During my first trip to Tainan, via HSR, two old ladies asked me if they are in the right car. As they showed me their ticket, I got confused for a bit and thought, yes they were.
So they approached their seats where a man already sat. He spoke to them in Mandarin, gestured to the back and side-eyed me with a look that said, “WTF were you talking about, are you even in the right car yourself?” The grandmas apologized to him, and since the HSR was already moving by then, they resigned themselves to the empty seats in front of me. That’s when I decided to take a look at my HSR ticket and realized goddamn, I need coffee in the morning. After downing my breakfast, I approached the grandmas and asked them where they’re going. Guess where? Also Tainan. That was it, I gotta do what I wanna do, and slung their big backpack, took their big handbag and told them,
“我幫你” (I’ll help you)
Off we went aisle after aisle, them pulling a wheeled luggage, with a look of happiness and bewilderment that the useless whacko is making things right. The look of satisfaction and gratitude on their faces when we finally got into their rightful car 6, in their right seats (still unoccupied, of course!) were one of the best things in life I won’t forget.
Sometimes I wonder if coincidences are just randomness, or are truly an alignment of magical stars. With that memory in mind, I give you the part 3 of this supposedly 3-part post on Tainan. At some point I decided to just forego it, but you know what, this is the third month after my first trip and I’m going to make that coincidence count. Who knows who this post just might help, right?
Anyway, this part 3 is about the modern side of Tainan. And I think it’s good that as of writing this, I’ve actually been back there last February. A few things changed during my second visit, mostly subdued my wide-eyed, rose-colored glasses first time. Is it still my favorite county in Taiwan? Yes. Would I trade living in Taipei to settling here instead? Probably not.
I came back with my family. We spent Chinese New Year there, and while there weren’t too many people, the lack of public transport options compared to Taipei made me think. It can be difficult to get from one place to another by simply relying on buses and taxis. They were few. Although much of Tainan is walkable, if you have people who aren’t really into walking for 10-15 minutes, it could be a dilemma. Also applies if you’re carrying heavy stuff, or your travel gear.
I’ve been told that it’s better if Tainan never gets an MRT. I’m not sure what to think of that because in Taipei the MRT made life easier. I suppose it would be difficult for Tainan because their streets and roads are smaller. Portions of it would have to be closed to make way for an MRT. Tainan would also keep its vintage vibe sans MRT. I wish, though, that they’d use more electronic buses and taxis…I dunno…anything green to increase those modes of public transportation. Walking to Anping from Tainan train station is doable but man, that’ll take you a day.
Now, that’s my most important consideration when traveling to Tainan. If you don’t mind walking so far (and your companions too) then go for it. But if it’s going to be an issue, better plan your trip carefully before going there (so you can maximize transport options) or consider hiring a van/renting a car if you’ve got an international driver’s license.
Blueprint Culture and Creative Park
I went here because I wanted to see modern local art in Tainan. It was conveniently located in front of the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi mall, which was probably the biggest mall in Tainan. Blueprint Culture and Creative Park reminded me of Huashan Creative Park in Taipei. It’s filled with shops housing local products, mostly the modern artistic kind.
This was the first time I’ve seen DIY jewelry, I almost thought I entered a museum instead of a shop. I guess it would be fun to actually be able to make your own pendants and whatnots and be an artisan for a day, at least a few hours. As for me, I was contented enough to gape at the artistic creations…and their price.
But what I particularly loved about this park are the murals. Looking at it closely, it’s not just painting for the heck of it. In a place as historically steeped as Tainan, it’s such a curious thing to see the juxtaposition of Western and Eastern ideologies per mural. I mean, to me they looked more than just colored walls, and it’s nice to see them being appreciated by the locals too. Perhaps they knew more about the mural’s story and who did each of them.
The two most popular night markets in Tainan are Hua Yuan and Da Dong. The former is the biggest, the latter the second biggest. And by big I mean REALLY BIG. I thought I was prepared for these, but no.
I’m also surprised that these night markets are not open all day long, every single day. They officially open in their designated wide open hectare-ish spaces from 6PM to 1AM. Dadong is open on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. Hua Yuan is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and weekends. In Taipei, both the Shilin and Raohe night markets are open 24/7, it’s just that 80% of its shops open after 6PM. Also, it’s common to see boutiques peppering Taipei’s night markets. Tainan has none of that, just stalls of food and other very traditional spaces, tiangge-style shops.
It was like going to a shopping battle once you get inside. Big flapping flags beckon you, lights are everywhere, and fellow night market visitors move like waves of people from one alley to the next. It is so tempting to sing “Pasok mga suki…” if I only knew how to translate that in Mandarin haha. It’s crazy good. It’s organized chaos, with designated areas for traditional games, clothes and shoes, gadgets, other home stuff, smorgasbord of dry goods, and of course the famous night market food. Going through food stall after food stall was enough to satiate your hunger. Just breath in all of that smoke from what’s cooking then eat rice. You’re good.
And as always, when looking for places to eat in Taiwan, if you spot a queue, don’t think just line up. It’s guaranteed to be good. 🙂
Narrow Door Cafe
I remember seeing Janet Hsieh challenging K.F. Seetoh to enter the Narrow Door Cafe. I found it both amazing and funny that his belly glided inside as if invisible walls parted to let him in. Honestly, this was my top priority when I came to Tainan haha, as I wondered what kind of sorcery takes place between an approximately 40 cm entrance.
I won’t spoil the secret, but let me just say that the walls don’t move. 😉 Anyhow, if you decide to go further up into the cafe, you need to spend at least 180 NTD per person to stay inside. I guess they do it to keep the place from being flooded with people. The cafe serves light snacks, tea, coffee, and juices. I forgot the juices I tried, but both were good. I also appreciate the fact that they warmed the madelines before serving them, and their cookies tasted chewy and freshly-baked.
I didn’t really know what to expect with Chimei Museum. I just found out about it on TripAdvisor while researching for places to visit in Tainan. It had a 4.5 rating and reviews were mostly favorable so I was like, okay, let’s check this out.
Going to Chimei Museum, from Tainan City, is a 30-minute car ride. It is located on the outskirts of Tainan. The museum is privately-owned by one of the largest Taiwanese companies (named…*drumroll please* Chi Mei Corporation!) on the island, and housed the art collections of its founder. It somehow evolved from that, and currently has some of the biggest collections of musical instruments, ancient weaponry, and European paintings mostly from the Renaissance era. It was fascinating to see a few Picassos, but my personal favorite are the Salvador Dali sculptures–so cheeky.
To get here, I actually took a cab and it took me thirty minutes from the hotel. It cost me about 300 NTD. Going back, I had to walk about 15 minutes towards the nearest train station going back to Tainan City–Bao-an station. By the way, the walk was to be done alongside the highway. There’s a small pedestrian so it’s safe, and vehicles rarely come by, but it’s good to keep this in mind in case you’re still thinking of going there by train and it’s raining.
Anping Tree House
And, of course, I saved the best for last. 🙂 This is my favorite place in Tainan (so far) so much so that I wanted to share it with my family. I think it’s a testament to how ingenuous the Taiwanese are when it comes to making the most of their natural treasures, without disrupting it so much just to make money or lure more tourists.
Anping Tree House has an interesting history that dates back to when Taiwan fell under the Dutch and then the Japanese rule. For the most part, it was a warehouse used for storing various goods prior to them being imported or exported. At some point it became abandoned, and while people thought about what to do with it, a Banyan tree went ahead and grew smack in the middle of it. At present, the Banyan tree already looked as if it sprouted the house, and not the other way around.
It was difficult to photograph, to be honest, because colors could appear dull due to massive branches surrounding the place. But I think that also works in your favor, because then you are left to ponder just how the entire thing happened, how nature could care less and grow where it wants to. Well, it’s still pretty Instagrammable, if that is your thing, as evidenced by the number of folks making good use of the walls. Just don’t forget to climb the ladder surrounding the Anping Tree House so you can see how massive and deeply rooted the Banyan tree is within it.
Nobody planted the Banyan tree there. Nature just well, probably happened on the house and thought, well hey now this looks like a great place to stay in. But seriously, going to Anping, this tree house couldn’t be more fit where it’s at. Anping District, in itself, is so steeped in history that the this tree house growing organically in it is just a marvel to experience.
So in Conclusion…
If you decide to visit Tainan, I strongly recommend that you stay there for at least 4 days. There’s just so many historical sites and unique places to see, plus factor in that public transpo could be a challenge if you don’t have your own car to move around. I’d say it’s as safe as Taipei, and folks are also used to tourists so you won’t have problems communicating in English. Just make sure you ask questions from younger folks or your friendly neighborhood authorities to make it easy for both parties.
As an aside, I would also recommend that you tour Tainan if you’ve already seen Taipei just to get the most of that New Taiwan/Old Taiwan feel. I guarantee that you would definitely immerse yourself into what Taiwan is all about that way. Think of Taipei as the younger millenial brother, and Tainan as the conservative old-school big brother. 🙂