I’ve been staring at my Google Sheets, listing all the places I visited in Tainan, wondering how to fit all these in one post. Mother spoke truth when she wondered how I’ve covered so much. I was surprised myself. But then I figured this is what years of anticipation does to you, or at least your will power. You’d totally forget your feet and legs can ache from all that walking ’til they scream the next day.
To be fair to my feet and legs, they functioned without fatigue in those 4 days I’m in Tainan. Whenever the bus didn’t cooperate with my schedule, I hit the road. Literally. With nothing but them. And before I know it I was ticking off, one after another, things listed on my Tainan places-to-see.
A fair warning though, please excuse this post as it becomes a gallery that sprouted some text. But I promise, it will be filled with why Tainan became my favorite county in Taiwan. There will be stories of why these places are special to me, but I would leave much of the historical digging to your Googler self. I want to show these sites to you through my own lens.
Oh, and by the way, I am grouping this post in themed parts to be able to properly share all eleven places I visited. Plus more. 😉
Hayashi Department Store
While I was researching for places to visit, Hayashi struck me as interesting because I’ve seen how Taiwan gentrified Japanese architecture—case in point, Miyahara in Taichung. I mainly wanted to photograph Hayashi in the morning and evening, to compare its grandiose. However, I wasn’t prepared for all the historical significance that I was going to get bombed with figuratively, as soon as I stepped foot inside its 5-storey building.
In the 1930s, it was one of the only two buildings in the entire island that had an elevator—a technological feat that was so amazing for Taiwanese folks back then. Actually I still get amazed to this day whenever I find elevators working in all of Taipei’s MRTs coz guuuurl, you should see Manila’s. Anyway, such was its uniqueness that people from places as far as Pingtung would travel to Tainan just to get the chance to ride the iconic elevator. Today, the location of said elevator still exists although the car itself was upgraded. Visitors can also ride it. The original floor counter was set on the side, with some historical account of it, and in its place is a newer, probably longer-lasting functional version giving a feel of them old times.
Hayashi also symbolized Taiwan’s first rise to economic power. It was proof of how the island started to modernize, and in my opinion, Hayashi is a rare architectural melting pot of Japanese and Chinese architecture too. I also loved how there’s a portion on one of its floors devoted to explaining the renovations done to keep the heritage of Hayashi intact, with English subtitles for everyone to understand.
The entire interior of Hayashi beats Eslite and Tsutaya combined. I am such a sucker for authentic vintage I cannot even begin to explain it. Also, guys, there is a shinto shrine on the open rooftop! Plus a cosmopolitan view of Tainan, and some of the original building’s walls preserved as they bore the bomb/gun holes from World War II. It was like walking in a mall museum. Or a museum mall. Or both. And it’s truly special.
Tainan Confucius Temple
I became interested with this site due to how it looked from outside and also because it’s considered as one of Taiwan’s oldest national heritage site. BUT, in my opinion, if you aren’t up for some Confucian history then you might consider skipping this. BUT AGAIN, let me just confuse you further and tell you that this was built around 1665 and in all those years Tainan has managed and perhaps even lovingly kept the place just as it was when it was first built.
It isn’t perfect, but you could tell it is revered and kept clean. Despite the bombs, the unrest, and all that political jazz, it stands to this day representing the educational roots of Taiwan. It’s also interesting to note how simple this temple compares to other Taoist/Buddhist temples you will see in Taiwan.
Personally, the most striking thing for me here was its heavy emphasis on education. I didn’t know Confucius was all about that. When I was new in Taiwan, I was a little surprised with how locals place such an importance not just on education but on educational attainment as well. Most folks would work hard to send their kids to college abroad. And most college graduates from Taiwan would immediately think about moving on to getting a Master’s degree once they get their Bachelor’s degree. Education, in some ways, seemed to me part and parcel of their reputation. To me, Confucianism may not have religiously embedded itself as deeply as Taoism or Buddhism did in Taiwan, but it seems it did so in terms of social value.
Chihkan Tower is one of those pretty historical things that stand out in a neighborhood of simple suburban modernity. That’s the best sentence I can honestly think of to describe it.Juxtaposed in the middle of a dowtown area, its eccentric appearance blends organically in modern times. Like a hidden gem discovered. This historic site has an entrance fee of 50 NTD and I know that’s tacky to say after all that pseudo-marketing shenanigans I just said (cheesy but true), but hey, you gotta know. I think it’s worth it. I’ve enjoyed looking at all the details incorporated into building this fort and how all of it meant something to ancient Taiwanese beliefs.
Also known as Fort Provintia (but I prefer calling it Chihkan Tower), the place was built in 1653 under Dutch rule until Koxinga’s troops reclaimed the place. The documents you will find enclosed in glass cases showcase the Sirayan language used to be widely spoken among the indigenous peoples of Taiwan. By the way, indigenous heritage is one of the most important things that Taiwan aims to represent these days. And this is very strong in Tainan, along with Chinese. And Japanese. Imagine that.
There were also several Tainanese food shops nearby. And you bet pakbet Imma try one of them noodle places next time!
Our Lady of China
I recall a friend telling me that not only would I find historical Taoist temples in Tainan, but even places of worship that tried to embed itself in Taoist culture. So when my research turned up a hit with Our Lady of China, I was like whoa there what’s this?
A bit of back story here: my parents are devoted to the Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran. Back in the Philippines, we spent Wednesdays going to Her novena, then chillaxing in MOA. #certifiedmallrats.
Going to Baclaran on Wednesdays is one of those family traditions that kept our small family together, especially during tough times. Even if we were financially constrained, or their schedules were crazy that week, my parents still made the effort to stick to their Wednesday devotion. I believe that there were a few miracles that happened in our lives because of my parents’ devotion to Mama Mary. It was what made me decide to keep the faith no matter what religion I get exposed to. Also the reason why I don’t believe in godlessness and atheism though I respect people’s beliefs in it. I had an agnostic phase myself, but got over it. Wasn’t for me. I like how my faith in God, knowing that I am a speck among His creations humbles me.
I also had a personal experience with one of the Mama Mary statues my parents introduced me to in Baclaran. To this day, I don’t know why it happened nor what it meant. But since that day, I understood what the power of prayer can do.
Tainan is the only one with an Our Lady of China church, and She is very popular among tourists as well. A tourist was curiously looking at this church from outside, hesitant to come in so I presumed he was non-Catholic. But upon seeing me inside, checking out the bits and pieces of details, exploring the place, he also started to take photos and let go of hesitations to marvel at the mix of Taoist and Catholic influences inside.
A.k.a. Fort Zeelandia if you Google it. For me the best thing about this place is the mini street market you’ll find on your way to it, filled with shops after shops of Tainan’s delicacies. This is where I had my authentic AF shrimp rolls and coffin bread. A bit salty, true, but delicious nonetheless.
Anping is also Tainan’s oldest district, dating back to the Dutch colonial period. If you’ve ever been to Intramuros in Manila, that is exactly the feels that Anping Fort gives. Personally, I could’ve just skipped it. But I guess, it’s always good to visit it at least once. To be fair, it is well-maintained and you can actually see where that entrance fee of 50 NTD goes to. There’s also a mini museum in its main building, atop the fort, showcasing Dutch colonial rule, Japanese rule, and the arrival of Ming Dynasty’s Koxinga.
Most of the people spent time here taking photoshoots against red brick walls that are quite common in other forts all over Taiwan. It’s what’s left of Dutch architecture. Couldn’t blame them though, as they’re quite picturesque.
And just like everybody else, I too was mesmerized by Banyan roots crawling over red bricks. Who knows what histories they’ve watched unfold after all these freaking centuries.
To be continued…