23 May 2019 by Suyen Hu
Taiwanese culture is characterised by a meeting of Eastern and Western ethnicities which are constantly evolving. The island’s diverse culture is deeply rooted in Chinese heritage and Aboriginal traditions and welcoming of outside influences such as Japanese, Western and Southeast Asian.
A variety of Art can be found in Taiwan including Modern Art, as well as Traditional, Aboriginal and Folk Art. The traditional Chinese fine arts are mainly comprised of calligraphy and tradition painting and other forms of art found in Taiwan include Flower Arranging, Sculpture, Cloisonné, Jade Carving and Ceramics.
Suyen Hu is the Director of Dragon Discoveries. Her focus is on introducing Eastern Art and Culture, especially Taiwanese, to English speakers in the UK. The Sister Company she directs, Snowflake Books publishes bilingual picture storybooks based on traditional Chinese culture. The books are available in many English-speaking countries, not only in the UK but as far afield as Australia and New Zealand.
Though based predominately in the UK, Suyen originates from Taiwan. The following are a few of her personal ideas about some of the amazing places to discover Art and Culture in Taiwan.
1 Sanxia Old Street & Qingshui Zushi Temple
Sanxia is a traditional district in northern Taiwan which was once an important goods transportation centre and base for growing tea and dyeing cloth. The Town has now lost its economic importance as a result of the decline in river transportation but has retained significant cultural value, for the main part, due to the Qingshui Zushi Temple.
The temple is an unparalleled combination of religion and art. A centre for Chinese worship, it is a unique example of intricate carving, complex structure and painstaking dedication to classical temple art demonstrated in the modern reconstruction work.
A walk along Sanxia Old Street is an opportunity to indulge in nostalgia for days past. The traditional architecture, ancient wooden plaques and figure carvings are remarkable and will make you want to linger under the arched hallways and explore the beauty and intricate patterns of the buildings.
Sanxia Old Street is easily accessible from Taipei. Find times and travel information here.
2 Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
Pingxi is a town alongside highway 106, a narrow back road that runs between southern Taipei and southern Keelung’s remote mountain town, an hour’s drive from Taipei.
A rural district in New Taipei and the source of the Keelung River in Jingtong, inside the Pingxi District, it was an important coal mining town in the early 20th century.
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is one of the three most popular and well - known celebration events during the Lantern Festival. Since 1999, the Taipei County Government has devoted substantial resources into promoting the festival in a bid to develop it into an international and multi-ethnic culture exchange activity.
During the Festival, in a magical blaze of light, 100,000 to 200,000 hot air balloons fill the moonlit sky and although the holiday is celebrated across Asia, nowhere in the world is it more recognized than at Pingxi.
The next festival will be on 24 January 2020.
For travel information see here.
3 The Li Mei-Su Memorial Gallery
The Li Mei-Su Gallery is Sanxia district, New Taipei. The Gallery is dedicated to Chinese painter, sculptor and politician Li Me-Su and was opened by his decedents on the 9th April 1995. The Gallery exhibits various artwork, collections and documents of Li.
After graduating in 1934, Li Mei-Su returned to Taiwan and co-founded the Tai-Yang Art Society with others – including Liao Chi-Chun and Tan Tin-pho and actively promoted art events. In 1935, his work Girl at Rest was the special selection of the 9th Taiwan Art Exhibition and in 1939, his work Red Dress was selected for the 3rd Ministry of Education Art Exhibition.
From 1947 the Professor committed to the reconstruction project of Sanxia Zushi Temple and in order to complete the “Oriental Art Palace,” he combined civil arts and academic arts through creative art pieces.
For more information, travel details and opening hours see limeishu.org.tw
4 National Palace Museum
The National Palace Museum houses the world's largest collection of priceless Chinese art treasures and spans China's nearly 5,000-year history. The majority of the museum’s 600,000 plus art objects were part of the Chinese Imperial Collection which was started over 1,000 years ago in the early Song Dynasty.
For more information, opening times and directions see here.
5 Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market is one of the largest night markets in Taipei and has become renowned as a place to find fantastic food. Taiwan has arguably the best night market scene in the world and some of the most exciting street food in Asia.
Delicious foods to be found in this vibrant market include Oyster Omelette, Taiwanese Salt and Pepper Chicken or try peanut shavings with a soft bun, salty pork and some sour pickles. For dessert you can buy Cuobing - shaved ice topped with pineapple, mangoes and guavas.
The market covers a large area and exploring the lanes and alleys you can anticipate finding the unexpected with special areas for furniture and clothing and wonderful cold desert shops found in Lover’s Lane.
For information on travel links, opening hours, service and facilities see here.
6 Yangmingshan National Park
Yangmingshan National Park is located in the north of Beitou, a short bus ride from Taipei, and the natural beauty of the park has won it the reputation as an urban forest. The park is the only one in Taiwan that has volcanic geography and hot springs with a total area of 125 hectares designed in traditional Chinese style.
Providing countless photographic opportunities, around mid-February, the dark pink cherry blossom trees in Yangmingshan National Park are in full bloom. By late March these have withered away, and beautiful white calla lilies cover the park.
Photographic inspiration is not limited to flora with several breath-taking spots in the park. Visiting them all in a day would take a fair bit of effort and the use of a car but one of the highlights is Xiaoyoukeng where you can view the steaming vents and sulphur deposits and follow the trail leading to the top of Mt.Qixing, the park’s highest peak and the best view of downtown Taipei.
Another highlight is Datun Nature Park, an area that has been replanted and restored to create an incredible habitat for plant and insect life. The Nature Park also has a Visitor Centre hosting a fascinating exhibition on early human life.
Certain roads in are closed to traffic on the weekends, and so the only way you can make it up to the park is by bus. If you can go on a weekday, travelling by car or scooter makes getting to each of the viewpoints easier and allows you the freedom to drop into one of the many restaurants in the area.
For more information see here.
Tamsui is located northwest of Taipei basin. Previously known as Huwei, which means river outlet, it is surrounded by spectacular scenery.
Hongmao Castle is a historical site located at Tamsui, built by the Spaniards in 1626 and restored by the Dutch. The Castle’s name was derived from the Taiwanese description of Dutch people as Hongmao (people with red hair). It was also called Huwei Castle.
The sunsets in Taiwan are breathtaking and ascending to the overlook platform at the Castle you can view the sunset at Shatai, one of the eight great scenes of Tamsui.
For travel details, opening times and eating and drinking recommendations see here.
8 Guandu Temple
Described by one visitor as “like falling into a fairy-tale” the Guandu temple is filled with exquisitely carved dragon pillars, stone lions and wall sculptures. About a 15-minute walk from Guandu MRT Station, the temple, first built in 1661, is dedicated to Mazu, goddess of the sea.
Taiwan became a dependency of Japan in 1895 and according to legend, when three old banyan trees standing at the temple’s entrance died suddenly on the same night, local residents believed it to be a message of impending disaster from Mazu. This sinister premonition was realised shortly after when the area became occupied by the Japanese.
To the right of the temple sits an 80-meter Buddha cave, the entrance of which is a symbolic mortar that is supposedly able to suppress all evil. The sides of the cave are spectacularly lined by 28 devas, and at the rear is a thousand armed, thousand-eyed Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy).
If you enjoy exploring traditional crafts you can find examples of wood carving, stone carving and Cut and Paste which is a professional craft in Taiwan traditional architecture.
For details of travel and opening times see www.kuantu.org.tw.
9 Lukang Old Street
Located in Lukang Town of Changhua County, Lukang Old Street is famed for its well-preserved cultural and historical heritage. As one of Taiwan’s oldest towns, it was once the main business district of Lukang Town with a busy port and continued to be a thriving business centre until the Japanese occupancy in 1895.
Lukang Old Street is lined by traditional Taiwanese style houses with carved doorways and antique retro green mailboxes suspended outside each house. Many of the old houses are still used for business while a few have been renovated in keeping with past heritage.
Facing the Taiwan Strait, the Old Street is famous for its wide selection of seafood and traditional flavours including Thick Soup with Duck Meatball, Fried Mud Shrimp and Phoenix Eye Cake. Newly renovated old-style shop buildings that feature interesting internal room layouts and old-style exteriors stock wistful antique toys and paper lanterns.
For more details and travel information see here.
10 Lukang Longshan Temple
Lukang Town is well-known for having the most gorgeous temples in Taiwan. Lukang Longshan Temple is the largest temple in Lukang and highly valued as the Hall of Taiwanese Art & Culture and the Treasure of Chinese Architecture.
The temple has been either fully or partly destroyed by earthquake and fire many times, but Taipei residents have consistently rebuilt and renovated it. The temple was rebuilt during the Japanese rule and most recently after it was hit by American bombers during the Taihoku Air Raid on May 31st, 1945 during World War II. The main building and the left corridor were damaged, and many precious artefacts and artworks were lost. It was rebuilt after the end of World War II a few months later.
For details of travel, opening hours and amenities see here.