Old Ximen Market in Tainan

Tainan Old West Market 台南西市場

West Market 西市場 (sometimes referred to as West Gate or Xīmén Market 西門市場) in Tainan 台南 was once the largest market in southern Taiwan. The first market building on this location was erected sometime from 1905 to 1908 under Japanese colonial rule. This building was later reconstructed in 1920 after suffering typhoon damage. It remains a hub of commercial activity in this part of the city up until the present day—but its very heart has been hollowed out and mostly abandoned for the last several decades.

Tainan’s West Market
The northern entrance to Tainan’s West Market.
A closer look at the northern end of Ximen Market
A closer look at the entrance to the old marketplace.

In the 1930s a number of new commercial development grew around the old market like layers of an onion: Asakusa Shopping Mall 淺草商場 (traditionally Japanese-themed, now a “youth fashion” market with trendy boutiques) and a fish market 魚市場 later converted into a banana warehouse 香蕉倉庫 (now abandoned and falling apart). After the war several more buildings sprung up around West Market: the confusingly named West Gate or Xīmén Market 西門市場 (originally for meat and produce, nowadays an aging garment and textile market) in 1945 and a wholesale food market 大菜市 in 19561.

Boarded up in 2015
From the entrance to the old marketplace. The corrugated metal barrier on the right hand side is new as of 2015.
Old hand-painted signs in the marketplace
A number of old hand-painted signs can be seen around the market.
Vintage signs in an old market in Tainan
Vintage signs in context.
A rare five digit phone number in Tainan
A rare five digit phone number.
Another old sign in Ximen Market
Another old sign deep inside the marketplace.
Vintage signs in Ximen Market, Tainan
Most of the stalls seem like little more than storage for the few that remain in business.
Old Ximen Market in Tainan
Deeper into Tainan’s West Market.

The vintage hand-painted signs still hanging over many of the market stalls are one of the main attractions for history buffs. There are more aside from the few I have shared here. Several of these signs display five digit telephone numbers—a convention that hasn’t been followed in a very long time.

One corner of an old market block in Tainan
The northeastern entrance to the market complex bears the sign of the newer Ximen Market.
Ximen Market textile mall after dark
The textile mall after dark.
Crazy wiring inside Ximen Market, Tainan
Crazy wiring inside the newer Ximen Market building.
Along the side of Ximen Market in Tainan
An inner courtyard next to the old West Market. I believe the banana warehouse might be around here somewhere.

When you walk through these old markets it isn’t obvious where one building ends and another begins. It’s a big place, too—the complex sprawls across an entire city block interconnected with a labyrinth of passageways snaking every which way. The style of construction is almost organic, as if each of these buildings were existing in symbiosis with one another. Turn a corner, duck under an overhang, and you might find yourself in the mouldering ruins of the old banana warehouse or lost in the dark reaches at the back of the textiles mall. Only the western side of the block—the youth fashion area—shows signs of life and vitality, but that part isn’t well-connected to the rest.

Through the gates of old Ximen Market
Through the open gates of the old market.
A Japanese era marketplace in Tainan
Fishmongers continue to ply their trade in this old Japanese era marketplace.
Still doing business after all these years
At least a few stalls in this part of the market remain open.
Fish wholesalers in Ximen Market, Tainan
Fish wholesaler in Ximen Market.
Belt-driven mixers in Ximen Market, Tainan
Giant belt-driven mixers.
An office in Ximen Market, Tainan
What looks to be an office hidden amongst all the decay and ruin.
Around back at old Ximen Market in Tainan
Around back at the old marketplace. The structure overhead might be part of the banana warehouse.
Inside the old market at night
Inside the old market at night.

The photographs that appear in this piece were collected on at least three separate visits over the course of two years. One of those visits was late at night, an eerie experience I would recommend to anyone who isn’t squeamish, for this is when you’re most likely to find giant rats scavenging for scraps among the ruins. It’s not that bad, mind you—as with most other old markets in Taiwan the population of vermin is held in check by the half-wild cats that skulk through the stalls after dark.

Our lady of the shadows
Our lady of the shadows. Look closely; do you notice anything peculiar about this photograph?
Mistress of the night
Mistress of the night.
The old market is spooky at night
The market after dark.
Slinking through the old market after closing
Long after closing time in Tainan’s Old West Market.

One final note: the market complex also contains one of my favourite old school restaurants in Tainan, a place by the name of Fúróng Xiǎochīdiàn 福榮小吃店 that was founded in 1923. If you’re curious you can read a little more about that in my guide to eating like a local in Tainan.

Earthquake Damage on the Tainan Old West Market
Surveying the old market after an earthquake struck in 2016, you’ll notice a chunk of reinforced concrete missing on the right.

Update: much has happened since this was originally posted. The front of the market was damaged in an earthquake in 2016 but a complete restoration began shortly thereafter. I haven’t revisited the site but as of 2019 it seems this work is almost done and the market, apart from the old facade, is almost completely transformed.

  1. These names and dates may be inaccurate. Most of the information I found online doesn’t match and there seems to be no shortage of confusion about which building is which. Corrections are welcome in the comments. 


  1. Hey Alexander, I love your blog and all the photos that you’ve taken around Tainan!

    As a Texas-born, Tainan-raised, and currently Chicago-employed guy, your posts reminds me of the old beauty in Tainan. The smell and the sight of what these photos represent is an absolute delight. Pure nostalgia :)

    You deserve a lot of kudos for your thorough blogging and photo documenting, these mean more than you think! I’m thankful that I found your blog! Bookmarked and will be checking in regularly!


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