This post was last updated on October 14th, 2013
Our first visit to Tainan was almost exactly a year ago. We didn’t plan to make exploring the historic streets of Tainan an annual event, but Andrea Bocelli happened to be performing there this past weekend. And because my husband is ahhh-mazing, he surprised me with concert tickets to see the Italian opera singer I’ve been slightly and quite randomly obsessed with since we came to Taiwan. A pretty good birthday present if I do say so myself. I know not everyone is on the Andrea Bocelli bandwagon, but I get goose bumps every time he belts out in that rich, velvety tenor voice of his. And I couldn’t have been more delighted by the concert, even if we had to don ponchos to combat the light drizzle permeating the outdoor venue. Good thing I wore those heels…
Tainan is probably one of my favorite cities in Taiwan. I know, I know. If you’ve ever read our blog before, chances are you’ve heard me claim ‘such and such’ to be my favorite spot for something or other. But there really is a special feeling about Tainan. Perhaps it’s because, as the oldest city on the island, Tainan emanates history and tradition. In the exposed redbrick walls that tell tales of Dutch colonialism at Fort Anping; in the ancient temples and shrines that have remained authentic in the face of modernization; in the delicious street foods that tell stories from centuries past—each strand comes together to weave the tapestry that is Tainan, both past and present.
Tainan is easily walked, although it might leave you sweating a bit during the hot summer months. Regardless, there’s no denying that walking is the best way to stumble upon the numerous temples and historical remnants that decorate the alleyways. To help you along, here’s our guide to strolling past Tainan’s best attractions:
Walking Guide: Tainan
Chihkan Towers (Fort Provintia)
The Dutch first laid the foundation to this old fort in 1653, although today most of the features have been reconstructed. Kindly enough, the local people no longer call it the Tower of Red-Haired Barbarians, which was so eloquently used to describe it during Dutch occupation. The grounds to the Chihkan Tower are picturesque, and at night the entire premises lights up, providing an ideal backdrop for concerts and music performances. Entrance to the Chihkan Towers is 50NT per person, 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Sacrificial Rites Martial Temple
Just across the street from the Chickan Towers, this temple is said to be one of the oldest and best-preserved temples in Taiwan. The God of War, Guandi, is at the center of the Sacrifical Rites Martial Temple, and government officials and businessmen have been flocking to pay him alms since the 1600s.
Built in the late 1600s, the Confucius Temple was the epicenter of culture and education in Taiwan, and regarded as the highest institute of learning at the time. The grounds are lovely, with elegant banyan trees providing shade for those practicing tai chi (or just observing from the comfort of their bench on the sidelines).
*Note: Alongside the Confucius Temple you can find the highly popular Lily Fruits Stand serving up Cua Bing, or shaved ice. If you’re willing to wait (which we weren’t), you can have fresh fruit, peanuts, beans, and condensed milk mounted upon a heaping of shaved ice.
Across from the Confucius Temple and through the stone archway is the charming Fuzhong Street. A hub for artists and coffee shops, this is the perfect tree-lined avenue to stroll down while taking a breather from all the temples. It’s quite unique for Taiwan, and reminds me more of the outdoor markets so common in Europe.
Old Fort at Anping (Fort Zeelandia)
Another remnant from the Dutch, this fortress provided the Dutch East India Company with an ideal port and sea-defense location in Taiwan. Unfortunately for the Dutch, their small army didn’t last long against the Chinese forces rallied behind Koxinga, and they surrendered in 1662. Since then not too much has been happening at the Old Fort, although it is still a nice place to wander around while learning a bit about Taiwan’s history.
Anping Old Streets
My favorite part about the Old Fort area is the surrounding historical streets. Exposed, crumbling redbrick guides the way, and it’s easy to get lost here retracing the footpaths of the early Dutch settlers. The key is to get off of the vendor-lined Yanping Street and onto the quiet side roads that beckon to be explored.
While you’re burning all those calories from walking about, be sure to recharge with a few of the ‘xiaochi’, or small snacks, Tainan is famous for.
Danzi noodles consist of a sweet and tangy noodle soup, complete with minced pork and a single shrimp. We chose to try the famous dish at the Chihkan Peddler’s Noodles Shop, where the nostalgic décor and historic building make up for the fact that the store has only been operating since 2002. It takes an entire day to adequately prepare the minced pork, but the hard work certainly pays off. These noodles are delectable, and offer a uniquely sweet flavor when compared to other noodle soup dishes readily available in Taiwan.
Coffin Bread (Guancai Ban)
Don’t be turned off by the appearance of this dish—it actually tastes quite similar to chicken potpie. Originally a dish of Chinese peasants, this poor man’s food consisted of chicken liver, mixed with vegetables to create chowder that could then be poured into the remnants of stale bread (resembling a stone coffin). Today your chances of finding liver coffin bread are slim to none; chicken, seafood, and pork are the newer, tourist-friendly versions offered up by street vendors.
You’ll find this dish all over Taiwan; however, it is said to have originated in Tainan. Egg batter is mixed with small oysters, green onions and potato starch to produce a thick, chewy omelet. Not our favorite dish, but worth a try.
Whether you’re seeking political history, spiritual reverence, or great chows, Tainan has something to offer visitors in a distinctly authentic way. We have put together our own personalized Tainan walking tour that hits the highlights. Plus, if you’re really lucky, you can time your visit with Burning Boat Festival and watch a 40-meter boat set alight by explosives. Totally awesome.
Have you been to Tainan? Any insider tips to add? Let’s hear them below!