Although less known to Singaporeans than the northern capital city of Taiwan, Tainan (台南) has its own charm. As the old capital of Taiwan, Tainan is also called Fu-cheng (府城). To many, it feels similar to Malaysia’s Melaka or Japan’s Kyoto that offers rich history, deep traditions, beautiful scenery and delectable food.
Let’s visit the beautiful historic buildings of Tainan and trace out its look when it was a Dutch colony, during its 200 years of history as the capital of Taiwan and when it was under Japanese rule.
1. Anping Fort (安平古堡)—A 400-Year-Old City That Quietly Tells Taiwan’s History
Built by the Dutch in 1624, Anping Fort was once called ‘Fort Zeelandia’. After Cheng Cheng-Kung (鄭成功) took over the fort from the Dutch in 1661, he renamed it Anping, paying tribute to his hometown in Fujian.
However, what survived the wars and changing regimes over the past hundreds of years that date back to the Dutch colonial period are one side of an ancient wall and a well. Today, most of the buildings inside Anping Fort were mostly built during the reign of Qing or Japanese rule.
Things to do:
- Capture a grand city panorama of Tainan inside the observatory
- Travel back in time and experience living in prosperous 17th century Zeelandia inside Fort Zeelandia Museum
2. Indulge in Authentic Tainan Food at Anping Old Street
Feeling tired after hours of sightseeing? Treat yourself to the authentic and mouthwatering food at Anping Old Street!
A Cai Beef Soup (阿財牛肉湯)
Beef soup is a must-try if you are in Tainan, and this stall at the end of Anping Old Street is a favourite of both locals and tourists.
All their beef soup items taste delicious, but I would strongly recommend their marbled beef soup (五花牛肉湯), which is not shown on the menu. Although the soup is similarly tasty compared to regular items, the thinly sliced marbled beef is really tender and yummy!
Also, the beef soup bowls all come with a free serving of braised pork on rice (滷肉飯), which is super delicious as well!
Dong Xing He Dia (東興蚵嗲)
Just next to A Cai Beef Soup is Dong Xing He Dia, another popular and crowded food place in Anping.
Its signature dish is the fried oyster cake. With fresh oysters and chopped scallions, and cabbage and celery as the filling, the fried oyster cake is not only delicious but healthy as well.
Craving a refreshing dessert to cool you down? Try Wadica’s taro balls.
Handmade with zero artificial additives, Wadica’s thoughtful treatment of their natural ingredients have attracted many new and returning customers.
Feeling thirsty? Have a sip of the famous TP-Tea (茶湯會), which is also conveniently located at the end of Anping Old Street.
It is easy to get a bit emotional at Anping Old Street. Everything there seems to be slowly telling tales of old Anping, like the tree that has been with Anping Old Street for 300 years (三百年樹王公).
3. Capture a Stunning Sunset Above the Sea at Sunset Platform (觀夕平台)
Just an eight-minute ride will take you from Anping Old Street to Sunset Platform, where you’ll be mesmerised by the breathtaking view of the setting sun above the sea. Have fun searching for cute crabs hiding in the sands or playing with ocean waves.
Tip: It’s rather difficult to hail a cab after sunset from Sunset Platform, so knowing a few taxi numbers would be useful.
4. Sicao Green Tunnel (四草綠色隧道)—Go for a Raft Ride Along Taiwan’s Amazon River
Riding on a raft along the canal into Sicao Green Tunnel is a fairytale-like experience. Mangrove trees stretching and extending from both sides of the river banks form a deep green tunnel above the river that feels like another world.
From time to time, fiddler crabs can be seen resting on sandbags at the riverside, showing the liveliness of the mangrove forest.
After touring Anping, let’s move a bit further into the city of Tainan.
5. Relive Taiwan’s Past at Chihkan Tower (赤崁樓)
Similar to Anping Fort, Chihkan Tower is another important heritage site in Tainan that was first built in 1652. Back then, it was called ‘Fort Provintia’ by the Dutch.
Today, inside Chihkan Tower, you can see Haishen Temple (海神廟), Wenchang Pavilion (文昌閣) and Penghu College (蓬壺書院).
Kui Xing (奎星) is worshipped at Wenchang Pavilion. According to Taoist beliefs, Kui Xing is the god in charge of examinations and the fate of scholars.
In sculptures, Kui Xing is usually portrayed to be standing on one leg on the top of the head of Ao (鳌), a marine turtle in Chinese mythology. This symbolises Du Zhan Ao Tou (獨佔鰲頭), an idiom that means to emerge as the winner.
The other leg of Kui Xing is lifted up with his foot pointing at the bowl of the Big Dipper. This is called ‘Kui Xing Dian Dou (魁星踢斗)’, symbolising winning the first place in the examination.
Do people still worship Kui Xing today?
Although Chihkan Tower is mostly packed with tourists, I spotted a middle aged Taiwanese lady who looked like she was visiting Wenchang Pavilion for praying and divination.
At Penghu College, you can get a glimpse of traditional education in the Qing Dynasty and feel the aspirations of ancient scholars.
6. Chill Out and Cool Down at Hanlin Tea House (翰林茶館)
Located right next to the corner of Chihkan Tower, Hanlin Tea House is a perfect spot to relax over a glass of Taiwanese milk tea and a dish or two.
It is said that Hanlin Tea House is the inventor of the much loved Taiwanese milk tea. A must-try is their State Banquet Class Bubble Milk Tea (國宴珍奶), which was the drink served at Taiwan’s State Banquet in 2017 to dignitaries like President Tsai Ing-Wen.
We also ordered two plates of Lu Wei (滷味), or braised vegetables and meat, which looked nicer and tasted better than the ones sold at night markets.
7. Pose Like a Poet at National Museum of Taiwan Literature (國立台灣文學館)
One of the most important landscapes in Tainan, National Museum of Taiwan Literature was built in 1916 during Japanese rule.
If you like Chinese literature and are interested in knowing more about Taiwan through the lens of Taiwanese writers, this is the place to visit.
8. Be Like a Confucian Scholar at Tainan Confucius Temple (台南孔子廟)
Confucius had a great influence over Eastern Asia. In fact, on the day that I was in Tainan Confucius Temple, many tourists were from Japan.
Built 300 years ago, the Confucius temple in Tainan was the highest ranked institute for higher learning and the first Confucian temple in Taiwan (全台首學).
Every September, a grand solemn ceremony is held there commemorating Confucius with students from a nearby primary school playing the role of ceremonial dancers. The costume below is what they would wear during such a ceremony.
It is interesting to see how the locals are keeping traditions alive and passing on traditional Chinese values through the Confucius temple.
I was intrigued by one side of the exhibition wall with many different Chinese musical instruments and introductions of what these instruments were for.
I took a closer look at my favourite instrument, the Chinese zither. It was an interesting discovery that the instrument was not meant for entertainment, but for clearing away one’s wicked thoughts and reminding one of righteousness.
9. Treat Yourself to Desserts and Snacks at Citong Alley (莿桐花巷)
After coming out of Tainan Confucius Temple, you’ll see Citong Alley just opposite that has stores selling various local snacks and handicrafts.
I particularly like it when the automatic water spray periodically creates a dreamy look of the alley amidst blossoming flowers.
Almond milk at Citong Alley. Credit: lounge914
Tainan souvenir at Citong Alley. Credit: lovedevil798024
10. Shop in 1930s Style at Hayashi Department Store (林百貨)
Opened in 1932, Hayashi Department Store once led Taiwan’s fashion scene in the 1930s. It has the first ever lift within a building in Tainan. Even till today, the lift still looks very posh and elegant.
Other than shopping, relax with a cup of coffee at the rooftop cafe or capture a beautiful scenic view of the city of Tainan.
There is also a Japanese shrine built on the building’s rooftop platform. This is the only department store in Taiwan with a shrine.
Things to do:
- Shop for souvenirs
- Sightseeing from the rooftop
- Visit the Japanese shrine at the rooftop platform
11. Dine at Du Xiao Yue (度小月), a Centenarian Noodle Restaurant
Just one block down from Hayashi Department Store, we spotted the famous Du Xiao Yue (度小月) restaurant and the long queue outside it.
Starting out as a humble street food seller, today’s Du Xiao Yue is an internationally famous restaurant chain in Taiwan.
When we had our lunch at Du Xiao Yue, the majority of its customers were Japanese tourists.
Its signature dish is Dan Zai Mian (擔仔麵) which has minced pork and shrimp inside. I also opted for a braised egg add-on, which they call ‘Tie Dan (鐵蛋)’.
We loved the noodles, albeit the portion was really small. Even with the add-on egg, I still felt the portion was too small for me.
Chihkan Tower, Hanlin Tea House, National Museum of Taiwan Literature, Tainan Confucius Temple, Hayashi Department Store and Du Xiao Yue are located in the same area. For your convenience, we have marked them out on the map for you.
12. Take a Stroll at Shennong Street (神農街)—Tainan’s Most Instagrammable Place
Shennong Street got its name from the temple worshipping Shennong, a mythological Chinese deity, at the end of the street.
It feels really romantic to walk along Shennong Street at night. Most of the buildings have retained their look from the Qing dynasty or the Japanese Occupation, making it another place in Tainan that will transport you back in time.
13. Start an Artistic Journey at Chimei Museum (奇美博物館)
Before you leave Tainan, do pay a visit to Chimei Museum where you’ll find yourself in a Versailles-like palace.
Given its grandiose look and size, it’s really hard to imagine that Chimei is a private museum.
The museum mainly exhibits collections of Western paintings and sculptures. It also boasts the largest collection of violins in the world.
Even if you are not a fan of art, simply taking a few pictures outside the museum could win you a few likes among your Instagram followers.