Tainan, in the southwest of Taiwan, is one of its oldest cities and served as its capital under Koxinga and Qing Dynasty rule from 1663-1887.

This is where you'll find some of the country's most historic sites — and unique folklore festivals and cuisine.

The sights to see

One of the most popular things for visitors to do is climb up Anping Tree House, an abandoned warehouse once owned by exporters Tait & Company. The structure now has a large banyan tree that has taken over its walls, floor and roof. Nearby Anping Fort (Fort Zeelandia) is a former Dutch fortress that was a major trading post for the Dutch army and navy and is now a park and museum showcasing important historical events from the Dutch occupation (1624 to 1662).

Tainan is regarded as one of the country's cultural capitals thanks to its seven Buddhist temples and eight Taoist shrines. It's also home to the first Confucius Temple in Taiwan, which was built in 1665 and where many students still come to pray for wisdom.

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Museum-wise, two of the main drawcards are the National Museum of Taiwan History and the National Museum of Taiwan Literature.

Foodie heaven

Renowned for being sweeter than other Taiwanese cuisines, Tainan specialties include ta-a or danzai noodles and the charmingly named coffin bread — a snack made out of a hollowed-out thick block of fried bread filled with chowder. Ta-a noodles are wheat-based noodles served in a broth — usually seafood — topped with pork and shrimp. Take a stroll down Anping Old St to find food stalls selling both, as well as other local dishes including rice cakes, eel noodle soup and iced mung bean soup.

Drink it in

The Checkered Record Club (TCRC) Live House is a small indie live music venue with a sister speakeasy, TCRC Bar around the corner. The latter is a hip cocktail bar set inside a former historic home with no menu; the talented staff will whip you up a drink by request. The Dive Bar and Grubhut on Hai-An Rd is another great joint to grab a couple of beers and meet the locals.

Best selfie spot

The Blueprint Culture & Creative Park is housed in and around former Japanese government dormitories that have been painted with white schematic lines to create a 3D blueprint-style effect that plays with perspective. It's an Instagram dream — and also good for shopaholics thanks to the cool boutiques on site.

Don't leave town without ...

Paying a visit to the Flower Night Market in North District. You'll have to time it right, however, because this famous market — which actually has more food than flowers among its wares — is only open Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and closes when it rains. More than 400 stalls sell street food, clothes and other goods, and there is always plenty of entertainment on offer including arcade-style games such as ring tosses and balloon shooting.

Plan a trip around ...

The Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival, which takes place during the Chinese Spring Lantern Festival each February. The "beehives" are hundreds of thousands of fireworks arranged inside multiple iron and wooden frames. When each beehive is lit, rockets shoot out in all directions in a stunning spectacle of light and sound — often into the crowd, meaning people wear helmets, jackets earplugs, goggles and even gloves to observe the fun.

The festival, one of the most popular folklore festivals in the world, originated in the late 1800s when a cholera outbreak swept the city and the fireworks were used to ask the Holy Ruler Deity Guan for help. The Taiwanese people believe running through the shooting fireworks rids them of bad luck, meaning they start the new year with a clean slate. Next year's festival takes place on February 18-19.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

China Airlines

flies from Auckland to Taipei, via Brisbane, with return Economy Class fares from $1197.

DETAILS
eng.taiwan.net.tw