TAIWAN’S OLDEST URBAN AREA, a settled city for over 400 years, but with habitation dating back over 20,000, history beckons from most corners of Tainan. Fisherman and sailors had set up on the coast before the Dutch came along in 1600s, only to be booted out by Koxinga not long after.
Mention Tainan to any Taiwanese and they’ll mention the history and the food, but maybe not in that order. You’d be struggling to walk a block without finding an ancient Chinese temple or something good to eat. With the international airport at Kaohsiung a short train ride away, Tainan in/Taipei out is a great way to see Taiwan.
In the south of Taiwan, Tainan is a medium sized city with a deep history and rippa food.
Temples of various Chinese persuasion dot the city. Often bunched together, sometimes stand alone, always old and storied.
Every second building that isn't a temple seems to serve food, for which Tainan is famous throughout Taiwan.
The east Asian love of character design is never far away either, whether it's a petrol pump or a street sign.
Amongst the many back streets and walking streets and street markets and night markets, there are candidates for the world's oldest busker, too.
On the western edge of the city, the Anping district is the historical port area, where Dutch set up in the 16th century, but were kicked out.
Large parts of the 1867 Tait & Co Merchant Building have been reclaimed by nature, trees bursting through roofs, roots climnbing down walls. Other parts are museums.
A trip to Tainan can easily become a temple odyssey, filled with bright flashing lights or dark wooden halls of incense smoke.
Even to the casually disinterested temple watcher, there is plenty of variety, although I am (2 years later) quite confused about which temple is which.
The Koxinga Shrine celebrates the man who kicked the Ducth out of Tainan, and was getting a lick of paint when we visited.
A food dog (ooops) foo dog guards the temple, with the prayers and wishes of temple goers hanging in the background.
Altars of Chinese temples are usually ablze with gods and deities, gold and glitter, rarely sedate and simple.
Many of Tainan's temple had some over the top life size statues in blinging garb.
Smaller temple guardian and deities were no less intimidating.
Masks and headress no less unambiguous.
The paintings a starburst of imagination and imagery.
Carved in wood or jade or other stone, men and gods rode horses, dragons, and lions.
And there was no sign of restraint on the rootops either.
One cluster of temples is around Minquan Rd, and include the Wind, Jinhua, Shuxian, Grand Matsu and God Of War Temples.
The Lion Dance would be familiar to most people, and was being performed at the Wind Temple. Lots of drums, crackers, smoke and noise.
Worship isn't always that noisy though, as these fellows prepare for the festival.
Wishes and prayers are written on cards hung from the Confucius Temple, 1666.
Dancers perform outside another temple.
But the noisy bits are the best, aren't they? Again we got lucky, stumbling by chance on this parade and festival.
The main road was blocked for these guys to carry their god(dess) in its carriage.
A team of colourfully dressed characters accompanied the carriage, with more drums and crackers and dancing to follow.
Most of Tainan's attractions are a comfortable walk away from each other, which is just as well in August, when the humidity is pretty nasty.
Parks surround or are part of some of the temples, and provide the backdrop for a couple's wedding photos.
The Great South Gate is one of the four remaining from the city's original 16 gates, and is now surrounded by parks, and you guessed it, temples.
Originally built by the Dutch as a fort in 1682, Chikhan Towers is amongst the oldest buildings in Tainan. The grounds contain Haisheng Temple, Wengchang Pavilion, Penghu College, and a statue of Koxinga accepting the surrender of the Dutch.
Temples and forts from the 1600s and 1700s are quite the norm, but Tainan is a living city.
Side streets are jammed with small restaurants, snack vendors line the streets, markets take over footpaths, and movie stars look down from above.
Old and new regularly collide.
Food -quick, cheap, tasty- is never far away.
History and culture is written all over Tainan.
Try it. You might get your....just deserts....sorry!