If I had to describe the temples of Taiwan in one word, that word would be “sensory”. The kaleidoscope of color, paintings and carvings, the hazy plumes of fragrant incense offerings, the clattering of fortune sticks tossed repeatedly by those souls seeking guidance from the gods offered as counterpoint to the melodic chanting that is piped through hidden speakers… all of these unite to push your neurons into overdrive, their firing rate resembling that of a Morse code message on speed. Make no mistake about it: Taiwanese temples are a gluttonous feast for your senses and I would argue that there is no better place in all of Taiwan to stuff yourself silly on them than Tainan.

Tainan is Taiwan’s oldest city, a fact made apparent the instant you exit its train station. The buildings are low, in some areas the streets are cobbled, and—as befits an old city—there are So. Many. Temples!

Don’t believe me? We spent four days in Tainan, visited at least 10 temples (most of them simply stumbled upon when wandering through the old quarter), and took over 1400 pictures.

If that didn’t just blow your mind, check out this selection of our favorite temple photos we captured while in Tainan.

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A lion statue at the Confucius Temple
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A view of the courtyard outside the Ancestors Shrine
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Lanterns at the Ancestors Shrine
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The friendly caretaker at the Ancestors Shrine

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A view inside the Ancestors Shrine
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A worshiper lights incense in the courtyard in front of the Ancestor Shrine
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Lanterns adorning the entry gate to the Ancestor Shrine

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A woman lit by the neon sign at a Tainan temple at night. We don’t know the name of this one, Steph simply calls it the “Bladerunner Temple”.
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Every statue represents a donation to the temple
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Roof decoration on a temple in the Anping area
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A man prays at a temple in Anping

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A temple God in Anping
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Joss sticks burn in a temple donation room
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Fortune sticks (kau cim) await the next throw of the bones

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A carved dragon in a downtown Tainan temple
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The sumptious roof of a temple in Tainan
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Tainan’s City God temple

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A Buddhist ritual involving hats, a bull whip and a baby
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A beautiful phoenix on the roof of a temple
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Part of a menagerie of odd Buddha scultures in the Temple of Official Sacrifice

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Temple doors
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Through a screen at the God of War temple
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Outside a temple in Tainan

Truly, Taiwanese temples might just be the most beautiful—but also the most mind-boggling—structures on the planet. They defy comprehension, they defy description, and sometimes, when they offer a venue for the past, present and future to coalesce, it seems they even defy the laws of the universe. I know this all seems hyperbolic, but in comparison to actual Taiwanese temples, my highfalutin praise is actually quite understated.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Hungry for more photos? Well, you’re in luck! We’ve put up a gallery on our Facebook page with more great shots that we just couldn’t fit into this post. Remember to like our page while you’re there to receive updates and news about our latest adventures!

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (12)

  1. July 18, 2013 at 12:14 am
    Jul. 18, '13

    These are some truly amazing pictures, both from a photographic point of view and a cultural one! These temples are so full of details, I can see why you would feel the sensory overload. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to select a handful of the 1400 to share with us!
    kay recently posted..Wordless Wednesday : A Weekend Away

    • July 19, 2013 at 10:01 am
      Jul. 19, '13

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Kay! Taiwanese temples definitely had us going into overdrive and because they were so busy & ornate, they actually wound up being quite challenging to photograph—sometimes just looking back at our photos makes my eyes cross because there is just so much going on! It’s like my eyes and brain can’t coordinate and figure out where I should be looking!

      And even though we shot so many photos, we really pushed ourselves to be creative and take photos in slightly different ways, from different perspectives, so that we could capture each temple with fresh eyes. It means that we got a lot of really interesting shots and ones that we’re really proud of to boot!

  2. July 18, 2013 at 3:48 am
    Jul. 18, '13

    1400 pictures? Holy shit guys! That’s a lot. The temples looks great.
    To be honest, we didn’t visit any temples except for Angkor Wat and some abandoned Hindu temple we stumbled upon on Nusa Lembongan. Looking at these pictures makes me wonder if we maybe should have stepped in a temple or two while we were in China.
    Angela recently posted..Doing nothing on Lembongan Island

    • July 19, 2013 at 10:03 am
      Jul. 19, '13

      Seriously, we were photo taking machines while in Tainan! 🙂 We were just so inspired while we were there because, as you’ll see, it’s just a really visually interesting city with tons of details to delight a photographer.

      HOWEVER, you did not really miss out by skipping temples in China. If you want to see beautiful, dizzying Chinese-style temples, go to Taiwan. The ones on the mainland are so poorly preserved and ill-kept in comparison, it’s not even funny. Clearly when it comes to preserving historic buildings, the Taiwanese took a page out of Japan’s book, not China’s!

  3. July 18, 2013 at 5:07 am
    Jul. 18, '13

    I’m impressed, your photos are always stunning! There are a few which are my favorite without taking anything away from the others: the one with the baby, the one of the door and the one with the golden statues donated to the temple.
    While in Tainan we saw many temples too but after the second day we were already overwhelmed, simply too many to see! 🙂
    Franca recently posted..Reuse & Recycle – A B&B With A Twist

    • July 19, 2013 at 10:05 am
      Jul. 19, '13

      Thanks so much, Franca! I take a personal point of pride in noting that 2 out of 3 of your favorites were ones that I personally shot! 😉

      I actually can’t believe that we visited so many temples while in Tainan! I know that by the end, I definitely started to feel fatigue set in, but I think that because we just took it slow and were feeling so inspired, that definitely helped. We saw what we could while wandering around, and didn’t worry about missing out on all the ones that we didn’t get to.

  4. July 18, 2013 at 11:01 am
    Jul. 18, '13

    Wow! You’re making Taiwan seem like such a wonderful destination, it’s making its way on to the short list of possibilities for my trip next year!

    Gorgeous photos as always: it’s also fun to see more and more of Steph’s photos in the posts. 😀
    Eva recently posted..Off With Their Heads! by Maria Tatar (thoughts)

    • July 19, 2013 at 10:09 am
      Jul. 19, '13

      Not to let the cat out of the bag, but Taiwan is definitely one of our Top 3 destinations we have visited to date, so you can expect plenty more effusive posts to come! It’s a really wonderful country with practically nothing bad to be said for it, so I hope that by the time we’re done you are strongly considering a visit! I’ll also say that while it can generally be quite challenging to find vegetarian food in Asia, I think Taiwan has to be one of the most veggie friendly of all the places we’ve been. So many Buddhist veggie restaurants! We are omnivores through & through but we still had a lot of veggie meals, and frequently still crave them they were so good!

      And thanks for the compliment re: my photography! I’m actually working on a post talking about how my photography has developed since we’ve been traveling, so hopefully you’ll enjoy seeing some of my very favorite shots that I feature in that!

      • July 23, 2013 at 6:14 pm
        Jul. 23, '13

        About to read your photography post! Also, although I’m total veggie at home (& prob at least 80% vegan, lol), I eat meat when I travel. 😉 But yay for delicious vegetarian options: if given the choice I still choose the veg one!

        I definitely want to go to Asia next year, so India, various southeast Asian countries, and now Taiwan are duking it out in my mind. hehe
        Eva recently posted..Off With Their Heads! by Maria Tatar (thoughts)

  5. July 25, 2013 at 8:45 pm
    Jul. 25, '13

    This is a beautiful photo essay! It breaks my heart a little, because it brings to mind the all temples of China that were destroyed in a misguided effort to cut ties to the past. Every time I walk through a temple with barren concrete walls and read about how it was converted into a factory in the ’60s, I imagine how spectacular it must have looked. It’s nice to know that Chinese religious culture survives somewhere in the world!
    Heather recently posted..Pearl Tower and the Shanghai History Museum

    • July 26, 2013 at 10:56 am
      Jul. 26, '13

      Yup, we were seriously disappointed with most of the historic buildings we went to see while in China, and even the ones that were nice just paled in comparison to Taiwan. I really believe that if you want to see the beautiful aspects of Chinese culture that are still preserved and practiced you need to visit Taiwan, not China!

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