If it’s possible, I think I like Tainan more than Taipei, and it’s all because my first impressions were saved by the people I met there. When I arrived, I didn’t start off on the right foot and was having Russia flashbacks. Taipei has limited English availability as it is so I knew English in Tainan would be dangerously sparse. The sole reason I chose to visit Tainan was because I had met a few people during my travels that told me I should go which leads me to the first thing I did wrong.
Didn’t Do My Research
Typically, I do pretty well without in-depth research before arriving somewhere new. I rely more on the locals to tell me what I should be doing, seeing, eating, etc. instead of the Lonely Planet books. So far, people haven’t led me astray, but when the language barrier is so high that you only have yourself to save you if you get lost, researching beforehand is crucial. When I got into town, I had no clue how to get around, what I should be doing, where the popular neighborhoods were located, nothing. Even the hostel staff didn’t have many recommendations for me, and since they were barely around when I needed them for advice, it was just me, myself, and I. With only three short days in town, I was kicking myself for not planning accordingly.
A good thing to note is that Tainan is not a tourist city. Sure there are a few temples you can go see, but it’s mainly a food-centric city. No complaints there, right? Don’t feel like you’re missing out on seeing something for the life of Tainan lives and thrives in all the restaurants, bars, cafes, and street food stalls.
Stayed In A Hostel
There are a few hostel options in Tainan, but the one I stayed in wasn’t ideally located near much of anything. Because of that, I had been exposed to a lot of run down buildings and iffy cafes that got me thinking there wasn’t much to see. In fact, I almost thought about leaving Tainan one day early which would’ve been a mistake. Little did I know that younger, more trendy neighborhoods existed outside of a reasonable walking distance from my hostel.
Before going to Tainan, I had the chance to stay with a friend who lives just outside the city, but my stubborn preference for hostels won. Never again will I let hostels take precedence over couchsurfing or staying with a friend, when the opportunity presents itself. A city like Tainan is better experienced in the company of locals who speak your language which I will tell you more about in a bit.
Should’ve Taken More Photos
Back in Israel, my real camera died, and I’ve been relying on my iPhone for pictures. Well my phone’s battery drains very quickly when I use it as a camera all the time which is why fewer photos have been coming your way. I know that’s a poor excuse, and what’s worse is that there is a lot in Tainan worthy of being photographed. If I could go back for another 3 days and photograph the whole city, I would. When I am armed with a proper camera again, I will certainly do so.
It’s not all bad news though. Once I got my bearings, things turned around very quickly.
Took The Bullet Train
From Taipei to Tainan in under 2 hours, I had my first bullet train experience. Can we just take a moment to appreciate what a feat of engineering bullet trains are? Absolutely incredible, and I am so envious we don’t have trains like that in the USA. They’re so clean, spacious, rider-friendly, and efficient. Trains leave every 30-40 minutes and even though they make stops along the way, it’s never for more than 2 minutes. There are vending machines and bathrooms on board, and stewardesses come by once or twice with a snack/drink cart. Could you imagine if there was a global bullet train system? Travelers around the world would rejoice.
Finding Friends Through Couchsurfing
The first night in town, after not properly doing my research, I turned to couchsurfing to see if there were any locals that would be available to hang out and show me around. Boy did I strike gold. My new friend, Wendy, took me under her wing like a sister. In her presence, I found myself on the back of the scooter whizzing down the streets with signs all lit up in Chinese screaming past me like some kind of twisted twilight zone. We did, what felt like, everything from exploring a temple, indulging in waffles near Hai An road, meeting up with other couchsurfers from Europe, visiting the salt museum, and trying hot pot for dinner. Over multiple meals and bus rides, I learned more about life in Taiwan than I could have ever hoped for, and if it weren’t for her company, I wouldn’t have enjoyed my time in Tainan nearly as much.