Devouring street food at Raohe Night Markets, reaching the sky at Taipei 101 or shopping at Ximending – these activities usually spring to mind when one thinks of the land of bubble tea. For good reason, Taiwan’s capital is a fave among many foreign visitors. However, the oft-overlooked Taichung is equally deserving of a spot on the island nation’s must-see list.
Much of Taichung’s history is similar to that of Taipei. Taiwanese indigenous people were the first inhabited in this centrally located basin before it was colonised by the Dutch and then the Qing Dynasty. In 1895, the area came under Japanese rule when the Empire of Japan annexed Taiwan. During this time, Taichung ( 臺中市) received a major upgrade. Essential infrastructure, such as roads, dams and factories, were constructed. As a result, Taichung grew from several scattered hamlets to a centre of commerce and culture.
Since the Republic of China (ROC) took control over the island nation in 1949, Taichung has continued to evolve into a world-class city. Though less popular than Taipei, the city is a centre of higher education, commerce, as well as a major tourist destination. In fact, Taichung is often referred to as Taiwan’s Cultural City thanks to its abundance of cultural attractions.
Taichung Old Town
As first glance, Taichung appears as a modern city filled with high-rise and broad avenues. Yet within it exist an Old Town where the flavour of the yesteryear seems to permeate every single street and building. Due to its history, Taichung’s cultural heritage is a blend of Taiwanese, traditional Chinese and Japanese.
Through dedicated preservation efforts, many historic sites in this area remain in good shape. Most notable are the Taichung Prefecture Hall, the Taichung Train Station, the Taichung Park and the clinic-turns-sweet-shop Miyahara. Even the “chessboard” street plan from the Japanese era has also been retained.
Cultural Heritage Park
South of the Old Town is the Cultural Heritage Park – an open-air art gallery which features multiple styles of art. It’s built on the site of an old beer factory and spans over 5.6 hectares. After the factory moved out of the city in 1998, the government transformed this place into a public recreational area.
Out of 28 buildings in the Cultural Heritage Park, 16 are designated as historic monuments. The remaining twelves are re-designed into exhibition halls. However, the architects only alternate the interior of these buildings. They intentionally retain chimneys, metal frames and brick walls so that the park’s industrial beauty can be maintained. Even the old water tanks are left intact. They only covered them with new, eye-catching illustrations.
In Taichung, art and culture are not only confined to the city centre. Located in the western suburb of Nantun, Rainbow Village is another artwork that should not be missed. At first sight, you might mistake this area as a playground. From roofs, walls to the front yards, every inch of this village is cloaked in vivid childlike illustrations. It’s like stepping into a child’s world, full of colours and imaginations.
The Story of an Unexpected Artist
As time passed, the villages became run down and urban developers began buying up the land for redevelopment. They offered residents compensation or new housing to relocate. However, Mr Huang refused this offer. He felt attached to this land as he had spent most of his life there. After his neighbours had moved, Mr Huang was left alone with eleven abandoned houses.
The man behind this unusual village is Mr Huang Yung-Fu, a former soldier of the Revolutionary Army. After Chiang Kai-Shek’s defeat in 1949, he fled to Taiwan with his troops. At that time, numerous military villages were built across Taiwan to accommodate thousands of soldiers, including Mr Huang.
Bored with being the only person in the village, Mr Huang started painting. At first, he painted a bird inside his room. From there, his artwork grew to the living room, the outer wall and to the front yard. When his house was entirely covered in illustrations, he started painting the nearby houses. Under Mr Huang’s hands, the former military settlement was transformed into a vibrant village.
Soon after, this colourful art project got the attention of students from a nearby university. They were awed by Mr Huang’s effort and started spreading the news about this extraordinary place.
Taichung National Theatre
Not every cultural attraction in Taichung looks old or running down. Standing at the heart of the financial district, Taichung National Theatre is an outstanding example of modern architecture in the city. It’s the work of Toyo Ito – a talented architect who is famous for his out-of-the-box thinking.
Similar to the DDP in Seoul, Taichung National Theatre doesn’t have any established shape. It appears like a gigantic cube, with wave-formed glass facades running around the building. Its interior is also characterised by powerful, curving structures, for instance, the walls, the stairways and the rooftop garden. In fact, you can hardly see any straight line or sharp angle in the building.
Toyo Ito wants to build a theatre that people can “feel freedom within it”. By eliminating those linear features, he successfully created a flow of space. He also went a step further and interconnected all the floors, making the whole structure even more spacious. To enhance the feeling of freedom, the Japanese architect bring natural light and air into the building through numerous air holes on the wall. He also let water from outside to flow into the theatre via a stream on the ground floor. By doing these, visitors can still feel the warm of light, the breeze of air and the coolness of water, despite being indoor.
Aside from its main role as as an opera house, Taichung National Theatre serves as a meeting point for home-grown designers and artisans. They gather here to present their creations, ranging from wooden toys, eco-friendly clothes to exotic jewelry.
Practical Information in Taichung
- As a major transportation hub, Taichung is easily accessible by High-Speed Rail (HSR). From Taipei, it takes less than one hour to reach Taichung. Please note that Taichung HSR Station is outside of the city centre.
- Private vehicle is the most convenient way to explore Taichung, as public transportation is still under development. The city doesn’t have a metro system, but it’s covered by an expansive bus network. It’s free of charge when travelling within the city (10 km). However, you need to wipe the Easycard on the card reader when getting on and out of the bus.