(CNN) — For too long, Kaohsiung has been known to the world as Taiwan’s largest port city — it’s time to give this attention-craving southern city the love it deserves.
Taiwan’s biggest night market, coolest metro station and unique temples entered through a dragon’ s mouth are just some of the features of cultured Kaohsiung.
“The weather is almost always good, the pace of life is slow and the city is free,” lifelong local and radio DJ Hugo Wu tells CNN. “Who would want to leave Kaohsiung?”
Biggest night market in Southeast Asia
Kaisyuan or Jin-Zuan? It’s a hot debate.
The rivalry between the two adjacent night markets began from the week they opened, only three days apart.
Both claim to be the biggest market in Taiwan.
Each has hundreds of night market stalls.
Kaisyuan boasts a 30,000-square-meter space with 300 stalls.
Jin-Zuan stretches 23,000 square meters but is packed with 500 stalls.
Jin-Zuan wins over fans with delicious beer shrimp, handmade, pan-fried noodles and luxury, lounge-like toilet facilities.
Kaisyuan wows night market goers with a mini Phra Phrom (four-faced Buddha) and Bin Bin lemon juice hand-squeezed by muscular vendors.
Both are gigantic — walking through either takes at least an hour.
Jin-Zuan is open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 5 p.m.- 2 a.m.
Kaisyuan is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 5 p.m.- 2 a.m.
Both are located on Kaisyuan 4th Road.
Fresh gourmet food
Gangshan District’s lamb hotpot, Moon World’s free-range chicken and Shin-Da Harbor and Cijin Island’s seafood — these are just the beginning of a long list of local Kaohsiung foods.
Locals love Meinong for authentic Hakka cuisine, such as sticky rice with pork wrapped in leaves.
Meixing Street (Meinong District’s main food street) is dotted with Hakka noodle shops called Ban tiao.
Old New Restaurant serves the best taro sago sweet soup from the Jiasian District.
The restaurant changes its menu daily using local specialties such as cuttlefish rice vermicelli, oyster soup and sashimi.
Taro and pork dumplings, aboriginal sausage and rice wine are aboriginal dishes made by various tribes in Kaohsiung.
Religious park where visitors exit from a tiger’s mouth
After the dozens of temples you may have visited in Asia, you may not be excited about another Buddhist/Taoist destination.
But Lotus Pond is a real attraction.
Officially opened in 1951 (some temples in the park are more than two centuries old), the Lotus Pond consists of a man-made lake with more than a dozen temples, pavilions and pagodas.
The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas are two seven-story pagodas guarded by crouching tiger and dragon statues.
Visitors enter through the dragon’s mouth into a tunnel (inside the dragon’s body) with walls embellished with carvings. Visitors exit via the mouth of the tiger for good luck.
Lotus Pond is a man-made lake surrounded by more than a dozen temples, pavilions and pagodas.
Taiwan’s prettiest metro station
The Formosa Boulevard Station in Kaohsiung is the most beautiful metro station in Taiwan, if not the world.
The three-story station was designed by Japanese architect Takamatsu Shin.
The above-ground glass entrance is designed to resemble a pair of hands clasped in prayer.
But the real treasure is underground — the 2,180-square-meter Dome of Light, a glass mural built into the ceiling of the station.
The colorful ceiling was created by American-Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.
It’s the largest such glass installation in the world.
Quagliata also built the Dome of Light for Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs.
The Formosa Boulevard station is one of the most beautiful metro stops in the world.
Public artwork — usually enormous — is everywhere to be seen at Pier-2 Art Center, formerly a warehouse complex located near the harbor.
Labor and Fisherwoman are the cartoon-like statues found throughout the park, each with a different outfit created by various artists.
Heartbeats Light is a pillar with a light display synced with human heartbeats.
Non-KingKong Group features a troop of 16 steel giants standing in front of the harbor.
On a spacious lawn in front of the warehouses are more over-sized artworks, including two eerie lizards crouching on a train.
“Founded and funded by the government’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs, Pier-2 is unique in that it doesn’t have to be commercialized to survive,” says Sunny Jein, head of Pier-2 operation center.
Pier-2 Art Center, 1 Dayong Road, Yancheng District, Kaohsiung; open Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Indoor attractions at Pier-2
At Pier-2 Art Center, warehouses have become art spaces housing different exhibitions.
Others have been turned into stylish coffee shops and theaters.
In Our Time is a gallery/restaurant/live music house/radio station. Diners can oversee the in-house web radio station from the restaurant, which also stocks a large collection of international beers and local teas.
The Wall Pier-2 is a roofless concert venue.
Bandon Grocery Store is an adorable zakka store where travelers can make their own notebooks.
Moon World and other day trips
The northern side of Kaohsiung is known for Tianliao, a stretch of heavily eroded hillside.
The rugged, treeless mountains add a surreal accent to the area around Kaohsiung.
Lan Yue Lou (Embrace the Moon Pavilion) is an attraction in the middle of the mountains.
Meinong attracts visitors with colorful flower beds (in January) and Hakka cuisine.
Cishan Island is known for well preserved old streets. Travelers here can rent a bicycle and tour the island, which is famed for fresh seafood, three-century old Mazu Temple and a warm beach.
Moon World, Yueqiu Road, Chongde Village, Tianliao District, Kaohsiung
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2014. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.