For my money the best place in Taiwan to visit culture wise is the old capital, Tainan. It has a large number of historical sites in a relatively small area including some dating back hundreds of years.
I started this trip wondering first if it is possible to do a day trip to Tainan, and second if it ever really gets cold down there. To answer the first question, with the high speed rail it is possible, but it would be a stretch. True the train trip only takes an hour and 50 minutes from Taipei, but as with most stations along the high speed rail line, the "Tainan" station is about 40 minutes by (free) shuttle bus from Tainan City. All in it took 4 hours door to door from Taipei City to our hotel in central Tainan.
The best option then is to stay for at least one night. You can often get a great deal with hotel and train ticket as we did this time (check the high speed rail website).
There is a lot of accommodation in Tainan, from cheap and cheerful hotels around the train station (the old normal train station that is), to 5-star luxury at the Landis. Next to the Landis is allegedly one of the biggest department stores in the region, should you get the urge for a bit of brand shopping. It's odd for a smallish city, but Tainan does seem to be expanding rapidly. Even from my last trip a few years ago the development is amazing.
Still, the old buildings remain and Tainan at least understands the value of its heritage (tourism is a big industry).
Many of the best-known places to visit are within walking distance of each other around the center of the city, but Anping is a taxi ride away. And I mention Anping as for me this is the most interesting place to visit in the area.
Actually there is a link here to my Fort San Domingo post, as the main focus of interest in Anping is Fort Zeelandia. The Dutch originally constructed the fort in 1624 as Taiwan became an important stop on the trade routes, until they were defeated by Koxinga (Cheng Chen-Kung), a Ming Dynasty general in 1661, and Fort Zeelandia became Anping Fort.
I have mentioned before that there aren't many really old original buildings left in Taiwan, due mainly to natural disasters and war, and alas this is true of the fort itself, however some of the original walling has survived over 300 years and makes it a worthwhile trip. The reconstruction around the original walls is for the most part well done (apart from an observation tower which has to be said is an odd choice), and the gardens provide a safe space for the kids to run around.
The fort is also well lit at night making it an interesting place to visit at any time. A kind of night market pops up around the fort when it gets dark, so there are plenty of places to eat.
Actually there are a lot of places of interest to see around the fort, and there are plenty of places to eat. Shrimp rolls are one of the best well-known things to try, and for some reason shrimp crackers as well. It is worth remembering that the water used to come up to the fort's walls, so that might explain the focus on sea food even if it has long since retreated.
I mentioned the connection with my Fort San Domingo post, and it goes beyond just the military aspect, as both Anping and Danshuei were important trading centers. Remnants of this time around Anping Fort include the Old Tait & Co. Merchant House and Julius Mannich Merchant House (now a German themed café/restaurant). The Anping Tree house you will see mentioned is basically an old warehouse next to the Old Tait & Co. Merchant House that has been "reclaimed" by large trees in a triffid style invasion.
There is a raised walkway you can take through the trees over the house, and the grounds provide a place to take a break.
Everything around the fort is easily walkable, and apparently there are boat rides from this area too. We'll try and catch one tomorrow and include it in my next post. There really is too much to write about in one post, so I'll write more in the next post.
As to my second question, it does get chilly in Tainan. I have to say that this is the second time I have visited Tainan in the winter, and the weather has been gorgeous both times. However at the night market tonight, I did get strange looks walking around in short sleeves. Although that might have just been strange looks.
Happy New Year from Taiwan! If you are in Taipei then the 101 building will have a display as well as a large display in the Dachia section of the flower expo. Expect large crowds at both...