24 Sep The Hidden Treasures of Tainan
We’d had high hopes for Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan. We’d visualised something similar to Laos’ Luang Prabang; old colonial buildings, narrow streets, local markets and stunning temples – a complete contrast to modern Taipei. Instead, when we got off the train we were greeted by an identikit Taiwanese city full of tall, glass buildings, malls, chain cafes and traffic. Confused, we tried to take a taxi to our hotel but despite showing several drivers the address in Chinese and getting a kind Taiwanese man to translate for us, everyone refused to take us.
Was it because we were wearing backpacks, that we were westerners or that we couldn’t speak Chinese? Eventually a woman from the Tourist Information centre helped, but our first impressions of the city definitely weren’t favourable. Luckily, there were hidden treasures waiting to be uncovered in Tainan.
Uncovering Tainan’s Hidden Treasures
Although we were unimpressed with Tainan at first glance, things improved the next day when we ventured over to Anping, the older part of the city. Here, in between stops in the 7-11 to shelter from the rain, we saw the old Dutch Fort and some more of Taiwan’s signature colourful, ornately-carved temples. Another surprise awaited us in Anping Tree House, a building consumed by Banyan trees, their roots snaking up the walls and over the roof.
In fact, the more we wandered around Anping, the more treasures we discovered. Down windy side-streets we came across tiny corner-shop sized temples, while stumbling out into paved, open squares we were greeted by the smell of incense accompanied by the sight of people silently hanging prayer wishes outside a temple. In a way typical of Taiwan, its history stands side by side with modernity as temples sit next to 7-11s while yellow taxi cabs speed by and old women cycle slowly past on rusty bicycles.
Tainan’s most impressive treasures can be found in its Five Channels Cultural Zone, the former port area of the city. Walking through Shennong Street, one of the best preserved in the zone, we were transported away from modern Taiwan into the past, captivated by the beauty of the old buildings and shrub-lined streets. Just around the corner we found one of the city’s most unique temples, Fengshen, the Wind God temple; in the 1700s people could steer boats through the channels right up to the stone structure to pray.
I can’t write this post without mentioning our favourite food discovery in Tainan: Imma Bakery. After walking around the city for hours on end every day we were often starving and in need of something hot and nourishing. Imma’s hummus and shakshuka accompanied by tons of warm delicious pitta bread became our favourite meal, one we kept going back for during our stay.
After a bumpy start, our time in Tainan didn’t turn out too badly – what do you think, would you like to visit Tainan?
EmilyPosted at 08:27h, 24 September
Beautiful photos! I am glad that the initial glitch with things at first didn’t mar the rest of your time there. I’d love to get there some day!
AmyPosted at 15:02h, 24 September
Thanks Emily! It can be hard to get over negative first impressions but Tainan had enough hidden charm to turn things around for us 🙂
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)Posted at 15:10h, 24 September
We really loved Tainan, but I can see how it would be harder to appreciate it if you went in thinking it might be like Luang Prabang! I don’t think we actually visited anywhere that was like that while in Taiwan, although every place we went did have a charm of its own. It can be so hard to set aside preconceived notions of a place, so I’m glad that ultimately you were able to enjoy Tainan for what it was.
AmyPosted at 15:23h, 24 September
Hi Steph, the same thing happened to us when we went to Hoi An expecting it to be like Luang Prabang; obviosuly it wasn’t and we were really disappointed. One of the things I need to work on is not comparing one place to another so much when we travel, I need to take each place as it comes, which is harder said than done! We did grow to like Tainan though 🙂
KerriPosted at 11:18h, 25 September
I am curious, did you ever figure out why they wouldn’t take you to your hotel? I am impressed how tidy and clean it looks!
AmyPosted at 06:21h, 26 September
Hi Kerri, no we didn’t figure that out actually. I assume it was either because we didn’t speak Chinese or they just didn’t like western backpackers. It was strange because otherwise Taiwanese people were really helpful and friendly. It was so nice and clean in Taiwan too, it made a great change for us!
KevinPosted at 20:34h, 05 December
Hummus and shakshuka in Tainan? What?! Curious how this tasted compared to places like the US. Sounds super intriguing though.
AmyPosted at 11:21h, 06 December
Hi Kevin, yep, it was great!