The southern city of Kaohsiung (高雄; Gāoxióng) is Taiwan's largest port, its second-largest city and center of the country's heavy and petrochemical industries.
Today's Kaohsiung has largely been transformed from grim industrial warrens into a modern urban landscape of airy cafes, wide streets, waterside parks, public transport, bicycle lanes, and cultural venues that have embraced the manufacturing past. There are also two swimming beaches within the city area, and 1000 hectares of almost-pristine forest right on its doorstep.
When in Taiwan, you will most certainly be amazed at the diversity of things this beautiful island has to offer, as a rich historical background has provided Taiwan with a multifaceted culture. People from many different places and backgrounds, such as Taiwan's indigenous people, the southern Fujianese from early China, Hakka immigrants, the Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and the recent immigrants from mainland China, have all played a role in Taiwan's development. While gradually developing a new culture indigenous to Taiwan, they also hold on to their respective customs and traditions; as a result, you will be able to sample indigenous, Taiwanese, and Chinese cultures and even find traces left by the Dutch and the Japanese when traveling in Taiwan.
Located over a degree to the south of the Tropic of Cancer, the climate of Kaohsiung is tropical, specifically a tropical savanna climate (Köppen Aw), with monthly mean temperatures in the range of between 20 to 29 °C (68 to 84 °F) .The humid summer season lasts from May to October. November to February can be cooler, particularly at night. Typically, apartments and commercial buildings do not have heat, which leads to the days feeling chillier than you might expect, especially if you are on a scooter! Often people use space heaters for colder nights. From March or April it begins to get warmer, but it is not as humid as in the summer. Typhoons often occur from June to October. The east coast and northern section of Taiwan receive most of the effects of the typhoons with a storm occasionally passing through the southern portion.
Taiwan has national health insurance for all residents and international employees. The metropolitan area of Kaohsiung contains over 90 hospitals and 1,178 medical clinics, providing a total of 9,186 beds. There are many health care providers who speak English. Medical and dental care is excellent and unbelievably inexpensive! Most prescriptions can be obtained through the national health insurance.
Taiwan’s economy is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and one of the strongest in Asia. Currently, the gross national product (GNP) per capita is over 3 times China’s annual GNP per capita. The currency used in Taiwan is New Taiwan dollars (NT$) and the exchange rate has been very stable at approximately 30 NT$ to 1 US$. Personal checks are not used in Taiwan; credit cards or cash, which can be accessed through numerous ATM machines, without daily limited amounts, are frequently used in Taiwan for all purchases
Kaohsiung City has numerous shopping opportunities: day and night markets, where one can find great bargains; beautiful, modern 10-15 story department stores (more than 10 major ones); and countless boutiques. Dream Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in Taiwan, opened in March 2008. In 2010, E-Da World, a shopping and entertainment complex incorporating luxury hotels, an amusement park, and Asia's largest outlet mall, was opened across the street from the I-Shou International School campus. Most well known brands of clothing and shoes can be found here, as well as in all department stores throughout the city. Ikea and Costco are popular places to buy household items, although local, family-owned stores are plentiful and often offer good deals.
The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but in southern Taiwan, Taiwanese and Hakka are spoken, as are various aboriginal languages. Even though English is considered the second official language, less than 20% of the Kaohsiung population is able to communicate in English. Recently, there has been increased emphasis on learning English in the public schools, and the results are evident. With a combination of English and Google Translate, you can get by day to day without knowing any Chinese in Kaohsiung.
Food assumes such an elevated status in Kaohsiung that people often greet each other with a friendly, “chir bao le mei”, which literally means, “Have you eaten yet?” While not an invitation to dine, the inquiry confirms food as the source for overall well being. Guided by climate and lifestyle, the Kaohsiung palate is both practical and conservative. Cafeteria or buffet style service is preferred, and simple street side settings are most popular. However, there are several establishments that serve international fare and full-course dinners.
Meals served in a Chinese fashion are usually one dish at a time, in which all would share. Some of the international cuisines available in Kaohsiung are Italian, French, German, Tex-Mex, Japanese, Thai, and many others. Typical Chinese cuisine is quite different in Taiwan.
Besides excellent restaurants, there are numerous familiar Western eating establishments and coffeehouses: McDonald's, KFC, Subway, Starbucks, and many wonderful bakeries.
Multiple floor housing complexes dominate the community. Within each complex there is a common area for limited recreation and/or entertainment. Most apartments are well designed given the size, with a good amount of cupboards, drawers and built in furniture. Furnished apartments include basic living, dining and bedroom furniture and kitchen appliances such as a refrigerator, stove top and dish dryer. A microwave and toaster oven will most likely not be included. Kitchens do not typically include dishwashers or ovens. I-Shou IS teachers are offered assistance in locating suitable accommodations, and a housing allowance is provided to those hired overseas. The housing allowance, on average, covers between 70-100% of monthly rental expenses.
Many people own cars, but bicycles, buses, motorcycles, scooters and taxis are the principal forms of transport. Trains and buses are typically used for traveling longer distances. Taiwan’s public transportation is among the best in Asia. Translation cards will be helpful to give to taxi drivers. A valid driver’s license is required for operating a vehicle in Taiwan. Check with your home country Representative Office for current regulations and testing procedures.
International driver’s licenses are accepted.
Insurance coverage is only provided to those holding a valid license or official endorsement. Driver’s license testing is provided in Kaohsiung; and a driver’s test manual is available in English.
Taxi Service: You can hail a taxi on the street or have your apartment guard call one for you. Charges are NT $85 for the first 1.5 km. and NT $5 for each additional 250 meters. Taxis leaving Kaohsiung airport add NT$50 to the metered fare and charge extra for oversize luggage.
Kaohsiung, and Taiwan in general, is very safe! There are virtually no “bad areas” of town, and violent crime is nearly non-existent. That being said, with a population of more than two million, it is best to exercise the same caution you would in any large city.
Sightseeing and Attractions
There are many things to do in Kaohsiung City and nearby areas. For those looking for cultural activities, there is the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts with outdoor sculpture grounds; the Cultural Center, which provides musical tours, plays, and symphonies; the Kaohsiung History Museum, containing a small collection of artifacts and paintings; and many beautiful and historic Buddhist, Confucius, and Taoist temples – some combining elements of all three.
There is also a Science and Technology Museum and the Kaohsiung Zoo. The Zoo contains more than 100 species of rare and wonderful animals from all over the world. In addition, shaded pathways lead to a number of quaint temples and shrines hidden amidst the forests.
Kaohsiung Lantern Festival: At the end of Chinese New Year, near the Kaohsiung harbor and along the Love River, the Kaohsiung Lantern Festival is filled with a variety traditional lanterns and more modern light sculptures, nightly fireworks shows, Taiwanese food stands and other art programs and live concerts.
Urban Spotlight: Located at the corner of Central Park, Urban Spotlight is a cafe with a stage where local live bands perform in the evening. Take a walk around Central Park then stop at the cafe to cool off.
Night Markets: Night markets play a significant role in Taiwanese culture, and Kaohsiung is home to some of the biggest and most vibrant markets in the world. Known for their unique food, clothing and game stalls, these markets, which are scattered throughout the city, are truly an experience you can’t afford to miss.
Lotus Lake/Lotus Pond (尾北里): Take a walk or bike around Lotus Lake. The lake is surrounded by temples, some of which have built out onto the lake. Of note are the Dragon-Tiger Pavilion and Spring Autumn Pavilion, as well as Taiwan's largest Confucius temple. During the day the lake is surrounded with stalls selling food, drinks and trinkets. Across the street from the Dragon-Tiger Pavilion is a Taiwanese puppet shop that's worth a look. Just south of the lake is one of the restored gates of the Old Wall of Fongshan, built in 1826. A few blocks down on Shengli Road is the North Gate, the best-preserved of the three. On the other side of the gate is a new park and the Military Dependents' Museum, which features many vintage Taiwanese household items. Another attraction at lotus pond is the wakeboarding park "Lotus Wakepark". Take at least half a day to really enjoy this activity, relax after some rounds of wakeboarding in their restaurant Wakey Wakey with some international food or enjoy a cocktail and live music in the evening.