Part 2 in a 2-part series on my trip to Taiwan, view part 1 in Taipei here!
It's more conservative and has a much slower pace than Taipei (although having "slow" pace in most parts of Taiwan is a misnomer) but that also means generally older and with a more established culture.
Tainan was where I started my trip within Taiwan. Fresh off a two-hour high-speed rail ride from Taipei that I thought rivaled Japan's Shinkansen, I was ready to take my first real steps into the country and was thrilled to be in Taiwan's original capital and one of its oldest cities.
First things first, after cleaning up and getting a quick bite to eat were a couple of Tainan's many and infamous temples. Taiwan as a whole is known for its large amount of Buddhist temples but one could argue Tainan is the area most-known for them. Much like Kyoto, Japan it seems like you can't walk for more than 15 minutes without seeing some sort of intricate and important temple.
We went to a couple of temples honoring Mazu, the goddess of the sea. Both were extremely intricate and seemingly very spiritually important, even to a secular white guy. Our first stop was Luermen Mazu Temple on Tainan's western coast, a relatively small but impressive holy site that seemed to be a very popular worship spot for local Taiwanese.
Another temple dedicated to the goddess of the sea, Mazu, is the similarly named Orthodox Luermen Matsu Temple, a newer but even larger dedicated to one of Taiwan's most infamous deities. The pure size of the Orthodox temple was amazing, and the temple itself was stunning, but I still liked our prior visit a bit more. The Orthodox temple seemed more of an attraction than a place of worship. Of course, it is still a legitimate temple with worshippers, but it feels a bit like a conglomerate just for the sake of being impressive. Lots of "Instagram people" here.
Tainan isn't just all temples, though. While history and religion have played a huge role in shaping the city's past and present, it's still a city of almost 2 million people and is full of new and exciting experiences.
Tainan is touted as being more casual and less hectic than Taiwan's other major cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung, but there's still plenty to do at night. Hai'an Road in downtown Tainan and the surrounding area was a phenomenal area for hanging out and walking around as the sun started to set.
Food is as important as anything to Taiwan and its people. This is even more true in Tainan, as street food, restuarants, and night markets seemingly rule the city's social scene.
Much like when I visited Kyoto I had trouble remembering all the smaller shrines and temples you inevitably stumble across.
Tainan has a long history as a port city. Even prior to the immigration of ethnic Chinese it was a hub for Dutch traders, among others.
The Anping district of Tainan is a mostly well-preserved look back into a time when Taiwan did not yet have the identity it has today.
Garden Night Market
Taiwan is heavily known for its night markets and rightfully so. Food is such an integral part of Taiwanese culture it only makes sense to bring it all together in one place. While there are other goods being sold, games being played, and often a myrid of other activities happening across the country's infamous nighttime markets, the gravitational pull behind the overwhelming majority of these markets is still Taiwan's street food.
While I enjoyed Raohe night market a little more in Taipei, Garden night market was still a great introduction into the country's market culture. While I don't have an interest in buying phone cases or playing carnival games, the food and drink offered in addition to the overall vibe is well worth a visit.
Being a small island does not absolve Xiaoliuqiu from Taiwan's affinity for temples – the island is home to multiple, Sanlong Temple being my favorite.
After our ferry returned from Xiaoliuqiu we hit up Huaqiao Fish Market just outside the ferry terminal for a sashimi spot my homie had heard great things about. It wound up being absolutely phenomenal.
The Huaqiao Fish Market as a whole was a very pleasant surprise for both of us, neither had really seen or heard much about it on the internet or elsewhere. Tons of amazing looking restaurants and the market itself is quite large. Highly recommend this place if you're taking the ferry over to Xiaoliuqiu.
My first SCUBA experience
I was pressured into getting a SCUBA crash course from my friend via a friend of his who is a license PADI instructor. I was a bit hesitant at first, I typically don't love water activities but was buddy was adamant Xiaoliuqiu had some of the best diving in Asia.
Let's just say I was wrong to be hesitant and wound up leaving the island with a newfound love for the sea.
I was shocked at the amount of green turtles in the area. We probably saw 10+ throughout our 2 dives and it was amazing to be able to get so close to them. Shout out to Kenny and Little Green Turtle Diving for the good intro and safe dives for someone new like me. 🤿
Tainan and Xiaoliuqiu were both fantastic introductions to Taiwan for me. Even better that I get to experience it with a close friend and selfishly, a translator. After around 4 days in Southern Taiwan we got on the HSR train and headed north for our second leg of the trip in Taiwan's capital, Taipei. Read about it here! 🇹🇼