9 attractions in Tainan and Kaohsiung that might entice you with their old-world charm

9 attractions in Tainan and Kaohsiung that might entice you with their old-world charm
Kaohsiung's Neimen district is famous for the Song Jiang Battle Array contest which sees tertiary institutions competing every year to keep the tradition alive.
PHOTO: Chen Jingwen

In Tainan and Kaohsiung, crumbling colonial buildings and infrastructures that have been abandoned for years are finally seeing the light of day as people flock there to enjoy their amazing makeovers.

And dying folk art and traditional trades are still flexing some muscle as they thrive alongside new attractions in the two southern cities of Taiwan.

Former capital Tainan might have lost its crown to Taipei decades ago, but it has been claiming new glory for rejuvenated vestiges of its past.

Likewise, its neighbouring sister Kaohsiung has also capitalised on leftovers from colonial masters to draw visitors to attractions inspired by history.

If you're planning a trip to Tainan and Kaohsiung, here are nine attractions with an old-world charm that you shouldn't miss.
 

1. 'HAUNTED' ANPING TREE HOUSE 

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Built in 1867, the old Tait & Company merchant house was thriving in the Anping district of Tainan when it was a vibrant trading hub till World War II.

When peace returned, it was used only for only a short period and then abandoned for the next 70 years. As it decayed, the banyan trees besieged the building with relentless overgrowth of roots and branches until it earned its 'haunted' reputation.

Several years ago, the authorities ingeniously turned it into a tourist attraction with paths, staircases and bridges to allow visitors to explore and view it from various angles. Forget about ghost hunting as the place is closed at night.

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Don't miss: The exit leading to the back gives you sweeping views of greenery alongside a river that journeys to the city. A refreshing change of scene from the foreboding ambience inside.

Address: 108, Gubao St, Anping District, Tainan City. Tel:+886 6 391 3901

2. SNACKERS' HEAVEN IN OLD ANPING ROAD 

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Snaking around an old district rich in history and heritage, this narrow street is tucked with small shops still operating century-old trades like folding fans, opera figurines and snacks that have made Taiwan famous on the world's food map.

From healthy to calorie-laden, the range will require you to take a lazy afternoon to examine and sample: From wild honey and preserved fruits to dried cuttlefish, prawn crackers, pineapple cookies and coffin toast, the iconic Taiwan street food filled with creamy seafood.

Go with an empty stomach or after a light lunch.

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Don't miss: A prawn cracker shop which sells crackers with a whole flattened lobster (above), scallops and cuttlefish embedded in them. They make impressive gifts.

Address: 50-2, Yanping Street, Anping District, Tainan City. Tel: +886 6 295 1915


3. EAT TILL YOU DROP AT DA DONG NIGHT MARKET 

Photo: Chen Jingwen

This is one of Tainan's vibrant open-air markets with stalls selling mostly traditional food alongside modern creations as well as accessories and old-school amusement games.

The big draw is of course the food, which is budget-friendly too. All the famous Taiwan street foods are represented here: oyster mee sua, crispy cuttlefish, deep fried pork ribs, oyster omelette, sweet potato balls, braised chicken wings, stinky tofu and the stinkier braised offal.

You can munch as you explore the stalls or eat at a table. Souvenirs to take home are the preserved mullet roe that Taiwan and an ancient throat-soother - dried whole orange peel encasing a herbal-fruit paste.

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Don't miss: The sushi (above) made by a group of women hits the spot. It's one of the influences left by the Japanese who occupied the country for five decades.

Address: 276, Section 1, Linsen Road, East District, Tainan City. Tel: +886 6 335 5301


4. OLD-WORLD SHOPPING AT HIYASHI DEPARTMENT STORE 

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Opened in 1932, the five-storey Japanese department store enjoyed its ritzy glory as the most modern building then for over a decade. Then it was destroyed and abandoned after American bombs fell on it.

It was reopened only in 2014 after an extensive facelift. It still exudes an old-world charm, but the products sold are mostly premium Taiwanese products from traditional foodstuff to clothes.

On display are remnants of the doors of the old elevator that used to confound visitors from the countryside who believed it had the ability to perform magic tricks when they thought people going in and out of it had swapped bodies.

The trophy won by the tea shop for its longan-flavoured milk tea.
Photo: Chen Jingwen

Don't miss: The old shinto shrine is still up on the roof. And grab the award-winning longan-flavoured milk tea sold on the first storey.

Address: 63, Section 2, Zhongyi Road, West Central District, Tainan City. Tel: +886 6 221 3000


5. IN 'HEAVENLY REALM' AT FAIRY LAKE LEISURE FARM 

Photo: Chen Jingwen

It's not just one of those farm stays that offer breathtaking views, gurgling streams, animals and fresh produce that goes into soul-nourishing meals.

Nestled in the hilly Dongshan district of Tainan, the Fairy Lake Leisure Farm resort has been operating as a longan plantation for decades. Enjoy the semi-dry longans that have been smoked over wood fire like how it's been done for years. Better still, make a trip during the harvesting season.

The estate also grows lychees, tomatoes and buah kedongdong (amla), which goes into appetising chicken soups. But where is the lake?

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Don't miss: Wake up early to catch the ocean of clouds shrouding the hills as the sun rises. Then you'll finally realise: It's the clouds that create the mystical images of a 'lake' here.

Address: 733, Dongshan District, Tainan City. Tel:+886 6 686 3635


6. CHIMEI MUSEUM HOUSES AN ASTOUNDING COLLECTION

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Opened in 1992 and relocated to a palatial neo-classical building in 2015, the museum looks spanking new but its thousands of collections are centuries-old and possibly priceless.

The 4,000-odd pieces of Western paintings, sculptures, furniture, weapons, musical instruments - particularly antique violins - as well as fossils, meteorites and hordes of stuffed animals represent only one-third of the museum collection.

The awe-inspiring displays will entice the enthusiast to return to admire masterpieces such as those by Chagall, Picasso and Rodin over and over again. Or spend the entire day in this spiffy place which has two eateries.

Photo: Chimei Museum

Don't miss: The walk-in experience with a virtual orchestra (above) playing classics on multi-screens, each capturing a musician in action in an unexpectedly mind-blowing performance. The superb sound production takes you to audiophile heaven.

Address: No. 66, Section 2, Wenhua Road, Rende District, Tainan City. Tel:+886 6 266 0808


7. THE PIER-2 ART CENTER GOES HIP 

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Formerly a colonial-era pier of Kaohsiung harbour, the area has been turned into an open-air art space with provocative sculptures and space for you to wander and day dream.

The big draw here is small: A functional mini replica of a vintage train that takes tourists around the sprawling grounds. You sit on top of it for the chugging ride and become the attraction to other gawking tourists.

Venture to the open space where the old locomotives are parked on the tracks for selfies with a touch of nostalgia.

The fascination with reminders of a bygone era given a new lease of life extends to nearby decades-old warehouses with retro architecture housing trendy handicraft shops and eateries for hipsters

Sculptures that put a smile on your face and lifestyle shops are among the attractions here.Photo: Chen Jingwen

Don't miss: Bandon Grocery Store, tucked in one of the warehouses, is a treasure trove of creative merchandise for the trendy shopaholic's home and wardrobe.

Address: 1, Dayong Rd, Yancheng District, Kaohsiung City. Tel:+886 7 521 4899


8. SIP A CUPPA AT THE BRITISH CONSULATE IN TAKAO

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Built in 1879, the main colonial building is perched high on a cliff, as if it's competing with the Mazu temple next door to be the guardian of the sea.

A daunting climb of large stony stairs can be rewarding if you care for the lovely sea views once you reach the top. Poke into the gallery rooms to learn more about British history in Kaohsiung and surrounding areas.

A tea shop with a pricey menu and souvenirs of its special blends banks on its English heritage to target the tourist's wallet.

Photo: Chen Jingwen

Don't miss: On display in one room are commemorative tea paraphernalia depicting British royalty, particularly Britain's late Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II.

Address: 20, Lianhai Rd, Gushan District, Kaohsiung City. Tel:+886 7 525 0100


9. NEIMEN TEMPLE CELEBRATION WITH SONG JIANG BATTLE CONTEST

Photo: Chen Jingwen

The community of Neiman in Kaohsiung is renowned in Taiwan for their spirited portrayals of a famous battle fought during the Sung dynasty.

Involving wushu, weapons and drums, the reenactment has morphed from what used to be town defence to folk entertainment for the gods over the centuries.

Today, the tradition has been kept alive with a contest for tertiary institutions to see which team depicts the victorious battle strategies best.

Broadcast live on TV, the event coincides with the birthday celebration of Guanyin, and held as part of a one-week-long temple fair around the auspicious 19th day of the third lunar month, which can fall in March or April.

Some of the dishes are prepared by a famous chef in advance in anticipation of the big lunch crowd.
Photo: Chen Jingwen

Don't miss: If you're touring as a group during that week, you can book a 'wedding-like' banquet prepared by a famous local chef of your choice at a nearby hall. Neimen district boasts the most number of chefs trained in local cuisine.

Address: Nan Hai Zi Zhu Si temple, 82 Nanhua Road, Neimen District. Kaohsiung City. Tel: +886-7-7995678#1535


HOW TO GET THERE

Photo: Scoot

Scoot flies three times a week to Kaohsiung on its 787 Dreamliners. You can reach Tainan after a 50-minute drive. From the airport, Kaohsiung is just about 18 minutes away.

If you want more comfort for the less than five-hour flight, opt for the business class or the quiet zone which offers at least 30 per cent more legroom.

Nevertheless, you can still enjoy the benefits of a Dreamliner flight as it's designed to make passengers feel almost as good as when they are boarding. It provides more moisture and oxygen so that you don't feel parched and tired out after a flight.

Don't miss: The pre-order premium meal selections such as the near-divine chicken rice.

chenj@sph.com.sg

The writer's trip was organised by the tourism bureaus of Tainan and Kaohsiung in collaboration with Scoot.

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