FOOD, WEATHER AND HOSPITALITY – these are what Southern Taiwan is well-known for. For my trip to Kaohsiung and Tainan, I held no expectations other than to see this two cities while I am still in Taiwan. With this relaxed pace and low-level of anticipation, I was gladly surprised by how much ‘goodness’ can one city offer.
The train is the easiest and fastest way to reach Tainan, either from Taipei or from my place in Hualien. Signs of me arriving at South Taiwan came to me when I realized how warm the weather became. Rice fields are conveniently placed beside railroad tracks, just perfect for travelers to feast their eyes in. In this part of Taiwan, flat sandy beaches are a norm, as the two cities are situated at the coastal plains of West Taiwan.
AS A BACKPACKER ON A TIGHT BUDGET, nothing excites me more than free stuff. I was on the verge of tears when I know that the Tainan City government is giving free rides on the 88 and 99 bus lines on weekends, with stops at all major attractions in the city. The ancient capital of Tainan, is the oldest and fourth largest city in Taiwan. Tainan is rich in its historical sites and cultural heritage, which seems uncorrupted by the growing economy and modernization. Whereas Taipei is a flourishing westernized metropolis, Tainan kept their traditions closely, giving a good representation of modern-clash-tradition way of life.
I DID NOT SET ANY SCHEDULE and so all the traveling was done leisurely, going wherever my heart feels like (and wherever the bus takes me to). First stop is the Koxinga Shrine, which is the only Fujianese style temple in Tainan, considering Koxinga DID came from Fujian. Koxinga (or Zheng Cheng Gong) is a pioneer of Taiwan, and also one of the greatest maritime explorer of his time. According to the temple’s guide, Koxinga passed away here in Tainan, and so the locals built this temple in memory of his great achievements.
ALTHOUGH THE WEATHER FEELS LIKE SUMMER, nighttime came early as though winter’s here (hey, I forgot. It IS winter). I wandered the streets of Tainan, and came to a beautiful riverside park. The atmosphere is such serene and laid back, there is nothing URBAN about this city. I finally found my way to the Garden Night Market, regarded as the largest of its kind in southern Taiwan. Unlike the Shi-Lin Night Market in Taipei, there are no shop buildings in this one. Vendors push their carts here on night market days, and when the night is over, this place becomes a wide spacious car park.
FOOD IS CHEAP AND GOOD in Tainan. Lots of varieties can be found in the night market. Some are typical Taiwanese snacks, while others are unique to Tainan. The secret to good food here, is the plentiful source of fresh ingredients and the old homemade style of cooking. Traditions are valued here more than anywhere else in Taiwan, and so restaurateurs fight each other for being the best and most authentic of their heritage, each one claiming themselves to be the direct descendents of the pioneering inventors.
THE GENTLE OLD-FASHIONED PEOPLE of Tainan are typically warm and hospitable. During my visit here, I was given generous help all along the way, and was honored as an important guest to them. When I was looking for the Koxinga shrine, an old man walked up and offered to take me there on his motorbike. Another family offered to take me to the night market…. It is really wonderful witnessing these good-natured people still upholding traditional values, and almost always never judgemental.
My first day in Tainan, and I already fell in love with its remarkable weather, food and people – all warm and comfortable.