Taipei is frenetic, so Tainan, while still a huge city, feels like a pleasant respite. Relaxed, historic and artistic, Tainan in many ways feels like everything Taipei is not. It’s also a great city for exploring, with a pleasant mix of old Dutch forts, Japanese era streets and a glorious mix of temples. Welcome to Tainan.
The Dutch made a big impact on Taiwan in the 1600’s, with a series of forts and trading posts around the island. Tainan was very much the hub (until they were kicked out by Koxinga), with two established forts to defend the old trading post at Anping, which is now a very pleasant governmental district of the city. These included the forts of Fort Provintia and Fort Zeelandia, both of which still survive at least in part, though Fort Provintia was subsequently converted into a temple and educational centre (Chihkan Towers).
Many of the temples date back some 300 years too, reflecting the time when Tainan was made capital of Taiwan under the Qing dynasty. On our visit to Tainan in 2017 we didn’t have a chance to look at all of the temples, but the Matsu Temple and God of War Temple lie very close to Chikhan Towers and make for a pleasant couple of hours of exploration. These are wonderfully atmospheric temples, rich in motifs and paintings. There’s also a lively market nearby and a lane full of fortune tellers. Both of the temples are spectacular and worth a visit.
It’s not just old temples though that makes Tainan worth a visit. You’ll hear jazz on the streets, find quiet(ish) Japanese restaurants and plenty of artists in shops and workshops down lanes. The city has a much more relaxed and artistic feel. The city was however badly rocked by an earthquake in 2016, which claimed the lives of nearly 120 people and the city continues to be affected by more minor tremors.
Some distance away from the city centre lies the district of Anping, part of the old Dutch colony, but now largely a suburb of the city with a number of government offices. There are many reasons to make the effort to visit Anping, which is surrounded by water. It’s a relatively low-rise historical district, with its old Dutch fort at its heart. You can still see some of the old relics of the Dutch colony, but without a doubt, the star attraction is the Anping Tree House – an old 19th century merchants house that has been long abandoned to nature. What makes it so interesting is the banyan trees that have spectacularly moved into every room of the old building. As with so many other places in Taiwan, Anping also has a lively street market, though it’s worth bearing in mind that taxis and restaurants can be hard to come by in the evening as all the shops and markets shut by about 6pm.
So far, I think Tainan is my favourite city in Taiwan.