See Round-Island Taiwan Itinerary Part 1a for travel information, East Coast: Hualien and Taroko Gorge.
Itinerary 1b: East Coast: Dulan and Taitung.
Hung on Anping Treehouse: “Have courage to let go.”
Suggested Itinerary Day 5: Taitung 台东 to Kenting 墾丁
Take Train. Kenting is made famous by the movie, Cape No. 7 海角七号, the second top grossing movie in Taiwan, after Titanic. On its own right, Kenting has the longest swimming beach in the area, good for surfing, snorkelling, cycling and diving. We skipped this leg because it was winter.
Suggested Itinerary Days 6 & 7: Kenting 墾丁 to Kaohsiung 高雄
Train. Once a Dickensian industrial nightmare, flithy port and polluting factories, mayor Frank Hsieh (1998-2005) has cleaned it up, creating a space for pop-music centre. Interesting sights include Ciaotou Sugar Factory, Lotus Pond with 20 over temples, Kaohsiung Harbour, Cijin Island with a Matsu Temple, British Consulate Residence at Dagou, Love River, Formosa Boulevard KMRT Station and Tuntex Sky Tower. We didn’t stop at Kaohsiung because our friends advised us that it is just another city and we might as well spend more days in Taipei.
Suggested Itinerary Days 8 & 9: Kaohsiung 高雄 to Tainan 台南 (or for us, Taitung 台东 to Tainan 台南)
You can take High Speed Rail (on the West Coast only) or Taiwan Railways (round island). But since we skipped two days and didn’t go to Kenting and Kaohsiung, we went straight from Taitung to Tainan by Taiwan Railways. We were so thankful when we reached Tainan because this was the first city that we could hail a cab on the street; the other cities are too rural that taxis don’t roam. And we were so relieved to check into a proper hotel.
AsiaRooms offers 15 hotels in Tainan and has kindly given us a night’s rest at Shangri-La Far Eastern Plaza (pictured left). Even though Mr NGFL fancies himself as a bohemian-hipster, there was a deep relief on his face when we finally checked into Shangri-La after days of bad accommodations. For the Taiwan Railway train station, Shangri-La is a mere 5 minutes walk away.
Although Shangri La prides itself as a business hotel, the facilities are fantastic with a beautiful pool and one of the most fully equipped hotel gyms I’ve seen. The morning breakfast buffet was the LARGEST and most spectacular spread: you name it, they have it. They even have proper ham–not those breakfast kind–ham that needs someone to slice it.
After you settle in your hotel, take a cab to 安平 An Ping (about $200NT). In the 17th century, Dutch Indies Company used An Ping as a trading centre but when the Ming dynasty fell, the last King escaped to An Ping and chased out the Dutch. All hopes of regaining his kingdom were dashed when the Japanese invaded. The King committed suicide, and his concubines hung themselves in a row on a beam that is now a temple.
Alight at the intersection of 平生路 Ping Sheng Road and 延平街 Yan Ping Street, which is also known as 台湾第一街, the first street in Taiwan. Take a walk down Yan Ping Street. At the end of the street, you’ll come to 开台天后宫 Kai Tai Tian Hou Temple, worpshiping Ma-Zu, the goddess who grants protection of the sea. A contender as the oldest temple in Taiwan, built in 1668, it has many legends, including Mazu manifested herself to change the direction of the Allied’s bombing in WWII, and the statue being unharmed in a great fire. The statue is soft with joints that can move and bound feet! and embodies how a Ming woman should dress. One of the stone generals in front of the temple has a Western hairstyle. In addition, the temple has tablets written by the Emperor. When you’re there, remember to take a packet of rice at the alter and go home to cook for peace and safety of your family. Make a donation when you take the rice.
Beside the temple, you’d see a shop (pictured above), endorsed by Taiwanese food program, 食尚玩家, and you can stop for a late lunch.
As is guaranteed with any food program, the food here is bound to be so-so. (Un)fortunately, yes, it did live up to its promise of being average.
Continue along the road to 安平古堡 Anping Old Fort where the Dutch and Chinese fought for dominion. Then walk northward along 古堡街 Gu Bao Street and turn right into 安北路 An Bei Road for some beancurd at the famous 同记豆花 Tong Ji.
While the taste is better than many of Singapore’s beancurd–it has a rich soy taste and less sweet syrup that complements and not compete with the beancurd–the texture isn’t as pleasing as Selegie Beancurd. Singapore’s beancurd won’t lose to this one.
After the break, walk to 安平树屋 An Ping Treehouse. What is unique is that it isn’t a treehouse in the sense that people build a house in a tree; it’s a treehouse because a banyan tree grew so large that it swallows an entire bungalow up. There is a moral lesson here: don’t mess with nature.
Hung on the tree: “To my 30 year-old self, you are wrong. From: my 23 year-old self.”
Return to the hotel and enjoy the wonderful facilities. Rest for the day.
Unless you want to see all 7 million temples in Tainan city, you can leave your hotel at 10 or even 11am. For our trip, we only saw the must-see temples. Start with the two most northwest temples, side by side: 大天后宫 Da Tian Hou Gong and 祭典武庙 Si Dian Wu Miao. Da Tian Hou Gong used to be the last Ming King’s palace. He committed suicide here and the beam that his 5 concubines hung themselves is found at the back of the temple. What we found interesting is that the temple exists side-by-side with residential households. Si Dian Wu Mian, or the Official God of War Temple, worships Guan Di, also known as Guan Gong or Guan Yu. The high threshold at the entrance is said to keep women out and the scroll at the back of the temple is said to be written by Guan Di himself.
Then walk 3 minutes to 赤坎楼 Chi Kan Tower. Chi Kan Tower, together with 安平古堡 Anping Old Fort (which you’d have seen the day before), formed the guardpost of the Dutch in the 17th century. Hard to imagine that just 400 years ago, it was all water before the two forts. Interesting story about the two forts: Zheng Cheng Gong (or translated to “very successful,” I kid you not), the hero who took the land back from the Dutch, demanded a full surrender of the Dutch and in return, he’d give them safe passage and all their possessions when they leave the island. While Chi Kan Tower surrendered, Anping Fort didn’t. And so when “Very Successful” won, he executed many Dutch men and gave the Dutch women to his officers. According to legend, the three-legged horse statue in Chi Kan Tower turns into a monster at night and kills villagers. Many Taiwanese told us that Chi Kan Tower is not to be missed but when we were there, we thought that every part is reconstructed. Nothing remains, what’s the point?
If you’re hungry by now, when you exit Chi Kan tower, turn to your right and walk down. You’d see a row of food stalls (only open in the evening). We went to a kopitiam lookalike: they have four stalls and each stall has its own sitting area.
We first tried the 4th stall, 石春日担仔面 Shi Chun Ri (民族路二段240号, 240 Min Zu Road 2nd Section, 5.30pm-1am, close on Sun, T: +886-6-220-1483). Tainan is known for its Dan Zai noodles.
Famous for their noodles, there are plenty of newspaper cuttings on the stall. We ordered the noodles (45NT), fishball soup (20NT) and garlic pork trotter (pictured below, 50NT). They were ok.
After trying the 4th stall, we returned to the 1st stall and tried the 虾卷 prawn roll and 棺材板 coffin board, said to be originated from Tainan.
The prawn roll is very strange and I couldn’t decipher where the prawn went.
Guan Cai Ban is a piece of hollowed bread filled with clam chowder, and the bread is breaded and fried to a golden-brown, the color of fish fingers.
And then, we tried the second stall because it was just visually tempting:
The cauldron was simmering! How could we resist? Although known for its seafood porridge, we asked for Lu Rou Fan (braised rice). The handsome boss, whom we dubbed, “Aaron Kwok if Aaron Kwok ages without any cosmetic enhancement,” said, “This is not lu rou fan. This is luo mi. Very delicious.” Since Aaron Kwok said it was delicious, we got both both lu rou fan and luo mi.
The lu rou fan was quite sucky but the luo mi was quite delicious. Its base is glutinous rice, topped with pork floss, braised pork and mushroom, steamed peanuts and chinese parsley.
But what you must eat is the 3rd stall, the dessert stall.
Look at the mountains of ingredients she had. It’s no wonder because the queue kept coming. Non-stop. Motorcyclists would just travel all the way here to eat the desserts.
We ordered the specialty, 八宝冰 Ba Bao, or eight treasures, and it was fantastic! It was a superior version of ice kacang, with fillings such as green bean, red bean, etc and it tasted complex and simple, not too sweet with an long’an and barley soup base.
After you have your fill, you have to visit another must-see structure in Tainan, 孔子庙 Kong Zi Temple or Confucius Temple. If you’re up for a long walk from Chi Kan Tower to Confucius Temple, about 30-40 minutes, you may walk. Midway if you’re hungry, you can try 度小月擔仔麵 Du Xiao Yue (16 Zhong Zheng Road, +886-6-223-1744). When we visited Confucius Temple, the aura was very different from other temples. There was a serenity and solemness.
Opposite Confucius Temple is aptly the most awesome bookshop I’ve seen in my life. 草祭二手书店 Cao Ji Second Hand Bookshop (台南市南门路71号, 71 Nan Men Road, T: +886-6-221-6872, 12-10pm Close on Wed) knocks a big hole in the middle of the floor! So to get to the other side of the room, you’ve to go down a flight of stairs to the basement and climb up another flight of stairs. Beside the bookshop is, befittingly, a book cafe.
And beside the book cafe is a cafe called 窄门咖啡 Zhai Men Narrow Door (南门路67号, 67 Nan Men Road, T: +886-6-211-0508, facebook). The entrance is so narrow you have to go in sideways! (unless you’re Kate Moss).
If you’re free and still have time, try the 赤崁棺材板 Chi Kan Guan Cai Ban (台南市中正路康樂市場沙卡里巴內180號, No. 180, Kangle Market, West Central District; +886-6-224-0014), said to be first store in Taiwan to have coffin board bread.
Continue the journey:
Part 3: West Coast and Central Taiwan: Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, Lukang & Taichung
Part 4: Northern Taiwan: In and Around Taipei
PS: Thanks to Ryan Gibson of Asia Rooms for putting us up at Shangri La.