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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Day 9: Tainan, the Phoenix City

Day 9: Tainan, Taiwan - 4.4.2015 

We started our first real day in Tainan with a wonderful breakfast at 8 a.m. at the Fuward Hotel. They had a huge buffet with everything - different breads, soup, meat, vegetables, fruit, rice, sweets and even fries. I think it was the best breakfast on our whole trip.

We had decided to go sightseeing in and around Tainan and the weather seemed great, as it was sunny and already warm. So after breakfast we walked past the Jheng Ancestral Shrine  to the Chihkan Tower. It was a bit stressful, because there is a lack of sidewalks in Taiwan and sometimes you have to walk directly on the (busy) streets.

In front of the Chihkan Tower is a bus stop for the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle and we wanted to take their bus "99 Taijiang Route" to the salt area and then with some stops back to the main city. We had read about the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle online and it sounded great - they offer cheap day passes for hop on hop off services in fixed routes of interest all over the country for tourists.

Our first experience with the Tourist Shuttle was less than pleasant however. We were a bit early at the station but there were already people lining up, so we joined the queue (people in Taiwan build queues at bus stops - much different to Germany...) and waited about 20 long minutes until the bus finally arrived. To our shock, the bus - which drives the route to the salt area once an hour - didn´t stop. It turned out to be full already and didn´t take anyone on board anymore. So my travel advise if you want to use it on a weekend in Tainan like us - try to enter the bus already at the train station in Tainan, your chances of getting in might be higher there.

Then the Tourist Shuttle for the other route in Tainan came along, the "88 Anping Route". It doesn´t go to the salt area, but we thought better to take this bus, than none at all and hopped in. While it is stated online that you can buy the ticket in the bus, the bus driver made us clear (he didn´t speak English, we didn´t speak Chinese), that we can´t. Fortunately there was a friendly lady who spoke some English and told us to get the tickets at the 7-Eleven just opposite the bus stop. So we had to exit the bus again and the bus drove away, while we were buying our day ticket for 80 Taiwanese Dollar (just a bit more than 2 Euro). My friend was already nearly having a nervous breakdown so I had to let him chill a bit and we decided to do sightseeing in the area first, starting with the temples.

Just opposite the Chihkan Tower is a street leading to the God of War Temple. The temple is one of the oldest temples in Taiwan and also has some beautiful features.

From the God of War Temple we walked a little street westwards to the Grand Matsu Temple. This temple was quite busy with music and many worshippers celebrating some ceremony. We took some time to observe and then walked back to the bus station.

We decided to give the next bus to the salt area one last try and made our queue, that quickly became longer. After some waiting finally another bus "99 Taijiang Route" arrived and luckily, it stopped. Three people exited the bursting bus and so the bus driver let three people enter and we belonged to them! The other twenty people in the queue behind us were not so lucky...The bus driver was very nice and allowed me to sit next to him, while my friend was pressed at the entrance door. Then we drove along many other bus stations and saw the faces of the people who were waiting in vain for the bus to stop. The bus only stopped at stations, where someone wanted to exit. While it took more than an hour inside the crowded bus and there were a lot of traffic jams, we were happy to be even onboard!

Finally we arrived at the Salt Museum. It is one stop before the last stop of the bus (Salt Mountain). The Taiwan Salt Museum, which looks like a white pyramid, proved to be quite interesting. It`s located outside the city, surrounded by Salt Evaporation Ponds and shows the history of the Taiwanese and Chinese Salt Industry. There are several exhibitions like "Salt and the Science Gallery", "History of edible Salt in Taiwan" and "Chinese Salt History". We also enjoyed one exhibition with furniture out of salt...

After we bought some salty souvenirs at the shop of the Taiwan Salt Museum, we had a snack at their cafe. Next we wanted to see the Cigu Salt Mountain, which is in walking distance to the museum. There was a path to the Salt Mountain from the museum, but it looked like it was allowed only for a little tourist train to use that path. So we bought tickets and a few minutes later arrived at the Salt Mountain.

I never knew a Salt Mountain, so it was a premiere to climb up. For whatever reasons, there was a giant cat sculpture on the Salt Mountain. Let´s say it was something different. The view was not especially spectacular but we enjoyed it. Then we walked down to the parking lot, where we suspected the bus stops. The bus stop was there and after a while the bus (the "99 Taijiang Route" back to the town) arrived. And while every seat got filled, no one had to stand yet and everyone was allowed on board. The people who entered the bus at the next stop, the Salt Museum, weren´t that lucky...

Originally we had planned to exit the bus at more attractions en route back to the main city. We had planned to make a stop at Longshan Village to see a temple and maybe eat some fish and we also wanted to stop at the Luerhmen Shengmu Temple, a really huge temple, of which we got a look from the bus. 

Because the bus was so crowded and we had seen, that the bus doesn´t stop at all, when it´s full, we decided to stay onboard and to go back to the main city. It just seemed to be too stressful, to take a chance and then be stuck far outside the town without transportation, especially without speaking the language.

We didn´t regret the decision, as Tainan has plenty more attractions inside the town. We exited the bus at the Anping Tree House Bus Stop and then walked to the Anping Tree House. It is an abandoned old warehouse, where Banyan Trees have taken over - similar to some of the temples we had seen earlier in the journey in Angkor Wat in Cambodia. There was even some kind of photo shooting and some wooden paths leading through the area. I liked it.

From the Tree House we walked southwards and walked along many food stalls to the Anping Fort, a fort originally built in 1624 by the Dutch. It was actually a surprise to us, as we hadn´t been aware of the Dutch History in Taiwan, nearly 400 years ago. It was already late afternoon and we were lucky to still get inside. Beside the architecture and the view, there were also some exhibitions to enjoy.

From the Anping Fort we walked further southwards to the Anping Kaitai Matsu Temple. There were a lot of food stalls and I also came to talk to a street artist from Spain, preparing a show. We later watched some of the show, where he asked people, who already had gathered in a circle around him, to reenact dance moves (like Michael Jackson´s) and stuff. It was interesting not only to watch the show, but also to watch the somewhat shy, benevolently Taiwanese audience. They were all curious, what this strange person from Spain was going to show and he created quite some amusement.

We grabbed some fruit drinks at one of the many food stalls and then walked to the Yanping Street (Yanping Old Street), the oldest merchant street in the area, while avoiding the smell of stinky tofu. It was too busy for us, so we walked a parallel street after a while. We came along another temple and tried not to be overrun by the occasional motorcycle driving through the small lanes. 

We finally reached the Pingsheng Road and turned southwards, where (so we had read) the bus "88 Anping Route" back to the hotel stops. We found the bus stop, but had to wait. Unfortunately the bus seemed stuck - they had a display of when to expect the bus and it seemed to be stuck by 11 minutes. After quite some time, with no sign of the bus, we stopped a cab and took it back to the hotel. It actually wasn´t that expensive (around 5 Euros I think), even as we spent quite some time in traffic jams in busy Tainan.

It was already early evening and when we arrived at the hotel, we still had to go grocery shopping, but only found a 7-Eleven. We didn´t find a "real" supermarket in the area. My friend was a bit stressed, when he didn´t get any money from the ATM, but just something like "thank you for using the machine" and what looked like a bill. But the very helpful staff at the hotel later translated the paper from the machine and explained to us, that the machine was just closed due to a holiday. That was a relief.

We soon fell asleep and were already looking forward to the next day, where we planned to make an excursion to the city of Kaohsiung and a huge temple complex. One full day was actually not enough to see even the highlights of Tainan. We especially would have liked to also see the Eternal Fortress, the Temple of the Five Concubines and the Tainan Flower Market.

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