Modern Taiwan is a mixed bag of many different ethnicities, cultural influences, traditions and histories - One of the uniting factors that brings people together however is that of the deep-rooted spiritual and religious traditions practiced by the people of this country.
As a traveller, whatever preconceived notions you may have about tourism and religion typically aren't applicable while you are visiting Taiwan - No one is going to proseltyze to you or try to convert you nor will you be hit up for offerings or donations. Spirituality in this country is your own personal business and people are extremely tolerant and respectful of others. Conflict is something that seems almost unimaginable making the spiritual experience in Taiwan unlike any other.
Religion in Taiwan has the ability to pull off a party of such insane proportions that your life and your ears will never be the same again while at the same time offering zen-like meditative experiences.
While in Taiwan you could either find yourself sitting on top of a mountain listening to the humming of Buddhist chants while drinking tea or walking in the middle of an extremely loud procession of drum-beating trucks where fireworks and firecrackers are being set off mere meters away from you;
The people of Taiwan are polytheistic and for the most part practice a blend of Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese Folk Religion. Thanks to democratic reform over the past few decades, religious diversity is a protected right giving the people of this country the freedom to practice any faith they choose.
With an estimated 30,000+ places of worship throughout the country, you would think that it would be difficult to choose a handful that stand out above the rest, but that actually isn't the case.
The 'big' temples found throughout the country are easily identifiable and often share a rich history with the immigrants who settled here centuries ago making the country the place that it is today.
Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan is a modern metropolis and one of Asia's leading economic centres. The city has developed at an amazing rate over the past few decades becoming a high-tech industrial city which also pays respect to the beautiful mountains and nature that surround it as well as the history that has made the city what it is today.
While Taipei has its own 'Top Three Temples' list, the historic Bangka District (艋舺區) of the city - which is now known as Wanhua (萬華區) - boasts (at least) two of those top three and is so important to the history and development of Taipei that it has its own 'Top Three' list.
Like most of the buildings in the district, the temples in Bangka are historical relics that share a relationship with the Hokkien immigrants who came to Taiwan centuries ago and made the most of their lives in a new country helping to forge Taiwan into the country that it is today.
If you want to experience the historical side of Taipei, there is no better place to visit than Bangka. This area is unlike any other area of Taipei - Not only will you find history on every corner, but walking around gives you the distinct feeling that you travelled back in time to an older version of the city where the temples have been integral parts of the daily lives of its residents for hundreds of years.
When it comes to the Top Three temples of Bangka there is a bit of inconsistency in both the Chinese-speaking world as well as that in the opinion of foreign visitors as to which temples actually belong on the list. While others may disagree, my list will take into consideration what the majority consider the 'Top Three' but I'll also include the temples which often make the list as well as provide links to my posts about each of the temples for further details.
Longshan Temple is probably Taiwan's most well-known temple - The temple is one of Taiwan's busiest places of worship and is always jam-packed with tourists who come to view this beautifully designed and well-preserved temple.
The temple has a history that dates back to 1738 and like Bao-An temple, also has a close relationship with the Hokkien immigrants who came to Taiwan several centuries ago. Longshan Temple is primarily dedicated to Guanyin (觀音菩薩), the Buddha of Compassion, but like many other places of worship in Taiwan has shrines set up to Taoist and Chinese Folk Religion deities making it a very convenient temple for the faithful of Taiwan.
When it comes to design, this temple is second to none and is one of the most beautiful specimens of Chinese-style temple architecture in Taiwan, if not the whole world.
Link - Longshan Temple
Qingshan Temple is one of the most interesting temples in Taipei and its Qingshan King Festival is one of the most lively Temple events on the yearly calendar. The temple dates back to 1854 and if the temple hadn't of been built, Bangka would be a completely different place than it is today.
Interestingly, the temple sits in the middle of what is known as 'Taipei's First Street' (台北第一街) and is near the former wharf which made the Bangka district an economic powerhouse.
The temple is dedicated to the Qingshan King (青山王), a historical figure from China's warring states period and is thought to have the ability to cure sickness and disease. The king is also well known for his ability to drive out evil and when he comes out of his temple once a year to inspect the district, the festival that follows is one of the coolest cultural events that you'll ever experience
If it was left up to me, this temple would be on the list of not only the top temples in Bangka and Taipei, but the top three of Taiwan. A visit to the temple comes highly recommended!
Link - Qingshan Temple
Qingshui Temple is often considered to be one of the temples on the list of the 'Top Three' in Taipei. The temple is dedicated to Master Qingshui (清水祖師), a popular Buddhist monk and folk-hero whose worship, like the Hokkien immigrants themselves was imported to Taiwan.
The temple makes the list as one of the 'Top Three' due to its age and the important relationship it has played throughout history with a specific group of immigrants who have made the Bangka (艋舺) district the special place it is today.
Link - Qingshui Temple
Taipei's Tian Hou Temple, which is often also referred to as Taipei's Mazu Temple (台北媽祖廟) is often added to the list of the 'Top Three Temples' of Bangka. Its inclusion on the list is debatable but what isn't is the interesting history the temple has experienced since its construction and how it has been able to endure over the past 270 years.
The temple is situated within the busy Ximending Shopping District (西門町) and is unlike the other larger temples as it is somewhat hidden from the street. The temple is extremely popular with tourists from Japan and although guide books don't spend much time talking about it, it is one of the more interesting temples in the city to visit!
Link - Taipei Tian Hou Temple