Erm, does anyone know the Taiwanese word for chiropractor as I think I’m going to need one. My head is swivelling in every direction. I’m surrounded by possibly the largest amount of huge street art murals in one place I’ve ever seen in my life – and I don’t know what to take a picture of first.
You might not expect this of Kaohsiung – Taiwan’s third-biggest city located about a two hour’s fast train ride south of Taipei.
After all, when you start to look up facts on the city, its main claim up until now has been that it’s Taiwan’s biggest port, but I didn’t see any ships here and I did see a whole lot of street art, sculpture and other cool arty stuff so, maybe it’s about time we rewrote some things.
If you’re into street art, sculptures and cool, creative buildings here’s what should be on your Kaohsiung must-see list.
Street Art in the Lingya District
Let’s start with the area that started my head swivelling…the Lingya District.
You get here by taking the orange line to Weiwuying station. Come out of exit 5 and turn away from the arts centre (see below) to look up Jianjun Road, you’ll be faced with your first incredible mural – an entire library of art, fashion and fiction books complete with a sleepy cat.
Around six metres high and spanning an entire building it’s an incredible work and I spent ages reading the book titles.
And this is just your starter for ten.
Follow the road north though and the real display of Kaohsiung street art starts – at first it’s small pieces, some goldfish on a shed, a frog and a deer on a small building, an intricate dollar bill hidden down an alley – but then, the murals begin cloaking the entire front of the nearby apartments.
Koi carp swirl around three joined up blocks, while their neighbours are decorated with what looks like the cast of Finding Nemo. Around another block are giant birds, schools of jellyfish or a majestic stag.
You’re immersed in a world of colour and simply don’t know where to look next.
Every alley has a different style, a different size, a different colour scheme. If one mural isn’t your thing, walk down another road and you’ll find one you love.
Many of the works are done by a team of artists known as the Wallriors.
Founded in 2016, this group of local artists are (in their words), ‘determined to promote street art development in Taiwan, old and new communities change the environment through street art, redefine the connectivity of art and life, and organize members team by a group of art creators.’
One of their biggest projects to date has been this old residential area in Lingya District which they painted in 2017 and 2018 – so some of the works are super new.
With so much art around it’s hard to catch the names of every artist – but there’s work by Le Ho who loves to paint animals (and is the man behind the koi mural), there’s Candy Bird, an artist I also spotted in Penang recognisable by his figures of people with round faces and pointy noises and Mr Ogay whose little potato-like man is also found on many walls in Taipei.
The Wallriors don’t just paint in Lingya – I saw isolated murals cropping up all over Kaohsiung city.
If you want to find out where their latest work is, or, catch them in action check out their Facebook page where they post pictures of their works in progress.
You’ll also find the work of international artists in the area like Belgian artist Adele Renault who loves to paint birds and Korean J Flow who is responsible for a blue building covered with faces.
The National Centre for the Performing Arts
Weiweyung is also home to the incredible, spaceship-like, National Centre for the Performing Arts.
This in itself is an architecture lovers dream and you should have a good wander around the outside – and within – before or after your street art hunting.
The Centre has just been named one of Time Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places in 2019 and it really is quite incredible.
The land used to be a military base but now houses concert halls and public event stages inside this colossal curved space. It’s free to explore inside and outside, you only need to pay to attend an actual event inside.
If that sounds up your street and you are interested in seeing what’s on during your stay, then here’s where you’ll find a list of all performances.
Pier 2 Art Centre
The other major area for street art in Kaohsiung is Pier 2 Art Centre. This is on the radar of most tourists as it’s one of the main things to do in Kaohsiung and suggested in every guide to the city – and nope you shouldn’t miss it.
If you love street art – be that murals, tagging or weird sculptures that have ‘sit in me and take pictures for Instagram’ – written all over them this will be your happy place.
It spirals out from a heap of different warehouses – most of the mural based art is concentrated on the walls of the building itself, but the whole area culminates in a green grassy space with some mindblowing huge artworks dotted among the grass.
Like Lingya you’re going to run your phone battery out in this place taking pictures – I went back twice and I’m still not sure I caught everything there was to see.
Some of the standout works were these cute murals which integrate the street utility boxes into their design, the huge sculptures in the park and this circle of old chairs that are hidden away right at the start of the area near the Sunny Hills pineapple cake shop.
One word of advice though – if you want to enjoy the art without hundreds of other people surrounding you – go in the week if at all possible.
We went just after lunch on a Friday and there were a handful of other people around – come Sunday afternoon, the place was heaving with weekend trippers and locals admiring all the cool displays.
We went to this old naval communications centre, officially named The Imperial Japanese Navy Fongshan Wireless Communications Centre, mostly because my partner is a geek for bits of dangerous-looking wire and old electrical equipment – and there were a few bits of those left inside here – but it’s also surrounded by walls full of street art.
It’s far more understated than the other areas – the art is confined to small panels about 2 metres long and 1 metre high that are attached to the walls, but there’s a lot of different styles and artists to check out.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information that I can find on who painted there and why but it’s still a cool place to stop.
Take the time to wander around the buildings that are left while you’re there. While it didn’t have quite as much wire and old equipment as The Boyfriend was hoping for, it’s still got a cool old partly derelict vibe.
It’s closed on a Monday and open 9-5 the other six days. The nearest metro is Fongshan Junior High School. It’s a short walk from there past a little market and some shops and restaurants. Wear insect repellant – the mosquitos in the building with the blast doors right at the back of the site are brutal.
By the end of my visit to this island just off the coast of Kaohsiung, I’d nicknamed this place Instagram island.
Half the people here on the ferry are here to eat the delicious fresh seafood the island is famous for, the other half is coming to take photos with the remarkable sculptures that just seem to be randomly placed on the beach.
From the colourful cube to a giant seashell people form queues to get their perfect snapshot with the giant creations.
Just left of this picture is a line of about 20 people all waiting to get their shot inside the cube. I snapped mine in between photo sessions. If you want to be in your pic and don’t want to queue you’re going to need to get there super early.
The sculptures are a bit of a walk along the beach so, you might want to jump on board one of the double bikes you can pedal around. It’s not that it’s really far, but it was very hot – and we did kind of regret not pedalling about 12 minutes into our stroll.
You get the ferry to Cijiin from Gushan ferry port. It costs $25 NTD per journey and takes ten minutes to reach the island. The easiest way to pay is via an Easycard which means you can just tap on at the port.
There’s no official time table, the ferries run regularly throughout the day. They’re about every five minutes during morning hours, every 15 minutes during the day.
The 3D Rooftop
I didn’t get to this as I only discovered it the day before we are leaving and you have to make an appointment – but, apparently, there some absolutely incredible looking 3D Trick Art murals on the top of the headquarters of a bed company close to Dream Mall
Its called Time and Space City. To get up there you have to book a tour of the company HQ and then after they have done the corporate bit, you get let loose to play on the murals.
It’s very hard to find information on it in English online. This post by Travel in Asia is the only post I’ve found explaining it all – and the link on there leads to you to the reservation page.
If you use google translate, it’s pretty easy to fill in – or, ask someone at your hotel to help as you need to book your visit in advance.
Formosa Boulevard Station
Wall to wall primary colours greets you as you enter the ticket hall of this underground station as its home to an amazing piece of art – The Dome of Light.
Created by artist Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata is one of the largest glass artworks in the world. Made of 4500 glass panels, covers over 660 square metres and took over four years to complete.
It’s located the main ticket concourse and as you stand admiring all the colours, take a few minutes to marvel at how on earth it was constructed without cracking anything.
The station is at the intersection of the red and orange lines and so there’s a good chance you will go through it at some point – if not, make a special trip, it’s definitely one of the most impressive sights in Kaohsiung.
Another ceiling it’s worth checking out is the one at Kaohsiung KSR Station, it’s pretty space age.
Lastly, if you like your art in museums as well as climbing up the walls of urban houses, you might also want to add the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Art to your itinerary. The building alone is worth a look but they also showcase the best of Asian art and have regular international exhibitions.
So, those are the main areas to check out if you’re into all things arty in Kaohsiung but do keep your eyes peeled as there are cool murals and odd little statues all over the city. I really loved the place and wish I’d had more time to explore areas further out – and we were there for five days so it wasn’t exactly a flying visit. Do not underestimate its appeal.
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