Tainan Night Markets
Tainan Night Markets (Táinán Yèshì 台南夜市)
Anyone will tell you that the essential Taiwanese cultural experience is a visit to any of the island’s numerous night markets. Pubs and night clubs are mere subcultures compared to the mass-assembly of nightlife in Taiwan’s night markets, and many Taiwanese never tire of braving the crowds. Tainan is no exception when it comes to night market culture. In fact, much of the street market food you find all around the island originated at Tainan’s night markets. While you no longer have to travel to Tainan to eat danzai noodles or coffin bread, many visitors still make Tainan’s night markets a priority in their visit.
Night markets are essential to Chinese culture and have been around for more than a thousand years. They have a long and storied tradition, both on the mainland and on this side of the Taiwan Strait. In fact, much of the political and social history can be found in the bends and curves of night market culture. Under the Japanese, night markets were highly regulated. During the 1950′s, they boomed in Taipei due to the increase of migrant workers from the south. During the 70′s, merchandise like handicrafts and herbal remedies were replaced by off-sales of the Made in Taiwan boom. These days, those same light industry products are sold, but they usually come from China. Traditions involving night markets have changed with the seasons, but they have always been meeting grounds in which people have gathered to socialize, shop, and eat.
For newcomers, night markets are a lot to take in. On the one hand, they are crowded, hot, noisy, and unsanitary places. On the other hand, they are a vibrant sense-explosion, offering a multitude of affordable eating, shopping, and entertainment experiences all in one place.
Most markets are divided into separate sections for food, merchandise, and games. These sections all consist of small vendor stalls lined up in rows, competing with each other for the attention of the hoards of people trying to pack through the lanes. The food is usually of the xiaochi (literally: small eat) variety. Many food stalls offer Taiwanese staples, but many others are vying for business with foreign delights or anything new. You can find fruit, iced drinks, candy, pastries, wraps, food on stick, or even steak, just to name a few things on offer. Purses, costume jewelry, and T-shirts with bad English printed on them are the basics at the shop stalls, but like the food vendors, many sellers branch out to cover all manner of things. Most food and goods are cheaper here than in restaurants or stores, but don’t expect high quality. As far as entertainment goes, it’s usually off to the side or in the back of most night markets. There, you can find old-fashioned fairground games for kids or the young at heart. Try your hand and catching gold fish, dart-throwing, Mahjong Bingo, or any number of simple chance games.
Most markets are geared towards students, but families and people of all ages attend them. In fact, they are often the one place you can find people from all economic classes and walks of life.
One thing to remember about Tainan’s night markets versus those of Taipei is that they are not open every night of the week. Each one has it’s own nights, so check the schedule before heading out. Luckily, there is always one night market or another running. The largest night markets are the Hua Yuan (flower garden) Night Market in the northwest of the city, and the Da Dong (big east) Night Market in the southeast. These two run three nights a week on alternating nights, so one of these is open every day except Wednesday. The Qingren (Lovers) Night Market is set on the same location as the Hua Yuan, but it is smaller, and runs on alternative nights. The other night markets are smaller, and I can’t say that I’ve been to any of them, but below is a schedule and address for each of them. Generally, they are all open from 6pm to 11:30 pm.
Hua Yuan Night Market (Huāyuán Yèshì 花園夜市)
Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; Haian Road, Section 3, between Lixian Rd. and Hewei Rd., North District. This is the largest night market in Tainan, and the largest fully-outdoor night market in Taiwan. Ample parking is provided here.
Da Dong Night Market (Dà Dōng Yèshì 大東夜市)
Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays; Linsen Road, Section 1, near Chongde Rd., East District. This is the second largest night market in the city. It is very popular on Friday nights, especially with NCKU students.
Qingren (Lovers) Night Market (Qíngrén Yèshì 情人夜市) – (EDIT – This one might not operate anymore.)
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; Haian Road, Section 3, between Lixian Rd. and Hewei Rd., North District. A smaller version of Hua Yuan night market, running on alternative nights.
Wusheng Night Market (Wǔshèng Yèshì 武聖夜市)
Wednesdays and Saturdays; Wusheng Road, a few blocks west of Wen Xian Rd., North District. Not easy to find, but it’s one of the longest running night market in the city.
Yonghua Night Market (Yǒnghuā Yèshì 永華夜市)
Thursdays and Sundays; Yonghua Road, Section 2, at Yonghua 4th St., Anping District. Probably the newest night market. It’s a few blocks past the Anping Carrefour.
Kaiyuan Night Market (Kāiyuán Yèshì 開元夜市)
Wednesdays and Saturdays; Kaiyaun Road at Linsen Road, Section 3, North District. On the northeast side, not far from NCKU.
Xiao Bei Night Market (Xiǎo Běi Yèshì 小北夜市)
Tuesdays and Fridays; Ximen Road, Section 4, at the intersection of He Wei Rd., North District. One of the oldest night markets in the city.