Many call it “the Kyoto of Taiwan”.
That’s the reputation of Tainan in the country of Taiwan. This is the city Taiwanese locals love, and it’s not difficult to see why. Even for me, a tourist, I was in love with it almost instantly.
Before stepping foot on Tainan, my group had just come from Kaohsiung, the biggest city in Southern Taiwan. But a quick 35-minute drive north from there and you’ll stumble into Tainan—Taiwan’s oldest city and dare I say, perhaps one of the loveliest.
The streets are lined with trees. There are many cobbled streets tucked away in unsuspecting turns, views sprinkled with centuries-old, preserved structures. Flowers bloom on the sidewalk, and kids play in the backyard of their schools (which are only gated by well-kept bushes, I might add) as their laughter echo in the quaint, quiet neighborhoods. Locals pass by on their bikes on the way for errands, and you, the tourist, happily taking in all of these. There’s just something about this city—a certain charm that whispers: stay longer.
As much as I love just walking around adoring the charming suburban feel of Tainan’s streets, the truth is this old city doesn’t lack in the attractions department, too. In fact, it has plenty, each with their own brand of quintessential, unique Tainan-y quality. Which is how I can confidently say that I have found my favorite Taiwanese city. It is this one.
Old Tait & Co. Merchant House
The lovely streets of Anping
Arriving in Tainan, our first stop was the Old Tait & Co. Merchant House, previously a European-owned trading shop that opened in 1867. The company dealt mostly with tea, camphor, and opium. Now, it is a mini-museum that takes you back in time when this part of Tainan, called Anping, was opened as one of the only four harbors in Taiwan for foreign trading. From the country’s trading history, the Dutch settlement in Tainan, to World War II, and the Japanese colonial era, there is wonderful history to be learned here.
Even more amusing is how the structure of Old Tait & Co. Merchant House has been preserved though all of those significant periods in history. Truly, walking the halls of the house is like taking a walk into the past.
My favorite part of Old Tait & Co. Merchant House, however, is the old warehouse at the back—or at least it once was. After years of abandon, banyan trees took over the building, growing right into the structure. Thus, the once trading warehouse is now known as the Anping Treehouse, although don’t expect a house built on branches here. If anything, it’s more like a miniature version of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. I am not sure if that’s a fair comparison, but I find something equally poetic here, nonetheless.
Stairs going to the treehouse’s skywalk
The tree’s veins and massive roots slither though the ruins of this place quite extraordinarily, sunlight peeking through tattered roofs, leaving everyone who passes by with a hovering thought. Or at least it did so with me—that perhaps even from abandon, with the blessing of time, beautiful things could flourish, too.
Tainan Confucian Temple
Built in 1666, this Confucian temple, the Tainan Confucian Temple, is one of the oldest and most historically important buildings in Taiwan. Not only is it the first Confucius temple in Taiwan, it is also the first institute of higher learning in the country. Yes, the temple served as Taiwan’s first official “school”. Today, though, it is one of Tainan’s top attractions for tourists.
Tourists write their prayers and wishes on these yellow papers hanging within the temple grounds
And despite the temple being a structure to honor the famed Chinese philosopher and his disciplines, Tainan Confucian Temple serves as more than just a shrine now. To locals, the temple grounds is a place for relaxation. Elderlies go for their afternoon tai chi, while kids fly their kite in the courtyard. And for some, a quiet moment under one of the many banyan trees is all the leisure they need.