Beipu (北埔鄉) is a small village in south-eastern Hsinchu county - The village is home to around ten thousand people which is small by Taiwanese standards and has a population consisting almost entirely of the Hakka ethnic minority. The village is known among locals as the Hakka Capital of Northern Taiwan and is a popular excursion for the people of Taiwan to enjoy a bit of history, culture and cuisine.
The Hakka people have had an interesting history migrating all over China and Taiwan as well as spreading further into Malaysia and Singapore. The early years for the Hakka in Taiwan weren't easy as they had to work together to endure hostile periods of Japanese rule as well as issues with other ethnic Chinese and the Indigenous peoples.
With security in mind, the village of Beipu was constructed in a way that was thought would help to defend the people within the village from outside attack. Most of the original village is still around today and consists twisting narrow alleys that become somewhat of a maze to someone who is not familiar with the roads.
The village doesn't really have to worry about being attacked anymore, but if the buildings in the village that remain well-preserved are any indication of the success in their defensive strategy, the original planners should be commended as the village serves as a living testament to a much different time in Taiwanese history.
These days the village has become a popular tourist spot as people from all over the country come to visit the famous “Beipu Old Street” (北埔老街) to have a stroll through a historic village and sample Hakka culture at its best.
Hakka culture has had a resurgence in recent years and a lot of effort has been made to preserve the language and educate people about one of Taiwan's largest ethnic minorities. There are many 'Hakka Villages' all over Taiwan, but Beipu is known as one of the most important and most successful in preserving the heritage of the Hakka people.
I've visited Beipu quite a few times. I'm a big fan of its old street and the restaurants in the village. It's not a very long drive from where I live, so I tend to visit when I have no real plans for the day and want to have something good to eat and drink.
The thing about Beipu that keeps me coming back is that it has retained its old charm without selling out to attract foreign tourists – especially those from China. Since the easing of relations between the two countries over the past five or more years, the influx of flag-following tourists has become an issue for a lot of these “old streets” which have had to adapt and expand to accommodate the numbers of people they bring.
As someone who has lived in Taiwan long enough to remember what it was like before a lot of these places started to change, it is easy to see how some places have lost their original charm and have lost a bit of authenticity while changing for the worse to make a quick buck.
Beipu fortunately has retained its old charm, so you are still able to visit any day of the week and have a great time and not have to wait in long lines to have something to eat or drink some tea. The food in Beipu is great and almost every restaurant you step in serves up some pretty amazing Hakka dishes that you may not be able to find in other parts of Taiwan.
The village is always at its busiest on the weekends, so I wondered what it would be like to go over on a weekday. I wanted to explore a lot of the streets in behind the “old street” and behind the main temple without having crowds of people in my shots in order to see the village in a more natural light than what I'm used to.
As expected, the village was more or less void of tourists that day and as I was walking around during the “siesta” time of the afternoon, it was relatively quiet. I was able to see a few residents outside of their houses doing some cleaning and going about their daily lives, a singing motorcycle-mailman happily making his rounds and a gang of stray cats enjoying the peace and quiet among all the historic buildings and alleys that are within the village and surrounding the temple.
Ci-Tian Temple (慈天宮) dedicated to the Buddhist goddess Guanyin is more or less the central point of town. The temple which was built in 1846 (a level three cultural relic in Taiwan) is always quite busy and even during the quiet times of the day, you can still see a few tourists and the residents of the village visiting.
Interestingly I walked past a house near the temple that had lots of vegetables for sale. There was however no one in sight and the doors were closed. The owner put up a sign with a price-list of the vegetables and left a bucket full of change. The basic idea was that you take what you want and if you didn’t have exact change you could reach into the bucket and make change on your own – this kind of honour system is something you are still able to find in small villages around Taiwan and to me is a reason why I love places like Beipu.
If you plan on visiting the village, you have a few options, weekends are the busiest and every restaurant is open. You'll experience a much more lively village than you would if you visited during the week – however if you are into exploring leisurely or are into street photography a visit to the village on a weekday is highly recommended – no matter what you chose, a visit to Beipu is always a good time and comes highly recommended from me.
If you are relying on public transportation to Beipu, you can easily take a bus from the Hsinchu High Speed Rail Station, Zhubei Train Station or Zhudong train station by taking the Lion's Head Mountain tourist shuttle bus.