Tainan

The oldest city in Taiwan, Tainan (台南 Táinán) is famous for its temples, historic buildings and snack food. Located on the southwestern coast of the country, it has had a complicated past, first starting as a Dutch colony before passing through Chinese warlords, Japanese occupiers and then into Kuomintang hands. This rich history and heady mix of traditional folk culture gives Tainan far more character than the bigger Taiwanese cities, and is a good contrast to the international Taipei. It may be even more under-appreciated compared to the current capital, but is well worth a stop on a round-island trip for a quintessentially Taiwanese experience for both stomach and soul.

Understand

History

Fort Zeelandia or Anping Fort, with statue of Koxinga

To truly understand the history of modern Taiwan is to trace its beginnings to Tainan. Tainan (and the start of a non-agrarian Taiwan) began in 1624 when the Dutch East India Company set up a colonial base in the Anping District (安平區 Ānpíng qū). The island of Formosa was strategically placed along major trade routes, and so the Dutch were keen to start building up a trading post and fort known as Fort Zeelandia. They were soon besieged by Ming loyalists led by Koxinga, and their surrender ended 38 years of Dutch colonial rule, bringing Taiwan under Han Chinese influence. However, Koxinga's own rule was similarly short-lived as he died four months after the takeover, yet he lives on as a local folk hero and religious icon of sorts. His grandson gave up control to the Qing dynasty, and Tainan was made the capital of Taiwan County of Fujian Province. However, Tainan, and Taiwan as a whole continued to be a Chinese backwater until the Second Opium War in 1858 forced the reopening of Anping port to foreigners, with British merchants stimulating growth in the city. Tainan would however lose its status as capital after Taiwan was declared a separate province in 1885, with the Qing government deciding to set up the provincial capital in Taipei instead.

The Great South Gate, a remnant of old city walls

Upon secession of Taiwan to Japan after the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, city leaders tried to declare independence (perhaps the first attempt at formal self-governance) although that failed and anti-Japanese sentiment grew into the Tapani Incident in 1915, when Aboriginal and Han Chinese fighters stormed several police stations in Tainan county. The armed uprising was brutally crushed, marking a turning point in relations between the local population and their occupiers as Japan started policies to peacefully integrate Taiwan into the nascent Japanese Empire. Modern infrastructure and urban planning transformed Tainan, befitting the largest Taiwanese settlement and capital at the time. The odd impressive colonial building can still be found around the city, standing out against other less inspired post-war architecture.

After the island was handed back to the KMT and subsequent retreat from the communists, the capital was shifted to Taipei, and Tainan residents were harshly treated under the slightest suspicion of opposition to the new regime instituted by Chiang Kai-shek. Tainan and the rest of southern Taiwan remain fairly pro-independence to this day, since they have not actively thought themselves a part of China for the last century or so.

Orientation

Sacrificial Rites Martial Temple

The city is currently the fifth largest city on the island after New Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung and Taipei with a population of over 1.8 million. For a city of its size by population, Tainan's size by land area is exceptional. Very few buildings are more than 5 to 6 stories in height and most are between two and three stories. Instead, wandering the older winding back alleys holds a lot of charm. Tainan is also extraordinary for its number of temples and shrines, Buddhist and Taoist, large and small, and you'll likely find one hidden around every other corner.

Modern Tainan is centered around the local TRA train station and Zhongshan Road, which runs through West Central District, though Anping District is the historical heart of Tainan. Anping is home to the Anping Old Fort (安平古堡;Ānpíng gu bǎo), the Anping Tree House (安平樹屋 Ānpíng shù wū) (a warehouse with massive banyan trees growing out of it), and numerous restaurants and food stalls. Qigu District in the northeast is noted for its history of salt production and the district's salt fields are also a popular attraction. Yanshui District is infamous for its notoriously fiery fireworks festival. Beyond the city center, the surrounding region is one of the major agricultural centers in Taiwan, and the amount of fresh produce may have inspired much of Tainan's snack food culture.

Talk

Like other Taiwanese cities, most people in Tainan, including taxi drivers, cannot speak English well (except for high school and college students), though some of the older generation can converse in Japanese. However, to help visitors get around, there are free tri-lingual (Chinese, English and Japanese) map-guides available at the railway station. Hokkien or taiyu is spoken by many residents of the city, and the Tainan accent is considered the standard pronunciation for the Taiwanese dialect.

Get in

By plane

For flight options beyond the Taiwan Strait, the closest international airport is in Kaohsiung. From there you can take a train, bus, taxi, or rental car for a 45 minute to one hour journey to Tainan. Flying into Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is also another choice, though you don't have to go into Taipei proper and can just take the HSR train (1h30m and NTD1350) from Taoyuan.

  Tainan Airport has largely diminished in traffic after the high-speed rail was built, but Uni Air still has daily flights to the outlying islands of Kinmen (50 min) and Penghu (30 min). International flights from Hong Kong (90 min) are run six times a week by China Airlines. It is a cheap taxi ride from the city center, and also reachable by the local bus number 5. The airfield is shared with the Republic of China Air Force, so the airport terminal is far enough from the runways to require shuttle buses in between. Flight schedules may vary depending on military exercises.

By train

Tainan TRA station

Tainan is a major stop on the Taipei - Kaohsiung High Speed Rail line (about NTD1500 one way from Taipei). Travel time is 1h45m from Taipei. The   Tainan HSR station is a bit outside of town (NTD400 by taxi), and you might think it's the wrong stop altogether since the station is surrounded by parking lots and open rice paddies. There are free shuttle busses running from the city to the bullet train terminal.

You can also take the TRA (slow train) into   Tainan TRA station in the city from Shulin TRA station (linked to the THSR station and NTD25 each way). Besides the THSR, standard TRA rail from Taipei can take 3.5-6 hours depending on the type of the train. For example, a class 1 (4 hours) ticket from Taipei will cost NTD758. On the Southern line, trains run very frequently to Kaohsiung (1h and NTD70-100), to Taitung (3h and about NTD500) and, less frequently, to Hualien.

By bus

Tainan has good inter-city bus connections with other cities in Taiwan. Most of the bus companies have offices on Beimen Rd, north of the train station.

Get around

The best way to travel around the city is by car, bicycle or motorcycle. There are taxis and buses (公車 gōngchē), but they are not so convenient for non-Chinese speakers. There is a scooter rental shop next to the Tainan City TRA (slow train) station. Rentals cost around NT$600 per 24 hours. Whether a rental shop will check for a license varies from shop to shop.

All inner city bus routes pass through Tainan Station (train). There is a tourist information booth at the Station with friendly staff (English speaking) who can show you how to use the bus system. On Sundays there are two free sightseeing bus routes (88 and 99) which can take you to and back from all the major historical sites.

If you do take a taxi just make sure you have a map you can point at or the business card of the location you're headed. The taxi drivers are very helpful, but be aware that sometimes even Chinese speakers take roundabout ways.

One should take note that there are thousands of scooters and motorbikes packing the streets and if you injure someone while you are driving in Taiwan, the local laws require you to pay for whatever the person you injured cannot. Try getting your insurance company to write a waiver for you to be insured before driving in Taiwan.

See

At first glimpse, Tainan may seem all gray buildings with an alarming number of scooters, but thankfully it doesn't take long to discover its charms. Historical buildings and temples are mostly found in three main clusters: near Chih-kan Tower and on Zhongzheng Road, which used to be within old city walls during the Qing Dynasty, and in Anping District.

Historical sites

Chihkan Tower at night
Anping Tree House

Temples

Entrance to Confucius Temple

Old Taoist religious customs, many of which have been wiped out elsewhere, are cherished and not forgotten here.

Museums

National Museum of Taiwanese Literature

Landscapes

Do

Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival

Buy

The areas around Zhongshan Road, Beimen Road, and the train station make up the downtown of Tainan. South of the main train station is where you can find various boutique stores that mainly focuses on Japanese fashion and sport equipment stores (a popular place to visit for local students).

Hayashi Department Store

Traditional streets

Department stores

Eat

Tainan is often known as "the City of Snacks" (小吃城). In addition to the wide variety of food available at night markets, the city also has an abundance of street vendors specializing in tasty and cheap dishes. Oysters in particular, are favored in Tainan, from the long association with Anping port. Try the oyster omelette (蚵仔煎 kèzǎijiān / o-a chen), and oysters and thin noodles (蚵仔麵線 kèzǎi miànxiàn / o-a mi soa~) which are cooked differently from those up north. Danzai noodles (擔仔麵 dānzǎi miàn) should not be missed either. Coffin toast (棺材板 guāncaibǎn), fried bread stuffed with various ingredients, such as chicken, beans, seafood, vegetables and milk-based sauces, was also invented here.

Night markets

Anping night market

There are over two dozen night markets of various sizes in and around the city. Regardless of size, night markets all possess an abundance of stalls selling clothing, shoes, jewelry, toys, food and drink. Some even have live entertainment. Most night markets are only held on certain days of the week. Check before going.

Local specialties

Desserts

Tainan has a pronounced sweet tooth, and nowhere is this more evident than in their love of sweet treats.

Drink

There aren't many shiny modern nightspots in Tainan; the city delights in retro bars instead, leveraging on its history and countless number of traditional houses to give a intimate, laidback feel. A smattering of Mandarin or Taiwanese will open more doors in terms of nightlife, otherwise it would be easier to stick to expat hangouts where the owners speak English. Some of the bars provide taxi service if you get too drunk.

Pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶, zhēnzhū nǎichá) is a must drink in Tainan. Look out for shops where it is made directly to order! Fruit drinks and desserts are always refreshing in the sticky summer heat too.

Local bars

Western bars

Sleep

The local heritage and religious festivals of Tainan mostly draws only domestic tourists, so weekends, Taiwanese public holidays and school vacations are particularly busy for hotels. There aren't the masses of Chinese tour buses that crowd touristy Jiufen or Sun Moon Lake, so Tainan is a good place to be if you happen to be in Taiwan during the Golden Weeks in January/February or October. Staying near the train station or Chih-kan Tower may help simplify public transport as they are easy landmarks and most buses stop at either place.

Budget

Mid range

Splurge

Go next


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 13, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.