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Looking for travel tips on what to do in Tainan?
As part of our city guides series we interviewew Matt Gibsonwho lived in Tainan for seven years.
Matt share with us he’s insidertravel tips and knowledge on Tainan for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.
Take it away…
Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan and is also the former capital, so it’s steeped in Taiwanese culture and history.
Although by western standards Tainan is a large city , it does not feel like a metropolis. It has a distinctly old heritage city feel. There is also a lot of support for the arts in Tainan. There are some fantastic modern art galleries and even an art street.
There are a lot of temples in Taiwan, but as the oldest city, Tainan has an especially high concentration of them–several of which are very well-known.
Tainan’s Confucius Temple is one of the most famous in the city. The National Literature Museum is also an excellent place to learn about the country’s culture and history.
Taiwanese people are passionate about food, especially snacks, and Tainan is famous for having many of the best in the country.
In Taiwan most restaurants are small, only serve a few items, and have a specialty that they’re known for. Since Tainan is so old, many of the recipes date back to the city’s early days during the Qing Dynasty.
Needless to say, food stand and restaurant hopping is a fantastic experience here.
The night markets are, of course, always entertaining..
Anping is the oldest neighbourhood in Tainan, which makes it the oldest in Taiwan. It is said that Anping is where Chiang Kai Shek first landed when fleeing China.
Here you will find some of the biggest and oldest temples in Taiwan, the Anping Fort (which was built by the Dutch as defence against invaders) and beautiful historical character alley lined with specialty food shops and artisans.
Locals and expats alike can often be found relaxing with friends and people-watching on tea shop patios on Hai An R., Tainan’s ‘hip district’, which is also a fantastic area for shopping.
Hai An Rd. is the location of a city-funded art project, and many buildings are adorned with murals. The area around Hai An Rd. is also the old center of town and former red light district, so it has a character and charm all its own.
BeiMen Rd. is the main road in the middle of town that runs past the front of the train station. It’s also a fantastic place for shopping. If you are looking for cheap computer parts, there are two large computer malls here with everything that you could imagine.
Just north of the train station on Bei Men Rd., you will find the Tainan Park, the largest in the city, complete with a lake and a pagoda suspended above it.
In Taiwan, it’s the small dumpy-looking restaurants with hundreds of years of history behind them that are best-known and are highly recommended. Here are a few of my favourites:
Shanghai Steamed Pork Buns | 上海好味道小籠湯包
This restaurant is famous countrywide for its soup dumplings–but all the dumplings are fantastic! There’s no English menu, so if you don’t speak Chinese you will either need to enlist some help or resort to pointing at other people’s food to order. Ten steamed dumplings here will run you about $1.50 USD. That’s plenty for most people, but I usually can’t resist ordering a second plate.
Address: #26 DongAn Rd., Tainan City | 台南市東區東安路26號
Vonny’s Garden Vegetarian Restaurant | 綠素界花果茶餐飲坊
As a buddhist country, Taiwan has some amazing vegetarian food. The fake meat (they even have fake sashimi) is unbelievable. Vonny’s is a homey restaurant in an old house with excellent vegetarian dishes, great service, and an English menu. Meals here range from around $2.20 USD for noodles or rice, up to around $8 USD for the fake steak.
Address: 95 Linsen Rd., Sec.2 | 林森路二段95號
Shangri-La Hotel | 香格里拉
Shangri-La Hotels are known to be one of the most extravagant hotel chains in the country. Most upscale hotels and shopping centres in Taiwan will also have a very upscale buffet restaurant serving exotic foreign cuisines, sushi, steak, seafood, and the like. They are normally all you can eat and all you can drink (including beer and wine). They generally cost about $30-$40 USD per person. If you are looking for an exceptional meal, visit Tainan’s Shangri-La for the best buffet in town.
Phone: (886 6) 702 8888
Of course, stall-hopping at one of the many night markets is always recommended.
An oyster omelette–by far Tainan’s best-known specialty. One should also not forget to drink pearl milk tea, and, if you get the chance, try some peking duck (about $8-9 USD for a whole duck).
Traditionally, Taiwanese are not big drinkers so the busiest places in town are foreigner hangouts. The most popular include:
The Armory | 兵工廠
Address: 82 Gongyan South Rd. | 台南市公園南路82號
Tin Pan Alley
Address: 28 Bei Men Rd., Section 2 | 北門路二段28號
Phone: (06) 2231123
Address: 321 JianKang Rd., Section 2 | 台南市健康路二段 321號
Phone: (06) 291-1050
Iris’ Tower ($16 USD/night and up)
Address: 14F-2, No.53, Sec. 2, Lin’an Rd. | 14F-2臨安二段53號
Asia Emperor Hotel ($34 USD/night and up)
7F, No.31, Sec. 3, Dongmen Rd. | 7F臺南市東門路三段31號
Shangri La ($99 USD/night and up)
Phone: (886 6) 702 8888
Like I mentioned above, Hai An Rd. has fantastic clothing and jewelry on the road and, especially in the back alleys nearby.
Bei Men Rd. near the train station has very good clothes shops (although not as awesome as Hai An Rd.) as well as lots of electronics, computers, photography, and other shops.
The Tainan Jade Market (台南玉市) is also definitely worth a visit. It’s open Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday and is located at 215 Jhonghua West Rd., Section 1 (台南市中西區中華西路二段215號)
Each year in May a local foreigner organizes a small festival called the May Jam.
Every year shortly after Chinese New Year there is an unbelievably dangerous fireworks festival called the Yenshuei Fireworks Festival. It takes place in the nearby township of Yenshuei. During this festival thousands of fireworks are shot directly into the crowds.
Every Chinese New Year Tainan also hosts a fantastic Lantern Festival. Almost any time of year you are likely to see some sort of parade for a god’s birthday (Daoism has a LOT of gods).
The bus system is very difficult to navigate and seldom used. Taxis, however, are quite affordable. You can get to most places in the city for $3-6 USD.
Renting a scooter is also a good option, as they are better than cars for navigating the crowded streets. There are several scooter rental shops behind the train station, and scooters can be rented for $25-30 USD/day.
WiFi is pretty easy to find here for free. Many Starbucks have free WiFi. A coffee shop chain called Donutes also offers free WiFi.
You can buy one month of 7-11 WiFi for around $10 or $15 USD (I forget exactly how much), which is very convenient because in Taiwan 7-11’s are everywhere, serve coffee and food, and many have tables and electrical outlets where you can plug in your computer.
November and December are the months when the weather is by far the most pleasant. It’s like north american indian summer. Not too hot, nice and dry, sunny most days.
There are lots of budget airlines in Asia that fly to Taiwan. Check out:
Tiger Airways when travelling to or from Singapore
Cebu Pacific when travelling to or from the Philippines
Air Asia when travelling to or from Malaysia.
It’s really not worth the money or trouble to fly inside of Taiwan. If you are in a hurry, Taiwan’s high speed rail is much more convenient.
Although Taiwan has a good train system, I much prefer to travel between cities by bus. The cost is similar, but the busses are incredibly luxurious.
I strongly recommend travelling by HoHsin (the red bus). Each seat is the size of a Lazy Boy, has massage settings, and its own screen for watching moves and playing video games. The price is comparable to a train ticket, and they have service between major cities at least once an hour 24 hours a day.
I’m a big fan of Tainan County’s Monkey Mountain. It’s about a 40 minute drive east of town near the town of NanHua. There are fantastic hiking trails and you’re almost guaranteed to see tons of macaques–in addition to an enormous Buddha statue and a beautiful temple.
This is the description from a Tainan tourism website:
“Wushan Macaca Cyclopis (Swinhoe) Conservation Area is located at a 750-meter height mountain area in NanhuaTown, TainanCounty. There are more than hundreds of Macaca Cyclopis (Swinhoe) living here and evolving to a special habitat. For protecting the wild Macaca Cyclopis (Swinhoe), the county government developed one area for tourists with no admission charge. This Conservation Area is at about 500 meters above the sea level and gathering about 40 to 50 Macaca Cyclopis (Swinhoe).”
Nearby Guanzling also has fantastic hot springs, mud baths, and hiking trails, and is home to a pool of burning water (it burns as natural gas bubbles up from fissures in the earth beneath).
I love Tainan because the locals are so incredibly warm and friendly.
Matt Gibson is a travel writer, photographer, blogger, who is passionate about eco-friendly adventure travel. Matt lived in Taiwan for six years, founded an island-wide magazine called Xpat, and speaks Mandarin Chinese like a four-year-old with a lisp.
The photos for this guide were provided by Richard Matheson. Rich has lived in Taiwan longer than one would care to remember. He is married to an aboriginal woman and has two children, speaks Mandarin much better than Matt, and divides his time between Tainan City and his wife’s village in the mountains.
Rich’s photography website The Taiwan Photographer.
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