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Kaohsiung City “Gao-Shiung” (高雄市) is Taiwan’s second largest city located on the southwest coast of Taiwan. Kaohsiung had always been the industrial and shipping hub of Taiwan during the boom of the 1960’s through 1990’s. The port was one of the busiest in the world, China Petroleum and China Steel had a large factory presence, the US Navy was docking regularly and land was inexpensive and regulations light. It was during these times that Kaohsiung was dubbed a “cultural desert” as it basically was known for bad air pollution and a working class mentality.
Things have changed in Kaohsiung a lot since then. Because of the industrial boom in Mainland China in the early 2000’s, a large number of factories moved out of southern Taiwan leaving not only a cleaner environment but also a weak economy with fewer blue collar jobs. The US Navy is long gone, but China Steel and China Petroleum still retain a large presence. The Kaohsiung harbor still ranks as one of the top 10 busiest in the world.
However, the Kaohsiung City government has invested heavily in the future of the city and a new direction. The Love River, once a polluted smelly sore running through the city, was cleaned up and is now a major tourist attraction. The Kaohsiung harbor, once closed to the public, now has many public wharves filled with bike paths, art centers, and entertainment venues. Kaohsiung also has the most “green space per capita” compared to any other city in Taiwan. There is also a new economic focus towards high tech manufacturing and even solar energy. There are now subways lines running through the city with more planned for the future. The once barren north Kaohsiung district is has now become the major retail and residential area. The city looks better, breathes better, and has a bright future ahead of it.
There is nothing more distinct than the weather systems in northern Taiwan and southern Taiwan. The north: cold and rainy winters, stifling hot summers. The south: cool/warm dry winters and hot but breezy blue sky summers with the occasional rains.
If you like dry, yet humid, conditions, then Kaohsiung is for you. The weather is suited for shorts and sandals and outdoor activities year round. People in Taipei carry an umbrella for the rain, but in Kaohsiung umbrellas are for shielding the sun.
The summer months are hot and hover around 33degrees Celsius most of the time. But Kaohsiung’s coastal position always allows for a nice ocean breeze to keep the air moving.
Autumn & winter are delightful. It’s dry and the temperature drops into the 20’s Celsius and yet the sun still shines. These are the best times for doing outdoor activities like bike riding or hiking.
Kaohsiung is truly a low cost and affordable place to live or visit. Everything from food, housing, tickets, to a lunch rice box is considerable cheaper than Taipei. In fact, housing prices are so much lower that for the past several years, northerners from Taipei and Taichung have been buying second homes as an investment. Because of this, housing prices have risen slightly, but it is still possible for a family to buy an apartment somewhere in the city limits.
The downside, and reason, for these great prices, is that the economy is Kaohsiung has been stagnant for quite a while. While up north has had a tech business boom, Kaohsiung is still struggling to reinvent itself from its industrial past. Yes, costs are low, but so are salaries. And good paying jobs are not as easy to find as in other places.
Ironically, MRT prices are not as cheap as one would think. There are only two lines and they are less frequented than the Taipei lines. A 1-3 stop trip can still cost you between 25-40 NTD. That doesn’t seem like too much, but Kaohsiung isn’t that big and the trips are very quick. Taking a taxi is very affordable, and is sometimes even worth it if you have a long trip across the city.
Food prices are super affordable. A bowl of noodles with a side dish of veggies will cost you between 50-70NTD. Places like these are abundant. There are also many “all you can eat” hot pot and Korean barbecue options. Kaohsiung people love to get a lot for a low price.
If you are heading out to a bar or club, you will be nicely surprised. Beers are between 80-180NTD at most. It is still rare to walk into a bar and pay over 200NTD for a draft. (That place probably wouldn’t get much business.) Club entrances on the weekend can cost between 200-400 NTD. And that includes 1 or 2 drinks!
The prices in Kaohsiung truly make it a nice option for a short or long term stay. It’s a nice home for English teachers who want to bank some money to pay off college loans. It also makes it an attractive place to start up a business.
Mandarin is spoken in Taiwan as in the rest of the country. However, you will see a big difference in the amount of Taiwanese used when compare to Taipei. Locals will speak Taiwanese with each other more often than not. This especially applies to the older generation. There are still non-Taiwanese speakers, but they are fewer than up north.
English is Kaohsiung is spoken more and more but is still a bit behind Taipei. As Kaohsiung is more of a “local Taiwanese” city, many people don’t see the international influence on the island. Taipei has the international companies and the large expat community, but Kaohsiung’s is much smaller. However, with each passing generation, more and more Kaohsiung young people are speaking up. It’s more and more common to have someone at a 7-11, Starbucks, or large supermarket have some English ability. However, finding an English speaker at a local place may be more difficult. But as all over Taiwan, the Taiwanese will give it their best shot and try to bring back all that English they learned in public school.
Street signs, MRT signs, and the train station all have English or an English Romanization of Chinese. English newspapers are available at most convenience stores.
Kaohsiung is quite a safe city and since its population and pace are more moderate, it may even be safer than Taipei. The city is open late and that means people are out on the streets. It is not uncommon to walk in a neighborhood in the early morning hours and feel completely safe. However, as with any place, one must remain careful and aware.
Taiwan does have its share of petty crime but as guns are illegal, violent offenses are rare. Most cases or violence or homicides occur between parties who know each other.
Drugs are illegal in Taiwan and punishment can be harsh. Being caught in involvement or even near involvement can result in a serious penalty. The drug trade is alive but is very underground.
Triads and gangsters are a part of the Taiwanese landscape. Kaohsiung is no exception. After living in Taiwan for a short period of time, one can point out a heavily tattooed member at close range. Generally, gangsters won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Most likely they are not spending time in your hangouts anyways. But at times, you may cross paths with some and you should be aware. For example, staring at their girlfriends or getting involved in an argument at a pub can result in serious injury to those involved. It’s best to mind your own business and they will mind theirs.
Traffic is a final caution to take in Kaohsiung. Although it’s not as busy and congested as Taipei, Kaohsiung people will still tend to ignore traffic rules and the occasional red light. This especially applies to scooters. Crossing the street can be dangerous and DO NOT think that you have the right of way just because you are a pedestrian. It’s wise to be extremely aware when crossing streets and check both directions several times. Make sure vehicles are stopped or not turning before you cross.
Kaohsiung City and Greater Kaohsiung boast a population of around 1.5 million. Although it’s a large number, Kaohsiung doesn’t have the congested feel of Taipei and actually can feel more like a large town at times. The population is spread out, the roads are wider with less traffic, and there really is no central office district that concentrates the working population. The idea of having some space in a large city makes Kaohsiung an attractive urban living environment.
Kaohsiung’s population is more family based but it’s also aging. A better economy and more jobs have made North Taiwan a more attractive location for the younger working crowd so Kaohsiung, as other parts of Taiwan, has been drained of a lot of working talent. It’s one reason while it’s less crowded and prices have remained very affordable for most. If you don’t mind not being in cosmopolitan Taipei, and you have a nice career, Kaohsiung can be a great place to raise a family.
While Taipei might be a bit more “stressed out” and “on the go”, Kaohsiung retains a much more laid back lifestyle. For a city of its size, Kaohsiung people are polite, friendly, and willing to help out in any way they can. There is more of an old Taiwanese feel in the city. It’s not uncommon to see people hanging out in parks drinking tea, riding bikes, playing chess, or walking the coast line during warm summer evenings. As the city changes, grows, and becomes more open to the world, the attitude of the people has remained the same.
With the addition of the Kaohsiung MRT, the Kaohsiung City government is taking steps to wean its people off its love of scooters. Scooters are abundant in Kaohsiung and because everything is 15-20 minutes from everything else, the dry weather , and a good traffic infrastructure, it doesn’t seem to be changing. The KMRT has a red line running north to south and an Orange Line running east to west. Compared to Taipei, the Kaohsiung subway will seem deserted. Mostly students and the elderly take advantage of it. This is mostly due to the fact that the lines don’t cover the entire city, and scooters are still an easier way to go. Nonetheless, when visiting or on a rainy day, the KMRT is a great convenience.
Taxis are also an inexpensive and quick choice for getting from place to place. There are plenty of yellow taxis around town and fares are reasonable since journeys are usually not that long.
Bicycle riding has also become a common means of transportation for many. Roads have a bit more space and the city has laid out bike paths all around the city. For bike enthusiasts and even weekend riders, bikes are an easy form of transportation around Kaohsiung.
The Taiwan High Speed Rail’s final stop is at the Tsoying station in North Kaohsiung. The THSR station links with the Red Line 16 KMRT stop and also links to the Taiwan railway system. It’s a convenient method for getting in and out of Kaohsiung.
The Kaohsiung International Airport is located in the southern part of Kaohsiung. The airport is the second largest in Taiwan, and is linked by the KMRT Red Line. The Kaohsiung airport does most short haul flights within Asia. Flights to other continents leave from Taipei’s CKS International Airport.
Kaohsiung has no shortage of hotels space for anyone’s budget. There are several top end hotel choices located in the central part of the city. Some have magnificent harbor views. The price range is from 80-200 USD for a weekend stay. They are quite affordable compared to other Asian cities. In addition many types of budget tourist hotels have been popping up all over Kaohsiung as old buildings have been given new life. They are usually smaller rooms, but clean and a good bargain.
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