It’s 12 am. Imagine a place that’s crawling with people. It’s loud, alive and exciting! People are darting here and there. There is a frenzy of activity. You can see bright, flashing lights. You can hear a plethora of fast paced music from many corners. Where are you?
In any western city, the hub of the nightlife scene is usually the street with the most popular bars or pubs. In Taiwan, it’s the area with the nightmarket. While there are many bars and pubs in the cities, nightmarkets are the main after hours attraction. I had read a lot about these before coming to Taiwan, and was SERIOUSLY excited to see them.
Taiwan’s nightmarkets are among some of the best known ones in the world. They can sprawl over a few city blocks. Vendors on either side of the streets are hawking their goods and the noise can be deafening. You can get pretty much ANYTHING here (quality is another question though).
Nightmarkets are garish creatures. Hundresd of vendors are vying for your attention. You see everything from neon coloured lights to sexually suggestive posters. There are spinning wheels, flashing lights, brightly painted banners….everything. Sometimes night turns into day. It’s like a carnival on steriods:
Loud, loud, loud! Over the racket of thousands of people talking you are exposed to screaming from loudspeakers as well as stereos blasting anything from “Barbie girl” to traditional chinese music. If you make even brief eye contact with a vendor, be sure to expect a smile and a stream of gibberish (assuming you don’t speak Mandarin).
This is why I go to the nightmarkets. There are literally hundreds of different things to try at the various food stalls. Dumplings, soups, fried snacks, seafood, steaks…you name it, you can probably find it. Food from all over the world is represented, along with some other, unrecognizable items:
And of course, no nightmarket is complete without chicken feet:
Oh yeah…you may walk past a few stalls that smell like the unchanged, months old diaper of a saurkraut eating baby. This stall will typically have a long lineup of Taiwanese people salivating like hungry wolves.
Welcome to “stinky tofu”, a delicacy here. I personally think that it tastes like someone took a s*** in your mouth, but the Taiwanese LOVE the stuff. Even Socrates wouldn’t be able to figure that one out:
Also available are swarms of fresh fruit:
And my favourite, Taiwan BBQ what they call “small food” i.e. snacks:
Besides food, you can get a lot of other stuff. Everything from clothing to chinese carvings to toys is available at dirt cheap prices. Obviously the quality is not top notch, but if you are looking for something cheap, you will find it here:
Here is a video tour of a nightmarket. It is less crowded than usual, but gives an idea of what to expect:
Nightmarkets are rambunctious and noisy affairs. If you are claustrophobic or have an aversion to noise, you will have a horrible time, but if not, it’s a fantastic experience. They can be found all over Taiwan; even small towns have their own once a week. There is no set open or close time…it’s usually crowd and weather dependent.
Prices fluctuate, but are generally quite cheap. I’m not sure about clothing and other stuff, but you can get pretty full on between 100 – 300 NT (US$3 - 10 ish) depending on how much you want to eat.
Wikipedia has a list of all the major ones in Taiwan.
So go on, put your walking shoes on, grab some change, chew on some chicken feet and check out a nightmarket.