Běigǎng 北港 is a historic town on the riverside border between Yúnlín 雲林 and Chiayi 嘉義 in southern Taiwan. I made a brief, unplanned stopover in Beigang while riding north to Changhua 彰化 in the summer of 2014. I was only vaguely aware of Beigang’s existence, having at some point read something about Cháotiān Temple 朝天宫, one of Taiwan’s most famous Mazu 媽祖 temples, but I had a hunch that there might be more to see—and I was right! If you enjoy visiting traditional towns with a lot of history then Beigang should definitely be on your list.
The first thing you will see when approaching from the south is a rather striking pedestrian and cyclist-only bridge formally known as Beigang Tourist Bridge 雲林縣觀光導覽. The two guardians standing watch are Thousand Mile Eye 千里眼 and With-The-Wind Ear 順風耳, two demons commonly associated with Mazu. The story, according to Wikipedia, is that both demons were in love with Mazu who offered herself to whomever could defeat her in battle. Mazu won both bouts and they became good friends. Since then both demons offered their services to help Mazu find seafarers in distress.
Cháotiān Temple 朝天宫 was originally built in 1694, making it Taiwan’s oldest temple dedicated to the goddess Mazu, the most widely revered deity in Taiwan. Mazu, also known as Tiānhòu 天后 (“Empress of Heaven”), was originally the patron goddess of seafarers and fishermen—which should explain her popularity in coastal areas places like Fujian, the origin of many of the early Han Chinese immigrants to Taiwan. Nowadays people seem to worship her for all kinds of reasons. I’ll stop here as I’m about to get way outside of my areas of expertise—but if you’d like to read more about Chaotian Temple check out this article by Rachel Chang.
I hadn’t done my homework prior to visiting Beigang so I seem to have lucked out by stopping for a tasty snack at Fú’ān Duck Rice 福安鴨肉飯. While nibbling away at the tender duck meat I pulled up the only English language blog entry about Beigang that I could find at the time—which recommended that very same restaurant that I was dining at. Not bad!
I also read that Beigang is famous for wedding cakes, formally known as xǐbǐng 喜餅. Apparently a place by the name of Rìxìngtáng 日興堂喜餅 is the place to go—but I can’t say I’m all that into dense Chinese-style cakes of any kind. I snapped a photo (pictured above) and moved on. In hindsight I should have stopped to take a look—apparently the building was once a movie theater!
More to my taste is Rìfāzhìyídiàn 日發製飴店 (written as Rifazhaung on the blog I linked above), a traditional candy shop just west of the main drag founded in 1958 (unless I have translated something wrong). I was not really into the old school jelly candies (what is that taste, licorice?) but the peanut candies were awesome. I also appreciated that the people working there were very friendly and approachable. I wonder how many foreigners stop by? Anyway, you can see more photos from this shop on Chinese language blogs here and here. For even more about Beigang’s famous foodstuffs check out this article by David Hsu.
I’m glad I stopped in Běigǎng 北港 to take a closer look—the people were exceedingly pleasant and welcoming and there was a lot of interesting stuff to see and experience. I also had some fun indulging in my Wes Andersonesque obsession with symmetry in some of the photos above.