Amongst many of my friends, even those that live in Asia, a trip to Taiwan has merited only a brief few days in Taipei. For those that have stayed a little longer, the whispers of Tainan’s charm has drawn them to venture south and explore this incredible city.
Tainan’s history is an interesting one and this accounts for a lot of its architecture. It was occupied by the Dutch during the 1600s and was once the capital of this little island, before the Japanese moved it to Taipei. As such, walking down its streets can equate to walking down a long road from China, to Japan and then to Holland. Expats tend to fall in love with this city, myself included, because of its rich cultural heritage, its beautiful temples and its seemingly forever sunny weather.
But there is one other thing that attracts locals and expats alike to this city and that’s quite simply the food. Tainan is rumoured to have the best food in Taiwan and the sweetest food throughout the whole of Asia. In fact, Tainan’s occupants hold the prize for the highest rate of diabetes in the whole of Taiwan and once you have a chopstickful of anything on any given street, you’ll immediately understand why. In fact, I have multiple friends dotted around Taiwan originally from Tainan and upon telling them I was going, the first thing every one of them did was send me a list of things to eat and where to find them.
Tainan does have an airport that runs a few international flights but sadly those won’t get you very far unless you’re coming from the likes of Hong Kong or southern China. Fortunately, Taiwan’s west coast has excellent transport routes. From Northern cities, you can reach Tainan via the HSR, note that the hsr station requires you to transfer into the city, local trains or buses. The choice is yours.
Sadly, once you’ve actually arrived in Tainan the transport situation gets a little more difficult. If your Chinese is good then the buses go to most of the tourist sites. In fact, most of Tainan’s cultural district is within walking distance, but given that it’s really quite hot down there, your easiest and least sweaty bet is to hire yourself a scooter and explore. It’s not difficult to find one, in fact you’ll probably get harassed to get one the moment you step out of the station and most of the scooter shops are located around the central station anyway. We managed to get one for 400NTD for the two days, which is a pretty excellent deal – don’t be afraid to bargain over it. (Again, if you have some Chinese, the bargaining will be a lot more convincing).
What to do
Tainan steals the hearts of expats because it’s old and it has a lot of cool temples and buildings to gaze at as you meander its streets hands equipped with bubble tea. It’s the perfect combination of old culture and trendy (which I think in turn makes me not trendy for saying that) coffee and art shops.
When I say that there is no shortage of temples in Tainan, I’m hideously understating it. Tainan is famous for its temples, good luck not bumping into another one wherever you walk. Start with the Confucius Temple as it is the oldest school in Taiwan. The street behind the temple is narrow and old and is overflowing with cute little places to eat and drink and shop. Also visit Grand Queen of Heaven Temple, Kaiji Wu Temple, Grand Matsu Temple, God of War Temple and continue to wander until you simply get sick of looking at them. As well as Chinese style temples, Tainan also has its fair share of Japanese religious influences. For that reason, head to the Lin Department Store, and go to the top floor to see the Japanese Shinto Shrine perched on top of the roof. Amongst wandering from temple to temple, you’ll stumble upon narrow pedestrianised streets that seemingly transport you to Europe, except with a Chinese influence, particularly on the doors. These streets are great places to hang out on an evening if you’re looking for a drink or to catch up with some of Taiwan’s artists. For a daytime activity, it’s a great place to find a nice coffee shop or an interesting Tainanese treat – my personal favourite is Shennong Street 神農街.
This is one of Tainan’s most iconic things to see. For starters, it’s quite beautiful, surrounded with a beautiful garden and coy ponds galore. Secondly, the now Chinese structure is built upon an old Dutch fort and was an outpost for Fort Provintia, so it’s got a lot of interesting history to accompany it.
The Blue Print house, and nearby.
If you’re looking to drown in a bit of street art and cute little shops then this is the place to be doing it. Some of the street art is magnificent and this government project is worth a slice of your time.
The majority of Taiwan’s recorded history starts in Tainan’s coastal port, Anping. When the Dutch reached Taiwan, this is where they first made their mark. Visit Anping Fort to see the remains of Fort Zeelandia, built by the Dutch in 1634. From here, head to Anping Treehouse. This old building has now been reclaimed by nature.
Make sure you munch on:
Now in and amongst all this wandering around, despite the heat, I’m positive you’ll have been working up a hefty appetite. And with that in mind my best advice is to eat absolutely everything you can get your hands on, because it’s all rather magnificent.
Here are a couple of them – this list is not exhaustive. Eat it all.
Rice cake (米糕)
Savory rice pudding (碗粿)
Shrimp rolls (蝦捲），
Shrimp meatball (蝦仁肉圓）
Danzai noodle (擔仔麵）
Eel noodle (鱔魚麵）
Shaved ice – in whatever the seasonal flavour is, because fresh fruit shaved ice will have you never eating anything less again. Enjoy.