A weekend escape into Taiwan history …and food!
After spending many weekends wandering through the mountains near my home in Hsinchu, exploring mountain roads and aboriginal villages, it was time for a weekend getaway and some different scenery. So my friend and I packed our small backpacks and headed south on the high-speed rail to Tainan.
Tainan is located about an hour south of Hsinchu and is famous for a couple of things – delicious local food and intriguing history, two things I love to explore!
The perfect hostel
Dorm 1828 was highly recommended by an American friend who had stayed there recently and it didn’t disappoint. I’m not usually into hostels these days (I stayed in way too many in my younger years) but Taiwan hotels tend to be very expensive so hostels are a good alternative.
We opted for a double room with a shared bathroom for $800NTD per person. It was a small room with a bunk bed and was clean and very comfortable. Located near National Cheng Kung University, it was about a 12-15 minute walk from the train station through the east gate exit.
The hostel is set along a small side street, a quaint brick-paved lane lined with great restaurants from around the world – Greek, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Taiwanese, Japanese and more!
Tainan has a reputation for being a foodie paradise so, yeah, we ate a lot! First course, a curry lunch at the little curry shop right down the street from the hostel. Like everything we tried in Tainan, the food was cheap and delicious! After walking off our curry lunch exploring the neighborhood, we worked up an appetite for a Thai feast for dinner. We met my friend’s friend for dinner at Thai Town Center, located in the large mall near the train station, and lingered for hours over the large selection of our favorite Thai dishes.
Anping Fort (aka Fort Zeelandia)
The following morning we refueled on a huge breakfast at the Greek restaurant down the street and then headed for Anping, the historical center of Taiwan. The bus system in Tainan is very convenient so we didn’t need to rent scooters. Bus #2 leaves from the University, very near the hostel, and goes directly to Anping. Returning to the train station area from Anping, take either bus 88 or 99 from the main intersection in Anping.
Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan and the Anping area is where the Dutch East India Company first settled in the early 1600’s when the Chinese gave them Taiwan as a trading colony. Anping Fort was completed in 1634 using bricks transported from Jakarta and some of the original brick walls are still visible. Much of today’s version of Anping Fort was added later by the Japanese and then renovated by the Chinese, who developed it into more of a tourist site.
Anping Tree house
Anping Tree house is located just a few minute’s walk from Anping Fort and reminded me a lot of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The huge banyan tree actually ate a warehouse! This building was once used by Taiwan Salt Corporation but was abandoned sometime in the 1940’s, and the banyan tree took over and devoured the entire building complex. Many people believe that the building is now haunted by ghosts so it’s pretty deserted after dark.
There is also an interesting history museum near the tree house that tells the story of the Dutch East India company and early settlement life in Taiwan, beginning in Tainan. It’s informative, air-conditioned, and a nice break from the heat!
The history of Tainan is also visible in the small streets surrounding Anping Fort. Yanping Street is among the oldest and is the first merchant street in the area, now full of shops and food stalls, selling souvenirs and locally handmade products. The old streets near the train station are also good for wandering into the history of Tainan, getting lost and found while finding interesting old doors, colorful lanterns, and cool street art.
After walking about a million miles in the heat, we stopped to refuel with a popular local snack – coffin toast. This Tainan delicacy is deep-fried bread with a hole cut into it and then filled with a thick, sweet seafood chowder. The soupy stuff was sweeter than expected but really delicious. The deep-fried bread was more of a vessel for the soup, edible but deep-fried and very greasy.
Tainan Night Market… food…food…and more food!
Too many choices and not enough appetite! Tainan’s night market is one of the largest and most famous in Taiwan and is well-known for its beef soup. Since it was so hot out we didn’t really feel like eating hot soup. Instead, I tried a plate of beef, smothered with a sauce on top of some noodles with a fried egg. Sadly, with all the options in the night market, this was a little disappointing. The beef was cut too thin to be really flavorful and the gravy was a little thick and heavy, especially on a hot day.
Other famous Tainan specialties on the menu for next time! Bring your appetite and try these…
Beef soup – even if it’s sweltering hot out, I’m trying this next time!
Milkfish – doesn’t sound that good but Taiwanese people rave about it!
Danzai noodles – named by CNN as one of the top foods in Taiwan.
Pork ball soup – only if I still have room after the beef soup.
Crab – fresh seafood! I’ll make room for that!
Yes, we ate a lot but that’s a requirement when visiting Tainan. But, in our defense, we also walked a lot. My traveling companion wore her pedometer on Saturday and it measured 17,000 steps. She’s Taiwanese and her legs are shorter than mine, so I’m guessing I did about 15,499 steps. We worked hard for that food, and enjoyed (almost) every bite!
What’s your favorite Tainan treat? Any suggestions for next time?