Tainan's Eternal Golden Castle

 What makes this castle so golden, anyway? Cross the bridge and walk through the tunnel to find out.
 Once you've passed through and entered the grounds, you notice that it's quite large. But quite empty.
 The fort was built relatively recently (1874) and is in a western style, but was neglected and abandoned so almost all that remains is the outer walls.
 Take a walk around the fort, though, and you'll see a few hidden sites worth checking out.
 The wall itself, in some areas, is well-landscaped. It's essentially an earthen wall.
 Each of the corners has a protuding area with views of the surrounding area. Over time, trees have grown in and just outside of the corners obstructing some of the views. This is a french Bastion-style fort and it represents the first attempt at modern western fort building by Chinese.
 Along one wall, you can see that the wall wasn't fully made of only earth. Rooms were built for storage and other purposes. The remaining supports can be seen in a glass-protected area.
 The wall was originally lined with cannons. You can see several examples put back in place. These are usually found in the corners designed to hold the long-range cannons for defense.
 This  The trees that have grown since the fort was abandoned can make parts of the fort feel isolated from the rest of the world.
 Some of the trees themselves are quite beautiful!
 I went on a rainy day, but sitting under this tree could be pleasant when the sun is out and the ground is dry. The banyan tree has ruined some of the foundations for mounting the cannons.
 More cannons (of a different style) can be seen on the back wall.
 Looking back towards the entrance. The large field in the front could be used for marching exercises or other purposes when there wasn't a battle going on.
 Along the right side wall (if looking in from the entrance) you can find even more cannons. Look inside one.
 Have you ever looked down the barrel of a cannon? It turns out this one is open at both ends. Good luck launching a cannon ball here.
There isn't much to do at this fort, but it's an important historical location in Taiwan and a nice place to get away from the crowds; despite the large number of tourists at many of the other locations I visited on the same day, the Eternal Golden Castle was largely ignored.

You can get to the Eternal Golden Castle via city buses 2 and 14, and one of the tourist buses. I walked (about 30 minutes) from the Anping Street locations, but given the heat and the lack of ... anything to see on that route, I suggest sticking with the buses or a taxi. Admission is NT$50, and it's open daily 8:30-5:30.

Tainan Grand Matsu Temple: Taiwan's Most Important Temple?

Let's say you live on an island. And you worship a lot of gods. What god would be the most important to you?
The goddess of the sea, of course! Matsu is her name, and waves are her game.
 The Grand Matsu Temple was actually a palace at first, built for a prince who eventually killed himself.
 The main hall is where his five concubines hung themselves from the rafters. It remained a palace once the Qing dynasty took control of Taiwan, but eventually was converted to a temple for Matsu.
 The building has undergone many renovations, most notably in the 17th century when it became a temple. As expected, the outside and inside is decorated with lots of colorful artwork and carvings.
 Even pillars here are very ornately done!
 I didn't get to go inside due to time constraints, but I hear it's very impressive. This is a location I'll be sure to visit again if I ever get the chance to go back to Taiwan.
 There are multiple entrances - the front entrance leads to the courtyard above, but you can also get in and out from a side entrance.
 I peeked in the side entrance to see a bunch of decorations. I believe this is behind the main hall.
Tainan is full of temples, but the Grand Matsu Temple shouldn't be missed! It's a little tough to find, though - look for the front entrance seen in the picture above. It's tucked into an alley behind the God of War Temple, and there are several other temples to be found in this area. You can easily get here by taking the tourist buses, and given its proximity to the other temple and Chihkan Towers, it's just part of one stop on your route!

Happy birthday to God: Tainan's God of War Temple (Guan Di/Guan Dong)

You ever get the feeling Taiwan and Japan are really two versions of the same country?

Let's see... They're both long islands, essentially arranged north to south. They both are located in an earthquake- and typhoon-prone area. Both have major cities lined along one coast, with another coast essentially left untouched.

They both have Chinese ancestry (though Japan's is much older).

Japan has Tokyo, the major economic center of the country with lots of suburbs and shopping districts and new buildings. Taiwan has Taipei, the major economic center of the country with lots of suburbs and shopping districts and new buildings.

South of Tokyo is Kyoto, a former capital of the country, home to the cultural history of Japan. South of Taipei is Tainan, a former capital of the country, home to the cultural history of Taiwan.

Kyoto is known for its history, culture, and many temples. Tainan is known for its history, culture, and many temples.

I don't want to get all Lincoln/Kennedy on the two nations, but it's interesting how similar the two are.

Anyway, speaking of history and temples, let's celebrate a God's birthday.
 The Official God of War Temple is located in Tainan, and when I visited last year it was that God's birthday. How they know when he was born is beyond me.
 Guan Di, or Guan Dong, a Han-dynasty general is the deified person the temple honors; and the temple is both the oldest and most impressive in Taiwan. With all the festivities around the birthday celebration, it was quite intense!
 As you see from the prior pictures, flowers, wreaths, tents, stalls, and other decorations were erected for the celebration!
 A small puppet show was being done out in front, but not many people were watching.
 It seemed like a comedy, though I couldn't undersetand anything that was being said in the story. It was still fun to watch for a little while.
 As you've come to expect from my prior posts, this temple too has lots of ornate detailing on the roof and inside.
 A close-up of some roof carvings.
 Once inside the first gate, I found a woman singing a song that was probably religious in nature. She wasn't exactly a great singer, but she was passionate.
 Lots of people came that day to give offerings (seen in front) of food, especially fruits. Most of them went on through to tour the temple or pray to the God.
 The special gifts filled almost the entire inside of the temple, leaving two aisles to walk back and then to the front.
 After making my way out the back door, I was greeted with the now-familiar courtyard concept, with several smaller buildings open to the public.
 This is inside the main temple hall. Notice all the food and flowers! Statues are frequently dressed up (and in the winter covered with scarves) to keep the Gods happy (and warm).
 In one of the outbuildings, hundreds of smaller statues looked down upon the visitors.
 The gifts to the Gods poured into these outbuildings as well, seen on the table here. You can see a stone in the lower-right corner of this picture (and lower-left corner of the previous picture) that visitors were rubbing a certain way for good luck.
 Even more tiny statues were found in these little windowed rooms in another building.
And here are even more in a different style of room! This is probably similar to the Japanese temples with hundreds of (sometimes over 1000) statues. The more the merrier?

Why would so many people worship a God of war? Well, this particular God, as a human, was very honorable and loyal. Apparently he even invented a method of accounting, so he is also worshipped as a God of commerce.

The temple isn't too tough to find, and is easily accessible by the tourist buses in town (ask at the TIC). Regular city buses also go to the temple and several other historical spots and shrines are located nearby. Around the corner, on the main street, is where I had my delicious coffin toast. I'll talk about that later. (Note that during normal days there is probably much less clutter in the main hall!)

Tainan's Chihkan Towers/Fort Provintia/Sakam Tower, Taiwan

 Built in 1653, this fort has a long history of name changes. But none of that matters, really - you're here to enjoy the architecture, art, and history.
 After you enter, you pass through a large front yard (seen well in the previous picture). Around the yard are various monuments and plaques. This one shows the Dutch surrendering to Koxinga forces.
 Additionally, an outbuilding holds a gift shop, restrooms, and I think some food.
 To the left of one of the towers is a small pond with a nice waterfall. If all the kids would have stopped getting in the way, I could have moved to a different location and taken a nice peaceful shot. However, this place was quite busy (as were several of my other stops in Tainan).
 These are called Bixi. They are stone turtles with some sort of plaques on top. The plaques generally are used for important events or for very important funerals. I don't know what these represent.
 With the kids moved a bit, I could take a shot of a bixi and the waterfall in the distance.
 There is another small pond with a waterfall on the other side of the first tower.
 A wall with a round doorway leads to the back half of the property.
 On the side, these steps lead up into the first tower. I skipped those and moved further back...
 Here is the second tower, which sits behind the first! A small courtyard here is a nice place to stop (most people were hanging out in the front area or on the balcony around the first tower.
 Looking back from the corner of the property, you can kind-of see both towers.
 In the corner of that property is a small school - Peng Hu. The "door" is open so you can take a quick look inside, but it isn't really special.
 A strange door is against the back wall perpendicular to the school.
 I'm not going to tell you where this photo was taken but the sign that you see talks about the octogonal door.
 Now, let's go inside the tower. Similar to temples, a great deal of architectural and artistic detail can be found in the rafters.
 Here's a broader look at one of the bottom floors.
 Upstairs, this is what I believe to be a statue of the God of Literature. Things are somewhat more quiet when you are in the towers.
 But you can go outside on the balconies and see the opposite tower. This is a great angle to examine the roof work.
 Speaking of the roof, let's look up at the rafters again! This time on the top floor.
 And here is a wider shot as well.
Would you like one photo in the middle? Notice the details on the tan pieces as well as the center post, in addition to all the brackets and corners and such!

Chihkan Towers (the current name, by the way) is the most popular historical site in Tainan (according to the ticket). Apparently it looks beautiful at night as well. It's accessible along the tourist bus route (ask for details at the TIC) or take a taxi. It's open 8:30 AM to 9 PM; admission is only NT$50. If the crowds are lighter, you can really enjoy it, but as part of a long, hot, rushed, crowded day, I couldn't appreciate this as much as I would have liked. Still, a must-see if you go to Tainan.