A few weeks ago a fellow long-term Canadian expat author, blogger and a hiking friend of mine, Nick Kembel wrote a blog about Xinzhuang (新莊), the district of New Taipei City (新北市) that he has called home for the past six years and it interested me quite a bit.
While I’ve driven through Xinzhuang a few times, I haven’t actually stopped to visit and to tell the truth I had never actually heard of the cultural attractions that Nick’s blog introduced. Being a lover of shooting Taiwanese temples and architecture I decided that a visit to Xinzhuang’s Temple Street (新莊廟街) was something I had to put high priority on when I had some free time.
I found time to visit last weekend and I decided that after taking care of some other stuff in Taipei, I would try to arrive around late afternoon and explore some of the temples and the back alleys before I lost sunlight. After which I would move on to the new New Moon Pedestrian Bridge (新月橋) and then make my way back to the Temple Street to experience the night market culture of the area as Nick's blog had suggested.
Getting there was pretty easy, it was about a 20 minute MRT ride from Taipei Main Station (台北車站) with a transfer at Minquan West Road Station (民權西路站) and from the #2 exit you make a right turn and walk about a hundred meters and you’re more or less at the entrance.
The thing that initially surprised me about Temple Street (and something that I feel a bit ashamed that I didn’t know already) is that the street has three temples which one of which has been classified as a level two and the other two level three national historic sites in Taiwan. Becoming a national historic site isn’t an easy task, and the fact that there are three temples in such a small area that have all attained these statuses goes to show that Xinzhuang had a very vibrant and economically sound history as the temples were all built several hundred years ago during various eras of colonial rule of Taiwan.
Apart from shooting inside the temples, I found that the street and the alleys around it were all great for street photography. If you’re a photographer in Taiwan I highly recommend an afternoon exploring the alleys in the area as there tends to be a lot going on subject-wise. There’s a lot of see and there is ample opportunity for street work. I would recommend arriving earlier in the day though, because in Taiwan older people usually go about their business in the mornings and leave the night markets to the younger generation.
The newly opened New Moon Bridge (新月橋) is quite beautiful, its in the shape of a crescent moon and if you walk along it at night there are some buskers performing magic tricks or music for the people who are crossing the bridge to enjoy. At about 7:00pm the bridge will light up and at this time you’ll see a lot of photographers lined up with their tripods waiting for the light show. On the way back I walked across the a glass-floor section of the bridge where you could see the river below you. It was actually a bit scary - even for someone who isn’t afraid of heights like myself. It wasn't that I didn't trust Taiwanese engineering, I just worried about the safety of my camera.
On the way back from the bridge I noticed that things had started to pick up and there were a lot more people arriving at Temple Street for the night market. The night market here I felt was a bit ordinary as far as night markets go. Seasoned veterans in Taiwan typically know that each night market has its special dishes and things to see - the Temple Street Night Market however doesn’t really have any culinary specialties - its all very typical street food that you’ll find at every other night market in Taiwan. I didn’t eat anything while I was there partly because I was starting to come down with a bit of the flu and my stomach wasn’t feel very good and because of the current problems with oil and food safety in Taiwan.
After making my way back to the night market, I walked the entire street again and when I was done I made my way back to the MRT through a back alley avoiding the crowds and hopped on the train back towards Taipei City.
I really enjoyed visiting Temple Street and I plan on making my way back in the future. There is more for me to see, and the possibilities for street photography earlier in the day are a lot more interesting to me than the night market (and the bridge.)
If you find yourself looking for something to do on the weekend in Taipei and you want to avoid the throngs of Chinese tourists at all the other tourist spots, I highly recommend you make Xinzhuang’s Temple Street a priority to visit. Its not like some of the other very touristy and not so authentic ’old streets’ in Taiwan like Sanxia Old Street (三峽老街) or Yingge’s Pottery Street (鶯歌老街) yet you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the amount of history you’re able to experience while visiting this small area of Xinzhuang, an area of Taipei city that has only recently become extremely accessible due to the expansion of the MRT system.