Oyster omelette at Jinzuan Night Market

Twin Night Markets in Kaohsiung

I was drawn to the twin night markets of Kaisyuan Night Market (凱旋觀光夜市) and Jinzuan Night Market (金鑽觀光夜市) in Kaohsiung based on their reputation as the largest in Taiwan. Supposedly they are both approximately 30,000 square meters in size and feature 500 to 1,000 stalls—but these figures may represent the sum of both night markets. At any rate, I was a little surprised to discover how poorly attended they were on a Sunday night, particularly as I had just arrived from a brief tour of the busy Ruìfēng Night Market (瑞豐夜市) in Zuoying.

Oyster omelette at Jinzuan Night Market
Oyster omelette at Jinzuan Night Market.

I tend to be fairly methodical about my night market expeditions so I decided to work from back to front starting with Jinzuan Night Market. This game plan quickly hit a snag as most of the back of the night market is completely empty. Some stalls look closed but many others are completely unoccupied, something I’ve never seen on this scale. Maybe Jinzuan is one of the largest night markets in Taiwan by total area but what good is that if there aren’t any vendors there?

Empty stalls at Jinzuan Night Market
Empty stalls at Jinzuan Night Market. Perhaps this is one of the biggest night markets in Taiwan by total area but much of it shows little sign of use or activity.
Where the games will be played
I suppose someone might have played some games here at some point.
More empty rows at Jinzuan Night Market
More empty rows at Jinzuan Night Market. Where is everyone?
A busier section of Jinzuan Night Market
The front part of Jinzuan Night Market shows a little more activity but not much.

The few people milling around the front of Jinzuan Night Market were mostly Chinese tourists from what I could tell. Coach buses idling nearby confirmed my hunch. A free shuttle bus was regularly dispensing smaller groups of people coming from the MRT system (myself included) but locals seemed slightly outnumbered. Yes, some of the Chinese tourists were rather loud, but many more acted like anyone else at the night market.

Betel nut vendor at the entrance to Kaisyuan Night Market
A betel nut vendor at the entrance to Kaisyuan Night Market. Apparently this stall is named a television show.
Novelty washrooms at Jinzuan Night Market
Novelty washrooms out back at the twin night markets.
Kaisyuan Night Market scene
A family waits for an order at a Kaisyuan Night Market stall.
Plastic cockroaches must be a hit at the crane operator’s booth
Plastic cockroaches are an amusing prize at this crane operator stall.
Night market tacos in Kaohsiung
Night market tacos? I don’t know about that.

After making quick work of Jinzuan I wandered around the partition and entered Kaisyuan Night Market. It was slightly busier on this side of things but many of the stalls were closed and there weren’t too many people around except near the front. It was amusing to watch the occasional Chinese tourist cut in line and jostle with the locals, most of whom exhibited no reaction apart from slight frowns. Those few Chinese tourists who push people around don’t seem to mind if you push back, in good humor. I jostled a few fellow tourists while in line for a cup of watermelon juice but there were no bad vibes.

Taiwan’s famous penis cake
Taiwan’s famous penis cake. Many of the Chinese tourists were stumbling by in disbelief.

Kaisyuan was low on energy but high on spectacle. The now-famous penis cakes were available, a familiar sight to anyone who has been to Shilin Night Market (士林夜市) in Taipei. When business is brisk it isn’t at all abnormal to walk by and see a bunch of people taking cheeky photos.

Gambling with schoolgirls at Kaisyuan Night Market
Gambling with schoolgirls at Kaisyuan Night Market.

It is normal for young women to work the gaming tables at night markets across Taiwan. Sometimes these women dress up in cute outfits including schoolgirl uniforms. What I haven’t seen, however, is actual schoolgirls squaring off against bored, lonely dudes over mahjong tiles. I can’t escape the feeling that there’s something not quite right about this.

German pig knuckle vendor at Kaisyuan Night Market
German pig knuckle vendor at Kaisyuan Night Market, Kaohsiung.

Kaisyuan Night Market is also the location of a German pig knuckle vendor advertising an image of Hitler. Apologists of this sort of crass advertising might say he’s a famous and recognizable German, but it’s not a great look. I’m guessing the vendor knew exactly how offensive his sign might be since he smirked as I walked by after snapping a photo.

Night market gas station at Kaisyuan
One of many novelty vendors at Kaisyuan Night Market. This one is done up to look like a gas station.
Kaisyuan Night Market auction draws a crowd
An auction at the back of the night market drew a crowd. People must have been really bored.
Happy time with a smile to you
Night market fashion: “Happy time with a smile to you”.
A popular juice stand at Kaisyuan Night Market
One of the very few genuinely popular vendors at Kaisyuan Night Market. They’re using I-Mei brand milk in their products, a brand many Taiwanese people trust after some recent food safety scandals.

The absolute best thing about Kaisyuan Night Market was the impromptu auto show in the parking lot around back. Here there were about a dozen insanely modded cars blasting EDM at maximum volume while jets of flame erupted into the sky. One car was emblazoned with the rising sun flag of Imperial Japan, a fitting compliment to the German pig knuckle vendor inside the night market. Sometimes I wonder if people have no sense of history or if they simply don’t care. Whatever the case, I had a blast wandering around checking out all the crazy mods and blinking LED lights.

Impromptu Taiwanese auto show at Kaisyuan Night Market
Jets of flame erupt from this modded car at the impromptu auto show behind the night market.
Rising Sun hotrod
A tricked out car emblazoned with the emblem of Imperial Japan.
Tricked out cars at Kaisyuan Night Market
Hello Kitty speakers blasting distorted EDM.

I left the twin night markets of Kaohsiung feeling unimpressed. Yes, they were large, but I didn’t sample anything particularly good, and there were several cringeworthy sights. I suspect some business people got together a few years ago and said “let’s open the biggest night market in the nation”, opting for an “if you build it, they will come” approach that hasn’t yet produced reliable results. Maybe these night markets are busier on a Saturday—but Ruifeng was doing just fine that night. Having only visited once I am far from an expert on the matter but I’d say the biggest open air night markets are still likely to be Dadong or Huayuan in Tainan, or the surprisingly massive Douliu Night Market (斗六夜市) in Yunlin.

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