One Day in West Central District
One thing that I love about Tainan is that there is so much you can see and experience by just walking around. The grid pattern of the streets makes it easy to orientate yourself, while each block contains its own set of small alleys, temples, eateries and other secret gems. The area around Fuqi Hostel (the West Central District) especially abounds of these, all reachable by walk.
If you have one day to spend in Tainan, and you like to explore by walking, I would like to suggest a walking route that focuses on temples, historical landmarks, small alleys and food. The route makes a loop that goes through the two branches of Fuqi Hostel, so you can start from either of these. In this article, I start from the Yuanqi branch of Fuqi, but feel free to start reading from where I indicated the Heping branch is. I also created a map on Google Maps to help you get around. All the sites I mention are free of charge except the Chihkan Tower (NTD 50 at this time of writing).
Note that even though I point out some food areas, these are far from being the only places you can or should eat. Tainan is crammed with restaurants, dessert shops and snacks so feel free to eat wherever you feel like so. Tainan’s standards here are so high in terms of food quality that you have very little chance to get disappointed.
Finally, remember that everything I mention is just a suggestion based on my own preference, you may as well skip any part that don’t feel like doing. Now let’s go!
The neighbor block of the Yuanqi branch of Fuqi Hostel contains a small maze of picturesque small alleys. It is a residential area dotted with little shops, cafes, street art and installations on the theme of snails, hence the name. Pay attention to the many wooden snails decorating the alleys. It's nice for a morning stroll, but keep in mind that most shops won't open before noon. The block also includes the Shatao Temple (沙淘宮).
In the Snail Alleys, I would like to recommend a quite unique tofu/soy milk shop called Yifa Tofu (義發豆腐), although it only opens from 4:30pm to 10pm and closes on Sundays, so maybe check it out on the way back. This place looks more like a factory or the backdoor of a restaurant, but you can actually buy there a thick, sugar-free yet delicious soy milk. Ask for dòujiāng (soy milk) and buy the smallest size (NTD 20); it’s more than enough for three or four people.
Chuan Mei Movie Theater
Head north on Yongfu Road. Just before reaching Minquan Road, pay attention to billboards of the Chuan Mei movie theater (全美戲院) on the left. While this cinema screens recent movies, they hand-paint all their posters. In the early days of cinema, all theaters had painted posters as it was cheaper to just hire a painter, and people could make a living by painting posters. As cinema became an industry and printing costs dropped, painted billboards disappeared —except at Chuan Mei. It is the last movie theater of Taiwan upholding this tradition.
Popular Historical Sites
God of War Temple
Keep walking north and watch for the long, red-ochre wall on the left just before the intersection. This is the God of War Temple, dedicated to the god Guan Di (also called Guan Gong or Guan Yu). Despite his epic title, he is rather perceived as someone who uphold brotherhood and righteousness. You will recognize him easily with his very long black beard. The God of War Temple is one of the oldest temples of Taiwan, presumably built in 1665. It has a quite unique layout, extending on the left and featuring multiple areas. There is even a quiet and peaceful courtyard at the back with a fish pond and a 100-year-old plum tree.
Keep walking north until you hit the T intersection. You are in front of the square of the Chihkan Tower. Relic of the Dutch occupation (1624-1662), it is the oldest building of the West Central district. You will especially like it if you are interested in history. The Chihkan tower cohabits with the Penghu College (蓬壺書院), the Wengchang Pavilion (文昌閣) and the Haisheng Temple (海神廟). On the lawn outside stands a statue of Koxinga (國姓爺) accepting the surrender of the Dutch. It This place is also worth visiting during the night as it is nicely lighted and usually holds concerts or events.
Grand Matsu Temple
Go back to the God of War temple, and walk down the small alley next to its entrance. You will soon reach the front square of the Grand Matsu Temple (or Datianhou Temple, 大天后宮), dedicated to the goddess Mazu. There are hundreds of Mazu temples in Taiwan, but this is one of the most sacred ones, making it a famous landmark of Tainan. Expect many visitors. It is also one of the largest, with multiple rooms dedicated to different gods, Mazu occupying the main hall. The temple provides very interesting English documentation about the proper way to pray, ask questions to the gods and other do’s and dont’s. While some temples feel a little cramped, the Grand Matsu Temple feels very airy, with large rooms and most ceilings open. The walls are decorated with beautiful murals and everything is nicely decorated, without excess.
Exit the Grand Matsu Temple front square from the opposite side, completely turning your back to its entrance. This alley displays some nice street art, and if you havn't had enough, you can also visit the Kaijiwu Temple (開基武廟) on the left side. Otherwise, head west until you reach Guohua Street (國華街) on the other side of the roundabout. This area gathers quite a lot of restaurants, so you may have lunch or dinner there. You could try Fusheng's savory rice cake, some duck with rice, a sweet tofu pudding, or anything else that makes you salivate!
About Guohua Street, think of it as the esophagus of Tainan. Packed with restaurants and street food, it spreads for more than a kilometer from north to south of the whole district. Restaurants mostly run during day time. We will have a second chance to explore it later.
Lesser-known yet stunning temples
Walk north on Guohua Street for about 150 meters until you see a red gate on the left, just before Jyunwei Street (郡緯街). The gate leads to the Puji Temple (普濟殿) square that displays huge and splendid murals. This whole block is actually actually packed with many temples like the large Tianhuang Temple (天皇殿), as well as others that do not even show up on Google Maps like Hesheng Temple (和勝堂), so have a little to walk around if you want to check them out. Note that his area is particularly lovely and festive around the Chinese New Year period, as lots of lanterns are hanging over the pathways, making it the perfect place for a night stroll.
Mazulou Tianhou Temple
Walk west on Jyunwei Street, cross Hai'an Road and turn right. After about 20 meters, take the small alley for about 100 meters and you will find the Mazulou Tianhou Temple (媽祖樓天后宮) on your right. Dedicated to the goddess Mazu, Mazulou one of the oldest temples of Tainan (1755). Its modest size makes it very cute; the entrance is lovely, with golden dragon pillars and a richly decorated roof. The inside abounds with wooden ornaments, leading to a backyard with a unique dragon fountain.
Keep walking west on the alley you came from for about 200 meters and cross Jinhua Rd. Walk through the yellow-red gate and you will soon hit the imposing Jin'an Temple (金安宮). While this temple is also dedicated to Mazu, it has nothing to do with Mazulou in terms of size, stature and impression. With its bulky architecture, stone low-reliefs of dragons and massive golden ornaments, Jin'an gives a feeling of abundance. The wrap-around balcony gave me the impression that they are watching over the neighborhood.
Exit Jin'an through the south alley, down the temple stairway. Walk for about 100 meters until you reach a T intersection, turn right and you will arrive at the Duiyue Gate (兌悅門). This gate is not very spectacular as car could barely drive through, but it has been standing the test of time since its completion in 1836. What's actually interesting about it is how nicely it fits in this lovely neighborhood. You can locals are having a chat on the wooden table in front of the gate or just taking a rest under the large banyan tree next to it. A stairway on the side allows to climb the gate although it is just one story high.
Exit through the opposite side of the gate and turn left on Wenxian Road. Walk for about 200 meters until you reach the Minzu/Jinhua crossroad, and cross it to its opposite corner. Walk south for about 100 meters down Jinhua Road until you see red-ochre pillars by the sidewalk. Congrats, you arrived at the entrance of Yaowang Temple. Unlike most temples, this one stands very high by the side of a large avenue, and is so thin that you can cross it in just a few steps from one side to the other. It used to be larger in the past, but when Jinhua Road was constructed in 1969, they chop off most of it, only leaving the front hall. It was then rebuilt in 1986 with more floors. Yaowang Temple is actually much more outstanding from the opposite side, where Shennong Street (神農街) starts.
Speaking of which, Shennong Street is famous for its cafes, art galleries and handicrafts, so you may want to check it out if you are into that. Note that most shops only open at night, otherwise it's just nice to look at the old houses façades. There is also a temple furniture workshop on that street, close to Yaowang temple.
From Yaowang Temple, walk south on Jinhua Road for 100 meters and turn left under the yellow-red temple gate. This alley sumptuously leads to the Hai'an Temple (海安宮), another Mazu temple. Located in the middle of an extremely quiet area, this temple is a very peaceful place with very few visitors. In spite of this, Hai'an conceals an exceptional beauty. From the outside, the roof is adorned with beautiful and detailed sculptures of dragons and characters with heroic poses. Unlike some other temples which are a bit dark, the entrance leads to a spacious and bright room, with a ceiling entirely covered with low-reliefs and paintings. Be sure to also visit the backyard and say hi to the little turtles.
When exiting Hai'an, walk back for about 20 meters and turn left two times right after the pair of trees. (This alley is not on Google Maps at this time of writing.) You should end up on the other side of Hai'an, at the front square of the Wind Temple (風神廟), the only temple dedicated to the God of Wind. Sadly this temple sort of lost its antique touch since its recent refurbishment due to the severe Kaohsiung earthquake of 2016. Still, it is very beautiful at night with its yellow lighting, facing the stone gate and the little tower. On the other side of Kangle Street (康樂街) stands the Xiluo Temple (西羅殿), enclosing this square with a nice and tranquil atmosphere.
Walk through Heping Street, leaving the Xiluo Temple on your left.
Start reading from here if you stay at the Heping branch of Fuqi Hostel.
Delicacies and Local Gems
Food and street art
Walk east on Heping Street, cross Hai'an road and continue on Heping Street. You will notice the Nansha Temple (南沙宮) on your right, curious for its smallness. Keep walking on Heping Street until you reach Guohua Street, the foodies street. Note that most shops here only run during day time. If it’s already too late, no worries, you can just skip this part and jump to the Bao'an Road section.
Walk south on Guohua Street, cross Minsheng Road, keep walking on Guohua Street until you reach the bustling Zhengxing Street (正興街), where food meets street art. You will see crowds of tourists gathering for the sweet food and cute boutiques. It’s worth noticing the wall paintings and cat characters who represent shop owners or famous figures of this street.
You may want to try to enter one of the very tiny alleys (not on Google Maps) that run into the block from to the little plaza where everyone’s eating ice cream. You would be surprised to find some cute coffee shops or beautiful old houses hiding in this maze of alleys.
Keep walking south on Guohua Street and let yourself be tempted by some green onion pancake, a squid rice noodle soup, a tofu pudding or anything else that makes you wanna try out! The options are almost infinite as Guohua Street goes on for quite some distance.
If it’s past 5pm and you feel hungry, take a detour to Bao'an Road by walking south on Guohua Street until you reach it. Bao'an is one of the few areas of West Central where you can still have dinner or desert until 10 or 11pm. The food is quite tasty there. If you are unsure about what to have, I recommend the fried fish noodle soup as dinner or a red-bean soup as desert. Otherwise, just go walk back on Guohua Street until you reach You'ai Street.
Head east on You'ai Street for no more than 40 meters and take the alley on your right just before the 7 Eleven. It immediately leads to a very small square with a unique banyan tree. Looking like a snake climbing out of the passage, this tall tree is more than 150 years old. Locals call it the "Spouses Tree" (夫妻樹) or Songwang, after the name of the tiny Songwang Temple (松王廟) just under it. At night, the lively restaurants and red lightings give a holy and local atmosphere to this corner. Notice the little wooden board hanging onto the tree, where people have been writing their wishes to the gods and seeking for their protection.
Go back to You'ai Street and keep walking east for about 200 meters, crossing Ximen Road on the way. On your right you will see a series of white pillars, this is the You'ai Market (友愛市場). This market only operates until noon and from evening. It is not especially beautiful, but very local and authentic. Everything I ever had there was simply delicious.
Keep walking east on You'ai Street until you reach Yongfu Road, just before the art museum, and turn left until you reach Zhongzheng Road. Fuqi Hostel (Yuanqi branch) is on your right.