The Old Capital
Exploring Tainan on the 88 Anping Tourist Shuttle Route
Tainan is one of the most interesting and history-rich cities in Taiwan. Exploring it is easy with the help of the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus service and some healthy, pleasant walking.
If you had to describe getting around Taiwan in a single word, “convenient” would probably be the one. Playing a big part in making things convenient for travelers is the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus service (www.taiwantrip.com.tw), set up in areas around Taiwan to help tourists reach major points of interest quickly, easily, and cheaply. One of the shuttle-bus routes of this service, the 88 Anping Route, runs through the laid-back, sunny southern city of Tainan, long Taiwan's imperial capital, a place where history is preserved down narrow, winding alleys and the island's international past comes to light.
After arriving in Tainan by train, I hopped on the tourist shuttle right outside the railway station. My first stop was the ruins of Fort Provintia. For nearly 40 years, from 1624 to 1662, Holland had a colonial presence in Taiwan, with Tainan its seat of power. The Dutch built the fort in 1652 to serve as both a center of trade and as a means of defense against uprisings. Today, atop the ruins of the fort is the Chinese imperial-style Chikan Tower, for which the site is now formally named.
I have a confession to make – my first stop was not in fact the fort. I stopped for lunch first. Not far from the bus stop, on Sec. 2 of Minzu Road, is the venerable Shi Zhing Zhuo, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant specializing in beef soup. The secret of the soup is in the beef used, which is never frozen; it is boiled on the same day the cow is slaughtered. Hot, steaming bowls of broth and meat chunks are served with a side dish of chopped ginger and thick soy sauce, at NT$100 a bowl. The dish is not heavy – it's a good, light meal that provides ample fuel for a walk through the Chikan Tower heritage site.
Though the structures on this site have been destroyed, rebuilt, and refurbished numerous times over the centuries, sections of Fort Provintia’s original red-brick walls remain. The mortar used, a mix of sand, sugar, glutinous rice, and crushed oyster shells, has proven to have great durability. Strolling through the grounds, I saw imperial-era stone steles on which poetic verses were written in tribute to brave generals of centuries past, held up by sculptures of mythical bixi, half-dragon, half-tortoise creatures. Beneath a double-eaved roof, Wenchang Pavilion, one of the two main buildings of Chikan Tower (the other being Haishen Temple), which stands atop the Fort Provintia ruins, serves as a site of worship for Lord Kuixing, a god believed to bestow good fortune in the academic and professional fields. To the right of the site entrance is a statue depicting Koxinga, the man instrumental in freeing Taiwan from Dutch colonial rule. I would learn more about this renowned historic figure later on.
Across from the entrance of the Chikan Tower site is a series of alleys housing a cluster of famous (read: old) eateries, each with its own specialty. If you're visiting during the hot summer months, stop by the verbosely named Two Silver Cents Traditional Winter Melon Tea Shop which, as the name indicates, doles out refreshing cups of tea flavored with sweet winter melon. A short walk away is Sen Maw Rice Food, which serves small but filling bowls of rice (ground rice in liquid, steamed at high temperature) with ground pork, salted egg yolk, and mushrooms.
Also in the neighborhood are a couple of historic temples; honestly speaking, you are never far from one no matter where you might be in Tainan. Grand Matsu Temple is where the faithful come to worship the goddess of the sea, and is said to have been the first official Matsu temple, of which there are hundreds, on the island of Taiwan. Nearby is Sacrificial Rites Martial Temple, dedicated to another widely worshiped deity, Guan Gong, the god of justice, courage, and loyalty. The temple, built in the classical southern Fujian style, features ornate “swallowtail” roofs decorated with carvings of the mythical qilin, a creature with the head of a dragon and the body of a winged horse.
You are never far from a historic temple no matter where you might be in Tainan
Four bus stops away on the shuttle line from Chikan Tower is the sprawling Tainan Confucius Temple, erected in 1665 to honor the man revered as the father of classical Chinese thought. I walked through the Hall of Edification, the Hall of Ethics, a place where intellectuals once met to hear lectures, then the Hall of Great Achievement, in which a memorial tablet to Confucius himself is housed. All the hoary buildings (though they have each been restored in some capacity over the centuries) are windows into the solemn world of Confucian thought and history, with perhaps no display as representative of this culture as the painstakingly crafted calligraphy in the Hall of Edification, the mere sight of which is enough to instill a feeling of peace and thoughts larger than oneself.
Next, it was time to check out a place of reverence of a different kind, the Koxinga Shrine, about 10 minutes by foot from Tainan Confucius Temple, dedicated to the military leader who expelled the Dutch from Taiwan, also known as Zheng Cheng-gong. The shrine contains a memorial to Koxinga and a hall with displays on Tainan history. Though the grounds have a history going back hundreds of years, the structures today date back only to the early 1960s, when they were restored in the architectural style of northern China. Every year on April 29, memorial services are held here to commemorate the life of the man regarded as Taiwan's imperial-era liberator.
Following the shrine, I took the shuttle bus to the western part of central Tainan City and got off at Anping Historic Harborside Park. The rest of the stops on the route are all within walking distance of this point. First I went to the Tainan City Culture Exhibition Center of Indigenous Peoples, a place where visitors can watch traditional song-and-dance performances by people representing the various tribes that make up Taiwan's indigenous population. At the park itself you can enjoy the sight of colorful kites sent up by vendors flying high in the sky. Walk around the harbor to the side opposite the exhibition center and you'll find Anping Old Street, a collection of cramped alleys featuring shops and food stalls where friendly hawkers regularly call out with a ready smile, offering free samples in hope of earning a sale.
Anping Old Street leads to Anping Fort, site of the ruins of Fort Zeelandia, the main fortification built by the Dutch during their Taiwan adventure. Built overlooking the harbor of the time, long since silted up, it offered protection against the local indigenous and Han Chinese population and protected the Dutch harbor trade.
The Dutch weren't the only Westerners to set up for business in Tainan in days of old, however. The British also set up shop for a time in the 19th century, just down the road from the old fort’s location. The Old Tait & Co. Merchant House, opened by an English trade company, has now been converted into a museum with exhibits on the progress of the area from prior to the Dutch occupation to the time of increased Han migration from China in the 18th century, with a small wax museum on the second floor. Beside this facility is an old company warehouse that, over the years, has been completely overtaken by the creeping roots and branches of massive banyan trees, which is why the building now sports the lyrical name Anping Tree House – an excellent spot to learn about the local ecology while you grab some shade.
Even a busy day in Tainan leaves you feeling relaxed, a testament to the friendly and charming nature of what is oft called the cradle of Taiwan’s history and culture
This might be a lot to take in in a single day, but all in all, even a busy day in Tainan leaves you feeling relaxed, a testament to the friendly and charming nature of what is oft called the cradle of Taiwan’s history and culture.
When You Go: Getting around Tainan’s urban core is fast and easy, with many attractions grouped in clusters. Temples are generally free to enter, with one exception being Tainan Confucius Temple, which like other historic sites such as the Anping Tree House and Chikan Tower has a fee of NT$50 per person. Group discounts are available, which drop the price to NT$25 each.
As for the shuttle, a multi-use ticket for the day costs NT$100, and you can buy single-use tickets for NT$18 apiece.
English and Chinese
|88 Anping Route 88||安平線|
|Anping Historic Harborside Park||安平港濱歷史公園|
|Anping Old Street||安平老街|
|Anping Tree House||安平樹屋|
|Grand Matsu Temple||大天后宮|
|Old Tait & Co. Merchant House||德記洋行|
|Sacrificial Rites Martial Temple||祀典武廟|
|Tainan Confucius Temple||台南孔廟|
Shi Jing Jiu Beef Soup (石精臼牛肉湯)
Add:246, Sec. 2, Minzu Rd., Tainan City (台南市民族路二段246號)
Tel: (06) 223-2266
Two Silver Cents Traditional Winter Melon Tea Shop (兩角銀古早味冬瓜茶)
Add:51, Lane 227, Sec. 2, Yongfu Rd., Tainan City (台南市永福路二段227巷51號)
Tel: (06) 221-6818
Sen Maw Rice Food (森茂碗粿)
Add:228, Sec. 2, Minzu Rd., Tainan City (台南市民族路2段228號)
Tel: (06) 222-5575