Located on the Jianan Plain in southwestern Taiwan, Tainan was the island’s first city. The tradition, history, and deep-rooted culture found along the lanes and alleys of this proud old city give it a unique charm. Below, we present some of Tainan City’s most famous historic sites and old-time tastes to help you in planning a one-day trip of pleasant eating, drinking, and other fun, ensuring you have a great time in Taiwan’s former capital.
Text and Photos: Vision
Hayashi Department Store
Established by a Japanese merchant surnamed Hayashi in 1932, this is the oldest surviving department store in Taiwan. It also was the first to have an elevator. The design theme of the department store today is “Tainan Life,” each floor taking the charm of Tainan as its inspiration and giving visitors a feeling of life and culture in the city more than 80 years ago.
Fusheng Savory Rice Pudding Restaurant
Wa gui (Taiwanese pronunciation), a savory rice pudding, is a true-blue authentic food of the common people in Taiwan. In the agricultural society of the past, it was often eaten as a between-meals snack by hungry workers. Wa gui is pleasantly chewy and, when cut open, reveals a hearty filling of shiitake mushroom, shrimp, soy-braised pork, and egg yolk. This hot snack is usually eaten with thick fish soup.
The Chinese imperial-style towers on this site were built over the ruins of a fort constructed by the Dutch in 1652, Fort Provintia. In the 350-plus years since the fort was built – it was destroyed in an earthquake in the 19th century – this has always been an iconic Tainan location. In front of the tower you can see nine stone turtles, imperial steles on their backs, which were originally located beside the city’s Great South Gate. They were presented by Emperor Qianlong in 1788 in recognition of the meritorious service of imperial officials involved in the suppression of the great Lin Shuang-wen rebellion.
Chin Men Theater
The Chin Men* Theater was opened for business in 1950. Apart from the architecture of the 60-year-old Baroque-style building, the theater’s most striking features are the old-style hand-painted movie billboards that are still used, the nostalgia-inducing concession stand, and the old-time tickets. Internationally acclaimed film director Ang Lee once said, “I grew up watching films at the Chin Men Theater.” This heritage attraction is an intrinsic part of the collective memory of the people of Tainan.
(*correct Hanyu Pinyin romanization of the name would be “Quan Mei”)
Over 300 years old, this street is so narrow that rebuilding the houses lining it is difficult. As a result, it has become the best-preserved old street in Tainan. Many old buildings here retain their Qing dynasty and Japanese colonial period facades. The street is also home to various historic sites, temples, and stores where goods are handmade the traditional way. Shennong Street is especially beautiful just after dusk, when it is illuminated by old-fashioned street lights.
Du Hsiao Yueh Restaurant
Established in 1895, this eatery is renowned for its danzai noodles, a famous local dish. In the Qing dynasty, during the slack season fishermen would carry noodles on poles (danzai) to temple squares. The noodle dish they sold thus came to be called danzai noodles. The noodles are served with a broth made with boiled sweet shrimp heads, together with bean sprouts, coriander, lean soy-braised pork, garlic paste, black vinegar, and shrimp. The relatively small portion makes danzai noodles ideal for a snack or light dinner.
Jia-Jia-at West Market Hotel
The forerunner of this hotel was the Jiajia Hotel, designed by Taiwan’s first female architect, Wang Xiu-lian. It was left in a run-down condition for some time, but after being renovated through the joint effort of designers, architects, and a hotel operator, it has come back to life in style. Rooms are being re-themed and re-styled periodically by artists and designers so guests can have a new experience when they stay in the same room again after some time has passed.
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