Tainan possesses a unique mix of attractions including mangrove forests, wetlands and historical sites.
For example, the Taijiang Ecological and Cultural Zone is located within Tainan City, less than a 20-minute drive from the city center. Within this zone, lies the Sihcao Wildlife Preserve with nesting and foraging areas for waterbirds such as the Black-faced Spoonbill.
For a close look at the area's ecology, take a boat cruise through the mangrove forests, starting from next to the Sihcao Bridge or in front of the Dajhong Temple, built during the Cing Dynasty and one of the landmarks of the area.
The former goes through oyster and crab farming areas, and features stops for viewing wetlands filled with migratory birds, especially at this time of year.
The cruise from Dajhong Temple makes its way through thick-canopied mangrove forest, where visitors will be treated to the sight of abundant crab species and mudskippers.
Tainan has long been considered the cradle of Taiwanese history and has a plethora of historical sites to prove it.
The Dutch invaded and seized Anping as a military and commercial base in 1624. They began to construct a fort and city named Zeelandia, which was completed in 1634. This is where Taiwan's first recorded history took place.
Jheng Cheng-gong (Koxinga) defeated the Dutch and took over Anping in 1662. Today, the original remains of Zeelandia are two semi-spherical fragments north of the fort and part of the outer wall along the road in front of the fort. These brick walls have been designated 1st grade historic sites.
There are several excavation sites around Anping Fort. It is interesting to note that much of the original Zeelandia is underground. This was discovered using modified US military Doppler equipment.
Adjacent to the Anping Fort is Old Anping, Taiwan's first Han Chinese settlement. This area has several unique characteristics including narrow lanes and numerous banyan trees. Some of the outer walls have incorporated coral, which served as ballast on merchant ships, or bricks taken from the Anping Fort. In addition, some of the houses have a lion plaque over the doorway to keep evil spirits away.
Also in this area is the Haishan Hostel, where sailors stayed before shipping out. It is currently under renovation due to termite damage but still retains much of its original carvings and esthetic beauty.
Around the corner and a few minutes' walk from the Anping Fort is the Old Tait & Co. Merchant House, a striking two-story white building with rounded arches, built by British merchants in 1867 for tea trade, insurance and banking. It now serves as a wax museum for relating Tainan's history. On the first floor is a cafe serving a variety of teas and fresh-brewed coffee.
Behind is the Anping Tree House, which originally served as this company's warehouse. It was neglected for many years, and has been taken over by the twisting roots and branches of banyan trees that have broken through the roof and windows, creating a unique of combination of nature, brick and granite. Inside, exhibition panels detail the characteristics of banyan trees and the warehouse's history, and a stairway has been built to provide a tree-top perspective of this attraction.
This was originally the site of Fort Provintia built by the Dutch in the 1650s as they outgrew Zeelandia. It included two bastions, one at the northeastern corner and one at the southwestern corner. On top of each stood a watchtower.
It has undergone changes from the Ming Dynasty through the Cing Dynasty to the Japanese occupation period and Taiwan's Retrocession. Fujienese-style buildings were built on the site during the Cing Dynasty, followed by a temple during the Japanese occupation period. When the temple was destroyed in a typhoon, excavations revealed a corner of the original northeastern bastion.
Today, Chihkan Tower is a multi-storied complex, similar in appearance to a traditional Chinese shrine or temple.
Scattered around the complex's garden are stone tablets, a stone horse, stone camels and a row of nine turtle-borne steles with texts inscribed in both the Chinese and Manchu languages. Inside, Chihkan Tower contains exhibits relating to Koxinga, and an altar for worshipping the god of literature. This is where students come to pray for a good performance on examinations.
Confucianism has occupied an important position in Chinese history. Confucian temples were built in major cities, with the first one in Taiwan built in Tainan in 1665 by the son of Koxinga.
Several renovations and reconstructions have been executed over different historical periods, the first time being in the Cing Dynasty in 1684. Today, the entire compound is a 1st grade historic site.
As a heads-up, the Taiwan Lantern Festival is going to be held for the second consecutive year in Tainan City's Historic Harborside Park.
The Taiwan Lantern Festival is a modernized version of the celebration, starting on the 15th day of the first month on the lunar calendar, that makes use of the latest lighting technology.
To get a feel for how the Lantern Festival was traditionally celebrated, head to the Beehive Rockets Festival, held in Yanshuei Town of Tainan County. This festival is thought to have begun more than 100 years ago, when Yanshuei was stricken with an epidemic that nearly wiped out the entire town. On the day of the Lantern Festival, the remaining residents prayed to the deity Guan Gong (the God of War) and the "officials" of Heaven to come to earth to help them, and lit firecrackers to ward off evil spirits. After that, the plague ended; and ever since, the people of Yanshuei have celebrated the Lantern Festival with a copious amount of fireworks.
The most impressive part of this event is beehive-shaped frames that hold thousands of skyrockets. Every time a spirit palanquin passes by carrying a statue of a deity, who is believed to be visiting Earth for the occasion, the fireworks are lit; they shoot in all directions, but mostly into the large crowd of festival spectators. Local residents also throw lighted firecrackers, adding to the chaos.
For more information about Tainan City attractions and the upcoming Taiwan Lantern Festival, contact (06) 299-1111 or go online to www.tncg.gov.tw. For Yanshuei beehive rocket details, call (06) 632-2231 or visit http://tour.tainan.gov.tw.