Showing posts with label coffeeshops. Show all posts
Showing posts with label coffeeshops. Show all posts

Saturday, June 8, 2019

My favorite Taipei cafes: 2019 rundown

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In the past I've done reduxes of my favorite cafes for atmosphere - which is mostly accurate still, though a few places have moved (such as Nancy), rebranded as restaurants (Anhe 65), are now noisy tea shops (Red House Theater), or closed (Mono Cafe). I've done one for good coffee in Taipei as well - though that's a bit more outdated: My Sweetie Pie is long gone and there is now more than one George House in the Yongkang Street area. I don't think Naruwan Indigenous People's Market is still a thing anymore, either, though I haven't been in awhile.

Both posts are now badly in need of an update - most of the places I mentioned are still open, but I've found new haunts that I like just as much.

To deal with that, I'll leave those old posts as they are (links above) and provide here a new redux of where I'm imbibing right now. This isn't just for folks who live here - when I've traveled to other cities with hopping cafe scenes, I've found blogs in English by committed residents of those cities to be helpful guides as to where to go. So I want to be one of the people who does that for Taipei. Plus, as a grad student, I spend a lot of time in cafes getting reading done or writing papers so my list of good spots has grown.


You'll see some of my old entries repeated here, with new ones added, and I've prioritized places with outdoor seating, as that's so hard to find in Taipei. I've also noted where some cafes are near other good options, as seating can be so hard to come by. There's also a bias towards southern Taipei because that's where I live and hang out. Overall there's simply a lot of bias for "places I actually go to", so there's not much more to unite them thematically than that. No pretension to "the best" or "the top 10" or whatever - just my real world.

Instead of looking up each address like it's still 2010, I've gone ahead and made a Google Maps list, which you can access here. (I realized after I'd made it that I could actually create a map rather than just a list, but I'm too lazy to go back and re-do it, so this'll do for now.) 



Heritage Bakery and Cafe

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This 'newcomer' (opened in 2016) has quickly become a go-to spot in the Taipei Main Station/Ximen area. Pretty much everything about it is excellent - you feel as you walk in that you're somewhere in New York being exceedingly posh in that middle-class hipster sort of way. If that doesn't sound appealing to you - a bit to gentrificationy - don't let that deter you (you're not gentrifying much here - the neighborhood is much the same as it always was). Go for the bright, attractive upstairs seating with exposed brick walls, the very good coffee and other drinks (non-coffee drinkers can choose a variety of teas or fizzy drinks, or beer) and most of all, the desserts.


Oh, the desserts.
Westerners who complain that Taipei doesn't have good dessert options can shove some of this cake in their cakehole - from fluffy, perfect, cinnamony cinnamon rolls which sell out quickly to pink guava cheesecake to sea salt caramel Belgian chocolate cake all in generous or even huge servings, this place knows how to do Western-style desserts. The foccaccia sandwiches are quite good too - try the chicken avocado club.


It's not particularly cheap - drinks, sandwiches and a cinnamon roll for 2 will cost you NT$900 and change - but it's not insane. 90-minute limit on holidays and weekends. Otherwise, pretty much the only downside is that the air conditioner is often on full-blast, which makes it a bit chilly. Bring a cardigan.

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This Cafe ((這間咖啡)


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This is quickly becoming one of my favorite work cafes. Very strong social movement bent (check out the "I Support Taiwan Independence" banner in the back), good wifi and lots of plugs - it's quiet and you can usually get a seat. It's a little dimly lit but that just adds to the charm and isn't a problem if you're on a computer, and the table in back is set under antique Taiwanese milk glass hanging lamps. They have non-coffee drinks including beer, and a small selection of sandwiches and salads which are reasonably priced. I think I also like it because the guy who most often works there knows me on sight and knows my order by heart now. Plus they're open pretty late. There are other cafes nearby, such as Perch (nice, but often crowded) and PuiBui, which I haven't tried yet. 


Cafe Le Zinc


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Set in the back of an old Dihua Street shophouse, Le Zinc can be accessed through the Art Yard ceramics shop from Dihua, or directly from a little lane that snakes around the back. Seating is limited but I've never had a problem, and the well-lit long table has plugs. There's also strong wifi. Windows look out into the narrow courtyard of the old house, where the bathroom is. There's an extensive (but expensive) wine list - house wine by the glass is more affordable - beer, coffee and light food. Music leans toward the jazzy and old-fashioned, which I like. It's a good place to work (on account of the big table, wifi and plugs) and also a good place to meet friends just to chat.

In fact, this whole area is bursting with cafes - if you can't get a seat at Le Zinc, you can surely get a seat somewhere. There are so many that I can't possibly put them all on my map.

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Fleisch

Dihua Street is actually bursting with cafes these days - a huge change from my first few years here when it was a somewhat forgotten corner of the city where you could do a little fabric or dry-goods shopping and check out the old buildings, but not much else. If anywhere in Taipei has gentrified, it's here - and yet the fabric and dry-goods sellers still mostly seem to be in business. Where Le Zinc stands out for its table space and wine/beer list, Fleisch has some unique coffee drinks - my favorite being a latte with dried Mandarin orange (dried citrus slices are fairly common dried goods in Taiwan - they make a nice drink steeped in boiling water.)



Hakkafe

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A very new addition to the Dihua Street cafe scene, Hakkafe was opened by an entrepreneurial Hakka guy named Terry who is friendly and enthusiastic about his mission to create a modern cafe space with a traditional Hakka twist. The space is large, minimalist and quiet, done in shades of black, white, gray and wood. We especially liked the Hakka BLT (with Taiwanese pickled green chilis), and the brownie was wonderful. I highly recommend the Hakka breakfast tea - Terry noticed that England has a 'breakfast tea' culture but Taiwan, another tea-drinking nation, does not. So he set out to blend his own. The results are stunning.

This is the only place on the list that doesn't actually serve coffee, but you won't miss it if you try the Hakka Breakfast Tea.

It's also near funky-looking Chance Cafe (
一線牽), which I haven't tried yet. 
 

The Lightened

Formerly Backstage Cafe, which had a student activist/social movement theme (yes, a theme, but the former owner was apparently active in those circles), The Lightened is now associated with Anmesty International Taiwan. Located on Fuxing South Road near the back gate of National Taiwan University, The Lightened is unpretentious, well-lit, there are lots of plugs and good wifi, and you can always get a seat. The coffee is good (and fair trade), there's a small selection of beer and the desserts are homemade. On weekends a spunky black-and-white cat might be around.



Rufous Coffee


Almost directly across the street from The Lightened, Rufous is a bit darker, more famous, and is known for having top-notch coffee. Any of the single origin choices are good, and the Irish coffee is spectacular. That said, non-coffee drinkers won't find much here, and they don't have much in the way of food, either. I like it for its cozy, friendly atmosphere, though it can be hard to get a seat sometimes. Not far away there's a 2nd branch, which is quite close to URBN Culture. 



Shake House (雪可屋)


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 I simply cannot write a post about coffee without including my long-time hangout. I don't know why I go to Shake House. There's no wifi, nor any plugs. The bathroom is tiny and through a dilapidated passageway. Lamps are hanging flower pots with ribbons. The chairs are ancient. But I just love the place - it's like, in every city I live in, I need my student hangout in some old building that's falling apart, and I just get attached to it. That's how it is. The coffee is good, the chicken sandwiches above average, the beer selection excellent (and affordable as cafes go), they're open very late and the music is...eclectic. From odd movie soundtracks to church music to Johnny Cash to John Coltrane to whatever. You just literally never know what you'll get. Also, I know the owners and they know me.


If you really need plugs and wifi, Cafe Bastille is just across the lane (and there are other cafes in the area, including Drop Coffee and its new neighbor).


Drop Coffee (滴咖啡)

Drop is another coffeeshop I always include. On Xinsheng Road just across the street from NTU, the space is a renovated Japanese wooden house. The owner is passionate about coffee and does a mean siphon brew. The dog - 橘子 (Orange, although he is black) - is unfriendly in a comical way. There are a few teas on the menu as well as some desserts but really you come here for the coffee. A new place has opened across the lane which has more space, but I haven't checked it out yet.


Cafe Philo


If you go to any sort of political or activist talks or activities, you know Cafe Philo. They have a space downstairs just for that. Upstairs, they have generous space and a wide menu which includes food. I've been going there recently as I'm taking a course (not related to my Master's - because I'm insane) and I can always get a seat.



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This large black-and-white space on Yongkang Park advertises itself as an ice cream shop, but you can absolutely get coffee here. They have a good deck if you want to sit outside, and the coffee is high-quality. You can get some interesting coffee drinks here that you may not find elsewhere - I had iced coffee in a glass flask that I could pour over a giant ice ball, and my friend had a huge ball of iced coffee that melted as he poured foamed milk over it.


Caffe Libero


Another classic, I've found myself going here less ever since Red On Tree left (they used to sell excellent French-style pastry confections on-site), and they close early on Sundays. But I still love the place for its outdoor seating, quirky indoor decor, cigar selection and more.



Yaboo

Near 8% and Libero, Yaboo has decent sandwiches and - most importantly - cats! Also a nice atmosphere, but it fills up on weekends. A seat is not guaranteed. But the cats are sweet and friendly.


Angle

Another minimalist place, I like it for its weird shape and good coffee (though all they really have are coffee and a small dessert selection). Big windows let the light in, and it's called Angle because it's set in a weird triangular building outcrop on Rui'an Street (Pillow Cafe, which is also good and used to have a corgi, is nearby. They're under new ownership - hence no more corgi - and friendly.) I find myself here on the occasional Sunday as one can usually get a seat, and there are good views from the bar seats.



Slo-mo Cafe

This place has generous indoor seating and an outdoor area partitioned off from the lane - although smoking is allowed outdoors, it's never too overwhelming. The lane is not particularly busy (except at rush hour) - you may know it as the shortcut between Keelung Road where the gas station is and the Far Eastern Hotel or Carnegie's. The only real downside to sitting outside is that there are some mosquitoes - but that's an issue with all of the outdoor options listed. The desserts are standard cafe fare - though I like the lemon cake - and the glass of white wine I once got on a scorching day was pretty good. Even better? This place never seems to fill up.



Beautiful Tree Coffee (美樹咖啡館)

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This place is tiny and odd, run by a friendly older man. I absolutely love it. There's something of a rainforest theme going on, with a little outdoor area that has birds. And a ceiling with faux stained glass skylights! I'm not sure how to describe this place beyond that, it sort of defies description and, like many quirky spots, is in a gussied-up old building. The coffee was fine, and I genuinely liked their ham and cheese sandwich. Not too expensive, either. It's very close to Slo-mo as well as another place called Kaldi that I haven't tried yet. 



A8 Cafe

A8 is one of my favorite workspaces. It was opened by world-famous Taiwanese indigenous pop star A-mei and employs indigenous staff. The space has a sort of industrial decor (concrete floor, warehouse windows, exposed brick) with good lighting, big shared tables as well as individual tables and couch areas (one of which is set under a real potted tree - my favorite spot), quirky decorative elements, plugs and good wifi. They have a full menu of cafe standards as well as meals and alcohol, but they close a bit early (around 9pm, but they'll let you stick around until they really pack up for the night.) They're closed on Mondays and sometimes take business breaks, but nearby 青沐, which is technically a restaurant, will let you order a drink and just hang out if they're not too busy. There's also a nearby place called Pachamama which I haven't been to, but looks cool. 


The FOLKS

I go here because it's near my home - it's not really a workspace but you can sit outside on the little deck, and it's basically a cool, bare-bones espresso bar in a quiet lane. 


Cafe Costumice

The Big Mama of cafes where you can sit outside, Costumice is that cafe everyone knows about, and yet you can usually get a seat (not always outside, though). Its major selling point is the huge front deck (bring bug repellent) which feels like an outdoor urban oasis. Though they are a little expensive, they're worth a splurge. There's a modest but pretty good food menu, wine (including a sparkling white which makes for a decent champagne on a hot brunch-y day) and beer.



The Key

I'm including The Key's cafe - The Key is my gym - because I've been spending a lot of time there, and they make a real effort to provide quality fare at good prices (and members get discounts). Strong wifi, plugs, a range of sandwiches and a protein-rich chicken meal if you're keto and a good range of drinks beyond coffee make it a fine place to hang out. It's been useful for me to go to the gym, do a short session on one of the cardio machines, and then head to the cafe to get some grad school work done. There are a few tables outside as well. Just down the road is another cafe decorated with hanging plants which looks promising as well - I think it's where the churro place used to be - but I haven't checked it out yet. 


Coffee Tree (咖啡樹)

This spot near Zhongxiao Dunhua has a range of fattening desserts, beer, coffee and more. The interior decor is interesting, but we go because they have outdoor seating along a lane popular with pedestrians. It's near Quay Cafe which I haven't been to but would like to try. 


Coffeeology

My go-to spot when I'm in the Taipei Arena neighborhood. Coffeeology has truly excellent coffee at great prices. No food - just some cookie-like snacks - but you can get a large latte with Irish cream (real Irish cream, not just a flavor syrup) for very little money by coffeeshop standards. There are a few chairs outside, but the whole space is fairly open so you feel like you're outdoors even though you're technically not. Great beans to bring home at good prices, too. 



Zabu (in its new location)


I actually haven't been in ages because it's quite far from where I live, but if I'm in the north Tienmu area, this is my spot. It's the same Japanese-influenced hipster haven it's always been, with great rice balls, cats, and student-funky decor that it used to be in Shi-da all those years ago before the jerks made that neighborhood boring. 


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Every few months, I teach a six-week course at the Shi-da school of continuing education, on the campus that Yongkang Street hits as it ends. During one of these classes, I have to give my trainees their final exam and then stick around to pick it up, so I go to cat.jpg while they work.

You'll find cat.jpg one lane behind that Shi-da campus, where are a small klatch of cool places, including Bea's Bistro (friendly, but more of a restaurant), Nom Nom (below) and cat.jpg. There's also a local population of yellow-and-white street cats and an urban garden, some of whom are friendly and all of whom seem to be kept healthy and fed by the local community.

cat.jpg has two of their own cats who are sociable enough (one is firiendlier than the other). They have wifi, a big work table and sandwiches on the menu. 



Nom Nom


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Nom Nom is not only a great cafe (and place where you can buy ceramic ware), but also a decent brunch spot. Sandwiches and fried chicken are served with luscious little salads, and there's French Toast on the menu. Try the cumin chicken sandwich with apple and honey for sure. Their milkshakes are straight-up luxurious, served overflowing on lipped coasters so they don't mess up the table. The mint chocolate milkshake is garnished with mint leaves and a dried orange slice and then sprinkled with chocolate bits. Also, the place is Peak Taiwanese Hipster.

 

Classic Coffee (品客經典咖啡)


Classic Coffee, in the Shi-da Road neighborhood which used to be fun, doesn't look like anything special. There's food and perfectly good coffee. But this place has a major selling point - a super friendly old cat who will aggressively love you, and a similarly friendly fat corgi who gets jealous of the cat. It's my favorite cat cafe because that cat is just so in-your-face with the cuddles and snuggles, and it's a fluffy cat, too. 


Notch (Front Station)


I don't typically expect funky, studenty coffeeshops in the Taipei Main Station neighborhood - it's an area loaded with cram schools, cheap shopping, a few government buildings...not a place where students really hang out. But this particular branch of Notch brings it. It's also not particularly far from the Legislative Yuan, so if you need a place to go after a good hearty protest, this is a great choice. When the same-sex marriage bill was passed last month, I spent a period of time here out of the pouring rain, watching the deliberations at the Legislative Yuan on their good wifi (far better than trying to connect alongside 20,000 other people standing outside in bad weather). 


Look Upstairs (上樓看看)


An excellent 'work cafe' in Xinyi near City Hall Station, this place has good drinks and beer. There's food too, but it's a little expensive. Lots of space, good light, wifi and plugs - you can settle in here to get things done, especially upstairs. Some tables and countertops even have desk lamps. 


2730 Cafe

Another cat cafe! This little place in a tiny shack-like building is very close to Liquid Bread and is attached to a vintage store (of which there are not too many in Taipei). I've only had the beer and coffee - they have a DPP beer! Which...odd, but tasted fine! But a big selling point here are the two cats, one black and the other white. It's also easy to get to from Xinyi, an area that isn't exactly known for its great cafes, so it's a solid choice in that neighborhood.



BreakFirst Cafe & Studio (棗點咖啡)

Sometimes we take care of a friend's pets in the Dazhi area, and this is our go-to when we're around there. The main selling point (beyond seats usually being available) is that they have several cats! 



Lion / LineUp Dessert


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I ended up liking this place because I reviewed it for FunNow - but it's a funky little spot in an area not known for cafes (the Zhongshan Elementary School MRT area), with great desserts and solid croque sandwiches. The coffee is just OK, but I go for the desserts.


Jing Xin Cafe (晶心咖啡館)


To be honest, this isn't a place I go to hang out - it's sort of a hybrid coffeeshop and crystal shop in an odd corner of Taipei. But, they roast Taiwanese coffee beans which make great gifts (and they sell them at a reasonable price), so I wanted to include them for this reason. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Dragon Boat Weekend in Yunlin County

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Ao Tu (凹凸) Cafe in Douliu - probably the loveliest cafe in an old Japanese home I've been to in Taiwan


Over the summer Brendan and I traveled quite a bit in Taiwan - I had some work to do in the south, and we decided to explore an oft-ignored corner of the west coast: the rural county of Yunlin, sandwiched between Zhanghua and Chiayi. It seemed like a good time to go, as Yunlin recently got its own HSR station - no need to hop a bus from some other county with a larger city transport hub (Yunlin itself has no city large enough to realistically be called a 'transport hub').

I have a lot of great things to say about this trip! First, the food is cheap, tasty and local. Second, the towns themselves are small enough and centralized enough to mostly be walkable, though without your own vehicle exploring, say, old farmhouses and mansions in the countryside is not possible (perhaps with a bike, but not on foot). Each town has fairly good public transportation to the other towns around it - we felt no need at any point to rent a car, which to me is an important benchmark for a good trip. If you read this blog you know how strongly I criticize the idea that one should have to be a comfortable driver to explore Taiwan, or be willing to drive in the urban craziness that often characterizes even mid-size cities here with scooter drivers who, quite frankly, could stand to take a few drivers' ed classes. We were not surprised by the friendliness of locals - that was basically a given - but were quite taken with how much easier it is compared to, say, a decade ago when I arrived in Taiwan to get a cup of coffee in a nice cafe in towns that many consider to be backwaters.

There is no specific reason to go to Yunlin, though if you are interested in Japanese-era architecture and Matsu temples you will find quite a bit, but for me that's a part of what made it worth going to. We had no specific tourist itinerary to tick off - we just rolled up in this or that town and saw what it had to offer.

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The Eslite in a funky old building in Huwei - surely someone more knowledgeable than I knows what this used to be?
Here are a few towns in Yunlin that you might want to explore (note: we did not make it to every one):

Beigang
Atmospheric back streets, a temple in a flood plain (no guarantee you'll actually get to see it), gorgeous Chaotian temple and an old theater, some Japanese-era architecture and old street that are of mild interest. Surprisingly, the best Vietnamese food I've had in Taiwan as well. Also, they have a long-standing rivalry with Xingang (below) over the route of the annual Matsu pilgrimage, which I have been to the kick-off of.

Xiluo
A long, lovely old street, part of which is developed for tourism and part of which still retains that old-school Taiwan flavor, Fuxing temple (hope of yet another well-known Matsu shrine), soy sauce, a creepy abandoned theater

Huwei
Taiwanese puppetry museum, a few old buildings scattered about (at least one was visible from the puppetry museum, where we waited for a bus to Beigang - unfortunately we did not have time to spend much time there), a small eslite in a cool, weird old Japanese-era building

Douliu
A long old street full of well-preserved Japanese shophouse architecture that has not been developed for tourism, "famous" local squid soup, a temple that's Daoist in the front and Confucian in the back, some old Japanese wooden houses and several very good coffeeshops. Excellent night market once a week, usually Saturdays

Gukeng
Coffee and a waterfall (we did not get to visit) - you probably need a car to get to the waterfall

Xingang (technically just over the border in Chiayi) - we didn't get to go here but apparently there are a few tiger temples worth checking out as well as the destination temple for the Matsu pilgrimage (well, technically the mid-point - this is where Matsu stops and heads back to Dajia)

Getting to and around Yunlin
I would honestly recommend just taking the HSR, though there are buses from Taipei and other major cities. The HSR station is outside of Huwei, with frequent buses into town and to other towns (but not Beigang, you have to connect in Huwei for that at an ill-defined stop near the puppetry museum). Towns generally have buses running between them but for some smaller towns, you may have to wait awhile (we had a 1.5-hour wait for a Beigang to Xiluo bus).

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A weird...shop? Home? in Huwei. The friendly folks hanging out there gave me tea. 


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Accommodation

All of these towns have standard third-rate "business hotels" for local businessmen - these hotels tend to be a bit run-down and depressing, but clean enough. I suggest avoiding them and staying at airbnbs whenever possible, especially if you speak Chinese. The only town that didn't seem to have an airbnb option was Beigang. In that case, spend a bit of extra money and stay in the "nicest hotel in town" which is...fine. It's also above a pasta restaurant. We were happy with all of our accommodation.

I won't list where we actually stayed as I think airbnb is technically illegal in Taiwan, but they shouldn't be too hard to find.

Beigang - "Good Stay Homestay/'Nine Long' Pasta" (好住民宿/九久PASTA - don't even bother with the English name) - a bit expensive though we were given the 'honeymoon suite', but undeniably centrally located and the best hotel in town. They are used to foreign guests but I am not at all sure they speak English.

Xiluo  - a clean room with a private bathroom owned by a nice family on Fuxing Street, a bit far from Yanping Old Street but walkable - you'll mostly deal with their son who is very friendly. The shop on the first floor sells temple accoutrements (incense, paper offerings etc) in the front and has a local-style beauty salon (threading, eyelashes, back massage etc) in the back. If the son is free he'll pick you up at the bus station. Best if you speak Chinese or Taiwanese. A little far from Yanping Old Street but a pleasant enough walk.

Douliu - this one has an interesting title to their airbnb page, but book here and you'll get to stay in a really interesting house in a small cul-de-sac community with an old-school feel and very friendly dog (I seriously love that dog and still miss him). The parents may speak English - I don't know, we never used it - their son definitely does, but he may be away for work. The parents are super nice and if they like you will make you lots of tea. A short enough walk to everything, including a very good cafe close by.

Our trip

We started from the HSR station, where we hopped a bus to Huwei and connected in town to Beigang (the "bus stop" is a bit of roadside outside of a municipal-looking building next to the puppetry museum, which I'd love to return and check out someday), arriving in Beigang in the early evening. Huwei looked interesting and I wish I'd gotten a chance to explore it more. The road to Beigang led through some very rural farmland, and as we approached town we noted quite a few picturesque old farmhouses and rural mansions. With a car or bike, it would be worth it to head out and try to find them.

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I was not the only one that found the weird shop in Huwei to be of interest. 


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Turtles on the bus


I noted with some glee - and a little sadness - that the bus driver drove around with his pet turtles in an aquarium. Cute and quirky but probably not that much fun for the turtles. Anyway, I'd be interested to know if anyone heading that way ends up on the Turtle Bus.

We checked into our hotel in Beigang, enjoying the atmospheric back streets, before heading to Chaotian temple just before sundown.

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I didn't intend for this guy to be in my photo, but there he is.


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This isn't any less creepy after dark


Chaotian temple, founded in 1694 but renovated and expanded several times up through the 20th century, really is lovely. Many doors bear placards bequeathed by various Taiwan notable people, including several former presidents. Notably, although it is one of the most well-known temples in this part of Taiwan - and even known across the country - it is not the temple where the internationally-known Matsu pilgrimage ends. That's just over the county line in Xingang, and if you think the two temples must have some sort of rivalry over this, you would be absolutely right.

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A (likely) Japanese-era wooden house in Beigang


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Perhaps they are setting their sights a little unrealistically high comparing Beigang to Paris


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The "honeymoon room" at our hotel in Beigang


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Not a clue. 


I won't bother to describe Chaotian in words. Enjoy some photos.


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I love the antimacassar-style colorful crochet work here


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After walking a bit and noting not only the giant Matsu sculpture we could never seem to actually get to (I think it was at the top of a building we couldn't access), we noted that if the ugly shopping mall across from the temple were open, there would seem to be some sort of cafe in it, we wandered back past the hotel, towards the bus stop where we were dropped off. On our walk downtown we'd passed what looked like a re chao (熱炒) place where the food is good and the beer is cheap and plentiful and decided it was as good a place as any for dinner.

瓠仔貴燒烤熱炒 - I can't even begin to translate the restaurant's name into real English
北港市中華路103號
Zhonghua Road #103 (intersection of Zhonghua and Taishun roads)

Along the way we got a bonus sight - a cute little church with a seriously creepy Christmas display at precisely the wrong time of year.


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I TOLD YOU IT WASN'T ANY LESS CREEPY AT NIGHT
The next day we returned to the temple but this time continued along Zhongshan Road. The old street here is a bit more local than the kitschy toy shops and glycerin soap stores you see in the old streets of northern Taiwan. More local specialties and dried foods, more items for templegoers and pilgrims. It was interesting but not as architecturally notable as other old streets, with the possible exception of Swallow House.
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What I enjoyed about this stretch of road was coming across some sort of religious ceremony with a spirit medium. I've shown this to a few students but nobody seems to know what ceremony is being performed or why.

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We did cross the bridge to Chiayi County (Beigang is nestled in a bend in the river that separates Yunlin and Chiayi), which is completely unremarkable. There is a cute but nondescript temple at the other end, that's about it. If you're short on time, skip it. I didn't think it was that impressive, but not everyone agrees with me.

We didn't get to see this but apparently there is a recently-resurfaced temple in the riverbed that, if you can get there, would definitely be worth a look. (I'm searching for the information on that now, and having little success).

A bit more interesting are some of the old Japanese municipal works down a road to the left as you approach the bridge. You can find them on any Beigang tourist map - yes, such maps exist and they can be had in the pasta restaurant/hotel we stayed at. Most notably, the Beigang Waterway (Aqueduct?) Cultural Park (北港水道頭文化園區), which is worth swinging by, though I didn't take any photos good enough to include. Near it there is a puppet shop - the puppets clothing is mass-produced but the owner carves and paints the heads himself.

Around this time the sky began to darken, and we ended up in quite a rainstorm as we worked our way back up towards our hotel. Closer to the north end of downtown is a closed-down Art Deco theater. Worth a look if you are in town.  I looked on Google Maps to try to find it again, but was unable to - if I ever figure out the exact location I'll come update. (In any case, you can't go inside). 

And we enjoyed a few more old temples that are not as well-known as Chaotian Temple:


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And this interesting home - the owner happily invited us in and showed us around.

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I feel like something is missing here. 


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Apparently I am not the only one who leaves this wish at every temple


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We then picked up our luggage and headed to Taixi Bus Company (台西客運) at #117 Zhongzheng Road, which is a bit south of the bus station - more like a parking lot - where we were dropped off. We learned that the next bus to Xiluo wouldn't leave for close to 2 hours, so we wandered next door where we'd noticed a Vietnamese restaurant.

And by god, it was amazing. We got a regular pho with clear but deeply flavorful, velvety broth and a more "curried" pho that was also delicious. On top of that, we got fried rolls with lettuce, a typical Vietnamese dish. It should be located at #115 Zhongzheng Road (北港市中正路115號).

I highly recommend planning to eat at this place for lunch by figuring out when your particular bus leaves and showing up early.

We finally hopped a bus to Xiluo, where our airbnb host was kind enough to pick us up (the airbnb is about a 1km walk from the bus station). It didn't take more than a half hour to get there - distances are not far and roads are flat.

There is so much Japanese-era architecture in Xiluo that you can't help but notice it on the bus into town.

We put our bags down and walked up to Fuxing temple, where we dallied until nearly sunset. This temple is right where Fuxing Road meets Yanping Road, and was built in the 1700s. It houses a famous Matsu idol called the "Taiping Matsu".

As dusk set in we walked down the non-touristy part of Yanping Road, where most of the intriguing architecture can be found. We also walked down to the touristy end, but night had fallen by then and everything was closed, including the cafes.

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I had noticed more than a few goose restaurants, so we decided on goose noodles for dinner, choosing the place right across from the bus station near Cafe 85. name and address?

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Here's the thing about our travels - we like to explore during the day, get dinner and rather than party at night, just find a nice cafe where we can sit, read and relax. If there is an especially good bar or lounge we might go, but really we're nerds who like to read. There are cafes in Xiluo, but they are on the old street and close early when the tourists leave.

Downtown Xiluo at night looked more lively than I would have expected. I honestly hoped we'd be able to find something. Even a Starbucks. Anything. We walked and walked.

Nope. Nothing.

So we ended up hanging out at Cafe 85, which is nobody's idea of fun. There is not a lot to do after dark in these small towns, so you can always be sure to get back to your accommodation earlyish - we liked this as it meant we might get to chat with the airbnb family, or at least ensure they didn't worry about us (if you're out past midnight in Xiluo something probably is very wrong).

Another tip for traveling in Yunlin: be smart, bring some of those filter coffee packets, the kind that have paper legs that sit on your cup and make a real cup of coffee, and a travel mug. Some creamer if you like that. You can always get hot water but getting coffee in the morning might entail a longer walk than you're used to.

The next day was a bit better. We got rained on, and how! But the Art Deco architecture on the touristy end of Yanping street really is unique, including these oft-photographed buildings:

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And while small, the little tourist-oriented market included a guy selling lychee liquor he'd made himself, which we bought. "Famous" Yunlin soy sauce was also available but I'm more interested in lychee liquor. There were a few small coffeeshops which was perfect, as it poured for some time. We sat and read books in one until the storm passed, before wandering down to the abandoned theater.

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Anyway, enjoy some photos of the theater. Which, by the way, has an open door. You can go right in. Don't even worry about it. We are not major urban explorers or explorers of abandoned spaces and we never felt it was a problem, or particularly dangerous. If you are not hobbyists but want to dip your toe into creeping around abandoned spaces this is a great place to start, is what I'm trying to say.


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Nearby is a nondescript little temple, worth mentioning only because on that day, someone had paid for a puppet show to be played to the gods. A few local obasans also watched, and we stayed for awhile too. But not knowing the story, a few minutes was enough (I can sit through entire Taiwanese operas as long as I know the story).

There is also a bridge from Xiluo to Zhanghua county, but being generally unimpressed with bridges and that particular bridge being a few kilometers' walk, we skipped it. You probably can too.

It was late afternoon, then, when we headed back to the bus station and hopped a bus to the county seat at Douliu.

Douliu, being a bigger town generally, has, well, more. The traffic circle in front of the train station has quite literally the ugliest "public art" I've ever seen - so ugly I actually liked it, like it was so horrid that it circled back around to being amazing. Taiping Road branches off of this circle, but we wanted to drop off our bags.

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We both paused at the traffic circle in Douliu to really digest how ugly that thing is. It is quite possibly the ugliest piece of public architecture/"art" I have ever seen. Wow. So ugly. 


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We walked to the airbnb this time (but when we returned to catch the shuttle to the HSR, we got a ride). Down Guangfu Road, past a nice little coffeeshop and a school, in a small residential area behind a Quanlian (全聯) supermarket. Quite walkable, in fact, though it would be annoying in the rain. For once, the skies were kind.

It was already getting dark, but there was just about enough light left to eat some squid soup and then head down Taiping Street. The soup was delicious, and can be found at 阿國獅魷魚羹 at the corner of Datong and Zhongzheng Roads (大同中正路口).

Then we managed to catch a taxi by the train station out to the night market, which was on the edge of town - held only on Saturdays because Douliu only has so many people.

It was clearly quite a good night market on clear nights - a huge empty field revealed how large it would normally have been. It had rained so much the weekend we were there that only a small portion of it - perhaps one-fifth - was open. It didn't cater to Western tastes - don't think you're going to the rural equivalent of Tonghua or Shilin here - but there was good food to be had and vendors to look at. We even managed to catch a taxi back - something we were worried about in sleepy little Douliu, so much so that we got our original taxi driver's phone number - passing a few high-end restaurants (some looking nicer than they really needed to in Douliu) and the fanciest Donutes I've ever seen. For those of you unfamiliar with Donutes (yes, that is how it's spelled), it's a mediocre cafe chain that can be found in most cities in Taiwan except Taipei. There is even one in Donggang). This Donutes looked like a blinged-out nightclub, and I wasn't sure what to make of that.

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Anyway, don't go to Donutes. In Douliu, you actually have options! In addition to Ou Tu Cafe in a Japanese-era wooden house mentioned below, I can't remember when we went but So Coffee (騷咖啡) cafe near our homestay is also quite nice - huge smoothies, good coffee, food and a little boutique area selling handmade leather goods. And, they are centrally located and open reasonably late for a town like Douliu.

So Coffee (騷咖啡)

#15 Wenhua Road, Douliu
斗六市文化路15號


We headed back to our homestay and the hosts offered us tea - we watched TV, chatted and drank tea until about 11pm! Their living room was very traditionally decorated, so it was quite lovely in fact.

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CREEPY


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Taiping Street



The next day rain struck again. We started out going to the Dao/Confucius temple up the road from our airbnb, called 善修宮(Shan-Xiu Gong) off of Yongfu Street. The front is a typical Daoist temple, nothing you haven't seen before. It is dedicated to Guandi, and is fairly new. Then you can go to the back hall, which is a new-ish Confucian temple. The interesting thing about this place is not how it looks - it's pretty typical. It's that, while Buddhist and Daoist temples often intermingle in a syncretic display of gods and traditions, Confucian-Dao temple mashups are rare. Rare enough that I do not know of another one existing.

Behind it, where Wenbin Road meets Neihuan Road, there appears to be another cafe called Lao Wu (老誤咖啡) which seems to have a garden - but we didn't go. 



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The Dao-Confucian Temple


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The Dao-Confucian temple was not that aesthetically different, it was just unique to see the two temple styles appended to each other


We then wandered down Taiping Street again, turning this time at the end toward a group of Japanese wooden houses I'd seen on Google Maps. We found them, and one of them had been turned into a cafe so hip that it could hold its own in Taipei or Tainan. I can't find much about them - you can walk around the area but not enter any of the buildings other than the cafe.

You'll know it because it's the picture that headed up this post - I liked this place so much I gave it the top spot. 

凹凸咖啡館 (Oh-Two Cafe)

Yunzhong Street Lane 9 #12 (near the intersection of Yunlin and Yunzhong)
斗六市雲中街9巷12號(雲林雲中路口)
We entered intending to stay for awhile before heading out and walking around town some more, only to be hit with the worst thunderstorm yet - a true rumbler, black skies and all. We stayed put for far longer than we ordinarily would have and ended up changing seats several times (there is actually a time limit to how long you can stay but they weren't busy so they didn't kick us out). It rained for so hard and so long that we must have stayed for hours. 

As the storm screamed in, I sat from my comfortable perch in a sheltered cafe looking out over a small field, where a woman in a traditional hat was working in a garden at the far end. She worked almost right through the rain, only giving up when the lightning started to get frightfully close. 



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We didn't eat here but we should have


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In the Dao-Confucian temple


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Enjoying our coffee while Auntie is straight savage in the garden in the pouring rain


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Basically a perfect place to spend a rainy afternoon


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Hanging out on the porch in the rain at Oh-Two Cafe

The next day, we caught a ride back to the bus station and took the shuttle to the HSR without incident - and this, my friends, is what it means to have sensible public transit.

Thoughts

All in all, I'm not sure any one town in Yunlin can hold your attention for more than a day. I would have liked to do more in each, but the inclement weather drove us indoors for much of it. I don't mind that though - it was meant to be a relaxing vacation and the chance to sit around and read as a storm passes by is fine by me. In any case you can't make plans in Taiwan based too much on the weather because if you do, you'll never go anywhere. I would have liked an extra few days to explore Gukeng, Xingang and Huwei, but at the same time I was satisfied. Yunlin won't blow your socks off - we're not talking preserved architecture on the scale of Kinmen, gorgeous Pacific Island vistas like the east coast and Green and Orchid islands or even loads of temples like Tainan or Lugang. But if you're an expat looking for something a little more local and unique, who doesn't want to just check off sights on a list but would rather hang out, walk around and absorb small town atmosphere in fairly pleasant if somewhat sleepy towns, Yunlin actually has a lot to offer. If anything, its status as a place nobody who isn't from there goes to means a lot of architectural gems that have been razed for new development in more hopping places have lasted in Yunlin.


This is especially true if you're interested in visiting some of the 'heartlands' of Taiwanese culture - if you live in Taiwan, pretty much every local person you know has an ancestor from Miaoli or Yunlin (if their 92-year-old Hakka grandmother isn't from Miaoli, their 95-year-old Hoklo grandmother is quite likely from Yunlin) or just want to see what these towns your friends return to on Chinese New Year are like. Or, if you want to know where all the young Taiwanese who are sick of shitty soul-sucking office jobs working for The Man are going to start their hometown cafes...it's places like Yunlin. 


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Old Tatung fan at Ou Tu (凹凸) Cafe


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I just thought this bear looked really sad and I wanted to share