How to best spend a day in Tainan’s Yanshui
If you ever find yourself in Taiwan’s south, head to Tainan and the city’s Yanshui district (鹽水區). Formerly one of the country’s most important maritime towns (Yanshui literally translates to saltwater), these days, Yanshui is best known for its famously dangerous fireworks festival.
Beehive Fireworks Festival
One of the districts most famous and most notorious tourist pulls is the Beehive Fireworks Festival. “Beehive” refers to the thousands of rockets set up in clusters prior to ignition. Held between the 14th and 15th days of the first month of the lunar calendar, the annual celebration commemorates the cholera epidemic that struck the region during the Qing Dynasty. The setting-off of fireworks represents the exorcism of demons associated with the plague.
Over the years, many have been injured during the event, with people believing that running through the barrage of flying fireworks and even being hit by a rocket can get rid of bad luck and guarantee you a prosperous new year ahead. Nowadays, in order to enter the fireworks area, revelers are required to wear protective clothing, including full-face helmets. Despite several calls to ban the festival over safety concerns, it still continues to be incredibly popular and is an amazing spectacle. (See also: Ten Festivals Worth Planning your Taiwan Holiday around [Part one])
Another local celebration is the Yuejin Lantern Festival at Yanshui’s port and Riverside Park area, showcasing a variety of light installations made by both local and overseas designers. Spotlighting the port’s history and cultural significance, the festival, first held in 2010, usually runs towards the end of the Chinese New Year period and is part of the local government’s efforts to boost awareness for an area which, during Qing Dynasty times, was once one of the country’s largest hubs of trade. A worthy stop on any visitor to Tainan’s itinerary, here’s what to see, eat, and do in Yanshui district. (Learn more about Lantern Festivals: Eight Taiwan Lantern Festivals)
What to Do in Yanshui
In Tainan’s north, Yanshui is one of Taiwan’s oldest towns and its history is evident as you stroll along its old street, full of old-style early-period buildings which were once merchant’s houses and stores. Visit the Octagon Building (八角樓), a two-floor build constructed way back in 1847. Owned by the descendants of the salt-and-sugar magnate for whom it was built, its upper section is made entirely of wood, while the structure also features limestone that was originally used to provide weight and stability on empty-handed shipping freighters returning from trips to China. (You may also like: Taiwan’s Architecture Comes of Age)
Yongcheng Theater, in the town’s south, is a restored rice mill that became a place for the local people to watch movies and enjoy the occasional play, while the Yuejingang Riverside Park area serves up a relaxed vibe for a walk along the waterside; especially beautiful during the lantern festival period. Its modern incarnation is full of lush greenery as well as beautiful decoration, but during Yanshui’s maritime past, it was packed with old junks tied up to unload their cargo. (If you like being near water: Five Water Activities in Taiwan that are not What You Think)
What to Eat in Yanshui
Exploring Yanshui will definitely have you working up an appetite. First stop for any food lover visiting the town has to be Ah-Ji Yi Mian Noodle Shop (阿姬意麵) where you can order a nice hot bowl of yimian. The dish consists of wheat noodles served with bean sprouts, crushed garlic, and a pork gravy. Not an enormous portion, we recommend adding a soup or some of the eatery’s tasty meat packets to your order to guarantee you leave full and satisfied.
Pig head rice (豬頭飯) is another tasty local offering that may sound off-putting to some, but is definitely worth a try if you’re adventurous enough and in the market for flavor. For dessert, it’s got to be Yingfeng Ice Shop, not far from the Octagon Building. Peddling all kinds of juices and shaved ice treats, we hope you have a sweet tooth.
The area surrounding Yanshui is also a large producer of cherry tomatoes, and, if they weren’t already sweet enough, you can signup to local workshops where you can make your own candied version of the fruit. Again, we hope you have a sweet tooth.
How to Get to Yanshui
Take a train to Xinying Station (新營車站) and from there take one of the Brown Line buses that run at regular intervals daily from the nearby bus station. The journey from here by bus will take around 20 minutes. It is a 40-50-minute taxi ride from Tainan Station, should you arrive down south by High Speed Rail, while if you drive, Yanshui is accessible off National Highway Number 1 (國道一號).