Taiwan's second biggest city is a fascinating mishmash of Buddhist ethics, outlandish nature and surprising art
Biggest night market in Southeast Asia
Deep-fried cuttlefish with salt and pepper, sunglasses not included.
Taiwan's biggest night market, sexiest restaurant and coolest metro station -- these are just some of the superlatives to heap upon Kaohsiung.
As lifelong Kaohsiunger and radio DJ Hugo Wu tells CNN: "The weather is almost always good, the pace of life is slow and the city is free. Who would want to leave Kaohsiung?"
Always colorful, always up late.
Kaisyuan or Jin-Zuan?
It’s been the hottest debate in Kaohsiung since last summer.
The rivalry between Kaisyuan and Jin-Zuan -- two adjacent night markets -- began from the week they opened, only three days apart.
Both claim to be the biggest market in Southeast Asia.
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.
At Old New Restaurant, the three fixed-price menus change daily.
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.
Enter the dragon's mouth for good fortune, exit from the tiger's mouth to banish bad luck.
After the dozens 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 a man-made lake with more than a dozens 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.
You might blush when ordering the chocolate pudding.
Diners flock to Funny Sex Restaurant to giggle rather than to eat.
Living up to its name, Funny Sex Restaurant is a humorous and erotic place to hang out -- the chocolate pudding comes in the shape of a penis.
“Our founder spent a long time collecting the erotic objects in the restaurant,” says manager Chen Yu-qi. “It’s not easy to choose, as they have to be decorative and not repulsive.”
Apart from dozens of sexualized miniature figures, the most embarrassing decorations include a custom-ordered two-meter-long wooden penis shrine and soap dispenser shaped like a pair of breasts.
There's also a blow up doll hanging about.
“We’ll let her (the sex doll) join a table to lighten the atmosphere while customers are waiting for food,” says Chen.
“A lot of our guests have heard of these sex toys, but they’ve never really touched them. It’s a good and fun learning experience for them.”
Informative posters list average breast and penis sizes for different nationalities.
Funny Sex Restaurant, 2/F, 446 Zhongshan Road, Lingya District, Kaohsiung; +886 7 333 6598; open Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday and public holidays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Serene as an Italian cathedral. When not filled with commuters. Click to experience Kaohsiung
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.
Non-KingKong Group at Pier-2 Art Center.
Public artwork -- usually enormous -- is everywhere to be seen at Pier-2, 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.
In Our Time has more than 200 types of imported beer.
At Pier 2, 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.
Coastal Bar starred in a popular Taiwanese crime TV drama as a gangster's lair. The setting remains the same as the TV set, but the better area is an al fresco strip behind the bar by the sea.
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 is known for its lack of trees.
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
Hugu Wu and his Ironman figure.
A year ago, superhero lover and lottery shop owner Tong Young-wu was looking to buy an Ironman figure, only to be startled by the price.
“It was TWD180,000 (about $6,000) so I thought I could just build one myself,” says Tong.
“It’s a long process. You’ve got to find a mannequin that resembles a superhero's face before styling its hair and putting on makeup.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about different materials. For example, the armor shoulder pads are actually made from a cut-open piggy bank and Cat Woman’s outfit is actually taken from my girlfriend’s wardrobe.”
Tong's superhero family currently has eight members, excluding the two tall robots at the door.
After the installation of the superhero figures, the lottery shop's business increased 30%.
Travelers are welcome to stop by and take pictures with the figures.
Taiwan Lottery, 52 Binhai 1st Road, Gushan District, Kaohsiung
Kaohsiung wasn't only the first stop for Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman's inflatable Rubber Duck in Taiwan. The Kaohsiung duck is the only one that survived the entire exhibition. Taoyuan's Rubber Duck deflated after an earthquake; Keelung's Rubber Duck burst on New Year's Eve.
Hofman was persuaded to bring his Rubber Duck to Kaohsiung thanks to the city's tremendous enthusiasm for the unusual display.
During the month the Rubber Duck was docked in Kaohsiung, it brought 3.9 million visitors to the venue.
Hiufu Wong is CNN Travel's staff writer.
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