In addition to their reputation for novelty foods night markets in Taiwan also offer an almost endless variety of cheap goods, particularly clothing and accessories. Much of Taiwanese night market fashion is amusing, quirky, provocative, bizarre, or even incoherent, though some of it is also quite clever. My understanding is that a lot of the weirder stuff originates in China, where massive factories churn out garments emblazoned with English text and pop culture references without regard for semantic meaning. This is almost certainly the result of copying passages from print or online media, using machine translation, or sheer laziness, but it might also be for aesthetic effect. Transcription errors are common, particularly when popular designs are copied by competing factories. Observed on the scale of years there is something almost evolutionary at work in night market fashion—styles mutate and are subject to a kind of natural selection. To celebrate the absurdity of this curious cultural phenomena I have assembled about 40 photos from my many visits to the night markets of Taiwan, almost all of which I have previously been shared on my Instagram account, the perfect vehicle for such inanity. Enjoy!
One of the pleasures of bicycle touring in Taiwan is the freedom to change plans on impulse. On my second day of a trip down south in June 2015, having previously cycled across Kaohsiung from Tainan, I opted to hang out and see more of Pingtung City 屏東市. A dire weather forecast calling for bouts of torrential rain had already introduced some uncertainty, but I was also curious about this city of 200,000, about which almost nothing is written in English. Finding an interesting place to stay sealed the deal—and so I checked out of a grimy hotel near the train station after breakfast, moved my stuff to the new place, and spent the day exploring the administrative center of Pingtung 屏東, the southernmost division of Taiwan.
Bicycle touring is one of the best ways to experience Taiwan. I don’t have an opportunity to go touring as much as I’d like but managed to find some time last year, in June of 2015, to embark upon a multi-day bicycle trip around southern Taiwan. My intention was to cover some of the same territory that I had rushed through on my first bicycle trip down south in 2013. I ended up racing a typhoon from Kenting to Taitung City 台東市 that year—so the chance to explore the backroads of Pingtung 屏東 at a more relaxed pace really appealed to me. I started my journey in Tainan 台南, my favourite city in Taiwan, and cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, putting about 70 kilometers behind me. Gathered here are some photos from the first day of this trip, continued here.
Last weekend I enjoyed a couple of days outside of Taipei 台北 in the northeastern part of Taiwan. I went there with friends, ostensibly to show them around Jinguashi 金瓜石 and Jiufen 九份, a famous mining town and major tourist attraction in the mountains of Ruifang 瑞芳, and ended up staying in Keelung 基隆 for the night on a whim. Having recently purchased a new phone I bombarded Instagram with numerous pictures and plenty of commentary as the trip progressed. This quick and dirty post is a collection of some of my better smartphone snapshots as well as an experiment in blogging with broader brushstrokes. Perhaps you will get a sense of how I travel: spontaneously, intuitively, and with a keen eye for details.
I was wandering through Sanhe Night Market 三和夜市 on the first day of the new year when this small shop caught my eye. The formal name of the place is Cengji Huazhigeng 曾記花枝羹 and, as the last three characters would suggest, they specialize in squid thick soup, a popular Taiwanese snack. The highly stylized characters on the signboard look something like seal script 篆書 to my inexpert eyes—with the last character, “geng 羹”, swapped for the more traditional “焿”. Don’t ask me to make sense of that first character, mind you—it is enough to know that “hua 花” means flower.
Last week I moved from Taipei 台北 to Zhongli 中壢, a mid-sized city of approximately half a million1 about 45 minutes down the Western Line 西部幹線 in the heart of Taoyuan 桃園. I have been all around the island but haven’t explored much of what you might call the “middle north”, the strongly Hakka-influenced area stretching from the rugged borders of New Taipei 新北 south to Taichung 台中 that includes Taoyuan 桃園, Hsinchu 新竹, and Miaoli 苗栗. Perhaps by staying here awhile I will find opportunities to explore more of this part of Taiwan and fill in some blank spots on my personal map.
A couple of months ago I randomly took the train to Douliu 斗六, the capital of Yunlin 雲林, the most rural county on the western plains of Taiwan. Douliu is regularly the subject of jokes so I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there: an old street lined with Japanese colonial buildings, the quirky “Hungry Ghost” covered market, and an abandoned entertainment complex to explore. Even more surprising was the size of the Saturday night Renwen Park Night Market 人文公園夜市 located southwest of the downtown core. I have become something of a night market connoisseur since living in central and southern Taiwan and wouldn’t hesitate to declare this night market one of the biggest and best on the island.
Jingcheng Night Market 精誠夜市 is perhaps the largest open air night market in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. Unlike some of the other big night markets in the area Jingcheng hasn’t been developed for tourism in the slightest. I doubt you’ll find it in any guidebook and there isn’t anything written about it in English that I have been able to find online. And, to be fair, there isn’t anything special about Jingcheng, particularly not if you’ve been to the fantastic open air night markets of Tainan 台南. Still, if you’re a night market connoisseur like me—or merely interested in trying something different—it might be worthwhile to check out, or you can live vicariously through my photos.
Tonight I visited one of the biggest night markets in Nantou 南投, the Caoxiedun Tourist Night Market 草鞋墩人文觀光夜市 in Caotun 草屯. Located at the north end of town, the sprawling open air Caotun Night Market offers a somewhat unusual twist on the Taiwanese night market formula of meals, snacks, drinks, cheap goods, clothing and accessories, and fairground games. I have now visited more than a dozen night markets in this area of Taiwan and this one definitely stands out.