What You Need To know
Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan and was the capital during imperial times. It is famous for its temples, historic buildings and snack food. The city is currently the fifth largest city on the island after New Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung and Taipei with a population of over 1.8 million. For a city of its size by population, Tainan’s size by land area is exceptional. Very few buildings are more than 5 to 6 stories in height and most are between two and three stories. Like other Taiwanese cities, most people in Tainan, including taxi drivers, cannot speak English well (except for high school and college students), though some of the older generation can converse in Japanese. However, to help visitors get around, there are free tri-lingual (Chinese, English and Japanese) map-guides available at the railway station.
One of the most popular destinations in the Tainan area is the Anping District. The Anping District is the historical heart of Tainan, the original capital of Taiwan. Anping is home to the Anping Old Fort, the Anping Tree House (a warehouse with massive banyan trees growing out of it), and numerous restaurants and food stalls.
It is the place where the Dutch colonialist East India Company (VOC) located its Taiwan base. Fort Zeelandia (at today’s Anping) and Fort Provintia (at today’s Chickan Tower) had been built to secure the entrance to a natural harbour, otherwise blocked by sandbars. The area has become silted over the centuries and today the coastline is way outside the range of both forts location. Also, a lot of land area is being claimed from the sea these days as you can easily see when venturing outside Anping.
The Dutch have been overcome by Chinese general Zheng Chenggong (known in the West as Koxinga), who proceeded to set up organized government on the island. He is thus regarded as the founding personality of Taiwan and the city has great historic significance for the country as a whole.
Population: 1.885 million (2016)
Area: 846 mi²
Taiwan’s currency is the new Taiwan dollar, commonly referred to as TWD. There are five denominations of banknotes although the most commonly used are TWD 100, 500, and 1,000 value notes, while coins come in denominations of TWD50, 10, 5, and 1.
There are currency restrictions for visitors entering Taiwan. Visitors may bring in up to TWD40,000, but will need a permit from the Ministry of Finance for the import of anything higher than TWD8,000, as well as a permit to export anything more than TWD40,000. Regards foreign currency, you can bring in as much as you like, but can only export a maximum of USD$5,000 in banknotes.
Tainan has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cwa) that borders on a tropical savanna climate (Köppen climate classification Aw). Unlike the rest of southern Taiwan, Tainan is the only municipality of Political Southern Taiwan that consists of a subtropical climate, with the other two administrative divisions Kaohsiung city and Pingtung County both having a tropical savanna climate with noticeably warmer winter months, mostly due to Tainan’s northerly location and Chianan Plain’s strong radiative cooling during nighttime especially during the winter, when the sky is often cloudless. Still, the city is characterized by year-round high relative humidity and temperatures (although temperatures do dip somewhat in the winter months), with a rainy season (April to September) and a dry season (October to March).
As with the rest of Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese is the language most heard throughout the city. Taiwanese can also be heard here and there, but it is much less prevalent than in the areas of Southern Taiwan. English in Tainan City is also spoken by many from young to old. Taichung is full of university students who enjoy learning and using their English ability.
Crime wise Tainan is very safe for tourist. However the bureau of transportation reports an average of 200 dead and 20000 injured per year from traffic in Tainan alone.
Adding to the constant flow of traffic in the streets, Tainan also host the greatest number of temple parades in the country which means loud fireworks at potentially any time of daylight. Moreover fighter jets are flying very low over the city center daily (up to 30 times a day!) so persons with post-traumatic stress disorder may want to avoid the city.
The best way to travel around the city is by car, bicycle or motorcycle. There are taxis and buses, but they are not so convenient for non-Chinese speakers. There is a scooter rental shop next to the Tainan City TRA (slow train) station. Rentals cost around NT$600 per 24 hours. Whether a rental shop will check for a license varies from shop to shop, but more often than not you will need an international driver’s license.
All inner city bus routes pass through Tainan Station (train). There is a tourist information booth at the Station with friendly staff (English speaking) who can show you how to use the bus system. There are two sightseeing bus routes (88 and 99) which can take you to and back from all the major historical sites. The cost to get on either of the bus lines is 18 NT$, with no on/off privileges unless you pay again.
To get to the famous Flower Night Market (huāyuán yèshì), take the 0 bus at the 2nd furthest bus stop directly across from the rail station or ask the information booth close to it. Be aware that Friday/Saturday nights the market becomes a human parking lot. Not advisable to bring small children and being that crowded not that enjoyable. Advice is to get there early 6pm when shops are still setting up and the market is actually walkable.
However, do be aware that Tainan’s public transport infrastructure suffers from a lack of population density and other local factors, leading to a substandard service, especially in comparison to Taipei. It is not uncommon to wait an hour for a bus, or to have the bus miss your stop completely with seemingly no reason at all.
If you do take a taxi just make sure you have a map you can point at or the business card of the location you’re headed. The taxi drivers are very helpful, but be aware that sometimes even Chinese speakers take roundabout ways.
One should take note that there are thousands of scooters and motorbikes packing the streets and if you injure someone while you are driving in Taiwan, the local laws require you to pay for whatever the person you injured cannot. Try getting your insurance company to write a waiver for you to be insured before driving in Taiwan.