As Taiwan’s oldest city and cultural center, Tainan’s history dates back 400 years, ensuring that traditional culture continues to thrive in the region. Best known for its forts, beaches, 500+ temples, art culture, and affordable food options, the city displays a rustic charm that makes it a booming destination for every type of traveler.
Tainan is also home to the Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, which takes place during the Chinese Lantern Festival. Thousands of Taiwanese dress in protective gear and motorcycle helmets as beehives or large cylinders are filled with rockets and launched towards the crowd, leading to a beautiful display of fireworks. This dangerous yet unique custom backdates to the time in history when locals had summoned the ‘God of War’ to eradicate an epidemic.
Our Culture AI analyzed over 100 Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube uploads from Tainan over the last month to investigate the destination’s appeal to locals and tourists alike. The top emotions that surfaced were those of Happiness, Affiliation, Vividness, and Fear.
As per the 2019 World Happiness Report, Taiwan was voted the happiest country in East Asia. The level of social support, availability of healthcare, and high quality of life have resulted in 82% of Taiwanese people stating that they are content with their lifestyles (this emotion is also justified by the positive sentiment score for Twitter and Instagram that our AI pulled). As Taiwan’s ancient capital, the city of Tainan leads a slower life in general, which has resulted in a population of people that are hospitable and warm. In addition, the abundance of temples and deep-rooted traditions have created a sense of spirituality and peace amongst the people. Examples of such customs that are constructing the sentiments of Happiness and Affiliation include communicating with the dead at Dongyue Temple, and praying to the Goddess of Sea at Grand Matsu Temple. As a result, Solitude has also made the list as one of the top emotions felt by residents and visitors.
Interestingly, our AI also found that Fear was one of the top feelings experienced by people. With over 1600 temples present in the city, each with their own set of customs being followed, it comes as no surprise that the Tainanese are God-fearing people. They not only want to follow religious practices to attain spiritual salvation, but want to ensure that they are not upsetting a higher power because of their lack of concern for these customs. This is made evident in the presence of abacuses at the City God Temple where every visitor wants to guarantee himself a good fate and after-life.
Finally, the emotion of Vividness has been highlighted as a result of the memories of the destination as well as the unique experiences that travelers have had in Tainan. Where else in the world would you get to visit a giant solar-powered stadium, or learn an ancient language off a layer of rocks? To further add to the city’s distinctiveness, Tainan is also home to various other folk festivals and traditions such as the King Boat Ceremony, the Siraya Night Festival, and…pigeon competitions!
Join us as we virtually explore this hidden gem of Taiwan.
36 Hours in Tainan
9:00 AM: A Spiritual Journey
Kickstart Day 1 in Tainan by paying tribute to the first Confucius Temple in Taiwan — built in 1666. This is also the birthplace of the country’s first official school and the location where education originated in Taiwan. The elegant halls and courtyards of the temple are filled with Confucian texts written all over in calligraphy, and the temple gardens occasionally have people seeking peace and serenity. There is also an annual Memorial Ceremony that takes place where you can witness a ceremonial dance performance.
10:30 AM: Seek Justice at the City God Temple
Continue temple-hopping by visiting a quaint and prominent Taoist temple that is one of its kind- the City God Temple. Unlike usual places of worship, this temple has displays of giant abacuses that will give you insights into whether you have done more good deeds in life than bad, the result of which would subject them to face the consequences after death. This tradition originates from Chinese folk religion, which treats the City God as a real-life prosecutor of the underworld. So, are you ready to unravel your fate?
12:30 PM: Indulge in the Original Danzai Noodles
Get an authentic taste of Taiwanese food at Du Hsiao Yueh, a century-old restaurant that founded a specialty dish of Taiwanese cuisine, Danzai noodles. Invented by local fishermen, this dish comprises of wheat-based noodles soaked in a seafood broth and topped with vegetables and shrimp. The restaurant also serves delicious fried oysters and pork legs for those wanting to try other dishes.
2:00 PM: Make a Wish Atop Chihkan Tower
Once serving as one of the city’s administrative centers in the 1600s, Chihkan Tower is still intact in its original form. While the inside of the tower hosts artifacts and historical documentation from its time of development, the area outside the tower has a gorgeous courtyard from where one can spot the iconic set of turtles. As per ancient Chinese folklore, these turtles are a symbol of resilience and longevity. On the weekends, there are often concerts that take place in the courtyard. Make sure you climb to the top of the tower to ask for an unfulfilled wish!
3.30 PM: Explore the Remnants of a Warehouse-Turned Tree House
Originally a warehouse owned by the British Tait & Co trading company, the Anping Tree House has now quickly become every Instagram user’s favorite spot. You will not only find the remains of the warehouse buildings deteriorating under banyan roots but can also explore a permanent art exhibition dedicated to the unique site that has multiple lookout spots. Legend has it that the treehouse is haunted!
5:00 PM: Communicate With the Dead
Next, visit another one of Tainan’s distinctive and eccentric temples. The Dongyue Temple offers visitors the opportunity to communicate with the dead via spirits. It has various chambers that assist people in this practice, including a chamber of the underworld Taoist King, one with the Bodhisattva, and the final one with the Demon Gods. Uninviting and gory murals in some of the chambers create an atmosphere that can send chills down one’s spine!
7.00 PM: A Little Bit of Everything, Please
End the day by indulging in a Taiwanese feast at Da Dong Night Market. As the city’s second-largest night market, you will come across a variety of traditional street food items here such as fried squid, fried sweet-potato balls, oyster grills, and also the infamous stinky tofu. The night market makes for the perfect opportunity to try out small portions of dishes so that you can get the best of each delicacy. End on a sweet note by enjoying the traditional Taiwanese Bubble Tea.
9:00 AM: Kayak Through the Mangroves
This morning, explore the wetlands, lagoons, and swamps of Taijiang National Park on a Kayaking tour! This region is significant in facilitating the development of the region’s fishing and farming industries and has rare bird species, such as the Black-faced Spoonbill. You can also come up close to the Dazhong Temple on your kayak and get an enlarged view of the temple from the water.
11:00 AM: Pay Tributes to the Goddess of Sea
Next, visit the sacred Grand Matsu Temple that was once a Royal Palace. As per the Taiwanese religion, the Goddess Matsu is one of the most important deities for worshippers, which is why there are over 4500 temples dedicated to the Goddess across the country. There are several rooms in the temple with a variety of deities on display that each reflect a different phase of Matsu. The temple is also a testament to the country’s history of beautiful architectural and sculpting practices.
1:00 PM: Fish Everything for Lunch
Rated by many as their top choice for Taiwanese food in the city, Wang’s Fish Shop is a treat for visitors. The Braised Pork Rice, Fish Skin Soup, and Braised Fish Belly are rich, nutritious, and light on the stomach and make for a simple yet delicious meal. The added benefit is that a milkfish farmer runs the restaurant!
2:30 PM: Visit the World’s Largest Solar-Powered Stadium
The dragon-shaped Kaohsiung National Stadium is one of the most unique stadiums in the world. Designed by a renowned Japanese architect, the stadium consists of over 8800 solar panels resting on the ‘scales’ of the dragon, which are enough to power the matches’ requirements. What’s even more impressive is that the stadium was built with 100 percent recyclable raw materials! The entire construction most definitely showcases the country’s commitment towards sustainability.
4:00 PM: Grind Your Own Tea
Immerse yourself in Taiwanese tea-making culture at the MeiNong I-Chan teahouse. Grab a large mortar and pestle and learn the art of making herbal tea using herbs, nuts, and tea leaves, as you enjoy a plethora of local snacks. Photo enthusiasts have the option of trying on Hakka-style costumes and taking photos.
6:00 PM: Learn the Language of 158
As your last activity in Tainan, visit the unusual site of Shoaf Kepl Poets, where you will stumble upon a blanket of carved stones that display scriptures in the language of 158, one where words are numbers and numbers are words. Fabricated by a geographer to create a parallel universe, the meanings of each number have a constant and equivalent meaning in the form of a phrase. Prepare to brush up your language-learning skills!
7:30 PM: Treat Yourself to a Surprise Meal
The century-old Zhu Xin Ju Restaurant gives every diner a rustic experience and an authentic Tainanese flavor. There is no hassle of picking items from a menu as there is a pre-set seven-course meal that changes daily. Enjoy a fusion of dishes that could include a combination of pork, chicken, and other vegetables. The restaurant’s growing popularity makes it difficult to get a reservation, so book your table in advance.
The City of the Phoenix, as Tainan is often called, is a treat for travelers looking for a mix of culture, traditions, and unique experiences. Unlike Taiwan’s popular and mainstream cities of Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Kenting, Tainan is a relatively remote and unheard of destination for local and international visitors alike. The city manages to add a magical and unique touch to its swarm of temples, parks, and eateries, thereby ensuring that travelers are astounded at every part of their journey.
How To Get There
There are various international flights flying into Tainan from major ports in Asia and Europe. For those flying from the Americas, there are various flight connections from the capital Taipei. Domestic travelers can get into the city via the country’s well-connected rail network.
Where To Stay
For travelers looking for luxury accommodation, Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel is a central and premium stay option. Shoestring travelers can opt for comfortable alternatives such as the Easy Inn Hostel.
When To Go
November to April is the best time to visit Tainan
Citizens of the USA, Australia, Europe, and a few Asian countries are allowed a visa-free stay in Taiwan for a certain period of time. Visitors from other countries need to apply for a valid Taiwanese visa.
Public buses and taxis are the most convenient way to get around the city. For those wanting to get in some exercise, biking around the city is a sustainable option.
The New Taiwan Dollar (NT$) is the official currency of Taiwan.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan. Outside of the big cities, it is hard to come across many English speakers.
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