Zeelandia! I have to admit as soon as I heard Tainan had an old fort named Zeelandia I knew it was going to be a great place to explore. Sounding more like a mini series than a fort, this name conjures up visions of a far away place, in a Disney like setting. In reality, this is the former name of the Dutch fort now named AnPing. But, one fact still remains, Tainan Taiwan is a place worth discovering.
Tainan the former capital of Taiwan is the oldest urban city in Taiwan. With over 300 years of history, Tainan Taiwan is a culturally rich and diversified city. This town is chock full of temples, eateries and hipster cafes. It has a true bohemian vibe and is a mix of old and new establishments. Known as the “snack capital”, Tainan lives up to it’s name in delivering loads of mouth watering treats. Tainan Taiwan was first established as a trading post by the Dutch in 1624. But, this is only one of the interesting facts about this quaint little city.
Being the first established capital in Taiwan, Tainan has been the hub of Taiwan’s political, economical and cultural happenings for hundreds of years. The Dutch, Qing Dynasty loyalists, Japanese, KMT have all had a share in ruling Taiwan so you can only imagine the diversity of landscape here. Although the majority of Tainan’s buildings look like the typical Taiwan fare, if you know where to look you will be in for quite a few surprises
Tiny alleys snake through the city and are lined with old shophouses that have been turned into quaint cafes, mini museums, and art galleries.
Strolling around the downtown area is the best way to check out many historical buildings. Keep your eyes open and you will spot them sprinkled throughout the city. A perfect example is found at the Minsheng Rd. roundabout in the center of Tainan. The Old Tainan Prefecture originally built in 1916, is a beautiful Japanese colonial style building and just one of the gorgeous reminders of a bygone Japanese heyday. This building was a focal point for the Japanese administrative district in downtown Tainan city. It was badly damaged in WWII and was completely renovated in 1997. In 2003 it began to serve as the National Museum of Taiwan Literature.
Although restored to its original glory, the beautiful mansard roof and another main structure still bear the scars of US bombing during World War II. The new interior is a flowing, open style incorporating historic brick walls. This museum holds the literary relics of the Han Chinese, Hakka, Aboriginals, and the Japanese. Most displays are in Mandarin Chinese and Japanese but introductions to each area include English descriptions. And English audio tours are available. A free venue to cool off in and hang out but remember they are not open on Mondays.
The National Museum of Taiwan Literature is located right behind the Confucius temple. It sits next door to the former Tainan Police Department, which is now restored and serving as the home of the Tainan Museum of Fine Arts. Yeh Shih-tao Literature Memorial Hall and the Japanese Martial Arts building are also within walking distance. The Japanese Martial Arts building is one of the largest and best restored butokuden buildings in Taiwan. A butokuden, a place where the Japanese taught and promoted martial arts in Taiwan. It is open on the weekends but not during the week since it is now part of the Zhongyi Elementary school.
Tainan has more temples that any other city in Taiwan so don’t be surprised when you bump into one at almost every turn. Tainan’s temples are tucked into alleyways and crammed in-between shops and added onto the local restaurants. Most of the temples are Buddhist or Taoist with a large emphasis on traditional Taiwanese folk culture. Ornate and slightly gaudy these places of worship are certainly worth a look. One of the oldest and most well known is the Confucius Temple. Built in 1665 it was the first educational institute in Taiwan and the first temple to be dedicated to the veneration of literature and arts.
Stroll down Shennong, Zhengxing or Xinmei Street and you’ll feel as if you’ve just stepped back in time. Tiny alleys snake through the city and are lined with old shophouses that have been turned into quaint cafes, mini museums, and art galleries. These well-preserved streets are filled with historical charm and are full of Instagram worthy photo opts. Keep your eyes peeled and you will see a historical buildings placed all around the city. Ancient Chinese structures, Japanese structures and Japanese era buildings that were built with a colonial style.
Would you like to travel to Europe while in Taiwan? Just on the outskirt of Tainan is the Chimei museum. Opened in 1996 this private museum will blow you away. First, the grounds of the museum transport you to France with the Versailles look alike fountain and the marble statues that line the bridge up to the main building. Housing one of the largest violin collections in the world and one of the most extensive ancient weapons displays I could ever image. This place is amazing and really deserving of a visit. Buses run regularly from downtown so it easy to get to and so much fun! Don’t miss this one while here in Tainan.
The grounds of the museum transport you to France with the Versailles look alike fountain and the marble statues that line the bridge up to the main building.
Not far from Chimei Museum is Ten Drums Cultural Park which is located in one of the repurposed buildings in Taiwan. Originally an old sugar mill from the Japanese Colonial Era. This building has been spared the demise of most of the other defunct sugar mills that used to dot the Taiwan landscape. In 2005, the talented percussion group Ten Drums headed by Mr. Liu Guocang took over the building and transformed it into a eclectic performance center. With a family friendly atmosphere, there is an indoor slide and an extensive over head walkway. Allowing visitors to get birds eye view of the old sugar refinery.
The whole area maintains a cool industrial feel and three large molasses storage tanks have been transformed into a museum, a children’s playground and a hip cafe. There is a large outdoor area with nice foot paths, where you can check out the factory ruins. Inside are exhibits explaining the process of drum making and a drumming room for you to give it a try. There are daily performances by the awards winning Ten Drums percussion group. Make sure to plan your trip so you can catch the performance which are held at 10:30 am and 3:00 pm. There is an additional show on Saturday nights at 8:00 pm.
Make sure you check out the Anping area with the colonial Dutch Fort aka Zeelandia and the AnPing Treehouse. The Anping Treehouse is one of my personal favorites. An old salt warehouse that has seen nature taking back it’s real estate. Decrepit and creepy this place has banyan trees covering it from one end to the other. An awesome boardwalk has been built so you can truly marvel at how nature takes over when man fails to act. Next to the treehouse is the former Tait and Co. merchant house filled with wax figures that portray life in Tainan before the Dutch took over and many of the subsequent happenings after they did.
Tainan is also home to a very special one of a kind movie theater. The Chin Men Theater was first established in 1950. An interesting 3 story building with an art deco design. The facade is covered by enormous hand painted movie placards. These placards are the work of a local artist, Yan Zhen Fa. Famed director Ang Lee grew up in Tainan and regularly frequented the Chin theater throughout his high school years. No doubt inspiring him to pursue his movie production career. While visiting Tainan step back in time and enjoy watching a movie here.
Tainan really is the heart of Taiwan, it encompasses all of what was good and bad in Taiwan’s tumultuous history. Many of Taiwan’s specialty foods can trace their roots back to Tainan. Not only can you see the past you can taste the past when you spend a few days in this historical area. This was certainly not an exhaustive list there are so many more interesting things to see and do in the Tainan area. We hope you will put Tainan on the list of stops you will make when you visit Taiwan. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help you plan an amazing time here in Taiwan.