3. Tainan (Dec 2019 – Jan 2020)

From Kaohsiung, we boarded a tour bus headed towards Tainan, our primary destination. The tour I had booked was a roundtrip tour, but with some communication and luck (as we weren’t able to get a decisive answer from KKDay) we opted to skip the return leg, as we had booked an AirBnb in Tainan for the next two nights.

Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan. It was also the site of some international conflict. In addition to its rich history, it is also the region with the highest concentration of temples. Finally, Tainan is also famous for its unique Tainan style eats.

We booked our tour with kkday.com, recommended to us from a friend of ours. Below is an overview of the Tainan leg that we selected.

We chose the Tainan leg

When we booked our tour, we were told we wouldn’t know what type of vehicle or how many people would be on our tour. The vehicle for our tour could be as small as a personal vehicle, hence, KKDay could not guarantee that we would be able to bring our luggage with us in order for us to skip the return trip.

Even up to the night before, they couldn’t confirm with us. That was the most stressful part of booking with KKDay. They also didn’t allow us to purchase extra seats for our suitcases. I would’ve been happy to pay for one or two additional seats to save myself the stress and uncertainty.

But it turns they put us in a big bus… with plenty of luggage storage space.

We boarded a big comfortable bus. The Tour Guide spoke Mandarin and Korean, with a little English. Out of the entire group, there were only two families who were non-Korean language speakers.

1. Chimei Museum

Our first stop was the Chimei Museum. Intially, we weren’t very excited because we have some very nice museums domestically where we were from, however after our visit we were very impressed.

2. AnPing Old Street

At our next stop, our family accidentally got separated with the main group and we missed seeing a few landmarks. However, since we still had two nights here it wasn’t a big deal for us. So while we were separated from our group, we thoroughly explored the famous AnPing Old Street.

3. Sicao Green Tunnel

Next our tour guide took us to the Sicao Green Water Tunnel. We boarded a small ferry and were provided stools to sit on. Though we were shoulder to shoulder, the ferry ride was very smooth and stable. Surrounding us on either side were mangrove trees. We were strongly advised to watch our heads and arms as these mangroves cause very allergic reactions.

Throughout our peaceful ride, we were advised to look to the left or right banks to see small crabs and other wildlife that makes its home here. However, we rarely saw anything besides the occasional egret (which is very amazing to see) and maybe a small crab or two, that was hard to see as we were in the center of the ferry. I’ve heard that the best season to come to this tunnel is during the summer time when it is teaming with life. Seeing as it was the winter season right now, it makes sense there wasn’t so much for us to see.

4. Matsu Temple

Our next destination was an enormous Matsu Temple. Matsu was the Water Goddess that guided Koxinga to victory in driving out the Dutch that had taken over the island of Taiwan (it seemed the Dutch non-violently occupied Taiwan, so I saw no indication of hard feelings from these exhibits) from the Han people and local aborigines.

This temple was a sight to behold. It was simply enormous. The central area featured a forward temple and more in the rear. To it’s left and right sides were more temple structures connected by bridges that crossed over bodies of water.

I would’ve loved to have spent more time at this temple and explored the other wings, however since we were part of a tour group, we had very limited time. I would note that they provide very clean restrooms and handwashing stations for the public, but make sure to bring loose change to purchase packs of toilet paper.

5. Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park

After departing from the breathtaking temple, our tour brought us back into the city, to the Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park. Formerly the Old Judicial Dormitory, it has now become an artist enclave peppered with all sorts of interesting little shops and eateries. There is a Visitors Center here that welcomes many tourists and features many art installations for great selfies. This is a fun little area that we could’ve easily spent half a day here roaming through the shops, enjoying a nice meal and sitting amongst the art installations.

It was at this location that our tour bus departed back to Kaohsiung and we bid our friendly tour guide a fond farewell, as we removed our luggage from the bus. As evening was approaching, we snuck into one of the eatery and shop here to enjoy a nice, but speedy dinner, before calling a cab to our AirBnB.

Our AirBnb…

And so ended our pleasant tour with KKDay… after a nice dinner at the BCP, we called a cab across the street next to the big shopping mall and made our way to the more older/residential area of Tainan.

A short cab ride away, we disembarked in a mixed commercial/residential area to find our AirBnb host kindly waiting for us by the street. He led us up some stairs, up an elevator to an open-air courtyard encircled by apartments (which I’m guessing are mostly residential).

6. AnPing Treehouse (and combined attractions)

The next morning, we woke up refreshed and rested. (Using the washer instead of having to handwash our laundry after so many days was a blessing to me.) We enjoyed a nice breakfast nearby and headed out to call a cab to the AnPing Treehouse.

Our tour group had stopped the AnPing Treehouse area the day before, but since we accidentally separated with them we never got to see it with the group. I do think that was a blessing because I prefer to linger and take in the details/history of each place rather than be rushed by a time limit as what often happens on tours.

The ticket to the AnPing Treehouse included admission to Mr. Zhu’s Home and Calligraphy Collection, which was the first stop. At Mr. Zhu’s home we got to admire his various styles of calligraphy, from more block like styles to more free-flowing styles. The 1st floor features interactive exhibits from water writing activities to interactive calligraphy characters. The 2nd floor showcases beautiful scrolls of calligraphy by Mr. Zhu. This was a nice touch to have it included in our admission ticket and we spent a good hour here or so.

Clever interactive exhibit where the character for “car” spins as you move the frame.

After leaving the Calligraphy exhibit, we joined a free guided tour (in Mandarin language) to the Former Tait & Co. Merchant House. Many of the exhibits feature Chinese and well-written English placards and I was very tickled to learn how the islands name “Taiwan” came to be.

We spent about 40min to an hour through these exhibits.

After a very educational and enjoyable tour through the Merchant House, we finally came upon the highlight of this trip… the AnPing Treehouse.

This was formerly an abandoned warehouse built by the British Tait & Co. in the 19th century, at the beginning of the Japanese Colonial Period. Over a hundred years it was slowly taken over by banyan tree roots, creating an intricate web that now lives symbiotically with the building itself. Our guide mentioned that if you now remove the roots, the walls and roof would come apart, as the roots are now so much a part of it. I’ve read others accounts that this is reminiscent of Angkor Wat trees coiled around the temple.

For many years, the locals of Tainan considered this place eerie, haunted, mysterious, and kept their distance. However, over the years, it has drawn many out-of-towners for a visit, so Tainan eventually turned this into a proper tourist attraction. Though to my dismay, I felt that they peppered the AnPing treehouse with too many distracting cartoonish figures/decor obscuring the natural beauty/mystery of this treehouse. Having seen photos of other people’s visits before it was converted into a tourist attraction, it definitely harbored more ambiance than when I visited.

We spent about an 40min to an hour at the AnPing Treehouse itself.

Prior to making the journey to Tainan, I did a lot of research on worthy places/foods to enjoy. I found another blogger that gave an excellent video overview of the mysterious AnPing treehouse before its makeover.

After our AnPing visit, we stopped by the famous Tainan TongJi (DouHua豆花) Tofu Dessert Shop as recommended by our guide and picked up some more desserts/snacks along the way… as we made our way to the AnPing Old Fort.

7. AnPing Old Fort (Fort Zeelandia)

This destination was also a part of our KKDay tour, however we also missed this portion when we got separated from our tour group. Again, a fortuitous thing because we ended up spending hours here, which we would not have been able to do on our tour.

Fort Zeelandia was a fortress built by the Dutch East India Company during their 38 year rule over western Taiwan and was heavily used as a trading center, until Koxinga forced the Dutch out of Taiwan and it became the seat of government for Taiwan for a duration.

The expansive fort features Chinese and English language exhibits, with views over the city, surrounded by the old streets of Anping with street vendors and temples.

We spent probably over 2 hours here just reading through all the history, the exhibits, enjoying the beautiful outdoor spaces and admiring the ancient handiwork of the original southern wall.

 

As we left AnPing Old Fort… we found an aboriginal street vendor stall selling one of their famous specialities… wild boar seasoned with wild peppercorn. The last time I had that was when I traveled to Taroko National Park in Hualien, Taiwan, where I hiked down a long trail to an aboriginal camp/outpost and tasted some of the best sausages of my life. There are many aborigine tribes in Taiwan and during travels, you do get to try their cuisine and experience their culture as part of Taiwan tourism. We definitely couldn’t pass up this up!

Wild board sausage from Taiwan aborigine street vendor. A very long line… very popular.

8. Chihkan Tower (Fort Provintia)

Our final destination in Tainan was the famous Chihkan Tower, a former Dutch-colonial fort in the West Central District. Originally built by the Dutch during the rule, it was later surrendered over to Koxinga, but later destroyed in an earthquake. It was rebuilt as Chihkan Tower and became the capital of the island.

It’s artistic architectural design and layout is breathtakingly beautiful. To enter from the bustling streets outside into its tranquil rock and water garden makes you feel as though you were transported to another era.

From atop the buildings, you can see a view of the city surrounding it. It gives a different feel from daytime to evening, as the accent lights turn on. It was especially unforgettable to me to see the moon in the night sky framed by the intricate details of the roof.

We spent a good two hours or more here reading the exhibits and taking so many photos of this beautiful fort.

Outside of the fort entrance, on a neighboring block, lies one of the famous Du Hsiao Yueh Noodle Shop stalls. We dined at the Du Hsiao Yueh location in Taipei, and was pleasantly surprised to see many locations in Tainan, this one right next to Chihkan Tower. This particular location stands in contrast to the fancy location in Taipei giving you perhaps a glimpse of its humble origins.

Right outside the Chihkan Tower we also patronized a street vendor making traditional hand melted candies on a stick. It was especially impressive as the candy artisan worked without the full command of both hands, but the resulting art piece betrayed no such handicap as you admire it.

As we made our way back to our AirBnb, we were treated to a festive and interesting experience of temple parades throughout the local streets. Tainan is known as the city with the most temples, over 1600 registered temples (not including shrines and temples on private property), one for anything you could think to pray for, as the spiritual capital of Taiwan.

That evening, being Dec 31st, 2019 transitioning to Jan 1st, 2020 (solar calendar) was filled parade after parade of temple worshipers parading down the local streets with music, lights and with carriages featuring various deities/saints. We even witnessed several fireworks displays as we walked back. It was definitely a memorable way to celebrate our last evening in Tainan.

 

And so ends our trip to Tainan as the next morning we boarded the High Speed Rail and made our way back to Taipei. Farewell Tainan, we had a wonderful stay in your city and will make it a top choice for a future return visit.

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