Tainan: Taiwan’s Ancient Capital

On September 7, 2012 by admin

Taiwan is a country with a rich culture and deep history, the details of which are very little understood overseas.

The country has a diverse population, made up of internationally minded and accepting people, and by looking at Taiwan’s history, one can begin to appreciate the reasons for this.  The land was first inhabited by aboriginal groups, 14 of which are officially recognized by the Taiwanese government today.  The island nation’s first colonizers were not Chinese, but 17th century Europeans.  The Dutch first established rule in the south of Taiwan, and the Spanish in the north, but the Dutch were later able to extend their control over the whole country by defeating the Spanish.  Dutch rule lasted for 38 years before they were expelled in 1662 by a Ming Dynasty general named Koxinga who governed the island until the Qing Dynasty was able to annex Taiwan in 1683.  Taiwan was thus part of the Qing Dynasty for 200 years before becoming a Japanese colony from 1895 – 1945.

Yes, quite a mouthful of colonial history, and many of the key events took place in Tainan, Taiwan’s oldest city.  Luckily, touring the city and its historic sites gives you more time to digest all the facts about Taiwan’s different colonial rulers and the mark they left on the country.

Most international travelers will likely start their Taiwan journey in Taipei, the modern day capital of Taiwan.  From Taipei, it is a quick 100 minute ride on the speedy bullet train (NT$1350 for reserved seats) to Tainan, or about 4 hours on the older, slower train (NT$758).  Both depart from Taipei Main Station.

From the bullet train station, there are free shuttle buses that go into town, or if you are taking the slower train, Tainan Train Station is already in the middle of town.

It is probably best to start your tour of the city at the place where colonial rule first began, Anping District (安平區).

Anping Old Fort (安平古堡)

Anping District is where you will find Anping Old Fort, the Dutch fortress established in 1624, originally named Fort Zeelandia.  Inside the fort are historical items documenting the rule of the Dutch and their overthrow by Koxinga, who renamed the fort “King Castle”.  The Japanese rebuilt the fort during their reign and gave it its current name.  Admission is NT$50 for adults, NT$25 for students and seniors.

A recent addition to Anping Old Fort is a small museum with ceramics and other historic artifacts that show what attracted early colonialists to Taiwan.

 

Anping District is also home to old traditional streets and markets, as well as the other main attraction in the area, Anping Tree House (安平樹屋).  Anping Tree House is a fascinating old colonial building of which trees have taken a strangle hold over time.

Anping Tree House

With nightfall, a popular destination for Taiwanese of all ages is the night market.  Here visitors can try a variety of food and beverages (Tainan is renowned for its snack food), as well as browse stalls stocked with clothing, souvenirs, smartphone cases, and just about any other type of good you can imagine, not to mention games and even a few auctions.

Due to the abundance of night markets in Tainan, a system has been established where different night markets are open on different nights of the week, so it is best to check the schedules before you go.

For those who would rather sit down for a meal or go out for a few drinks at night, Haian Road (海安路) is where the young trendy crowds flock to, an area lined with lively bars and restaurants. Artists and entrepreneurs have got together to transform the street’s old run-down buildings into creative new watering-holes,  many of which have tables outdoors.

Haian Bar Street

It is probably best to spend at least one night in Tainan, and if you are on a budget, or just have a love for international beers and meeting new people, there is a trendy new hostel in town run by a young entrepreneur with a love for good food and drink.  Tavern L is NT$700 a night on weekdays and NT$800 on Fridays and Saturdays. The price includes breakfast and coffee in the morning.  For those staying elsewhere, you can still drop by for a beer or for brunch in the morning (NT$150).  The hostel is conveniently located a 7 minute walk from Tainan Train Station (slow train).  For more information about the hostel, visit the Tavern L page here.

 

 

A great place to start day two of your Tainan trip is the Tainan Confucian Temple, Taiwan’s first Confucian Temple which was established shortly after Koxinga expelled the Dutch from Taiwan.  This is where Taiwan’s history of formal education began, and one of Taiwan’s oldest schools can be found next door to the temple.

Tainan Confucian Temple

Tainan Confucian Temple

One of Tainan’s Oldest Schools

Across the road from the temple is an old street marked with a traditional Chinese gate called a “Paifang”.  The street contains numerous artsy stores, coffee & desert shops, and food stalls.

Gate to shopping street across from Confucian Temple

 

One of the more interesting cafes in the area is Narrow Door Cafe, where visitors must squeeze through a narrow alley before ascending a stone staircase into the secluded cafe.

Narrow Door Cafe

Some make it through the door easier than others.

 

After grabbing a coffee or snack, head to the old city hall building, which was built directly behind the Confucian Temple by the Japanese during their colonial rule.  A group of local citizens got together to prevent the building being demolished and it now serves as the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature, with various displays of aboriginal and Taiwanese literature, as well as an exhibit dedicated to aboriginal languages.

National Museum of Taiwanese Literature

Once you have worked up an appetite, cross the street from the literature museum to one of Tainan’s oldest noodle shops, Tan Tsi Noodles.  The noodle shop has been in operation since 1895, and the cooking pot that was used for the first 100 years is on display.  The noodles come in a fragrant soup with special minced meat and a prawn on top.  The toppings should first be mixed together with the noodles using your chopsticks, and then bite size portions should be followed up with a sip of soup.

The menu does not merely consist of noodles, there are plenty of other dishes that can be ordered to accompany your noodles.

Tan Tsi Noodle Shop

After lunch, Chihkan Tower is just a short drive away.  Originally built by the Dutch in 1653, its was first named “Fort Providentia”, however the Chinese referred to structure as the “Tower of Savages” or “Tower of Red-haired Barbarians”.  The tower contains historical documents and has an expansive garden, the highlight being nine stone tortoises that carry royal Stele carved in Chinese and Manchurian.

Chihkan Tower

View From Chihkan Tower

Chihkan Tower

Chihkan Tower Gardens

At night the tower is beautifully lit up creating a stunning sight.

Across the street from Chihkan Tower is a specialty tea shop, named Hanlin Tea House (翰林茶館), which lays claim to being the founder of Taiwan’s most well-known culture export, Bubble Tea (Pearl Milk Tea).  Their menu has far more than just bubble tea, there is a wide variety of food, snacks, and teas, including healthy tea loaded with ginseng and other things good for you.

Hanlin Tea House

Although there are public buses in Tainan, it is easiest to get around with a car or scooter.

For assistance planning your trip to Tainan, booking hotels, or arranging English speaking guides, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 

 

4 Responses to “Tainan: Taiwan’s Ancient Capital”

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  • When we stay in another cotunry, it seems inevitable to have a certain degree of culture shock. But how can we better cope with it? I think it is an absolute must to understand the culture differences between your cotunry and the one you are visiting, and then try to respect the culture in the foreign land no matter how different it is from yours. The worst, pessimistic way to deal with our culture shock is to refuse to respect the culture differences (if we cannot appreciate its culture, at the very least we should show our respect) and to keep whining about our miserable life.Humor, deeply rooted in one’s culture, of course differs from culture to culture. Mocking people who failed to understand our jokes due to culture differences simply shows our arrogance, snobbishness, and self-centeredness. Accusing them of having no sense of humor indicates nothing but our ignorance and narrow-mindedness.When we are not enjoying our life on foreign soil, shouldn’t we reflect upon ourselves to see if we have ever made any attempts to understand its culture and its people, instead of pointing the finger at them? I believe there is always an explanation why people hold a certain belief and behave accordingly. A stingy person might have suffered from poverty when he or she was still a kid. A Latino student rarely makes eye contact with the teacher simply because avoiding looking directly at authority figures is the way to show respect in his or her culture; however, a teacher from another culture might interpret it as a sign of inattention or disrespect. Without knowing asking personal questions is a way to show our friendliness and concern in the Chinese society, foreigners might think we are invading their privacies. We can be much more open-minded and tolerant if we spend some time investigating why certain people behave in a certain way.Since western cultures/countries are more dominant than Asian countries in the world, it seems to me some westerners are quick to jump to the conclusion that our customs and behaviors are “weird” whenever they go against western norms. But are they?I am getting very serious here. Is it because I cannot appreciate Andrew’s British humor?

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