The Hukou Old Street (湖口老街) is the smallest of Hsinchu county’s three “old streets” which also includes the popular Neiwan (內灣老街) and Beipu Old Street’s (北埔老街)
Hukou’s story is a lot like what I described with the Daxi Old Street – In the case of Daxi, the village was economically prosperous due to its position as a way station for goods coming down from the mountains and being transported up the river to Taipei. Hukou’s story doesn't relate to a river, but the reason why it became an “old street” is because the train station which used to be in the town was moved to another area closer to the coast when the Taiwan Rail System completed the newer “Ocean Line” (海線)
The loss of the train station was enough to divide Hukou between “Old Hukou” (老湖口) and “New Hukou” (新湖口) which is a relatively newer area with modern housing built up around the train station.
In Taiwan, it is safe to say that the centre of most towns is the train station as most cities have been developed from the train station in an outward fashion. When Hukou’s new train station was completed, it pretty much killed the chance for Old Hukou to survive as it once had.
Due to the separation though, Hukou was left the way it way and didn't really develop the way most towns in Taiwan do (by tearing down the old buildings.) All the original buildings that were in the town are still left standing and are quite similar to what you would see in Daxi, except that the colour of the bricks are red, and the majority of all the houses are at least two storeys.
Just like in Daxi, the buildings were originally built in the 1890s and had an exterior in the baroque style while the interior of the buildings were mostly Japanese-style.
When the Hsinchu county government designated the area as an “old street” they went about a project of urban renewal that was supposed to restore the old street to its former glory. The county government boasts that the baroque style facades on the buildings are the most intact of all the old streets – however I think that this is somewhat of a disingenuous statement due to the way the street was given a facelift.
When I compare this street to Daxi, it is really easy to see that they tried a little too hard to beautify it and on the process lost some of its historical allure. Even though it seems to have lost some of its originality, the Hukou Old Street is still quite nice to walk around.
When I arrived at the old street I parked near a church which was erected in the same location where the train station had originally been. I walked through the old street rather slowly, but it didn't take long to come to the end.
At the end there is a Hakka temple called “San Yuan Temple” (三元宮) dedicated to the three earth gods (三官大帝) which represent water (水官), earth (地官) and heaven (天官.)
I found that walking down the road parallel to the temple had some examples of houses that were not as well-kept and as on display as those on the “old street” and figured that those were probably much better representations of what the street looked like before renewal.
I think that the biggest problem with the Hukou Old Street is that there is nothing to really draw big crowds. Daxi Old Street has its dried tofu (豆干) and woodwork. Beipu has its Hakka restaurants and Hakka Leicha (擂茶.) Both attract tourists by the busloads – Hukou however doesn't really have anything to attract crowds other than the buildings, which would be enough for me, but the average Taiwanese tourist is one that loves to be fed delicious foods!
I went on a Sunday, which by normal standards should be an extremely busy day for an old street, but it was almost empty which more or less proves my point.
As you walk by all the old houses it seems that less than one in ten are doing any form of business and I think there was really one one vendor selling sausages to visitors and another selling fresh coffee from the back of his bicycle.
History it seems isn't enough to attract tourists, so for Hukou to start attracting people, they need to come up with something to make the street “famous” for all the residents to capitalize on. If the Taiwanese news one day reports that there is something tasty to eat there, the next day will have people lined up!
As it is now, I wouldn't really recommend Hukou Old Street unless you were passing through the area on your way somewhere else. If you are planning to make a day trip out of it, there are much better options in a relatively close distance (Daxi, Neiwan, Beipu) so Hukou wouldn't be your best option!
If you're on the fence about visiting, take the time to check out all the pictures in the gallery below, or click on the link to my Flickr album and then make your decision!