TAIPEI (The China Post) — Lying on the slopes of Huoshan (火山), the Huoshan Biyun Temple faces the gleaming western coast of Taiwan, and although its name means volcano, this imposing mountain is lush green.
The Taoist temple is a well-known structure in Tainan for worshipers and tourists alike, and similar to other temples, visitors must follow a particular route when entering and exiting.
In this case, one must enter through the right corridor and exit on the left.
Zigzagging quietly through the temple’s interior perfumed with incense, beautifully aged writings have been carved into the several doorways and pillars — this here originates from both fire and water– a motif owing to the many hot springs dotting this “fire mountain”.
Indeed, if a visit is paid to the temple, dipping yourself into the nearby hot springs is certainly warranted. Guanziling Mud Hot Springs (關子嶺溫泉) is highly recommended for its panoramic view of the town and mountain ridges sliding down towards the plains below.
The area is divided into four separate pools of mineral-rich pools, each varying in temperature. Even more exciting, visitors may choose between the two clear-water springs or the two mud springs…or enjoy all of them! Either way, the muddy spring water is so soothing, it’ll give your skin that nice, “baby-soft” texture and glow.
Mt. Huoshan is not the only wonder in Tainan, of course; the flatlands near the sea are worth exploring, too. The Jingzijiao Salt Fields (井仔腳鹽田) are particularly beautiful to see during sunset.
The mirror-like effect emitted by these crystalline ponds of white salt create a dreamlike landscape. Please make sure your camera is charged, onlookers will want to remember this 30-minute window of pink skies.
If it’s winter, bring a scarf because it gets windy near the coast as you walk along with the large rock barriers with the waves crashing incessantly against them.
For a fresh taste of local food, visitors can’t miss Salt Country House (鹽鄉民宿餐廳), a quaint restaurant which also provides short tours through the salt flats that surround it, sharing details in the tradition of salt cultivation and a chance to get to meet warm-hearted locals.
Back at the restaurant, servings of massive freshly caught red crabs, deliciously spiced-up clams served with melon and, a coastal Taiwanese favorite, the oyster vermicelli, made with slurpy rice noodles speckled with mini oysters. If you plan on walking through this checkered maze of flats, it’d be best to eat up for energy!
At the heart of Tainan’s old town, known for its unique mix between colonial Japanese and Taiwanese architectural styles, you’ll find the perfect restaurant and the perfect hotel. Both housed within idyllic buildings over a century old, owners have outdone themselves preserving the original wooden and stone structures.
The restaurant, Zhuxinju (筑馨居), is a two-story building nestled in an unassuming alleyway, its entrance framed with wooden couplets both to entice onlookers and to warn that reservations must be made before entering.
At this locale, the chefs and owner are friendly, welcoming, and exceedingly knowledgeable of both the Taiwanese cuisine the prepare and the history of this picturesque city – Tainan.
While awaiting the arrival of those fragrant dishes, diners can head on back to explore the entire house which contains numerous collections of antiques, mostly from the Japanese colonial era – glassware, vintage advertisements and furniture, a cash register, and so much more.
After climbing up the steep stairs that lead to the second floor, you’ll be able to stroll on the roof above the restaurant and enjoy the neighborhood from a usually unseen angle. After this bountiful feast, a good place to stay is Dear b&b (想起民宿), a rustic building turned B&B traveler’s nest.
These original buildings usually housed several families, but have now been converted into spacious rooms of varying styles. Playing with bookshelves, glass and wood panes, wicker lanterns and colorfully tiled bathrooms, the design of this two-building hotel is by far one of the most unique in Tainan’s historic district.
One last attraction which is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression is the Wushantou Reservoir (烏山頭水庫). Built by the Japanese engineer, Yoichi Hatta, whose statue watches over the pristine, breezy waters, this massive reservoir feeds the flat farmlands through an irrigation system flowing from its slopes.
A boat tour can be made during the day, while the local guides recount stories of times long past, the boat softly twisting and turning through the isles overgrown with bamboo and other vegetation.
Tainan is a capsule of time, preserving both colonial architecture and feel, as well as traditional farm life. The pace here is tranquil, the land – enticing in its calmness. Cafés, temples, mountains and flatlands form a county unique as one of the first contact points Taiwan had with Europeans centuries ago.