Old China in Modern Taiwan
Lugang 鹿港 – also spelled Lukang – is where you want to go if you’re interested in ancient Chinese traditions and old Taiwanese culture. In Chinese, it is written 鹿港.
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 – 天后宮
Witness temple rituals, divination and ancient Chinese religious practices at Taiwan’s oldest Mazu Temple.
If you suffer from asthma, or any form of breathing problem you might want to stay outside. 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. The thickness of the smoke can be intense.
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. The temple was renovated in 1936.
A visit to this archaic Taoist Chinese temple is truly unforgettable. It’s one of my favorite temples in Taiwan.
Old Market Street – 古市街
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.
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, some folk rituals, some guy doing a Chinese dance… Just wait and get your camera ready.
Nine-Turns Lane – 九曲巷
South of Old 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.
Longshan Temple – 龍山寺
The beautiful shrine of Longshan is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Taiwan for good reasons. It’s old (built in the late 18th century), 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 loud, bloody rituals, as can be seen in Taoist temples.
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 traditional 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 – 民俗文物館
The Folk Arts Museum has a collection of more than 6000 ancient daily-life objects. Many of the items on display date from the Qing Dynasty to the turn of the 20th century. This elegant building was designed by the same architect who designed the Presidential Office Building in Taipei. It was completed in 1919, but the museum only opened in 1973. The building is an unusual combination of Asian and Western architecture.
Admission price is 130NT$, and it’s opened from 9am to 5pm.
Traditional Handicrafts / Gifts
Back in 2000, when I first got to Taiwan, I remember visiting Lugang and being amazed at all the “real ancient Chinese stuff” that was on display and for sale along the Old Market Street. Calligraphy, sculptures, stones, jade items, lanterns, paintings… 20 years later, I walked the same alleys, and I was saddened to see that few of those original places were still around. You can still find traditional art and gifts, but you have to look a little harder than before.
Mr. Wu and his son (below) are known throughout the island as “the most skillful painters 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.
Accommodation in Lugang
Few people stay here for the night. The city is usually included on day-trips that include Changhua and Baguashan. Lugang town gets really busy on weekends and holidays, so don’t wait to book your room. If you don’t want to spend the night here, you should head back to Taichung City, where there is a much broader range of options for hotels / motels and where you’ll have more choice for restaurants and nightlife.
Getting There and Away
Fastest Way: Take the HSR (High-Speed Rail) to Changhua, then take a bus to Lukang from there.
From Taipei: The Ubus Company has few direct buses every day. You can catch the Ubus in Taipei behind the main train station at the bus station. You buy your ticket at the Ubus counter on the second floor. Buses leave Taipei Bus Station for Lukang at 8:20, 10:20, 12:20, 14:20, 16:20, 18:20, 20:20.
Honestly, it makes more sense to first take the train or HSR to Changhua, and then take a small bus to Lugang.
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, depending on traffic.
To Taichung: There’s a station on Minquan Rd in Lugang, by a Family Mart convenient store, that has frequent buses back to Taichung.
To Taipei: The Ubus Company has an office on Minquan Rd.