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The side wall of Tainan's Sacrificial Rites Temple. (RM)  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan > Sights & Attractions

Historic Settlements: Tainan, Lugang And Hsinchu

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Tainan 台南

Known for much of its history as Taiwanfu (臺灣府, sometimes spelled "Taiwanfoo" and meaning “Taiwan's capital”), Tainan is often compared to Kyoto in Japan because of its status as a former seat of government and the incredible density of historical sites in its oldest neighborhoods. But, oddly for a place so central to Taiwan's history and identity, Tainan owes its existence to people from other parts of the world, notably Europeans who worked for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and followers of Koxinga from various parts of the Chinese mainland. In 1624, when the VOC established a commercial colony here, the population was mostly aboriginal. With Dutch encouragement, Han settlers flooded into the island. In 1663, the town became the capital of Koxinga's Kingdom of Dongning, and Ming loyalists set about turning the settlement into an outpost of classical Chinese civilization. Tainan, which was a walled city, remained the most developed part of the island well into the 19th century; it acquired its current name, which means "south Taiwan," when the capital was moved to the north just before the Japanese takeover. It remains a bastion of tradition and a place abounding in architecture and culture, especially in the streets near the National Museum Of Taiwan Literature. Following it upgrade to a special municipality in late 2010 and a simultaneous merger with Tainan County, Tainan now includes the towns of Yanshui and Xinhua.

Population: 1.87m
Land Area: 855km2
Getting there: Tainan is very well-served by TRA trains and buses from Taipei, Taichung and Pingtung. The HSR station is somewhat remote, but linked to the downtown by a branch railway (the Shalun Line; trains to downtown take 22mins) and free shuttle buses (40mins).

Lugang 鹿港

An 18th-century saying set out the relative importance of Taiwan's settlements: yi-fu-er-lu-san-meng-jia (一府二鹿三艋舺). It meant: "First, Taiwanfu [what is now Tainan]; second, Lugang; third, Mengjia [the old name for Taipei's Wanhua District]." That Lugang - the alternative spelling Lukang is often used, including on many road signs - should have once been Taiwan's second-largest town is, on the face of it, astonishing. These days, it isn't even the biggest urban center in Changhua County; its population has never been any larger than it is now; it lacks a railway link and no freeway comes close. Lugang means "deer harbor," yet many historians believe this place name is a corruption of the toponym used by the indigenous Babuza people, Rokauan. The settlement grew rapidly after 1719, when the completion of an irrigation system in the town's hinterland led to huge rice surpluses that could be exported to the hungry mainland. Things went well until the late 19th century, when silt began to obstruct the port. Cut off from the sea for more than 100 years, and sidelined by the modern industrial economy, Lugang has been able to preserve much of its physical past; begin your walking tour at Tianhou Temple.

Population: 85,000
Land Area: 39km2
Getting there: Several direct buses each day link Lugang with Taipei and Taichung. Frequent local buses connect the town with Changhua TRA Station and Taichung HSR Station. Even if you're driving a car into the town, expect to do most of your sightseeing on foot.

Hsinchu 新竹

Nowadays best known as the base of several high-tech companies, Hsinchu is one of Taiwan's oldest cities. Back when Taipei was a collection  of rough-and-tumble frontier settlements often at war with each other,  Hsinchu boasted a class of educated merchants and citizen-scholars. The downtown is rich in buildings from or predating the colonial era, and recent economic prosperity has aided the conservation – rather than destruction – of the city's heritage. 

Population: 429,000

Land Area: 104km2

Getting there: Hsinchu is well-served by TRA and HSR trains; free shuttle buses link the HSR station with the Yingxi Old Gate, a good spot to begin a walking tour. Most sights are within walking distance of the TRA and bus stations.

Type: Tip
Location: Taiwan

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