I’d hate to think that all my current experiences will someday become stories with no point.
-Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
I feel guilty writing this, but I don’t like Tainan at all. Actually, I pretty much loathe the city after my three-day weekend there. I’ve never experienced such a dislike for a place before, and it’s unsettling to admit it, but I hope to never return to Tainan.
Some may say I’m overreacting, but I honestly found few redeeming qualities during my time in the city. And it all started when I booked the high-speed rail (HSR) to Tainan Station only to discover upon arrival that Tainan Station is nowhere near the city. There’s another Tainan Station, which is a half hour on the slow train from Tainan Station. At least when I traveled to Kaohsiung, the station wasn’t called Kaohsiung Station and it was still close to the city center. Hell, the Tainan HSR station wasn’t even on the tourist map available at the information desk.
In my frustration, I grabbed a bite to eat in the station and managed to forget my umbrella, which just added to my overall feeling about the weekend.
Upon arriving at Tainan Station from Tainan Station, I found an old and crowded train station that didn’t exactly tell me which side of the station to exit (I guessed right). As I walked the 20 minutes down the main street to the Easy Inn Hostel, which I will admit was quite nice, I realized that there wasn’t much to see. More than that, there wasn’t much usable sidewalk as motorbikes and cars use the sidewalks for parking and businesses regularly create barriers to force pedestrians to walk in the busy streets.
It wasn’t just this area of Tainan that had unusable sidewalks — it was everywhere. I came close to just walking on top of the cars and knocking over the motorbikes, but I managed to control my anger in that case.
I did not control my anger directed toward drivers who nearly hit me at almost every turn. I’m not just talking about close calls — I had multiple cars and motorbikes run stale red lights as I and others entered crosswalks (and that was in the first few hours of my stay). I even had to move out of the way because a car was about to back over me as I stood on the corner waiting for the light to change — because the driver wasn’t looking, he would have run me over had I not moved. Had that driver’s window been open, I probably would’ve dragged him out and beaten him senseless. As it was, he didn’t seem to give a damn that he wasn’t looking while driving.
I felt safer crossing the streets in Vietnam!
Then there was the public transportation, or lack thereof. I managed to take two buses — one with some other hostel guests to the far reaches of Tainan and then back to the tourist area (I had to wait 20 minutes for the second bus). However, I saw no buses on my back to the hostel (a good three-mile walk after walking for hours throughout the day). According to the bus schedule, they only run once every 45 minutes or so (assuming they’re on time with the tourist traffic on the one-lane road to the only area that tourists actually go along Anping Rd.).
And don’t plan on getting a taxi. On my first night, I headed back around 8 pm and I managed to walk halfway to the hostel before I even saw a taxi. The next day, I walked the whole way back because I saw neither a bus nor a taxi.
My main goal in Tainan was to eat because everyone claims how wonderful the food in Tainan is. There are few restaurant recommendations online because everyone just eats street food. It’s also a mecca for bubble tea lovers (I find bubble tea disgusting).
Now, I’m not a great fan of Taiwanese food — I tend to think of it as some of the worst of Chinese cuisine — but I expected better from Tainan. I became disillusioned quickly. I’m fairly certain I developed diabetes over the course of a weekend because almost everything is overly sugary.
I had read that zongzi were a specialty in Tainan. I hadn’t had any since I lived in China, but I recall being indifferent to the glutinous rice-filled dumplings. I ordered a huge one from a popular sidewalk restaurant near my hostel only to discover that I find zongzi to be disgusting. It was gooey from the glutinous rice and filled with gritty salted pork and peanuts and covered by a sauce that was sickeningly sweet.
The best meal I had in Tainan was milkfish-filled dumplings. Oddly enough, even these dumplings tasted slightly sweet. I also had rum ice cream, which isn’t exactly a traditional Tainan snack. The danzai noodles and coffin bread (I can’t see that becoming popular in the US with such a name, but it is a cool idea) I had at Chih Kan Peddler’s Noodles (赤崁擔仔麵) were decent. The restaurant was more interesting than the food. And I had better coffin bread at the night market in Hualien.
Some of the touristy area of Tainan seemed interesting, but getting there was miserable. The hostel was excellent — I would highly recommend staying at Easy Inn if it was only in another city. And Beer Bee was a relaxing little bar with excellent beer (Mikkeller Beer Geek series!). The highlight of tourist sites in Tainan was the Anping Tree House (a house engulfed by trees). But I struggle to think of any other redeeming qualities of the city after my three days.
As I said, I feel like I shouldn’t completely write-off the city as I have, but it was just a miserable weekend that I had hoped would be a relaxing escape from Taipei. If someone were to convince me that there is more to the city that I need to see/experience, I may be willing to give it another shot. But, as it stands, I have no interest in ever returning to Tainan.
Have you ever had an experience that completely turned you off to a travel destination that others rave about? How did you react?