Taipei’s Yuanshan Area – A Colorful Mix of Religion, Culture, and Food

Pick a day with nice weather and treat yourself to a walking tour of one of the city’s most diverse and appealing neighborhoods.

Offering a diverse mix of sights, sounds, and flavors, the area near the Yuanshan (圓山) MRT Station, which is sometimes referred to as the “Confucius Temple Historic District,” has become one of the most interesting parts of Taipei. Long a home to some historic buildings, the area has been enhanced by renovations and new facilities. It’s also fairly compact, making it easy to explore on foot.

The Yuanshan MRT station is a convenient starting point for either of two walking loops. The western loop features the Dalong Street Night Market, Baoan Temple, 44 Shops, and the Taipei Confucius Temple. The eastern loop includes the Huguozen Buddhist Temple and winds its way around Yuanshan Park, the Taipei Story House, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum area, and Maji Square. The two loops of this tour take the visitor through many different periods of Taiwanese history, and reflect the different cultural influences that have shaped modern Taiwan.

Western Loop:

From Exit 2 of the MRT station, cross Hami Street (哈密街) and head west on Kulun Street (庫倫街), which later becomes Jiuquan Street (酒泉街). After a few blocks, you’ll see the Dalong Street Night Market on your left.

Dalong Night Market (大龍夜市)

The Dalong Night Market is not very large, but it’s filled with a great variety of shops and is quite active during the day and into the evening. Perhaps due partly to its proximity to large Buddhist temples, the market offers many vegetable options in addition to the usual deep-fried street market foods.

It also has some nice small restaurants. One such simple shop is at 298 Dalong Street. Referred to as just “Noodle Shop” on Google Maps, its Chinese name is 春福切仔麵, which translates as “Spring Blessing Cut Noodles.” The food is tasty and inexpensive, and the shop is filled with a broad array of Chinese memorabilia, including advertising posters from a bygone era and old household items.

A homemade bowl of inexpensive noodles from the Noodle Shop. Photo: Chris Stowers

A few of the buffet restaurants may also entice you with their gleaming green vegetables. The Dalong Night Market isn’t the most famous of Taipei’s night markets, but it may well be the healthiest and most colorful.

Baoan Temple (大龍峒保安宮)

Having refueled, head back down Dalong Street toward Kulun Street, and on your left will be the external park of the historic and beautiful Baoan Temple. This is one of two sites on this walking tour included in the Ministry of the Interior’s list of the “Top 100 Religious Scenes in Taiwan.”

The Baoan Temple is one of the largest and most beautiful temples in Taipei. Stretching over two blocks, it isn’t overly crowded with tourists, allowing it to retain a solemnity that is sometimes lacking at other temples. Construction of the temple, began in 1805 and was completed in 1830.

Moving north from the Dalong Night Market, you will first come to the Baoan Temple Garden, which is a beautiful area filled with grottos, walkways, and ceramic tigers. Continue north through the garden, and cross Hami Street to arrive at the main Baoan Temple area.

The temple consists of multiple facilities and places to worship. As is common in Taiwan, several religions are represented within the temple. It was originally built as a place of worship for the Daoist deity Baosheng Dadi. However, over time, deities from Confucianism and Buddhism were also added.

Statues of the “Thirty-Six Celestial Officials,” which date to 1833, line both the right and left-hand sides of the main sanctuary, and dramatic murals, carvings, and other artwork surround you as you wander through this amazing complex. Seeing it illuminated at night is quite a sight, and reveals some of the artwork and other features not visible during the day.

After World War II, the temple fell upon hard times and its activities almost stopped. After the Nationalist retreat to Taiwan in 1949, about 100 families of retreating soldiers moved in and occupied the temple as a squatter village. The squatters were not removed until 1966. A few decades later, a Temple Management Committee undertook an extensive, seven-year restoration that was completed in 1995. In 2003, the restoration effort was honored with a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Conservation. The temple gift store offers some nice items, including an informative book introducing the temple.

Baoan Temple at night. Photo: Chris Stowers

44 Shops

If you are feeling a bit tired after touring the temple, stop at one of the several coffee shops on Hami Street. The nearby area is called “44 Kans” (44 Shops). Tradition has it that the construction materials for the original Baoan Temple came from Fujian Province, and a large amount was left over and used to build two rows of 22 “kans,” or shops, one row on each side of Hami Street west of the temple.

Although it no longer looks quite like the old description, the name and tradition live on, with the occasional plaque displayed among the shops to provide some historical context.

One noteworthy place in the area is the Yuan Chuan Vege Cafe (源泉咖啡蔬食) located at 71 Hami Street. The Buddhist-influenced store is very relaxing and has friendly owners. Enjoy a quick cup of coffee, listen to some soothing music, and maybe have a snack before heading to the Taipei Confucius Temple.

To get there, walk east on Hami Street back toward the MRT station, then take a right on Dalong Street toward the night market. The entrance to the Confucius Temple will be on your left.

Taipei Confucius Temple (臺北市孔廟)

In line with Confucian principles, the building is simpler in design than the Baoan Temple and places an emphasis on education. The tranquil, picturesque temple consists of stately buildings in classical Chinese style and numerous shrines amid park-like grounds. It also has a combined coffee/gift shop.

Taipei’s first Confucian Temple was damaged and later torn down by the Japanese authorities in 1907. It became the site of the Taipei First Girls High School. A movement eventually arose within the local community to build a replacement, and construction in the current location was completed in 1939, although the Japanese authorities banned most Chinese traditional ceremonies.

Those ceremonies resumed with the arrival of the Nationalist government in 1949. The most important rite is held on September 28, which is considered to be the anniversary of Confucius’s birth. In honor of the sage, September 28 is also celebrated in Taiwan as Teachers’ Day.

After strolling the grounds of the Confucius Temple, you can head east on Kulun Street to return to the Yuanshan MRT station.

The gate of Taipei’s Confucius Temple. Photo: Chris Stowers

Eastern Loop:

From Exit 2 of the MRT station, continue on Kulun Street as it goes underneath the MRT line. Cross Yumen Street and follow it north about 100 meters to the entrance of Taiwan’s oldest remaining temple from the Japanese colonial era, referred to on tourist signs as the Huguozen Buddhist Temple of the Linji Order. It’s also known as the Rinzai Zen Buddhism Temple.

Huguozen Buddhist Temple (臨濟護國禪寺)

The faded yellowish walls seem to discourage many people from venturing inside, but once you enter the grounds, the dark wooden structure in front of you may give you the feeling of being swept back to ancient Japan. Like the Baoan Temple, this is one of the Ministry of the Interior’s “Top 100 Religious Scenes in Taiwan.”

During the 1895-1945 Japanese colonial period, three Japanese-style Buddhist temples were built in Taipei. Construction on the Rinzai Zen Buddhism Temple began in 1900 and was completed in 1911. During the 1980s and 90s, the other two Japanese-style temples were razed to make way for urban development.

The interior of the wooden main temple is not open to visitors, but the exterior of the structure – surrounded by buildings in modern Buddhist architectural style – is worth photographing. The contrast in styles and colors is rather jarring.

If you walk along the temple grounds to the south, you’ll see another relic of the old temple facility: the Gate of the Old Bell Tower. Built in a similar style and color as the old Main Hall, it was the gate for the original entrance to the temple.

To the left of the Old Bell Tower is the more modern Avatamsaka Sutra Hall. Here a variety of paper items are for sale to be burned, in traditional Chinese fashion, as offerings for use by the deceased in the afterlife. These include replicas of money, cars, houses, and mahjong tiles.

To the right of this hall is a Chinese arch framing the way to stairs leading up to the hills behind the main temples. The stairs lead to a mausoleum and an open area dotted with old Japanese-style statues. The upper area also contains small plazas where people can gather in remembrance of those who have passed.

After walking back down the hill, go out the new modern gate next to the Old Bell Tower and turn left to reach Yuanshan Park.

The Gate of the Old Bell Tower of the Huguozen Buddhist Temple. Photo: Chris Stowers

Yuanshan Park (圓山園)

This park was developed as part of the 2010 Taipei Flora Expo. With its gently rolling grassland and wooden structures covered in flowers, it makes for a pleasant place for a stroll. As you proceed east, on your left you’ll come to a rather strange and little-used feature of the area. In Chinese it’s called “都市綠化環境教育中心,” which translates as Urban Green Education Center. Years ago, it was the site of the Taipei Zoo.

Although it currently isn’t very heavily used, the Center is home to a variety of buildings constructed in classical Chinese style. On weekends, senior citizens sometimes gather to enjoy the playing and singing of traditional songs. One can imagine scenes from classic Chinese novels such as The Dream of the Red Chamber being played out among its stony paths and quiet pools.

Walking a bit further brings one to a picturesque area called the Folk Arts Plaza, which hints at a possible future role as a place for Taiwanese folk art to be displayed.

Continue eastward, and as you come down the walkway from the park you’ll see a Japanese stone lantern from the colonial era. This was one of the lanterns that led the way to a Shinto Shrine built by the Japanese government in 1901 on the other side of the Keelung River. The shrine was destroyed after Japan’s defeat in World War II, and the land became the site for the Grand Hotel.

Several paths to the east provide an exit from the park, but they all lead toward Zhongshan North Road (中山北路) and the landmark of a large red building with a Chinese-style roof that houses both a radio station and a police station. A tunnel just north of the police station takes you under Zhongshan North Road to the front of the quaint Taipei Story House.

Taipei Story House (臺北故事館)

The information board in front of the Taipei Story House describes it as the only English Tudor heritage house in Taiwan. It was built in 1913 by Taiwan tea merchant Chen Chao-Chun as a guesthouse. It was refurbished in 1988 after being designated a heritage site, and now serves as a cultural venue and also has a coffee shop. Adult admission is NT$50. It’s a striking building and an excellent place for photography. It also hosts temporary exhibitions, such as a recent one on Chinese wedding dresses through the years.

Taipei Fine Arts Museum (臺北市立美術館)

Just south of the Taipei Story House is the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan’s main museum for modern art.  From the 1950s to the end of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the United States, the site housed the headquarters for the U.S. Navy’s Taiwan Defense Command. Closed last year for renovation, the museum is scheduled to reopen this summer.

Behind the museum is a large stretch of parkland and walkways. As you proceed south through this park area (away from the river), on the right you’ll see the Taiwanese Indigenous Cultural Center (原民風味館), which has a gift shop.

Walking further into the heart of the Fine Arts Park you’ll see some structures originally built for the Flora Expo. Nearby is a well-equipped playground with swings, rope climbing areas, and sandboxes for children, as well as a swing designed to accommodate wheelchairs.

From the playground, walk southwest toward the intersection of Zhongshan North Road and Minzu West Road (民族西路), and cross Zhongshan toward a sign reading “Taipei Expo Park: Yuanshan Gate 1.” Pass to the left of the sign, then bear right to follow the path to Maji Square. Don’t be put off by the small and unimpressive entrance to the Square to your right (you may feel as if you’re entering a garage).

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum is Taiwan’s main museum for modern art. Photo: Chris Stowers

Maji Square (集食行樂) and food court

The square’s origins go back to the Flora Expo. With its food court and assortment of hip restaurants – you can find everything from fish and chips to Mexican cuisine to Taiwanese oyster omelets – it has become a magnet for young people. In the evening, ballroom dancers can be found practicing there, and on weekends Maji Square hosts a farmers’ market where free samples are plentiful.

Proceeding through Maji Square and following the pathway as it curves left leads you back toward the Yuanshan MRT Station and the end of this loop.

Tourists stroll through Maji Square. Photo: Chris Stowers