Exploring the Oldest City in Taiwan: Tainan

Tainan, established in 1661, is Taiwan’s oldest city. Its Mandarin name, 台南 (Tái Nán), means “the south of Taiwan.” The country’s capital city, Taipei, is also named this way. 台北 (Tái Bêi) means “the north of Taiwan.” Taitung (台東, Tái Dōng) and Taichung (台中, Tái Zhōng) are two other cities named this way, and they mean “the east of Taiwan” and “the middle of Taiwan,” respectively. In this article, we’ll dive into the origins of Tainan and some cool things the city is known for.

All About Tainan!

During imperial Times, Tainan was actually Taiwan’s capital city, and Taipei did not become the capital city until 1886. Contrary to Taiwan’s modern-day capital city, Tainan is not situated at the southernmost point of the island, but a little above it. On the map, Tainan sits at a southwestern point on top of Kaohsiung and Kenting. Even for native Taiwanese people, Tainan serves as a popular travel destination.

Something cool about the island is that they have a High-Speed Rail (HSR) system that allows people to travel from the top end of Taiwan to the bottom in just a couple of hours. So if you live in another city or are traveling to another city in Taiwan, you can even make a quick day trip to Tainan!

Tainan’s Specialties: Sugarcane and Danzai Noodles

Sugarcane, rice, fruit, and peanuts are some things Tainan is known for. According to Britannica, the reason for this is the city’s water irrigation scheme, which was designed and made by the Japanese between 1920 and 1930. Some other specialties that come from Tainan are textiles, electrical appliances, light-engineering and aluminum products, and processed foods.

Tainan’s production of sugarcane has been around since the 17th-century Dutch colonial government and is one of the things that helped boost Taiwan’s economy in the 20th century. Sugarcane was actually a non-native crop that happened to adapt well to the climate and soil in Tainan. Back in the day, Taiwan was known as the “Kingdom of the Sugar Rail.” In the 1930s, 3,000 km worth of sugarcane railroads were constructed to transport supplies to sugar factories all over the country.

Some of the train tracks and old trains are still around at the factories today (more on this later)! The sugar production process included extraction, boiling, and crystallization, which would produce by-products such as fuel, paper, organic fertilizer, and ethanol. Ethanol became an essential military supply.

Unfortunately, a number of sugar factories were bombed by US troops during WWII. They were attacked as military facilities since the factories were ethanol-producing venues. It was only because of Taiwan Sugar Corporation’s (TSC) funding that sugar factories were rebuilt. A new variety of sugar cane was introduced in 1952, after which sugar production matched the pre-war level. In 1975, sugarcane exports totaled NT$5.1 billion, but international sugar prices started to decline in the following year so TSC eventually closed the sugar factories.

A famous dish from Tainan is Danzai noodles (担仔麵), a noodle soup with soy sauce, oyster sauce, simmered pork, and one shrimp. It’s traditionally embellished with just one shrimp because it’s said to be invented by a Qing Dynasty fisherman during the off-season. People would have this dish to make it through the typhoon-ridden months as Taiwan is a very typhoon-prone island.

Famous Places in Tainan

Anping Old Fort, aka Zeelandia is the fortress established by the Dutch during their rule in Taiwan. It was used to protect from outsider attacks. There was also Fort Provintia, aka Chihkan Tower, which was built to prevent riots. Both of these forts are now tourist attractions.

The Eternal Golden Castle (億載金城), aka Erkunshen Battery, is near the Anping Old Fort and should be visited in the late afternoon, as that is when the castle is bathed in golden light. It was built to resist the Japanese in the 19th century. The Eternal Golden Castle was named a national first-class historic site in 1983.

The Tainan Confucius temple is rich with the country’s philosophical history. If you’ve read some of our previous articles, you’ll know that Confucian ideologies still have a big influence on Taiwan’s society today. The temple was built in 1666 and has been rebuilt many times, yet the historical element still prevails.

AnPing Tree House (安平樹屋), aka the Former Tait & Co. Merchant House (原英商德記洋行),

is another interesting thing to see in Tainan. The former merchant house was built in the 19th century but has been abandoned for quite some time now. It is now almost fully covered by the roots of a banyan tree, giving the place an eery yet enchanted look.

WildChina’s Tainan Activities

On our itineraries, we have several night markets listed depending on the city you’re traveling to. In Tainan, Anping Old Street is a famous one that includes alleyways, small stalls, and so many delicious local snacks. Once there, you’ll get to taste various kinds of seafood, sweets, and drinks that you may have never even heard of!

Our guides can for sure take you to an old sugar factory. It is actually very common in Taiwan to have old factories-turned-tourist attractions. These factories feature museum exhibits, souvenir stores, DIY workshops, cafes, and restaurants. Such transformations were spearheaded by Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2003 to stay relevant and keep businesses running. There are now 136 certified tourism factories in Taiwan.

As mentioned earlier, many old sugar factories were abandoned but they are still around today. You get to see the very train tracks that supplies were transported on 90 years ago! You’d see the trains too, albeit rusted and unmoving. Some of the tracks have new trains that you can hop on for an all-around tour of the factory. Of course, probably the best part of visiting an old sugar factory is getting to eat yummy ice cream from the ice treat shop. Those shops carry items made by TSC, the very company that built the factories all those years ago.

We’ve only mentioned a few of the more prominent places in Tainan, but there are so many more that we’d love to show you! We hope you learned some interesting things about Taiwan’s former capital city and that Tainan’s sugarcane history has intrigued you. Whether your travels are for education or leisure, we can work with you to create itineraries and provide relevant insight on your trip to Taiwan. We are happy to answer any questions you may have over a call or email. Simply contact us and let’s get planning!

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