Travel Guide: Tainan

Travel Guide: Tainan

24 August 2020 0 By TravellingWelshman

Tainan is a city with more historical significance than any other in Taiwan. Not only is it the country’s ancient capital, but was also home to some of the earliest forms of civilisation. The national hero Kongxia drove out the Dutch colonials from Taiwan’s oldest city and gave the country its first taste of independence. Tainan’s complex history of revival, redefinition and rebirths inspired its nickname, “the Phoenix City“.

Not only is Tainan revered for its cultural and historical relevance, but also its natural beauty. The outskirts of the city has vast expanses of national parks and a gorgeous coastline that yield some of the freshest seafood available in the country. With all things considered, Tainan has to be considered one of the most unmissable Taiwanese destinations. Here’s everything you need to know about travelling to the ancient Taiwanese capital.

 

The Geography

 

 

 

 

Tainan is a city in the south-west of Taiwan and the capital of the province known as Tainan City. Its 260 km away from Taipei and 50 km away from the nearest large city, Kaohsiung.

 

 

 

 

 

The city is spread along the coast against the Taiwan Strait and expands across a nearby national park. All the city’s attraction are found between the shore and the the city’s central train station. The city’s airport is located just south of the city centre.

 

Getting There

Naturally, as Taiwan is an island nation, arriving internationally is limited to flights. However, travelling within the country is much easier by using its extensive railway networks and highways that follow the coast.

Flights

Tainan does have an international airport however flights only arrive from 3 destinations: Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh, and Osaka. Alternatively, the other closest international airport is in Kaohsiung. From there you’ll need to take a train, bus or taxi for an hour long journey to Tainan.

[Prices will be updated following COVID-19]

 

Train

Taiwan has an incredibly modern and efficient railway network that encircles the entire country. There are two different types of train to choose from: High Speed (HSR) or Regular (TRA).

 

High Speed Rail (HSR):

Tainan is connected to all the major cities across the west coast of Taiwan along the Taipei – Kaohsiung High Speed Rail line. Tickets can be reserved online and earlier bookings can have up to 20% discounts.

Taipei – NT$1080 – 1 hour 45 mins

Taichung – NT$520 – 50 mins

Kaohsiung – NT$110 – 15 mins

[Prices for one-way tickets booked a month in advance with the 20% discount]

Its important to note that the high-speed train station is outside the city, and you’ll need additional transport to get to the city centre. You can take the TRA into Tainan City for NT$25 or the cheaper option is taking a free shuttle bus that transfers passengers from the station to the centre of the city. The buses run two routes: 1) via Koxinga Shrine towards Tainan City Hall 2) via Funong St intersection towards Chi Mei Medical Center. Your last option is to spend a ridiculous NT$400 for a taxi ride.

If you are travelling from nearby cities, such as Taichung or Kaohsiung, its more efficient to take the slower train straight to the city centre.

 

Regular Train (TRA)

Though these trains are much slower, they do have a number of advantages. The TRA network is much more vast than the HSR and also has the advantage of having a station in the centre of Tainan and thus wont require a transfer. There are a number of train options available, which range between express, limited express and local trains. Each train has different durations and prices.

Taipei – NT$7383 hour 6 mins

Taichung – NT$3631 hr 28 mins

Hualien – NT$786 – 5 hrs 13 mins (Limited Express)

Kaohsiung – NT$10627 mins

[All are one-way Puyuma express line tickets, prices vary based on type of train]

 

Bus

Taiwan has a number of  inter-city bus operators that run connections between each majour city. Companies include U bus, Kuo-Kuang Bus and HO-HSIN Bus. They run often, typically between 30 mins to an hour. Bus companies will usually have a counters near main train stations.

Taipei – NT$460-7304 hrs 30 mins

Hsinchu – NT$423-345 – 5 hrs 7 mins

Taichung – NT$230-345 – 2 hr 30 mins

Getting Around

Unfortunately, the little amount of public transport available is very unreliable. Additionally, the taxis and buses aren’t convenient for non-Chinese speakers. The best way to travel around the city is by car or motorcycle. Visitors could also rent bicycles though there would be some distance to travel between each attraction.

 

Bus

All inner-city bus routes pass through Tainan Train Station. There are two sightseeing bus routes (number 88 and 99) which pass all the major historical sites. It costs NT$18 to ride any bus in the city. If you want to find our what route to take, English speaking staff at the station’s tourist information booth are there to help.

Bear in mind that the bus network in Tainan is incredibly inefficient compared to that of say Taipei. It’s not uncommon to wait for more than an hour for a bus and often having them miss your stop completely for no reason.

 

Scooter

There are a number of scooter rental shops next to Tainan Train station. Electric scooter rentals cost around NT$600 per 24 hours whereas gas powered scooters are NT$300-400. An international driver’s license is required to rent gas powered scooters, though no licence is needed of the electric ones.

 

Taxi

As always, this should be your final option. Unless you have an exact address to show the driver then it will be an incredible challenge to find your way as English speaking is at a minimum in the city. Also, its not too uncommon to be taken the “long-way round”, even for locals. To be safe, apps like Uber are available in the city.

 

Attractions

Tainan has an array of attractions spread across its vast city expanses. An enormous proportion memorialise its incredibly rich cultural history as well as its colonial past. However an equal amount of highlights are typical Taiwanese dedications to the nations enchanting spirituality and extraordinary natural beauty.

 

Chihkan Tower

chihkan tower tainan

Chihkan Tower

The most iconic landmark in Tainan is one of the many reminders of the city’s former colonial past. Taiwan has been unlucky enough to have had a number of nations claim their land, ranging from the Spanish to the Japanese. Chihkan Tower was originally built by one of Taiwan’s most notorious and earliest colonists, the Dutch.

Chihkan Tower tainan

It has been known under many names. The Dutch knew it as “Fort Provinitia” and the Chinese mockingly called it the “Tower of Savages” or “Tower of Red-haired Barbarians“. Built in 1653, it became the administrative and commercial centre for the Dutch in Tainan. The red brick structure was of such spectacular standards that it has survived almost 300 years, going through many transformations given the rulers at the time. Under the Dutch it was a Western castle, during the Qing Dynasty it was a Chinese-style pagoda, and an army hospital during Japanese rule.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Station take bus number 3, 5, 77 or 88 to Fort Provintia Station.

Entrance fee: NT$50 for a normal ticket, NT$25 for students, military, police, the fire department or people over 65.

Open: 8:30 pm – 9:30 pm.

 

Sicao Dazhong Temple

Sicao Dazhong Temple Tainan

The front of Sicao Dazhong Temple

In the middle of Taijiang National Park stands one of the most grandiose temples in all of Taiwan. The Sicao Dazhong Temple enshrines Chen Tze, a Taiwanese general that fought under Koxinga. He was renowned for his bravery and fighting abilities as he was said to defeat 300 Dutch soldiers single-handedly. Sadly, he was betrayed and committed suicide by throwing himself into the ocean. His body eventually floated up onto the beach at the current site of the Sicao Dazhong Temple. The shrine was then built to honour his outstanding military service and honouring him as the Marshal of the Sea.

Sicao Dazhong Temple Tainan

Within the main hall of Sicao Dazhong Temple

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 99 or take bus number 10 from Tainan Hospital.

Entrance Fee: Free

Open: 6 am – 7 pm

Website: Link

 

Anping Old Fort

Anping Old Fort Tainan

Within the walls of Anping Old Fort

Anping Fort is yet another echo of Tainan’s colonial past. Following the arrival of the Dutch, they began construction on what they called “Fort Zeelandia.” It functioned as a defensive stronghold to protect the trade routes of the notorious Dutch East India Trading Company. In 1661 a Ming dynasty loyalist – Koxinga – drove out the Dutch from the fort and reclaimed the island of Taiwan. The fort then became the governmental centre of Taiwan and became known as the “King Castle,” or “Taiwan Castle.” Nearly 200 years later, the country came under the control of the Japanese, and thus, so did the fort. They were responsible for rebuilding the site and renamed it Anping Old Fort. Today, the only Dutch remains are sections of the fort’s brick walls and the root of an old banyan tree.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 2 or 99 to Fort Zeelandia. Otherwise if you’re happy to walk for about 10 minutes you can take bus numbers 14, 19 or 77 to Indigenous Culture Museum Bus Stop.

Entrance fee: Regular tickets NT$50, NT$25 for Taiwanese residents.

Open: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm (8pm on weekends)

 

Sicao Green Tunnel

Sicao Green Tunnel Tainan

Deep within the Sicao Green Tunnel

Within the vast expanses of Taijiang National Park, undoubtedly the most memorable images are found in the Sicao Green Tunnel. Its a long creek running through a mangrove forest which extends over the water to form a narrow tunnel. The still surface of the water reflects the green leaves, creating a dream-like fantasy waterway. The dense forest has given the area the nickname of “Little Amazon River“. Visitors can take a ride on a slow moving raft and take the time to observe the surrounding nature. Across the river bank are a number of little critters, such as mudskippers and fiddler crabs scuttling back into their dens.

 

Details:

Getting there: The tunnel is directly next to Sicao Dazhong Temple. From Tainan Train Station take bus number 99 or take bus number 10 from Tainan Hospital.

Entrance fee: NT$200 for regular tickets, NT$100 for disabled people and elementary school students

Open: 10 am – 2:30 pm Weekdays, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm (or until sold out) Weekends.

Website: Link

 

Anping Tree House

The landmark Anping Tree House has had many functions over the years. At one time it was a warehouse for the trading company Tait & Co. During Japanese rule it was the office and warehouse for the Japan Salt Company. Following WWII and the decline of the area’s salt industry, the area was abandoned. Ever since, the roots and branches of a monstrous banyan tree has reclaimed the building for itself. Its unusual appearance gives Anping Tree House a sense of mystery, and displays a beautiful symbiosis with nature.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 2 or 99. Otherwise you can walk from Indigenous Culture Museum Bus Stop for 10 minutes after taking bus number 14, 19 or 77.

Entrance fee: Normal tickets for NT$50, NT$25 for Taiwanese residents.

Open: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm

 

Sio House

Sio House Tainan

Multi-coloured salt on display at the Sio House

During the Japanese Colonial Era and a time of prosperity for the salt industry, Sio House served as an important base. Sadly, as the Japanese left, the salt industry quickly declined and the base lost its purpose. In modern times, it was converted into a museum and renamed Sio House (salt is pronounced sio in Japanese). The museums central display of 366 kinds of coloured birthday salts attracts many tourists to come and search for their own personal salt.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 2 or 99. Otherwise you can walk from Indigenous Culture Museum Bus Stop for 10 minutes after taking bus number 14, 19 or 77.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 10 am – 6 pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday; 10 am – 7 pm Saturday; Closed Wednesday

Website: Link

 

Garden Night Market

The most famous night market in Tainan is also the biggest with over 400 separate stalls. Not only that, but it’s also one of the biggest in the entire country. The entire market is split between its different merchandise, such as food, fashion, general goods and leisure. They also include a healthy amount of gaming booths that offer a chance to win some goodies. Be warned that this market can get very busy. In 2013 it ranked 12th in Facebook’s top check in locations throughout the world!

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 3 to B&Q Warehouse Costco Bus Stop before taking a 10 minute walk to the market or bus number 21 to Xiaobei Bazaar before a 15 minute walk.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 5 pm – 1 am Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Website: Link

 

Confucius Temple

Built in 1666, not only was this the nation’s first Confucius Temple, but it was also the first location of higher education in Taiwan. The Confucius Temple has gone through frequent reconstruction, the present structure resulting from Japanese rule.  Within are twelve horizontal described boards awarded by sovereigns of all dynasties since the early Manchu Dynasty.

 

Details:

Getting there: The temple is a comfortable 15 minute walk away from the train station. Otherwise you can take bus number 2 or 88.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 8:30 am – 5:30 pm

 

Koxinga Museum

This museum is dedicated to the historical figure Koxinga who wrested control of Taiwan from the Dutch on behalf of the Ming emperor. The shrine is a red Fuzhou style building which contains many precious cultural relics. Eight Door Gods are placed along the entrances to the shrine, all of which are wearing Ming dynasty robes and have white skin and blue eyes. These are meant to represent the Dutch that Koxinga drove out, who are now tasked with guarding the door for him.

 

Details:

Getting There: The museum is a comfortable 15 minute walk away from the train station. Otherwise you can take bus number 2 or 88 to Confucius Tempe Bus Stop and walk for 10 minutes.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 9 am – 5 pm

 

Black Bridge Sausage Museum

The famous sausage got its name from its origins at Black Bridge next to Fuqian Road.  The museum features a lot of nostalgic scenes, like the glove puppet shack that was a common sight at Miaokou, and street scenes from Tainan many decades ago. The museum includes a lifelike sausage display and of course a gift shop full of all kinds of Black Bridge products.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take the Blue Main Line Bus.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm

Website: Link

 

Grand Mazu Temple

Grand Mazu Temple has one of the richest histories of any temple in Tainan. It was originally the mansion of Prince Ning Jing. However in 1683, Shi Lang led his army across the sea from China and defeated Taiwan’s leader at the time. Afterwards, to win the hearts of the people, the Qing court converted the mansion into a temple worshipping Mazu, which was the first government-established Mazu temple in Taiwan.

Upon entering the temple, you can see an enormous golden statue of Mazu and others of the Gods of Clairvoyance. The rear hall worships Yue Lao, God of Marriage. This is where single men and women come to pray by putting powder and red lines on the body in order to find love.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 3, 5 or 88 to Fort Provintia Bus Stop before walking for 5 minutes.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 6 am – 8:45 pm

Website: Link

 

National Museum of Taiwanese History

The National Museum of Taiwanese History is situated beside the historically significant Taijiang Lagoon, an area which attracted traders from across the world. Over the centuries environmental changes caused the lagoon water to disappeared and gradually silted up. The historical museum was established here to educate give visitors on the areas transformation by displaying a number of historical, cultural and natural exhibits.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 18 or alternatively bus number 21 to Yongan Rd. Renai St. Intersection Bus Stop before taking a 20 minute walk to the museum.

Entrance fee: Regular ticket NT$30, free for children and +65 years old.

Open: 9 am – 5 pm (closed Mondays)

Website: Link

 

Anping Old Town

Becoming the first official street in Tainan over 300 years ago thanks to Dutch construction, Anping Old Street flows beside the nearby landmark fort. Though the area still retains a sense of authenticity with its old-style buildings, these days the push carts have been replaced by all manner of stalls and vendors. Take note of the clay figures that line the roofs (Wind Lion Gods) and guard the doors (Sword Lions) of many of the older buildings, which are used for protection.

 

Details:

Getting there: It’s directly next to Anping Old Fort. From Tainan Train Station take bus number 2 or 99 to Fort Zeelandia. Otherwise if you’re happy to walk for about 10 minutes you can take bus numbers 14, 19 or 77 to Indigenous Culture Museum Bus Stop.

Open: 24hrs

 

Great East Gate 

The landmark gate once offered strong protection for the ancient capital, and has remained intact ever since. Its located in the middle of a roundabout, thus very little tourists venture within. If they did they would get to see a very special stone tablet dating back to 1848. Upon it is an imperial decree to soldiers saying that they are prohibited from extorting money from the city’s farmers and businessmen.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 3 to East Gate Church Bus Stop.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 24/7

 

Great South Gate

This is the best preserved of Tainan’s city gates, and probably the most significant. Once the barrier of protection for the city behind it, these days it stands in a peaceful park surrounded with banyan trees. It has a unique crescent-shape to its design to better protect the entrance to the city and fight against the approaching enemy.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 2 directly to Great South Gate Bus Stop.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 9 am – 5 pm

 

Lady Linshui Temple

The oldest temple in Tainan was built in 1736 to enshrine Chen Jing-gu, who became known as Lady Linshui. When Fujian Province in China was suffering a terrible drought, the then pregnant Chen set up an alter and prayed for rain. Though the rains did come, her actions caused her to disturb her fetus, and she sadly suffered a miscarriage which led to death. With her last words, she vowed she would become a goddess of midwifery following her death, to aid women who suffering through difficult labour. Since she has protected the newborns and pregnant women of Tainan who come here to pray for good health.

 

Details:

Getting there: From Tainan Train Station take bus number 2 to Jiansing Junior High School before taking a 10 minute walk. Otherwise you can take bus number 88 to Confucius Temple and walking the rest of the way.

Entrance fee: Free

Open: 6 am – 8:30 pm

 

Accommodation

Taiwan’s accommodation prices are generally in the mid-range without an enormous selection available. Though there is a decent amount of options in the city, it’s somewhat difficult to get a bargain. Your best option is to check out Airbnb as they have plenty of cheap options. Their prices begin from the minimum £8 and rarely go over £20, even for entire apartments right in the centre of the city.

 

Hotels

Unfortunately there aren’t much low budget options available, even for the most basic rooms. Prices start at a heartbreaking £37 and rise sharply after that.

Hostels

Prices start at a reasonable £9 a night but then can rise all the way to a ridiculous £55 for a dorm room! This place has the cheapest price and some fantastic reviews.

Cuisine

Tainan is often known as “the City of Snacks“. Not only is it the birthplace of many common Taiwanese snacks, but the best place to sample some of the country’s best street snacks. In addition to the wide variety of food available at various night markets, the city also has an abundance of street vendors specialising in tasty and cheap dishes.

One of the most famous dishes is an oyster omelette (蚵仔煎 kèzǎijiān). It was a dish created out necessity, as there were little ingredients available. Inside they include sweet potato starch, oysters, egg, lettuce and bean sprouts before covering it all in a sweet red sauce. Head to the Old Fort Oyster Omelet where they claim to be the first to serve the dish in 1958.

The not so presentable yet delicious oyster omlette

Coffin toast (棺財板 guāncaibǎn) has been sold at night markets across Taiwan since at least the 1940s. The dish became very popular amongst US troops stationed in the country. It consists of a thick slab of white bread hollowed out and filled with ingredients such as chicken, beans, seafood, vegetables and milk-based sauces then topped with a piece of toasted or fried bread.

It would be a miss to travel to Tainan without sampling one of their famous noodles dishes. Your most famous option has to be Dan Zai Noodles (擔仔麵 dānzǎi miàn) otherwise known as Ta-a noodles. Though there are some common ingredients between each dish, most restaurants and vendours strongly guard their own recipes. Another option is oysters and thin noodles (蚵仔麵線 kèzǎi miànxiàn), flavoured with chili sauce, vinegar and garlic.