24 Hours in Tainan

Tainan (台南) is a medium-sized city located in the southwest corner of the island, and it is considered the oldest city in Taiwan. Tainan is located just south of the Tropic of Cancer, and somehow you can feel the sun searing down in a way that doesn’t happen just a short drive north in Taichung.

Full of charm, Tainan is dotted with temples and small parks, and full of winding, narrow lanes.

We started the morning at the Confucius Temple (台南孔廟 Táinán Kǒngmiào) which was right across the street from our hotel. It has a nice grassy courtyard and (Hugo’s favorite) a fish pond.

There are turtles, too!

There are turtles, too!

Of course, with a toddler, quiet exploring is probably not on the agenda. Racing around and around the narrow passageways is more Hugo’s cup of tea.

Sorry for the blurry shot, I don't think he ever stopped for a second

Sorry for the blurry shot, I don’t think he ever stopped for a second

Tainan is also a place to visit some former Dutch colonial sites, the oldest of these being Fort Zeelandia (熱蘭遮城 rèlánzhē chéng), built in 1624 by the Dutch East India Company.

Cannons in the plaza at Fort Zeelandia

Cannons in the plaza at Fort Zeelandia

After most of the day sightseeing in the hot sun, we grabbed an ice cream and headed to the small street carnival set up just outside of the fort.

Hugo caught on pretty quickly:

Press the button to shoot the ball...

Press the button to shoot the ball…

Lights and bells! You win a prize!

Lights and bells! You win a prize!

Our last stop was Chihkan Tower (赤崁樓 Chì kǎn lóu), built during the 19th century on the grounds of a former Dutch fort which was destroyed in an earthquake.

Full of charm, Tainan is dotted with temples and small parks, and full of winding, narrow lanes.

Chihkan Tower and grounds

Although the tower is not very big, the grounds are beautifully maintained with colorful flowers, a small waterfall, and plenty of koi to feed.

Exploring the gardens at Chihkan Tower

Exploring the gardens at Chihkan Tower

It was a long, hot day, and Hugo collapsed into an exhausted sleep before eating dinner.

Don't worry, there was still time for mango shaved ice

Don’t worry, there was still time for mango shaved ice

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Borobudur, The World’s Largest Buddhist Temple

Yesterday we visited Borobudur, a Buddhist temple completed in the early 9th century. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and is the most visited site in Indonesia.

It's difficult to capture the enormity of Borobudur in a single photograph

It’s difficult to capture the enormity of Borobudur in a single photograph

The whole structure consists of six square levels at the bottom and three circular levels at the top.

This expression says "hurry up, Mommy!"

This expression says “hurry up, Mommy!”

The square levels are decorated with bas relief panels on the walls, which altogether are considered the largest collection of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

A detail of one of the relief carvings

A detail of one of the relief carvings

The three circular levels at the top have 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated, bell-shaped stupas.

The weather was perfect for a clear view of the surrounding mountains

The weather was perfect for a clear view of the surrounding mountains

Hugo enjoyed climbing up all the stairs as fast as he could.

"Big steps for little feet."

“Big steps for little feet.”

And climbing around all the stupas at the top.

Going around the stupas was a good way to hide from all the people who wanted to take his picture

Going around the stupas was a good way to hide from all the people who wanted to take his picture

He was less interested in taking selfies with me.

I'm still perfecting my "sweaty and glistening with sunscreen" look

I’m still perfecting my “sweaty and glistening with sunscreen” look

My suggestions for visiting Borobudur with a toddler:

1. Go early in the morning. It’s a two hour drive from Yogyakarta and you don’t want to be climbing in the heat of the day.

2. Carry a backpack with water, extra sunscreen, etc., so that your hands are free to help out the little ones on steep stairs. Hugo was excited to climb up but balked when he saw how steep it was going down. I had to carry him most of the way. But there are sturdy hand rails so don’t worry!

3. There are a LOT of vendors and little restaurants at the bottom. Take some time to sit and enjoy a kelapa muda and some gado gado.

After a morning climbing stairs under the hot sun, your kiddo is sure to enjoy a long nap on the way home!

Wat U Mong

Without a lot of free open space for Hugo to run around, I once again found myself at a temple for a bit of sightseeing/small child energy burn.

Wat U Mong is very close to Chiang Mai University, but feels very secluded on its heavily wooded hill.

The road leading to Wat U Mong

The road leading to Wat U Mong

It was originally built in 1297.

Stairs leading to the main courtyard

Stairs leading to the main courtyard

Once you get to the courtyard you will see the entrance to the most unusual feature of Wat U Mong: a series of tunnels built in 1380 for clairvoyant monk Thera Jan.

Brave Hugo faces the dark tunnel alone

Brave Hugo faces the dark tunnel alone

It’s a series of interconnected passageways full of little niches and larger shrines.

Exploring the Wat U Mong tunnels

Exploring the Wat U Mong tunnels

Don’t worry, it’s not dark and scary. There is lighting along the floor, and some areas with damage to the ceiling have “skylights” to protect the structure. There are also some original paintings still visible on the walls, but they didn’t photograph well, so you’ll have to use your imagination until you have a chance to come visit yourself. Hugo will be happy to play tour guide.

Of course, no trip to a temple is complete without a small lake to feed fish/get pooped on by pigeons.

Playing in the gravel

Playing in the gravel

Confession time: I really did get pooped on by a pigeon. It was completely disgusting. My Chinese students once told me that it was good luck to get pooped on by a bird, but that sounds like the kind of thing you say to make someone feel better, not something that’s actually true.

But, I’ve decided to take the advice of this sign to heart:

Buddhism: telling us to let it go long before Elsa

Buddhism: telling us to let it go long before Elsa

 

Wat Chedi Luang

This morning we stopped by Wat Chedi Luang, one of the largest temples in Chiang Mai. It is most known for the central crumbling brick chedi built in 1441, which apparently used to be the tallest structure in the whole city. It was damaged in earthquakes, and has had some restoration work done, but is still generally in disrepair. However, it does strike a haunting silhouette in front of this morning’s cloudy skies:

Overcast skies and crumbling bricks

Overcast skies and crumbling bricks

This structure sits in a central courtyard and is surrounded by various other temples.

Paper hangings inside the temple

Paper hangings inside the temple

I’m not sure what these paper hangings are for. They have pictures of zodiac animals on them and I’ve seen them in all of the temples I’ve visited here. Can anyone tell me?

Even if you’re not very interested in or knowledgeable about Buddhism, it is nice to get away from the noise of city traffic and be in a bit of open space in the courtyards around a temple.

Exploring the chedi

Exploring the chedi

Plus, little ones can run around and explore to their heart’s content.

Exploring the shrines

Exploring the shrines

 

Temples and Tuk Tuks

After falling asleep at 6pm last night, Hugo woke us up by climbing into our bed at 4am. Maybe tomorrow we’ll get to sleep until sunrise!

We headed out to the main road and flagged down a tuk tuk for a ride to the Old City. Chiang Mai’s old city is still surrounded by a moat and wall, and inside the wall are a lot of the main tourist attractions of the city. We headed to Wat Phra Singh, one of the largest temples, built in the 1360s. It was very crowded today, the front stairs covered in visitors’ discarded shoes, and two separate areas with vendors and food stalls vying for the attention of tourists by  blaring competing loudspeakers. We took a quick look around inside then headed over to check out the food stalls.

Flowers for sale in the temple

Flowers for sale in the temple

The young coconut was an instant hit.

Coconut

It tastes better if you stare thoughtfully into the distance

 

Temples and coconuts are great and all, but this afternoon  we discovered The Most Interesting Thing About Thailand:

Better than TV

Better than TV