I always enjoy strolling around small heritage cities, that’s why when asked about travel suggestions, I always mention places like Gyeongju in South Korea, Pingyao in China, Melacca in Malaysia and of course, Vigan in the Philippines. So it was a must for me to go to Tainan, Taiwan’s oldest city.
Located southwest of Taiwan, Tainan is a well-known destination for its temples and ancient buildings that has been a witness to almost 200 years of history. What makes it attractive to travelers like me is its rich culture that can be observed through the colonial buildings scattered around the city and its variety of snacks and street food.
|Good morning from Tainan!|
HOW TO GET TO TAINAN
Bus is the easiest and cheapest option when you want to transfer from one city to another. But for ease of mind, I chose to go by train this time since I did not have any idea what the bus schedule was. TRA fares from Kaohsiung to Tainan range at about 80-100 NTD and one way trip takes about an hour only.
There’s also the THSR if you don’t mind spending a bit more and is helpful if you want to save more time especially if you are coming from Taipei. If you leave Taipei at around 5 or 6 AM, then the two-hour THSR trip would be beneficial for your schedule, especially if you only have a day to spare.
|Tainan Railway Station|
Tainan is relatively a small city so no subways have been developed yet as of writing. If you will be traveling with a big group, it might be nice to hire a van to hop from one place to another. But another advantage of its compact size is that most places of interest are quite close to each other so you can get around by walking or by bus, and by the way, you can still use Easycard here which is pretty useful if you don’t like carrying cash.
There is also a tourist information booth just outside Tainan Railway Station so you can ask about directions and recommended itineraries. Very helpful staff! Lots of brochures too that can keep you busy while you are waiting for the bus to arrive. The city also has a weekend tourist bus service (#88 and #99), while helpful, has only limited trips but goes around the top destinations in Tainan.
TIP: Tainan also has free wi-fi, especially around the touristy spots. I was also able to connect to iTaiwan at times, so I had no problems connecting to Google Maps.
|Free wi-fi in Tainan, yey!|
THINGS TO DO
I was able to catch an early train from Kaohsiung and got on the 9AM bus ride to Anping, a significant district known for being the oldest harbor in the country, serving as gateway to Taiwan during the Dutch occupation. Bus #2 is most likely the bus you need if you are going to Anping District 安平 from the TRA station. I started my walking tour at Tainan Canal for a refreshing view of nature before I start my busy day.
I walked towards an old Japanese style house 台鹽日式宿舍, I forgot to take note of its name and looked it up at Google Maps but it seems like there’s no proper name to it. If you want to try out some yukatas and do a photo shoot, they have it here for rent here.
Just a couple of meters away is the Former Julius Mannich Merchant House 東興洋行. Unfortunately, it was not open when I was there so I was not able to look around. Julius Mannich was a German trader specializing in sugar and camphor. It was then transformed into Anping District Office when the merchant stopped operating in Tainan.
One of Anping’s highly visited destinations is the Tait & Co Merchant House. Just like the previous site I visited, this used to be a residence of foreign traders in Taiwan. Currently, it has been turned into a museum documenting the life of Tainan locals during the colonial period.
Also located inside the same compound is Anping Treehouse 安平樹屋, which used to be an old warehouse for Tait & Company and the Japan Salt Company. These massive banyan trees conquered the area when it was abandoned after World War II. This is a pretty unique place and not what you’d imagine when the word ‘treehouse’ is mentioned. It’s surely fascinating being surrounded by enormous branches, it seemed like the branches can reach you anytime and snatch you from your companions!
|this reminds me of Sadako escaping from the television|
|Tainan's Taro Balls! To be honest, I tried it because I was so attracted by the colors, but it's pretty good and a perfect treat when it's hot in Anping|
I got lost walking around the Old Streets of Anping. Lots of interesting houses and small markets, it’s like a small maze where you walk up into an alley and stumble upon something that would pique your curiosity.
|a unique wall art I spotted while roaming around Anping|
One of the best sights in this district is the Anping Old Fort 安平古堡 or Fort Zeelandia. Built by the Dutch in 1624 until 1634 and was later on vacated to pave way for Koxinga, who made a residential place for him and his son. The original structure has then been destroyed due to natural calamities, and only a small part of the wall can be seen today. There’s a lively market that encircles the fort so I was able to sample some more street snacks (but mostly just eat more desserts).
|the only remaining section of the fort's original structure|
Another nearby attraction is the Tianhou Temple 天后宫, dedicated to Mazu, the Chinese sea goddess (thus the temple might be called Grand Mazu Temple in some English blogs). It was constructed after Koxinga’s successful invasion after the Dutch around late 1660s making it one of the oldest in Tainan.
|see anything unusual? will give a reward for those with good eye to detail jk :P|
|I saw a fish museum (?) in Tainan.. odd|
|I think this is a Tibetan Buddhist temple, but there was no one around so I wasn't sure if I could go in|
Don’t follow my lead and be fooled by its name, but I went to the Eternal Golden Castle 億載金城expecting an actual castle. I’m not gonna lie, I got a bit disappointed to find that it was just another fortress, but still a beautiful one nonetheless. I guess the moat adds to its charm and paddle boats can be rented as well if you’re looking for another activity to do. However, I am not sure if it was worth the time since I had to wait almost an hour just for a bus to arrive.
|so, this is it? where's the castle? :||
|there was a dramatization going on but it was all in Chinese|
A quick segue to my favorite hobby.. finding random street art! Here's some unexpected finds while en route to my next destination. I'm super stoked that I stumbled upon some hand-painted movie posters, who would have thought there are still people who make these? It was in a theater called Chuan Mei Theather 全美戲院 and made by painter Yan Jhen-fa. I had no idea it was a big deal until I saw some articles online while writing this post. I love seeing these random cultural treasures! By the way, this cinema is still old school through and through, down to the tickets and theater seats.
|This is so cool! It's so easy to just print out movie posters but to paint them intricately.. that's another story|
|seems like there was a religious event? Lots of food offerings and the streets were so busy!|
It took me a while to finally track my next destination, Tainan Grand Mazu Temple 大天后宮, which is another temple devoted to goddess Mazu. It was originally built to be a palace by Koxinga for Zhu Shugui, the prince of Ningjing. When the prince ended his own life together with his five concubines joining him, the building was decided to be transformed into a temple. It was a busy time when I arrived there, so I was not able to explore its entirety but, I happened to catch a performance by a group of women performing a dance exhibition with lots of body bending moves.
|a religious shrine which people use for festivals. in Japan, they call it mikoshi but no idea what it is called in Mandarin|
|awesome contortionists. I am so envious of that girl who could do a one arm handstand|
Another impressive sight in Tainan is the Chikan Tower 赤崁樓, also called Fort Provintia (not to be confused by Fort Zeelandia). Built by the Dutch in 1653, it used to be called by the Chinese as “The Tower of Red-haired Barbarians” during the colonization period. After Koxinga drove the invaders away, it was used for different purposes such as the governor’s residence and an army hospital, and was reconstructed from its wooden form to its modern appearance. I was able to chance upon a procession after I got out of the tower, I am not sure if there was a religious festival (since nothing showed up when I looked it up online), I guess I got lucky to witness this pretty cool event.
|tea ceremony in Chikan Tower|
|so there was indeed a festival?!|
I got lost, finally. It was when I was looking for these old foreign looking buildings and have probably missed it, but good riddance, since I managed to see more street art (yay!) Hai An Road 海安路 boasts of trendy restaurants, chic shops and cheap mom-and-pop diners, you just have to look hard to find them in this area. As you walk along the alleyways, you’d notice some art installations here and there. I was reminded of our visit in Penang, where street art works are dime a dozen too.
|I'd love to have this as painted in my room!|
I'm a big fan of colonial architecture in Asia, so I'm happy to know that Tainan has lots of them. Aside from the merchant houses in Anping, I was also able to see more beautiful buildings located within the heart of the city. One of them is the National Museum of Taiwan Literature 國立台灣文學館, which previously served as the Old Tainan Prefecture Hall during Japanese occupation. It absolutely stands out since it is situated in the busy Minsheng traffic circle, and it is well-lit at night which is a marvelous sight to check out. The building was designed by Moriyama Matsunosuke who is also responsible for the layout of the Presidential Office Building of Taipei.
|some girls prepping for a photoshoot|
Another important landmark with a European-style architecture is the Old Tainan District Courthouse 台南地方法院. I have read that the building is already deserted and plans to renovate it into a museum are in the works. I hope they push through with this, because it would be a waste if not.
On my way looking for the bus stop back to the train station, I stumbled upon Tainan’s Confucius Temple 臺灣孔廟. It was already closed when I arrived there but this is a peaceful area where one can internalize and practice tai chi.
Just across the temple is another one of Tainan’s oldest streets called FuzhongStreet 府中街. Lots of restos and small shops, may be worth your time if you are around the area.
It seemed like I was able to do everything, and I even managed to take about 40,000 steps that day! And yet I forgot to look for a night market in Tainan. Some of the suggested ones are Taiwan Flower Night Market and Dadong Night Market which can be reached by mass transpo. Too bad I was not able to check this out.
I highly recommend Tainan, even if you could only spare a day or two. It’s a wonderful city filled with attractive sights and dishes to try, you will surely not get bored. I suggest spending more time though so you can immerse yourself with the local culture and try out more unique snacks!