Tainan has a richer history than any other city in Taiwan! Starting off as the country’s first city and ancient capital, it was also where Taiwan’s national hero Kongxia drove out the Dutch colonials and gave the country its first taste of independence. It’s this complex history of revival and rebirths that have earned Tainan the nickname of “the Phoenix City“.
Yet Tainan has so much more than just its history! National parks and gorgeous coastlines surround the outskirts of the city that have some of the best views and freshest seafood available in the country. With such a variety of goodies, it’s a worthy addition to your Taiwanese itinerary! So in that case, here are the best highlights in Tainan.
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1. Chihkan Tower
Taiwan sadly has a long history of colonization. From the Spanish to the Japanese, a long list of nation’s have laid claim to these lands, but none more notorious than those pesky Dutch! As Tainan was the first city in Taiwan, the city has plenty of reminders of its colonial past.
No relic is more iconic than Chihkan Tower, a building that belonged to the Dutch invaders. Known as “Fort Provinitia”, the Chinese preferred to call it the “Tower of Savages” or, more hilariously, the “Tower of Red-haired Barbarians“.
Built in 1653, it became the administrative and commercial centre for the Dutch. Over the centuries the tower has been transformed given the rulers at the time. Under the Dutch, it was a Western castle, a Chinese-style pagoda during the Qing Dynasty and an army hospital during Japanese rule. Quite a history!
2. Sicao Green Tunnel
Stretching across the coastline on the northern side of the city are the vast expanses of Taijiang National Park. The swampy marshlands have some of the most iconic highlights in Tainan. Easily the most picturesque of them all is the Sicao Green Tunnel.
The long creek that runs through a mangrove forest that arches over to form a narrow tunnel above the water is truly breathtaking! The shimmering surface of the water reflects the surrounding forest with the odd beam of light breaking through from above to create a dream-like fantasy waterway, even earning the nickname “Little Amazon River”. Definitely one of the most instagramable highlights of Tainan.
So, how do you see it? Visitors are taken down the river along slow-moving rafts to have a better look at the surrounding nature. If you’re lucky you might even spot some little critters skittering across the river banks, such as mudskippers and fiddler crabs running back to their dens!
3. Sicao Dazhong Temple
Standing next to the tunnel is one of the most grandiose highlights in Tainan. The Sicao Dazhong Temple enshrines Chen Tze, a general that fought under Koxinga in the battle against the Dutch. He was known to be a pretty badass warrior, with legends saying that he defeated 300 Dutch soldiers single-handedly!
Sadly, the story of Chen Tze came to a sad end. After being betrayed, he decided to kill himself by jumping into the ocean. His body eventually washed up onto the beach at the current site of Sicao Dazhong Temple. Soon after, a temple was built to remember his outstanding military service and to honour him as the Marshal of the Sea.
4. Anping Old Fort
Continuing with our Dutch theme, Anping Fort is yet another echo of Tainan’s colonial past and amongst the city’s most iconic images. Also known as “Fort Zeelandia”, it was built to protect the trade routes of the notorious Dutch East India Trading Company.
This is where Koxinga first drove out the Dutch, before finally pushing them out the entire country. As such, this is where Taiwan had its first taste of independence! For almost 200 years, the fort was the centre of Taiwan’s government before being taken over by the Japanese who then renamed it Anping Old Fort.
5. Anping Tree House
The Anping Tree House has a long history of being handed over. It began as a warehouse for a trading company before being turned into an office for the Japan Salt Company. All was well until the salt industry declined at end of WWII and the Japanese left the country.
The abandoned building soon fell to the mercy of a monstrous banyan tree whose roots and branches reclaimed the old warehouse for itself. The unique look makes Anping Tree House pretty mysterious and a beautiful example of symbiosis with nature.
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6. Sio House
Once a base of operation for the Japanese salt industry, it quickly fell to disrepair as the Japanese left and took the industry with them. Rather than letting nature reclaim it like the Anping Tree House, the building was repurposed as a museum commemorating its role in Tainan’s history.
It was renamed Sio House, after the Japanese pronunciation of salt, and began showing a little on the history of the industry. The museum’s centrepiece is the 366 different coloured salts that represent each day of the year. It’s become one of the more quirky highlights in Tainan with people flocking here to find their own birthday salt!
7. Garden Night Market
To say that Taiwan has a love of night markets is an understatement! You’ll find them everywhere, but none much bigger than this one! With over 400 stalls, it’s easily the biggest in Tainan, and one of the most visited spots in the country according to Facebook’s check-in locations!
The market has everything you might expect, from all kinds of street food to fashion and electronics. There are also a healthy amount of gaming booths that offer the chance to win some goodies or maybe a little teddy bear!
8. Confucius Temple
Built in 1666, not only was this the nation’s first Confucius Temple, but it was also Taiwan’s first university! The pretty modest temple has been through many transformations over the years, with the current structure built by the Japanese.
Inside the temple’s halls are twelve horizontal boards awarded by sovereigns of each Chinese dynasty since the early Manchu Dynasty.
9. Koxinga Museum
As you may be able to tell from this list, the man known as Koxinga is a pretty big deal here in Tainan! Well, this entire museum has been dedicated to him! The red Fuzhou style building contains many precious cultural relics related to the national hero.
Eight white-skinned and blue-eyed Door Gods are placed at the entrances to the shrine as a little slap in the face to their old colonizers. The figures are meant to represent the Dutch that Koxinga drove out, who now have to guard the door for him for all eternity. Sick burn bro!
10. Grand Mazu Temple
Another of the city’s best highlights is the Grand Mazu Temple, which has one of the richest histories of any temple in Tainan. It was once the mansion of Prince Ning Jing before the Chinese invaded Taiwan in 1683. Afterwards, to win the hearts of the people, the Qing court turned the mansion into a temple worshipping Mazu.
Inside the temple, the most important shrine worships Yue Lao, the God of Marriage. It’s become a favourite amongst single men and women who come to pray for love by drawing red lines across their body.
11. National Museum of Taiwanese History
The National Museum of Taiwanese History finds itself in a very unique place. For centuries, Taijiang Lagoon attracted traders from across the world, though centuries later, the water vanished and gradually silted up. The museum was set up to show the area’s transformation a few historical and natural exhibits.
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12. Anping Old Town
Wrapping around the landmark fort, this became the first official street in Tainan thanks to the Dutch. Though the area still has some authentic old-style buildings, these days the pushcarts have been replaced by all kinds of stalls and vendors. Take note of the clay figures that are on the rooves (Wind Lion Gods) and the doors (Sword Lions) of many of the older buildings, which are used for protection.
13. Great East Gate
From the days when it offered strong protection to the ancient capital, the East Gate has been intact ever since! Because of its awkward placement in the middle of a roundabout, few people explore within. If they did, they’d get to see a very special stone tablet that dates back to 1848. Written on it is an imperial decree to soldiers saying that they are prohibited from extorting money from the city’s farmers and businessmen.
14. Great South Gate
This is the best-preserved of Tainan’s city gates, and probably the most significant. The extra layer of protection for the city now stands in a peaceful park surrounded by banyan trees. Unlike the East Gate, this has a unique crescent-shaped design to better protect the entrance.
15. Lady Linshui Temple
What better to end our list of highlights than the oldest temple in Tainan! Built in 1736, the temple enshrines Chen Jing-gu, who became known as Lady Linshui. As Fujian Province in China suffered a terrible drought, the then-pregnant Chen set up an altar and prayed for rain. Though the rains came, her actions disturbed her unborn child, and she sadly died while suffering a miscarriage.
With her last words, she vowed she would become a goddess of midwifery following her death, to aid women who suffer through a difficult labour. Since then she has protected the pregnant women of Tainan who come here to pray for good health.
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