Taiwan: Southern surprise

By week one, I found myself in HELL. No, not actually hell, but Tainan, Taiwan’s former capital and oldest city, which is actually quite a beguiling place if I hadn’t spent my days there puking my guts out like a newly pregnant woman.

It didn’t help that I also looked pregnant.

And it all began with a stay in Shangri-la’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, one of the very few luxury accommodations in Tainan. Pfft.

First things first: you can’t go wrong with street food in Tainan. Foodies love this place, because you can’t get relatively cheap — and yes, clean — chow in one of the city’s many quaint alleyways and night markets without signing up for a single-ticket entry into VOMIT FEST.

Doing what we do best.

One of my fave street snacks is a coffin cake. Yeah, you read right. A COFFIN CAKE. Found only in Tainan, this snack — which is actually toasted bread that’s hollowed out and filled with meat-and-veggie chowder — is named for its resemblance to a sarcophagus.

Something like this.

I just walked up to the first street-side stall I saw and ordered one. The bread was unusually crisp and the filling creamy and delicious; I was in coffin cake heaven.

Get in my tummy already!

It was also in Tainan that I tried — by accident — a stinky tofu. You’re probably asking, HOW CAN I NOT SMELL IT?! It’s the same question I’ve been tormenting myself with for months too.

It was supposed to be just oyster noodles, but we also ordered the tofu since it seemed to be extremely popular among the clients. That shit looked deceivingly normal; and I couldn’t even smell it even though it was sitting right in front of me.

BUT when I took a bite, the stench just hit me immediately like a sledgehammer to my soul. Every living cell in my body began screaming NooOOooOOooooo. It tasted as if the cook abhorred his customers so much he thought they deserved to eat sponge soaked in sewage water. It could’ve been employed as a torture device in Guantanamo Bay to make prisoners regret ever being born.

As repulsive as stinky tofu was, it wasn’t the reason I almost threw up my lungs. We had checked into Shangri-la — it was Dec 31 and we were hoping that getting a suite on a higher floor would give us a bird’s eye view of the city as it rang in the New Year.

Keepin’ it classy.

Yeah, well, Tainan isn’t exactly party central and there wasn’t much firework action. And then we woke up to a great breakfast only to discover that I had caught the dreaded norovirus from the buffet table.

Well, at least they baked us a New Year cupcake.

And so it was in Ten Drum Cultural Village a few hours later that I found myself desperately holding in my vomit. It was of no use of course. I was throwing up, multiple times and projectile style, all over this the shady grounds of this unusual attraction, but not before channeling my aggression into some of the drums. (That’s pretty much all there is to do in this place, besides walking around and watching a good-but-not-exceptional drum show). One lady asked me if I needed to go to the hospital while the rest just looked mildly disgusted. I guess severe food poisoning is a common occurrence here.

The bubba confusing a stool for a drum.

I didn’t go to the hospital because I hated them, though I was so sick I considered visiting one to be euthanized.

We did manage to continue with the sightseeing as if nothing happened (it’s mind over matter, folks). Tainan was once colonized by the Dutch, and the vestiges of their power can still be seen at Fort Provintia. The original fort, which was built in 1653, was restored and now houses a small but serene garden and an even smaller museum with exhibits entirely in Mandarin. Meh.

At least there are cannons.

While I’m not a big fan of Confucianism (and I think Confucian sayings like “A woman’s greatest duty is to produce a son” and “The woman who has no talent is one who has merit” reads like a bad joke), the Confucius Temple is supposedly an important landmark in Tainan because it served as the city’s first official school. For boys only, no doubt. A-holes.

Hopefully not more sexist propaganda.

Finally, there’s the Anping Treehouse. This former warehouse might not share the same historical value as the fort or temple but it was a lot more atmospheric than either attraction.

That perfect #Instagram moment.

So after Tainan, we headed further south, passing more unremarkable cities until we landed on the wild, windy beaches of Kenting, Taiwan’s southernmost tip. I was already back to my usual buoyant self by this time, and ready to eat again.

Fortunately for me, the road leading to our hotel was lined with an eclectic mix of food stalls and pop-up bars. Turns out that was the Kenting Night Market — the atmosphere was electric, but lack of pedestrian space meant that the pedestrians themselves were jostling for space with vehicles, thus treading a very fine line between a good time and a lifetime of crippling regret — because you’d be a cripple, or dead, when a car comes careening at you at 80 kms/hour. I hope the squid was worth it, brah.

Thank you Ivan, for your picture.

The Caeser Park Hotel, our accommodation for 3 nights, was a welcoming respite for le bubba, who was desperate to play with other tots after days of grown-up hotels. The massive kid’s club and baby-friendly amenities like bottle warmers and sterilizers, more than made up for the outdated rooms. They even hold games and performances for the wee ones.

Le bubba must be hungry.

Needless to say, we spent a good amount of time oscillating between the kid’s club and the potentially hazardous night market.

We did, however, manage to pry ourselves away from these exciting activities to visit Eluanbi Park, a rocky cape crowned with an ivory-coloured lighthouse.

It felt good to get some sea and sunshine after days of wandering Taiwan’s stifling city streets. We took a coastal path that snaked its way around the peninsula and continued right into the woods — in other words, we spent a grand day exploring and marveling at the different landscapes.

I totally recommend coming here. It felt a bit like Gruffalo territory with many little caves and gullies and all manners of sinister creatures. Just try not to get killed while you’re at it though.

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