Tainan’s Old West Market 台南西市場

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The northern entrance to Tainan’s West Market.

West Market 西市場 (sometimes referred to as West Gate or Xīmén Market 西門市場) in was once the largest market in southern . The first market building on this location was erected sometime from 1905 to 1908 under Japanese colonial rule. This building was later reconstructed in 1920 after suffering typhoon damage. It remains a hub of commercial activity in this part of the city up until the present day—but its very heart has been hollowed out and mostly abandoned for the last several decades.

A closer look at the entrance to the old marketplace.

In the 1930s a number of new commercial development grew around the old market like layers of an onion: Asakusa Shopping Mall 淺草商場 (traditionally Japanese-themed, now a “youth fashion” market with trendy boutiques) and a fish market 魚市場 later converted into a banana warehouse 香蕉倉庫 (now abandoned and falling apart). After the war several more buildings sprung up around West Market: the confusingly named West Gate or Xīmén Market 西門市場 (originally for meat and produce, nowadays an aging garment and textile market) in 1945 and a wholesale food market 大菜市 in 19561.

From the entrance to the old marketplace. The corrugated metal barrier on the right hand side is new as of 2015.
A number of old hand-painted signs can be seen around the market.
Vintage signs in context.
A rare five digit phone number.
Another old sign deep inside the marketplace.
Most of the stalls seem like little more than storage for the few that remain in business.
Deeper into Tainan’s West Market.

The vintage hand-painted signs still hanging over many of the market stalls are one of the main attractions for history buffs. There are more aside from the few I have shared here. Several of these signs display five digit telephone numbers—a convention that hasn’t been followed in a very long time.

The northeastern entrance to the market complex bears the sign of the newer Ximen Market.
The textile mall after dark.
Crazy wiring inside the newer Ximen Market building.
An inner courtyard next to the old West Market. I believe the banana warehouse might be around here somewhere.

When you walk through these old markets it isn’t obvious where one building ends and another begins. It’s a big place, too—the complex sprawls across an entire city block interconnected with a labyrinth of passageways snaking every which way. The style of construction is almost organic, as if each of these buildings were existing in symbiosis with one another. Turn a corner, duck under an overhang, and you might find yourself in the mouldering ruins of the old banana warehouse or lost in the dark reaches at the back of the textiles mall. Only the western side of the block—the youth fashion area—shows signs of life and vitality, but that part isn’t well-connected to the rest.

Through the open gates of the old market.
Fishmongers continue to ply their trade in this old Japanese era marketplace.
At least a few stalls in this part of the market remain open.
Fish wholesaler in Ximen Market.
Giant belt-driven mixers.
What looks to be an office hidden amongst all the decay and ruin.
Around back at the old marketplace. The structure overhead might be part of the banana warehouse.
Inside the old market at night.

The photographs that appear in this piece were collected on at least three separate visits over the course of two years. One of those visits was late at night, an eerie experience I would recommend to anyone who isn’t squeamish, for this is when you’re most likely to find giant rats scavenging for scraps among the ruins. It’s not that bad, mind you—as with most other old markets in Taiwan the population of vermin is held in check by the half-wild cats that skulk through the stalls after dark.

Our lady of the shadows. Look closely; do you notice anything peculiar about this photograph?
Mistress of the night.
The market after dark.
Long after closing time in Tainan’s Old West Market.

One final note: the market complex also contains one of my favourite old school restaurants in Tainan, a place by the name of Fúróng Xiǎochīdiàn 福榮小吃店 that was founded in 1923. If you’re curious you can read a little more about that in my guide to eating like a local in Tainan.


  1. These names and dates may be inaccurate. Most of the information I found online doesn’t match and there seems to be no shortage of confusion about which building is which. Corrections are welcome in the comments. 

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