Today is a long awaited overdue post. You will hear me mention the barely known city of Xinying (Shinying) in Taiwan a lot on here. Xinying? It’s easily in my top 10 cities from my travels, and I reckon it always will be, my trip backpacking in Taiwan in 2009 was a turning point and a life changer for me. But in all sincerity – where the fu*k is Xinying?
Xinying (also spelt Shinying, Sinying, Sinjing etc.) was the city where I refound myself, became a proper hardcore backpacker and had turned the corner in life, left the past behind and moved on. My best mate Millwall Neil was based out in Xinying for a year 2008 – 2009 and I visited him on route to Australia. Before Neil went there, I had never heard of Xinying. I had a Lonely Planet for Taiwan and the best news was Xinying wasn’t even in it!!! Well it was a dot on the map. Yet Xinying houses more than 100,000 people and is pretty damn big!
Any visitor to my website or Facebook page is immediately confronted with a photo from Xinying. I had no idea back then that a casual photograph by a large globe in a Primary School in the city would become my cover photo, but it has and I love the photo. Before the Xinying photo was there, my travel blog featured me at the top of the Empire State Building in New York. I’m glad unknown underdog Xinying bucked the big Apple out…
I spent two weeks in Xinying and loved it. As my best mate lived there and spoke a decent level of Chinese Mandarin, it was actually easy enough to get by, and there were a few other scattered foreigners in town too (to be fair we probably met every foreigner in the city in those two weeks). Natalia and I borrowed bikes and headed out to explore the city every day. Maps just didn’t exist. We got lost lots of times. It was just bliss. After cycling in the heat it would be an afternoon of relaxing (blogging or even a sneaky nap) before meeting Neil after work for beers and food! I had no idea where I was going in life at the time, but I was happy – it was around the time I withdrew from Facebook, no mobile phone etc. – family didn’t know where I was and I got on with things. I needed a pick up and Xinying was certainly that. One of the most inspiring places in my entire travels, and yet it sits unknown, untouristed and un-Lonely Planeted.
Finally then, I bring you my top 17 things to see and do in the city of Xinying. Live your travel dreams my friends. Go where the wind takes you, I ended up in Xinying as a backpacker and I loved it. These journeys are forever inspired.
Where is Xinying?
It’s in south eastern Taiwan. It’s in Tainan County. It’s inland From Kaohsiung it takes about 2-3 hours by train or bus. From Taipei a bit longer maybe 5 hours – although in Taiwan there are different train times, speeds and schedules so you could well do it faster.
1. Swan Lake.
We cycled out to Swan lake on the edge of the city. It’s just an elaborate park and lake with some Swans floating on it. It’s a cool place to relax and admire the mix of nature and paved walkways.
2. Xinying Central Park
I admit I have no idea if this is called “Central Park” or not, but it was a park, we found it while cycling and it was in the “centre” of Xinying.
While I did have my travel blog back then, I used to relax a lot more and in Xinying Central Park, one afternoon we just lay down on flags on the grass, I read a book, listened to music, closed my eyes and relaxed. It was one of those epic travel moments. It just felt inspiring and I’ll never forget it. Not a care in the world lying down in this remote park. At the time I had NO IDEA where life would take me, except for a flight to Kuala Lumpur…
3. Gong Fu Temple
Xinying and Taiwan in general has its fair share of temples. I actually visited about 3 in Xinying, the most memorable and artistic was the Gong Fu Temple.
4. Xinying “Canals”
What you didn’t realise was that Xinying rivals Venice with its canals! Well, not quite but there is a custom built water flow through the city. It may well be used for sewage in fact, but a stroll across the bridges and the parks nearby is worth it!
5. Shrimp Fishing
So Neil wakes me up one day in his flat and says “do you fancy going shrimp fishing tonight?”. Hell yes! What an activity!
You pay for your fishing rod and bait. You grab a beer, you relax, sit there fishing for shrimps. Then you get to eat them – the more you can catch the more you can eat. I only caught one, but that was the aim for me! I was happy and loved it.
You can go shrimp fishing in Xinying and lots of parts of Taiwan. I highly recommend it! Thanks to Eva, Binh and David for inviting us along.
If you’ve been to China, Taiwan or Hong Kong no doubt the acronym KTV will be easy for you to understand. In short – Karaoke TeleVision. You hire out a small room (based on how many of you there are), you get English and Chinese menus and you drink, eat and sing to your heart’s content all night! We sang with Caparzo and Hone.
The memories will linger long, just a few weeks after Michael Jackson died and Neil and I were up doing “Black or White”. KTV night in Taiwan.
7. Ocean Every Day Pub
Our “local” – well Neil’s local for a year and mine for 2 weeks was Xinying’s “Ocean Every Day” pub. I have heard that it has since closed though, which is a bit sad. We had some good times in there! I also met up with Ricky from my hometown of Bangor by chance in Tainan one night and he met up with us in Xinying too!
8. Xinying Football Stadium
It’s a rule for me – it’s an obsession. In almost every city I visit I try to visit some kind of football stadium! Xinying has a big enough one so I cycled over to it.
9. Memorial 28/2 and General Monuments
The 228 Memorials are all over Taiwan – read up on it – I covered it a bit before on my backpacking in Chiayi post, but basically it was a massacre on the 28th February. The below photo may not be linked but it was the biggest monument I found while backpacking the city.
10. Xinying Night Market (Night Monkey)
Backpacking in Taiwan is never complete without night markets and that oozing Taiwanese night time culture. I visited night markets in every city I was in during Taiwan (except Taidong) and Xinying’s was the most “local”. Our Taiwanese friend Eva was learning English and with us on our travels around the island and she called it a “night monkey” – just made me laugh – she couldn’t quite say the word “market”!
11. Xinying Night Barbecue
As well as a night market, if you’re feeling like a “pick and mix” and eat at home kind of mood – just pick your own food from the night barbecue, watch them cook it, then have a few beers with it at home.
12. Tainan County Government Headquarters
The Government Buildings in Tainan County are housed in Xinying – there’s a pretty garden up front and you’ll be the only tourist admiring the place.
13. Local Restaurants
Yes – food features again on this list. It wouldn’t be Taiwan otherwise and Xinying is graced with a load of restaurants. Just walk along the streets of Xinying and see what takes your fancy! Our biggest night out was to a fish restaurant but the local dumplings are superb.
14. Xinying Ten Pin Bowling Alley
It almost seems to reignite your passion for things like this when you are backpacking in a city with a lower expectation of entertainment. Our night of ten pin bowling in Xinying was the first time I had played bowling for a few years and was a really fun night!
Also of note, the beers were about 30 cents!
15. Xinying Catholic Church
Most of the religious buildings in Taiwan are Buddhist or Taoist. But I took time to to find Protestant and Catholic churches. Xinying’s biggest one was a Catholic Church.
16. Dick Tea
In Xinying there is a tea shop called “Dick Tea”, on a street near the night market off Sanmin Road. Now the guy serving doesn’t actually stick his penis in the tea then give it to you – it’s just a name, but amusing all the same. I enjoyed the tea with tapioca in it. A sure fire morning drink as I developed a routine in Xinying.
17. Watermelon Shake
Again, there’s a shop on Sanmin Road which does the most awesome Watermelon Shake. On hot cycling days this became my daily early afternoon drink. There’s a cool video of it being made in my videos at the bottom of this post.
18. Pose by the “Don’t Stop Living” Globe
OK, so I’ve added a number 18 – it’s a bit tongue in cheek of course and just for a bit of fun, but if you’ve ever read my blog and you visit Xinying, make the DSL (Don’t Stop Living) pilgrimage to the globe that has been my website’s main photo for almost 5 years now. The “Don’t Stop Living” globe is in Xinying/Shinying, Taiwan.
It is situated in a Primary School near the Canals. I don’t have a street name or anything, but it is also near a street that leads to Shane English School. If you go, take a photo for me and post it on my Facebook page.
If nobody else in backpacking history ever visits Xinying, I’m happy that I have written something about it because it deserves to be seen. And it deserves to be savoured. With thanks to all the people I met there – Binh, David, Eva, the girl selling watermelon shakes, the girl at Dick tea, Ricky from Bangor, Caparzo, Hone, Jane (landlady of the OED pub)…
“Your destiny will keep you warm” – Noel Gallagher
As my night bus sailed out of Xinying that morning, I headed north to the capital city of Taipei and my Taiwan adventure was coming to an end. That was October 2009. Maybe one day, I will return to the dreamy city of Xinying. Maybe one day Millwall Neil will also return there. Maybe we’ll have a beer there together again someday. Good times mate, good times 😉
My best videos from my time backpacking in Taiwan’s unknown Xinying:
* This post is dedicated to Millwall Neil, without whom none of these stories would ever have been possible.