While creating my travel itinerary in Taiwan I found different opinions about Tainan. Often is not mentioned among the things to di in Taiwan, but on the other side I also found three-day itineraries in Tainan. So I decided to visit the old capital and oldest city in Taiwan on a day trip from Kaohsiung.
There are several things to see in Tainan, although none of them require a lot of time. Tainan is a city to be lived walking, breathing its particular atmosphere, a mix of tradition and modernity, east and west.
Tainan was founded by Dutch as a commercial base called Fort Zeelandia, until Koxinga defeated them. Rich in temples and street food, it is a city to explore, getting lost through narrow streets and gardens.
What to do in Tainan
Although there are several things to do in Tainan, a day is enough to visit the main attractions, but if you have more time available, you could overnight in Tainan and enjoy an excursion in nature, such as the thermal area of Guanziling, in my bucket list for the next visit. More information can be found on the Tainan tourism website.
The main things to do in Tainan are mainly concentrated in two areas, the Anping area and the central area, near the Tainan station, which makes the city easily accessible by bicycle or on foot, using a bus or a cheap taxi to move from one area to another, as we did.
Anping Tree House
Definitely one of the most instagrammable places in Taiwan and a must-see in Tainan.
The Anping Tree House is a former warehouse of the Tait & Co trading company, abandoned since 1911 which has now been literally englobed by a banyan tree, a particularly invasive Asian plant whose roots also grow from the branches and descend to the ground very quickly, making it impossible to distinguish the original trunk.
In just over 100 years, in fact, this banyan has completely invaded the deposit, giving a surreal and evocative scenario, which can be visited by paying an admission ticket of 50 TWD.
Wear a traditional Qipao
Like many other Asian countries, Taiwan also has its traditional dress that you can rent to take unique photo-memories and immerse yourself in the culture of the place. Tainan, with its more ancient atmospheres, is the ideal place if you want to rent the Qipao, the traditional Taiwanese dress. I advise you to make an appointment in advance by purchasing the rental coupon via Klook, so as not to be rebounded if the small shop is already busy dressing other customers. The Anping area is decidedly suggestive and suitable for immersing yourself in the more traditional atmospheres with a suitable dress 🙂
Fort Zeelandia and Anping Old Street
Fort Zeeland, also known as Anping Fort is a fort built by the Dutch as the administrative center of the commercial base during the occupation. Inside there is also a museum whose explanations seem to be only in Chinese, so we have decided to not enter. Entry to Fort Zeelandia costs 50 TWD.
Near the fort, you can admire one of the temples dedicated to the Mazu deity and stroll along the Anping Old Street, an alley with ancient charm fill with many street food shops, especially offering oysters and shrimps!
Another historical site to visit in Tainan is the Chihkan Tower, also known as Fort Provintia during the Dutch occupation when it was the administrative center of the city. During its history, it then took on various functions, from the governor’s residence to a military hospital. However, it has come down to the present day keeping its original structure. Here you will also find a lovely oriental-style garden and on the second floor, you can ask the god’s opinion through the jaobei, the crescent-shaped woods that are often found in Taiwanese temples.
Here too, the entrance fee is 50 TWD.
Grand Mazu Temple
Near the Chihkan Tower, there is the Grand Mazu Temple. There are actually several temples dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea, protector of fishermen and sailors who calms storms. You can easily understand how important such a deity can be on an island, especially in a port city such as Tainan.
The temple is always open for visits and you will come across several local people came here to pray and bring offers. A certainly suggestive atmosphere, but always remember to respect the faithful while visiting this and other temples.
You can’t visit Tainan and don’t stroll down Shennong Street! One of the most colorful streets, loved by photographers but above all, a place still full of unique traditional atmosphere. In the past, the main street leading to the sea (which is far more distant nowadays), full of old-style buildings, many of which have now been converted into pretty cafés.
Chinese lanterns, pastel-colored houses, and little hipster-style shops make a walk here necessary! If you are looking for photogenic angles, even Snail Lane, a twenty-minute walk away, is an excellent stop as well.
Among the things to visit in Tainan, I would also have liked to visit the Koxinga Shrine, the Shrine dedicated to Koxinga, the Chinese officer who after months of assault, defeated the Dutch and conquered the island of Taiwan on behalf of the Chinese empire. Unfortunately, the Monday – the day we went to Tainan- is the closing day and so I couldn’t admire the beautiful garden of the surrounding park and visit the Folk Cultural Hall which tells the evolution of life in Taiwan from 1600 to the present day, I always love this kind of museums …
Bonus: Yan Zenfha’s art works
Walking around the streets of Tainan we came across a series of hand-painted paintings from movie posters. Across the street, there is a cinema, CM Cinema, which displayed these giant hand-painted posters. Then we noticed some locals stopped to photograph these paintings and the small anonymous shop, and thanks to geolocation I discovered that it was the study and works of Yan Zenfha who draws also some kanban in the US. Definitely an interesting discovery, that’s why I recommend you get lost in the streets of Tainan (it’s a very safe city!).
Getting to and around Tainan
From Kaohsiung or Xin Zuoying station, it is sufficient to take a normal train heading north (yes, often the indications in the stations indicate the geographical direction of the trains!). All northbound trains stop in Tainan, only depending on the type of train – shuttle, express, limited express – the travel time will change slightly, but on average is 40 minutes at the cost is 110 TWD.
To get Tainan from the capital Taipei in the north of the island, you can take the bus, the train or the high-speed train.
Of course, travel times change a lot (6 hours by bus and over 4 hours with the normal train) so the best solution is definitely the high-speed train, which in a couple of hours will take you to your destination for 1350 TWD. By purchasing the Taipei-Tainan train ticket via Klook you will get a small discount.
Getting around Tainan
Even in Tainan you can use the EasyCard to travel by bus, but there is also the Tainan Historic Pass which includes the use of all buses for free for 24 hours and the entrances to the attraction in Tainan mentioned above.
It is also possible to rent bicycles but you must have a Taiwanese number or pay by credit card. I tried but my Italian Mastercard was not accepted.
Taxis are however a cheap and fast alternative to move between the Anping area and the central area.