Meet the Glamor of Old Taipei during its Golden Age

 

Dadaocheng (大稻埕) is a fascinating neighborhood in Taipei to experience how Taipei Old Town meets modern innovation. It is the first urban area to develop in Taipei and still is the culturally significant place for locals to upkeep with the tradition. A juxtaposition of red-brick western buildings from the Japanese colonial era and ancient houses from the Qing Dynasty exudes the nostalgic vibe. The main artery of Dadaocheng, Dihua Street (迪化街), is filled with artsy boutiques, tea houses, fabric stores, souvenir shops, traditional market, trendy coffee shops, art galleries and Taiwanese cuisine.

The historic neighborhood is a hot spot both for locals and visitors. With an ounce of exaggeration, every single Taipei resident flocks to Dihua Street before the Lunar New Year to prepare for their holiday celebration. For travelers, Dadaocheng is the place to learn about the economic and cultural development of the Old Taipei while soaking in the historic vibe from its Golden Age.

>> Heading to Taipei? Be sure to read my Taiwan Travel Tips from a local resident’s perspective. I shared everything I learned in the past three years living in Taiwan as an expat. 

Pin it for later!

A Guide to Taipei Old Town - Dadaocheng & Dihua Street: FaChuKong Temple | Meet the Glamor of Old Taipei during its Golden Age with Free Walking Tour | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links. If you purchase by clicking some of these links, I may receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Click here to read full disclaimer. 

>> Pssst! Heading to Taipei? Read my Taiwan Travel Tips with everything you need to know plan your perfect Taiwan trip. Also, see how you can add the city’s historical sites into your Taipei Itinerary and steal Taipei day trip ideas.

The Story of Dadaocheng & Dihua Street

In the early 1800s, Bangka (艋舺; Taiwanese name of the modern-day Wanhua District) on the south of Dadaocheng was the economic center. When the violent fight broke between different groups of Chinese immigrants due to commercial interests and religious conflict (known as Ding Xia Jiao Conflict), the losers of this clash relocated themselves to Dadaocheng. Ironically, Bangka soon lost its commercial advantage as the sediment made it difficult for ships to dock on the port. With the opening of Tamsui Harbor in the late 1880s, Dadaocheng became the new trade capital of the north.

Among many commodities, teas and textiles are two valuable trade goods exported from Dadaocheng. Even today, this neighborhood is full of traditional tea houses and fabric shops.    

When the Tamsui port opened, many foreign traders started to come to Taiwan. British tea merchant John Dodd exported Taiwanese oolong tea to the West. Marketed as oriental beauty tea (東方美人茶), it became a massive hit in Britain. Some believe that after the British Queen tasted the tea, she said it tasted like a beautiful Asian lady dancing in the mouth, which gave the nickname of “oriental beauty” to Taiwanese white tip oolong tea (白毫烏龍茶).

In recent years, the Taiwanese government initiated urban regeneration projects in Dadaocheng, in collaboration with the young-generation artists and business owners. They put significant efforts to restore and renovate the old historic buildings while bringing new business beyond traditional trades to revive the neighborhood.

You will see many URS marks on the businesses in this neighborhood. URS stands for Urban Regeneration Station, indicating the shop is part of this project. As they receive tax breaks from the government, they agree to open their shops to any guests to come and enjoy without the pressure of buying anything – even at the restaurant.

Taipei Old Town Free Walking Tour

Before I go further down the list of what to do in Dadaocheng and Dihua Street, I want to share how I explored this charming neighborhood. The first time I visited the Old Taipei, I joined a free walking tour. Then, I came back to further explore on my own. Here’s why.

If you’ve followed my blog, you might have noticed that I frequently do a free walking tour. I believe it’s an excellent way to learn the history and culture of a city with the perspective of a local expert. Especially for the historic neighborhood like Dadaocheng, I would not have known the historical and cultural significance of the places I visited if I had not joined the tour.

This particular one I joined is Taipei Golden Age Walking Tour by Like It Formosa. I am in no way affiliated with the group. I found it through my own Google research, and am sharing this information as a reference for you. The tour is offered every day (rain or shine) from 3 pm to 5:30 pm. The group meets at MRT Beimen Station Exit 3. If you are interested, sign up here to join the tour.

As to how most of the free walking tours works, at the end of the tour, you are asked to tip your guide. There is no obligation if you did not like the tour, but that never happened to me. You can tip as you please. I would recommend tipping at least NT$300 per person.

On the day of my tour, the rain was pouring down. And many businesses were closed (on Sunday)! So I decided to come back to the area to explore at my own pace and visit the places I missed the first time.

In this post, I’m sharing everything I learned from the tour, plus my own historical and cultural knowledge and research. The tour does not cover some of the places I introduced below; I indicated tour stops with an asterisk(*). If you want to check out all of them, you might need to spend a full day here.

Like It Formosa also offers the free Historic Walking Tour, introducing Taipei’s historical landmarks such as Longshan Temple, Ximen Red House, and National Chang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. 

Read more about 6 Historical Places to Visit in Taipei through storytelling here >>

Dadaocheng: Beimen (The North Gate) | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕 #Beimen  

Beimen* (北門; The North Gate)

The first stop of the walking tour is the North Gate. The Qing Dynasty (the last Chinese empire) developed the Taipei city center and decided to build the city wall and four gates (the North, South, East, West Gates). But one wealthy family who lived between the West and South Gates made a petition to build a private side gate (the Little South Gate), which was later granted. The Old Taipei ended up having five gates surrounding the city center. 

When Japan took over Taiwan, they felt the need to expand the city center to accommodate the growing population. They faced protest against demolishing the city wall at first. As a compromise, they tore down the wall while leaving the gates alone, except the West Gate (Ximen).

Standing from the North Gate, you can see two historic landmarks built during the Japanese colonial period. On the North side, the National Museum of Taiwan Railway Department Office is housed in a red-brick building, which is a typical example of the Japanese colonial era architecture. On the opposite end, the Beimen Post Office’s earth-tone structure contrasts with the other building’s bright red color. Because Japan was preparing to go on WWII, the Japanese had to tone it down to avoid air raids. Although I cannot say the architecture is beautiful, the building escaped the air bombings as intended.

I learned during the tour that this post office is the only place you can get NT$200 bill. During my three years in Taiwan, I have never seen this bill in real life. So you know how special and rare it is!

Do you want to know one more interesting fact about the North Gate? A few years ago, the mayor of Taipei City decided to demolish two overhead highways around the North Gate. He saw the need to showcase the North Gate located near the Taipei Main Station for international guests for the 2017 Summer Universiade. The highways were torn down within a week before the New Year when Taipei was near empty as the majority of citizens traveled south to their hometown in celebration of the holiday.

Location: Open Google Map
Hours: Open 24 hours

Pin it for later!

A Guide to Taipei Old Town - Dadaocheng & Dihua Street: FaChuKong Temple | Meet the Glamor of Old Taipei during its Golden Age with Free Walking Tour | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕 

FaChuKong Temple* (法主公廟; FaZhuGong)

FaChuKong Temple is a Taoist temple initially built in 1878. It is a place of worship that attracts tourists with its unique vertical structure, which looks quite different from other Taiwanese temples with the typical flat layout. Thanks to its vertical structure, it became the only temple in Taiwan equipped with an elevator. From Nanjing Street, the building might look even stranger, completely sealed with the red brick wall and no window.

In the 1970s, the city government planned to open up a road through the temple site. Instead of relocating the temple, the community leaders brainstormed and came up with the idea of lifting the temple above the ground level to let an opening underneath to build a road. The architect C.Y. Lee – yes, you guessed it right, the same person who created Taipei 101 – intentionally did not add windows on one side of the temple because it is not a good feng shui (Chinese geomancy) to let the air (i.e., good luck) directly flow out through the window.

Location: Open Google Map

Hour: 5 am – 9 pm

Dadaocheng - Tianma Tea House: 228 Incident | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

 

Tianma Tea House* (天馬茶房)

Across the street from FaChuKung, Tianma Tea House is a historical landmark, where the February 28 massacre was triggered. Often referred to as 228 (二二八; er er ba) in Taiwan, the incident was an anti-government uprising that ended with the massive killing of innocent citizens and provoked the White Terror and 38-year-long martial law period.

The 228 incident is an important piece of Taiwanese modern history that will help you understand the significance of Taipei’s popular tourist sites. I will write more details in another post.

Location: Open Google Map

See, Shop & Eat at Dihua Street

Dihua Street, Taipei - Yongle Fabric Market | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

A Dihua Street shop displays traditional Hakka flower pattern fabrics.

Yongle Fabric Market (永樂布業商場)*

Established in 1896, the Yongle fabric market used to host a thousand fabric merchants in its golden days. Although much smaller these days, you can find everything from Hakka flower prints to laces to beaded silk fabric here. Unfortunately, it was closed (on Sunday) when I visited. But I heard, on the second floor, you can buy fabrics(from NT$300/ma) and tailor suits or qipao (from NT$10,000) on the third floor. Now the first floor is a grocery market whereas the eighth and ninth levels host the Dadaocheng Theater for traditional Taiwanese drama and operas. 

Textile is still a significant trade in Taiwan. Not many people know, but many national soccer teams during the 2018 Russia World Cup wore jerseys made with Taiwanese specialty fabrics. I remember purchasing an umbrella made with fabrics by Formosa. At that time, I only knew Formosa as Taiwan’s largest plastic raw material producer and didn’t make a connection. During the tour, I learned that Taiwan has advanced technology to recycle plastic bottles into fabric fibers. Pretty neat, right?

Location: Open Google Map

Hours: 10 am – 6 pm (Closed on Sundays)

ArtYard (藝程)

ArtYard is created by a group of young people to promote artistic and cultural creation in Dadaocheng. You can find four ArtYard shops along Dihua Street and two in the proximity.

Across from the Yongle Fabric Market, an old pharmacy building once abandoned after the fire now houses a vintage bookstore, a tea house and a ceramics shop. ArtYard 1 (小藝埕) is situated on the first floor of this building. They sell various creative design products such as pottery, chopsticks, soaps, stationery, etc.

ArtYard 67 (民藝埕)* is another renovated ceramics shop and tea house. This house lets visitors gleam into the luxury life of wealthy families during the golden age. The typical home in Dadaocheng was built narrow and deep (like the Amsterdam canal houses) behind a small door because the property tax used to be calculated by the size of the door.

As I entered this quaint shop in a century-old house, it unfolds into three rooms connected through two courtyards. The first two rooms display designer ceramics and the last hall is Le Zinc Cafe & Bar. The enclosed courtyards with an open roof have a row of pottery jars to collect rains because water means fortune in Feng shui. It’s super easy to overlook, which happened to me as my eyes were fixated on all those lovely ceramic babies, but this house also hosts a traditional tea house, South Street Delight, on the second floor.

Although this shop did some damage to my wallet, it was my favorite! Pottery is my weakness, and I just couldn’t pass up those xiaolongbao (steam dumpling) sauce containers in a bamboo steamer and teacups with a bamboo handle (on sale!). There are so many other items caught my eyes, such as teacup sleeves made with Hakka fabrics, ceramic mood lights, bowls and teapots. If you love pottery, like me, stop by this shop! (You can also make a day trip from Taipei to Yingge Pottery Street, which I will write more in the future.)

ArtYard 23 (眾藝埕), ArtYard 167 (學藝埕) and ArtYard 34 (青藝埕) are other similar shops in a renovated Japanese-era house. ArtYard 195 (聯藝埕) is a cafe with desserts. I skipped these, but you can stop by if you’re interested.

Location: Open Google Map for ArtYard 67 (All store numbers indicate the address)

Hours: 9:30 am – 7 pm

ASW Tea House/ Watson Bar

 ASW Tea House is a 1920s retro tea house that looks like a gentleman’s home library & bar. Sitting on the window-side table on the second floor, you can people watch and look over the theater across the street. The tea house serves all-day breakfast, afternoon tea set with a scone, as well as other small eats like sandwiches. As an afternoon tea connoisseur (>> See where I had the best British afternoon tea in Asia), I have to say their British afternoon tea (NT$340) was a bit of a let down although it looked pretty for my Instagram pleasure. However, I would still recommend this place for the atmosphere. In the evening, the place turned into a bar serving alcoholic drinks.

Location: Open Google Map

Hours: 9 am – 6 pm, Bar opens Wed.-Sun. 7:30 pm – 12:30 am

Dihua Street, Taipei - British afternoon tea at ASW Tea House & Watson Bar on the second floor of A.S.Watson & Co. building | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

Xia Hai City God Temple* (台北霞海城隍廟)

Xia Hai City God Temple hosts multiple Taiwanese deities. The most important one is the City God. All of Taipei mayoral candidates come to this temple before the election to receive blessing from him. The more interesting deity here, though, is the Wife of the City God. I heard many married women worship her as she has the power to domesticate the husbands.

The Wife of the City God - Xia Hai City God Temple | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

The Wife of the City God has the power to domesticate husbands.

Nevertheless, the reason why this temple is popular among young people is the Taiwanese Love God. Unlike the western cupid, the Taiwanese Matchmaker is “Old Man Under the Moon” (月下老人). Taiwanese believe everyone was born with an invisible red string wrapped around his/her pinky finger. Whoever is at the end of that string is their other half to be destined to meet later on. If you physically carry a red string in your wallet and lose it – in a natural way without even noticing – you will soon meet THE one.

The Matchmaker’s popularity reaches beyond the border of Taiwan. He flew to Japan multiple times (on business class). Many Japanese visit this temple to pay respect to him.

How do you know the Matchmaker has worked his magic? Taiwanese couples, who met and married their spouse after praying him, mail their wedding cookie as an offering to God. Each year, this temple receives 6,000 of them. Believe it or not!

Location: Open Google Map

Fleisch Cafe (福來許珈琲館)

Across from the Xia Hai Temple, Fleisch is a trendy café housed in a historic building. Inside the antique interior, baristas serve hand brew coffee downstairs; and friendly waitresses in qipao serve delicious food and drinks upstairs.

It is a perfect spot for brunch, serving dishes made with traditional Taiwanese ingredients with a modern twist. Combo menus such as smoked duck breast with rice and milkfish with deep-fried shrimp rolls are paired with the side of a radish soup and salad. The garlic spread was fluffy and delicious on a French baguette. Their menu changes from time to time; however, at the time of my visit, other options are available, including a salad with smoked duck breast, scallion oil chicken, and braised pork belly. Don’t forget to try their famous hand brew coffee and desserts.

Location: Open Google Map

Hours: 11 am – 12 am (Fri. – Sat. open until 1 am next day)

Dadaocheng Story House on Dihua Street | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

URS44 Dadaocheng Story House (大稻埕故事工坊)

Dadaocheng Story House serves as the visitor center in a renovated western-style building. You can learn about the glamorous days of Dadaocheng and the present here.

Location: Open Google Map

Hours: 9 am – 5 pm (Closed on Tuesdays)

Gourmet Souvenir Shop* (新點子食品)

Next to ArtYard 67 is a gourmet souvenir shop that offers Taiwanese & imported teas, dried fruits, jams and assorted sauces. If you don’t want to buy a regular size Pu Erh (fermented) tea disc, you can find a small pack of discs that almost look like assorted chocolates. Taiwan’s dried mangos and pineapples are also popular.

Dadaocheng is dotted with many similar tasteful souvenir shops that sell tea bags, dried fruits and fish, as well as Chinese herbal shops and traditional pharmacies. Enjoy wandering around and try other shops, too. 

Location: Open Google Map

Hours: 8 am – 7 pm

Chen Wey Tea Garden (臻味茶苑)/ Lin Wu-Hu House* (林五湖本館)

The Lin family started as a fortunetelling business and later opened a tea house. This typical Fujianese house is said to be the best preserved, traditionally renovated Taiwanese shophouse. Traditional Fujianese architecture does not use a single nail but only use snatches. All wood panels are designed and cut like puzzle pieces to precisely fit one another. Instead of a fixed glass window, a board is put in place to open and close the hole on the wall. This tea house has an upper balcony inside, where the shop owner used to supervise the employees working downstairs. This Lin family residence is still an operating tea house; you can purchase and brew tea.    

Location: Open Google Map

Hours: 10 am – 6 pm

A Guide to Taipei Old Town - Dadaocheng & Dihua Street: Chen Way Tea House & Lin Wu-Hu House | Meet the Glamor of Old Taipei during its Golden Age with Free Walking Tour | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

AMA Museum – Peace and Women’s Human Right House* (阿嬤家和平與女性人權館)

AMA Museum is a memorial house for “comfort women” during WWII. Ama means grandma in Taiwanese.

The Imperial Japanese Army requisitioned many resources from its colonies to support WWII. They also forced women and girls from Taiwan, Korea, China and the Philippines into sex slavery before and during the war. Japan had a massive advertising campaign seeking female factory workers to coax innocent women and girls in those countries. Without knowing their faith to become military prostitutes, many enlisted to make money to support their family.

When I traveled to Europe, I was impressed by the way European countries handled the history of WWII. They not only successfully rebuilt the cities from the wars but also educate their people the truth about the war, Nazi and the Holocaust. Germany took the responsibility and apologized over and over again for the Holocaust, and teaches their people in an effort not to make the same mistake.

On the other hand, the comfort women issue has been the cause of constant conflicts and political tension between Japan and other formerly Japan-occupied Asian countries – especially South Korea – for a long time. Unlike Germany, the Japanese government is in denial of their wrongdoings until today. In Japanese history textbook, the government teaches their children with propaganda that Japan “modernized and developed” other Asian countries (as opposed to colonialize). There is no mention of comfort women anywhere in the history books. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Japanese don’t know the truth about their war history. In that sense, I thought it is meaningful to learn about the issue at AMA museum in the highly Japanese-influenced neighborhood. 

Location: Open Google Map

Hours: 10 am – 5 pm (Closed Mondays & Tuesdays.)

Admission: NT$100

Dihua Street, Taipei - Traditional Taiwanese necessities - bamboo baskets, rattan bags, Taiwanese nylon tote | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

The North of Dihua Street has a cluster of shops that sell bamboo baskets, rattan bags, Taiwanese nylon tote and traditional household items.

Dihua Street, Taipei - Traditional Taiwanese necessities - bamboo baskets, rattan bags, Taiwanese nylon tote | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

These light and affordable souvenirs are both practical and decorative.

Dihua Street, Taipei - Traditional Taiwanese necessities - bamboo baskets, rattan bags, Taiwanese nylon tote | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

Traditional Necessities at the north of Dihua St.

Around AMA museum, from No. 200 -350 are all old shops for traditional Taiwanese household items. Here, you can easily find paper lanterns, Taiwanese nylon grocery bags (Qie Zhi Dai), rattan bags and totes, wooden barrels, bamboo containers, and other necessities and house decorations. All of these make excellent souvenirs as they are all very affordable and light.

Location: No. 200-350 on Section 1, Dihua St.

Pin it for later!

A Guide to Taipei Old Town - Dadaocheng & Dihua Street | Meet the Glamor of Old Taipei during its Golden Age with Free Walking Tour | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

Rice & Shine URS329* (稻舍 URS329)

If you are looking for modern Taiwanese cuisine to try, check out Rice & Shine Restaurant towards the end of Dihua Street. This shop used to be a rice-husking factory and storage. The restaurant now offers rice dishes made with local ingredients. And this is a URS shop, which welcomes any guests to peep inside without dining in.

There is an art wall in front of the store, which is a replica of “Lords Seven and Eight,” a famous drawing by Taiwanese painter (see the photo above). This painting is famous for describing a mix of the Qing Dynasty and Japanese cultures during the Golden Age. You might also notice two cars in the picture. At that time, Taiwan only had ten vehicles, and two of them were in Dadaocheng, which shows how prosperous the neighborhood was.

Location: Open Google Map

Hours: 12 pm -3 pm; 5:30 pm – 9 pm

Dadaocheng: First Record Store | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕

First Record Store (第一唱片行)

Although a bit off Dihua Street, I wanted to mention this retro record shop in the neighborhood. We live in a time when we rarely buy a CD or cassette anymore, let alone LPs. I was surprised to see this old record shop still in business! While I am not sure if this is the first record shop in Taipei or just the name, it is interesting to see the classical Taiwanese LPs in display on the wall of the tiny shop.

Location: Open Google Map

Dadaocheng Map

Where to Stay in Dadaocheng

Why Staying in Dadaocheng?

  • Convenient Location: Although located on the East of Taipei, the neighborhood is super close to Taipei’s central transport hub, making it easy to explore within and beyond Taipei city. 
  • Cultural Experience: If you love history and culture, Dadaocheng is an excellent place to visit and stay. Some hotels in the area offer a rare opportunity to stay in a historically preserved house with modern comfort.
  • A Variety of Food Choices: From Ningxia Night Market to tea houses and restaurants on Dihua Street, the area offers various food options to satiate your taste buds.

Where to Stay in Dadaocheng | Play Design Hotel: Best Boutique Hotel in Taipei | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕 #TaipeiHotels

Play Design Hotel

Don’t stay at a hotel when you can live in a design gallery! Play Design Hotel is the most unique hotel I’ve ever stayed. I fell in love with the room I stayed, where I even got to choose my own furniture and decorations; everything inside was designed and made in Taiwan, except the refrigerator and laundry machine. The hotel is 10-min walk away from Dadaocheng and 5-min away from Ningxia Night Market, one of Taipei’s best night markets. Read my full review here to see why I highly recommend this boutique hotel >> 

Book Play Design Hotel here (Booking, Agoda)

 

Where to Stay in Dadaocheng | OrigInn Space | #Taipei #Taiwan #Dadaocheng #DihuaStreet #迪化街 #大稻埕 #TaipeiHotels

OrigInn Space

When I was exploring Dadaocheng, I stumbled upon a cute craft shop that I had to peek in. Housed in a baroque-style building with a handsome wooden-panel door, the design studio and shop turned out to be also a cafe and hotel. Everything from vintage decorations like a typewriter to the refurbished furniture, this place oozes out the retro-chic vibe. The hotel is only a few steps away from Dihua Street and 5-min from Taipei MRT Beimen Station.

Book OrigInn Space here (Booking, Agoda)

 

Taipei City Hotel

Taipei City Hotel is an excellent example of modern renovation in a well-preserved historic building. This 4-star hotel is situated in a contemporary tower on top of a beautifully restored century-old redbrick mansion (now Starbucks Reserve). The building is located 5-min away from Taipei MRT Daqiaotou Station. Carrefour supermarket is also conveniently located across the street.

Book Taipei City Hotel here (Booking, Agoda)

***

I enjoyed the time exploring the nostalgic Dadaocheng and visiting creative shops. I went to many more creative shops I didn’t get to mention here and saw numerous tea houses I wish to sit down and sip Taiwanese tea. However, I will leave them out for your pleasure of discovery. Have fun!

ENJOYED THIS POST? PIN IT!

%d bloggers like this: