Diamond in the Rough
First impressions can be deceptive – there is a lot more to Tainan than meets the eye.
It is in this oldest Taiwanese city that the seafaring Han people and the Taiwanese aborigines first built the foundation on which the entire island went on to flourish culturally and economically.
Tainan’s population may be smaller than Taipei, but long before the northern capital became the golden child of the island, Tainan had been the political and business centre of Taiwan for some 200 years. Many first-time visitors prematurely file this coastal city under the “typical small Asian town” category without delving deeper into the rich history underneath its surface. However, it is in this oldest Taiwanese city that the seafaring Han people and the Taiwanese aborigines first built the foundation on which the entire island went on to flourish culturally and economically.
For such a historically important city, Tainan is incredibly down to earth. Its historic sites are not marked with the typical grandeur one would associate with centuries-old structures. The Confucian Temple was built in the 17th century and had served as the best academic institution in Taiwan until the end of the Qing dynasty. True to the principles of Confucian studies, the temple’s architectural beauty is the quintessence of Tainan’s cultural beliefs, exuding such grace and dignity that can calm even the most restless minds.
After some quiet reflective time within the temple, you can stroll to the nearby National Museum of Taiwan Literature, the first national museum dedicated to literary arts. The museum building has a distinguished history dating back to 1916, when it was built to house the Tainan Prefectural Government. Reflecting contemporary European architectural styling, it is one of the several well-known designs by architect Moriyama Matsunosuke on the island. Further down Zhongzheng Road is the Hiyashi Department Store, one of the largest department stores of its kind in Taiwan back in the 1930s, marking the island’s modernisation. The World War II bombing left its mark on this once glorious building and it wasn’t until 2014 that the department store finally completed refurbishment. It has now been reopened for the public’s shopping pleasure.
Not far away is the Tainan Railway Station, an important transport hub and gateway of western Taiwan, servicing hundreds and thousands of passengers every day. Its current structure has retained the original front built in the 1900s, which gives the station a classic English charm. Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Tainan is located right behind the train station, making it an ideal base for your exploration in the city. Hotel guests can take in the panoramic views of Tainan whilst enjoying local Taiwanese cuisine at its famous restaurant, Shanghai Pavilion. The sliced pork belly pyramid comes highly recommended, which features pieces of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pork belly beautifully layered and filled with homemade Hakka pickles from Miaoli, Taiwan.
The early settlers of Taiwan were devoted to their religion, which is evident in the abundance of temples in Tainan. To call it the City of Temples would not be an exaggeration – to this day, most Taiwanese still practice Buddhism, Taoism or other folk religions. Many of them commute from other cities to pay their respects in Tainan's temples and pray for guidance. With hundreds of temples, big and small, dotted around the city, you will be hard-pressed to visit even just half in a single trip. The Mazu Festival in spring (usually in April or May) is probably the best time for tourists to join the incredibly rowdy religious parade, where different Mazu temples send out colourful palanquin trying to outshine each other. Set yourself in the thick of action at the Luermen Mazu Temple or Grand Mazu Temple for an eye-opening experience.
If parades and crowds prove to be too boisterous, for quieter religious pursuits, head over to the Sicao area, where a scenic boat ride will take you through the lush greenery along the mangroves on Zhufagang Canal before arriving at the Dazhong Temple. Further out from the city and a 30-minute drive away is yet another undiscovered treasure of Tainan. Qigu Salt Field is not only a prime spot for bird watching – its snow-white salt mountain is also a spectacular sight to behold. The Baihe district is at its prime in spring and summer, with fiery red cotton tree flowers blooming around April, followed by the Lotus Festival during the hot summer months, when visitors are greeted by sweet scents and an astonishing sea of blossoming lotus flowers.
Other places of interest:
- Ten Drum Culture Village is easily a full-day out for the entire family if you’re travelling with kids. Enjoy a performance by the Grammy Award-nominated Ten Drum Art Percussion Group, as well as the quirky shops, forest trail and pond walk in the area.
- If you like noodles, especially the authentic Taiwanese kind, visit Tu Hsiao Yueh, the oldest restaurant in Tainan.
- Join the locals’ Saturday night out for bargains, games and more food stalls than you could ever imagine at the Garden Night Market.
- The newly opened Chi Mei Museum houses a comprehensive collection of Western art, musical instruments, weaponry and natural history.
- Shennong Street is often considered the best preserved old street in Tainan. It is the keystone of the Old Five Channels Cultural Zone and is among one of the must-see areas of Tainan.
Showing 1 comment
How much is the stay at Tainan Taiwan?
How to get there? And what is the round ticket cost for SQ if any?