Tainan is just two hours away from Taipei but the placid southwestern port feels a million miles from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Tainan’s residents – it’s home to some 1.8 million souls – seem eminently more interested in languorous lunches, kicking back at neighbourhood cafés and manning small-but-interesting businesses than their competitive cousins up north. Manhuo, or “slow living”, is the order of the day, month and year here.
Nowadays Taipei is the typical arrival point for travellers but this wasn’t the case before 1945. In the 17th century, Tainan was the Dutch capital (of what was then called Formosa Island) before being held by the Japanese for half a century until the end of the Second World War. Japanese remains the second language and the occupation bequeathed the city a stately low-rise skyline that muddles European and Asian influences that have earned it the epithet “little Kyoto”.
“The key to uniting people is the slow pace of life and the profound sense of neighbourhood,” says Erik Kao. He is one of many people in Tainan who quit their high-paid job in Taipei to move here; in his case to run a shop and start a magazine. Taiwan’s former capital may be outsized by Taipei and Taichung but we’re certain that Tainan edges out its larger competitors when it comes to charm. Here are some of our favourite pastimes.