicious, but the watermelon oddly tasted like guava. The round, green mystery fruit involved digging out the white inside flesh with a spoon. It was meaty and fairly sweet.
Stop three was a stall serving up freshly made dumplings for under $1. A little old woman was rolling out the dough, putting in the filling, and frying them up. Fresh is best, and I’d bet that woman has made thousands of dumplings.
Stop four was another unique wrap concoction that involved fried dough stuffed with egg, lettuce, and sauce. The dough reminded me of naan, and it somehow had ground meat sprinkled inside. Last year, the vegetarian mistakenly made it half way through before realizing there was meat inside… whoops. This snack was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time, and would made a killing at a New York food truck.
The food journey had to come to an end due to outrageously full stomachs. But we passed by more delicious looking dumplings, noodles, and snacks with longing eyes. Throughout this journey, no one spoke a lick of English. Some communication was shared with thumbs up, smiles, and hand gestures, but we mostly trusted that the chefs knew what they were doing and would serve us something delicious. Eating in Asia with an open mind is key, and picky eaters will miss out on great culinary experiences. Some dishes might look funky or smell odd, but these men and women have been perfecting their offerings for decades, and you have to take the leap of faith for new taste bud journeys.
Walk off your lunch through the backstreets and head over to the warehouse opposite of Pier 2. This building holds more artist booths and dining options, and tucked away in the back is Zhongman Brewery. Grab a beer, sit on the couches outside, and enjoy people watching, On this particular trip, 4 or 5 school groups walked by, and one even wanted a picture with us. It is common in Asian countries for people to be enamored by white people, and they often want photos as proof.
Kaoshiung is a city full of life, and I love any chance to immerse myself into a culture by trying the foods, interacting with the people, and wandering around the streets. The best part? You can easily do it on a budget!