Southern Taiwan is truly a world apart. It’s a lush, tropical land of pineapple groves, betel nut and sugar cane plantations and crumbling fishing villages. The balmy weather is tempered by refreshing sea breezes and unspoiled forests roll gently into sun-kissed beaches.
The bustling capital of Taiwan may be in the north, but it’s the south of this captivating island that is the historic heart. The city of Tainan, the oldest in Taiwan, dates back some 300 years and was the capital of the country for two centuries until the late 19th century. Though it began life as a Dutch trading post, the city is the hub of Taiwanese culture and visitors will be immersed in traditional architecture, famous temples and dilapidated military ruins.
The city also has an incredible food scene with the best snack food in Taiwan – a huge claim in a nation that prides itself on its street food. Visitors will find more uniquely Taiwanese dishes on offer than anywhere else in the country. Don’t miss a visit to the Ten Drum Cultural Village in a quiet forested area on the city outskirts. Created by the Ten Drum Percussion Group so you can see incredible musical performances in a grand historic setting.
Moving from the ancient to the modern, the huge port city of Kaohsiung is the second largest in the country and a bustling centre for trade and heavy industry. Look beyond that and you’ll find an appealing, modern landscape of wide streets lined with outdoor cafes, waterside parkland, cultural attractions and swimming beaches, all surrounded by almost 2,500 acres of pristine forest. The city is an interesting mix of urban glamour and laid-back beach cool, and the ships that arrive daily from all over the world make for an ever-changing international buzz.
The Pier 2 Art Centre is a great example of Kaohsiung’s industrial renewal. An abandoned warehouse has been transformed into a vibrant arts hub, hosting world-class exhibitions and festivals throughout the year. And while public transport isn’t usually an artistic drawcard, the city’s Formosa Boulevard Station is easily one of the most beautiful in the world. The station is known as the Dome of Light for its enormous glass work, the largest in the world, designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata. Made up of 4,500 coloured glass panels, the art work covers 2,180 square metres.
Shoppers can also enjoy themselves at the new Taroko Park, a huge mall and sports-themed amusement park that opened in Kaohsiung in early 2016. It’s the largest mall in Taiwan and is expected to draw around 12 million visitors each year. Covering close to 100,000 square metres this exciting venue combines shopping, dining, recreation and sports under the one roof, with more than 200 local and international fashion brands.
The scenic Lotus Lake in the north of Kaohsiung gives a small insight into a time when this city moved at a more sedate pace. The lake is in the historic Zuoying district, which was a walled city during the Qing Dynasty and was the home of many Nationalist Chinese who retreated after the Communist takeover of the mainland. A winding path circles the lake and is a popular spot for a walk or bike ride, or to simply sit and relax. The surrounding area is dotted with eight busy temples including the two Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, where you enter the temple through the dragon’s mouth and leave through the tiger’s mouth.
For a blissful beach break, you can’t go past Taiwan’s loveliest section of coast. Pingtun is the southernmost county of Taiwan, around 50 kilometres south of Kaohsiung, and is made up largely of forest and national park. In the far south of the county, right on the island’s narrow ‘tail’, is the beautiful Kenting Beach. With white sand, blue water and good weather all year round it’s a little known piece of paradise.