Old Ximen Market in Tainan

Tainan West Market 台南西市場

West Market 西市場 is a historical site in downtown Tainan dating back to the earliest years of the Japanese colonial era. The first market building at this location was constructed in 1905, back when it fronted onto the milkfish farms of the Táijiāng Lagoon 台江內海. It suffered extensive damage when a catastrophic typhoon struck Tainan in August 1911. An expanded L-shaped structure was built in 1912, making it the largest market in southern Taiwan, but this was damaged by another typhoon in 1920, leading to another round of reconstruction, the results of which are still standing today. The old marketplace remains a hub of commercial activity in this part of the city—but many of its stalls were neglected or abandoned by the mid-2010s, when many of the photos in this article were captured. Presently the old market enjoys heritage status—and an extensive restoration effort was completed in 2020, transforming it into a bright and airy space.

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, which was later converted into a banana warehouse 香蕉倉庫 that was mostly abandoned and falling apart by the mid-2010s. After the war several more buildings sprung up around West Market: the confusingly named West Gate or Xīmén Market 西門市場 in 1945—originally for meat and produce, nowadays an aging garment and textile market—and a wholesale food market in 1956.

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 interconnected complex sprawls across an entire city block 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 multiple visits over the course of several 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-feral 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.
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.

In 2016 the front of the old market suffered minor damage in a surprisingly strong earthquake that struck Tainan. Restoration work began in earnest in early 2017, and the entire market was blocked off, its facade obscured, until reopening to the public in 2021.

Tainan West Market After Restoration
Tainan West Market in April 2021, not long after restoration efforts were complete.
West Market Circa 2021
The newly restored Tainan West Market in April 2021.
Inside the Newly Restored Tainan West Market
Inside the newly restored Tainan West Market around when it reopened to the public. Fabric vendors had moved into several of the stalls near the entrance but it was otherwise empty.


  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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