A couple of months ago I randomly took the train to Douliu 斗六, the capital of Yunlin 雲林, the least developed county on the western plains of Taiwan 台灣. Douliu is regularly the subject of jokes in Taiwan (when people aren’t trashing Taoyuan 桃園, that is) so I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there: an old street lined with Japanese colonial buildings, several old Japanese era dormitories and historical landmarks, the quirky Hungry Ghost covered market, the temple of fried chicken, and an abandoned entertainment complex to explore (all things I’ll try to post about at some point). Even more surprising was the size of the Saturday night Renwen Park Night Market 人文公園夜市 located in the southwest corner of town. I have become something of a night market connoisseur since living in central and southern Taiwan and wouldn’t hesitate to declare this night market one of the biggest and best on the island.
Renwen Park Night Market, hereafter simply Douliu Night Market, is a large-scale open air night market in the style of the excellent Huayuan 花園 and Dadong 大東 night markets in Tainan 台南. According to Chinese language Wikipedia it occupies 3000 píng 坪 (approximately 10,000 m²), the same as Huayuan Night Market. Everything you see in these photos is set up and taken down in a single night. When the night market dissolves there is nothing more than an enormous vacant lot in this space. The transience of such open air night markets is part of the appeal for me. So much human energy is invested in what takes place here.
As with any other night market in Taiwan there is a staggering variety of small snacks to be had ranging from novelty items to more traditional fare. All the usual suspects can be found at Douliu Night Market: barbecue corn, baked potatoes, fried chicken and squid, guabao 刮包, luwei 滷味 (braised food), takoyaki (squid and octopus balls), okonomiyaki (a kind of Japanese seafood pancake), fresh dumplings, oyster omelette and vermicelli, thick soup, sugar-roasted chestnuts, crepes, hot pot, and so on. If you’ve seen it at more than a few night markets in Taiwan it’s probably available in Douliu. The selection is truly extraordinary and everything I sampled was pretty good. With so much activity it was easy to identify the “famous” vendors: just look for the queue and join it to find out what the fuss is all about—but don’t be surprised if it turns out to be chicken feet or something like that!
Another regular feature of Taiwanese night markets is the shopping. I have no need for cheap junk so I seldom pay close attention to what sort of stuff people are selling. Mostly I’m interested in amusing permutations of night market fashion, particularly clothing emblazoned with lousy English or strange designs. Douliu certainly had a lot of that!
One of the stranger features of Douliu Night Market is the preponderance of pet shops, pet accessory vendors, and pet owners. There were dogs in handbags, dogs in strollers, dogs over the shoulder—and even a couple of cats! I can’t say I’m a fan of the regular pet shops you’ll see at most central and south Taiwan night markets—the ethics of this practice are questionable to me—but it buoyed my heart to chance upon an animal rescue society staffed by young volunteers in the middle of the market. There is hope!
No night market experience is complete without a tour of the many fairground games. I almost never play the games myself but I sometimes stop to watch people having fun. Douliu Night Market is huge—and many of the games were also on a grand scale. There were, for instance, two go-kart arenas next to one another—one for boys and another for girls. I suppose that’s one answer to overaggressive little tykes smashing everything in sight!
Douliu Night Market is a bit of a trek from the train station. I walked there the night I went but you might want to spring for an 80 NT taxi ride there. Probably all the Chinese you’ll need to make yourself understood is encapsulated in “yèshì 夜市”, the word for night market, but here’s a map of the location. Douliu Night Market runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays according to Wikipedia in Chinese. A word of warning: the washrooms are an inconvenient 5 minute hike away from the main night market area for some unknown reason.
Douliu Night Market is easily one of the biggest and best open air night markets in all Taiwan—a great surprise given Douliu’s diminutive size and unremarkable reputation. It likely isn’t worth a trip down from Taipei 台北 unless you’re a real night market junkie—but if you’re travelling around southern Taiwan 台灣 on a weekend I would certainly recommend adding it to your schedule.