Taiwans blossoming cultural city

Spring is in the air in Kaohsiung; well, metaphorically anyway. Taiwan’s second largest city is reinventing itself from an industrial port to a cultural hub. Warehouses by the harbour are morphing into galleries and theatres. World-class architecture is sprouting along the shore, from a beautiful public library to a spectacular concert venue that, when ready, should be among the best in Asia. Access to these waterfront gems is provided by a sleek Spanish-designed light-rail line, launching in phases.

Less conspicuous but no less significant, ‘culture buses’ are introducing sightseers to the many relics of the city’s distant and recent past. The cultural calendar is packed full of exciting new festivals, and young chefs are injecting fresh ideas into southern Taiwanese cooking.

Kaohsiung – a city of wide streets (some of the widest in Taiwan), long river parks and a thriving LGBT scene – will have even more to be hopeful about, as it awakens to its full potential and embraces a world of possibilities. Here are some of our picks for what to see and do in Kaohsiung as it continues to blossom into one of Asia’s most exciting urban centres.

 

Cultural renewal

The art-meets-industry formula works well at Pier-2 Art District. This ever-evolving collection of dozens of old warehouses is stuffed with boutiques, galleries, cafes and performance venues that line two sweeping boulevards by the port where ships are docked. The focus leans towards fashion, lifestyle, and other cultural bric-a-brac, though you will see some contemporary art and Pop Art-type sculptures decorating the lawns and walkways. Beyond the furthest warehouses are old train tracks overgrown with flowers where people fly kites and watch the sunset.

Known worldwide for its research on Austronesian art, Kaohsiung’s Museum of Fine Arts houses an impressive collection by Taiwan’s contemporary indigenous artists. Paintings, sculptures, and installations demonstrate a mastery of different styles and media, which renders the works not only interesting as art, but also as vehicles for shattering stereotypes of tribal people. Stellar works by non-indigenous artists from southern Taiwan are shown in a different gallery.

 

Ancient and modern spirituality

A ten-minute sail away from Kaohsiung is Cijin Island, where you can spend a day exploring fishing villages, swimming in the South China Sea, and gorging on seafood. A long strip of park hugging the west coast makes for delicious breeze-in-your-hair cycling. Cijin Tianhou Temple, founded in 1673, is Cijin’s spiritual heart and Kaohsiung’s oldest Mazu temple.