Lugang – also spelled Lukang – is where you want to go if you’re interested in ancient Chinese traditions and old Taiwanese culture.
Quick facts about Lugang:
- It’s one of Taiwan’s oldest towns,
- Lukang means “Deer Harbor”,
- it was central Taiwan’s most populous city until the 20th century,
- Lukang’s port used to bustle with immigrants and trading junks from mainland China (during the Qing Dynasty),
- the town is well known for having the most gorgeous temples on the island, curiously curved streets and fine traditional handicrafts.
Matsu Temple – Tianhou Gong
Witness temple rituals, divination and ancient Chinese religious practices at Taiwan’s oldest Mazu Temple.
If you suffer from smoke allergy stay away from here. No joke! All day long, Taiwanese people congregate here from all over Taiwan to burn huge amounts of incense to honor Matsu (Mazu), Goddess of the Sea.
It is said that the image of the “black-faced queen” was brought here in 1684. Lugang’s Matsu Shrine also houses Chinese imperial tablets and other interesting religious artifacts such as weapons, stone carvings and Chinese paintings and calligraphy.
It’s imperative you come have a look. A visit to this archaic Chinese temple is truly unforgettable.
Old Market Street – Visit The Blue Lotus
Lugang’s Old Market Street has to be my favorite pedestrian alley on the island. You just see so much while strolling down the atmospheric narrow lanes; artists painting Chinese fans and writing calligraphy on lanterns, preserved Qing dynasty buildings, elders sipping tea or playing Mahjong… The settings seem to come straight out of Tintin’s Blue Lotus adventure. It all looks so… Chinese!
Make sure you don’t miss Nanjing Palace and Elders Hall at the northern end of the alley. Both sites are rich in colors and will bring you attractive photographic subjects. If nothing happens when you get there, be patient and wait. Something will present itself – a parade, crazy folk rituals, some guy doing a Chinese dance… Just wait and get your camera ready.
Nine-Turns Lane and First Market
South of Market Street, you’ll find First Market, an outdoor traditional bazaar that sells Taiwanese snacks and cheap Chinese dishes. Nothing too fancy here… Grab a plastic stool and enjoy your meal while watching the crowds walk by.
From here, you can walk to Longshan Temple through Nine-Turns Lane – a narrow, winding alley lined with some of the oldest houses you’ll see in Taiwan.
The beautiful shrine of Longshan is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Taiwan for good reasons. It’s old, it’s vast, the woodcarving is exquisite and the halls often host impressive religious ceremonies. It’s a quiet place – not the kind where you would see self-flagellation or other bloody rituals.
Take a break at Wenkai Academy
Tired of the crowds but still want to do some more sightseeing? Head for the Wenkai Academy, a compound of shrine, school and temple in the southern part of Lugang – a five-minute walk from Longshan Temple. The buildings are colorful, huge calligraphic tablets adorn the walls and the whole site is surrounded by a quiet park with tall trees.
Folk Arts Museum of Lugang
I won’t lie to you – I didn’t even go inside this one! So I can’t really tell what it’s like or recommend a visit there. Not that I didn’t have the interest… It’s just that, well, look at the sky on the picture… I just felt like it was gonna be a waste of good weather if I went in. I’m also more into discovering little hidden alleys. Nice building though, don’t you think?
Mr. Wu is known throughout the island as “the most skillful painter of folk lanterns”. Travel writers from all over the world have come to report on this local talent and have turned his shop into a must-visit place in town. His lanterns range from NT500 to NT5000. It’s only a stone’s throw away from Matsu Temple at 312 Zhongshan Road.
Getting There and Away
From Taichung: The Changhua Bus Company has a bus stop in front (diagonal) of the Taichung train station. Buses leave every 15 minutes and cost NT$60. Should take about an hour.
To Taichung: There’s a station on Minquan Rd, by a Family Mart convenient store, that has frequent buses back to Taichung.
From Taipei: Ubus Company has few direct buses every day, but to me, it makes more sense to take the train to Changhua, and then take a small bus to Lugang from the train station.
To Taipei: The Ubus Company has an office on Minquan Rd.