Tainan, Taiwan, the island's oldest city (in the center of the oldest settled region), is a charming, historic town that served as the capital of Taiwan 1663-1885. It is located 165 mi/265 km southwest of Taipei.

Tainan is small enough that the jumble of streets, neon signs and narrow buildings doesn't produce the rat-in-a-maze feeling that Taipei and Kaohsiung can. Instead, Tainan really is walkable. Along the way, you may stumble upon little temples where festivals are taking place or wander into a shop where workers are making bamboo-and-cloth lanterns just as their ancestors did. This is the city where you'll gain insight into everyday Taiwanese culture.

In all, there are more than 220 temples to visit in Tainan and in the surrounding countryside. Be sure to see Koxinga's Shrine, which shares a very pleasant garden setting with a small museum. Koxinga was a Ming loyalist in 17th-century China's Manchu Qing court. He fled China and arrived near Tainan in 1661. With 30,000 troops in 8,000 war junks, he attacked the existing Dutch fort and drove the Dutch from the island. His Ming Empire lasted three generations until his grandson surrendered to the Manchu court on the mainland.

Shoppers take note: The Antiques House of Tainan, on Kai-shan Road, has everything from elephant fossils to costumes to porcelain.

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