Xiluo 西螺 (or Siluo, to use an alternate romanization) is a small historic town on the left bank of the Zhoushui River in Yunlin 雲林. It became an important center of trade in central Taiwan 台灣 during the Qing dynasty and continued to prosper under Japanese colonial rule into the early 20th century. Disaster struck in 1935 when the devastating 1935 Hsinchu-Taichung earthquake reduced much of Xiluo to rubble. Imperial Japan, acting under pretensions of bringing modernity to Asia, remade the main commercial street with an unusual blend of local and western architectural influences—mainly Art Deco with traces of modernism. Many of these buildings remain standing today—and can be seen by taking a short stroll down Yánpíng Old Street 延平老街.
The first thing that will impress any seasoned traveller in Taiwan is the fact that Yanping Old Street feels genuinely old. Many “old streets” in Taiwan have the contrived carnivalesque atmosphere of a night market—which, although fun at times, tends to obscure whatever sense of history might be experienced in a given place. You can’t get lost in a moment when there are teeming hordes of vendors all around hawking snacks and souvenirs!
This is not the case in sleepy Xiluo 西螺, which seems to have done very little to attract the massive group tour buses that typically disgorge mobs of tourists into old streets across the nation. In fact, apart from some inoffensive souvenir shops in the renovated East Market there is little to suggest that anything has changed in decades. This kind of authenticity is a rare and precious commodity in Taiwan. If you have the opportunity and appreciate Taiwanese history I would suggest visiting soon—before this charming old town turns into a zoo.
I wonder why Xiluo remains so well preserved? There is little said about Xiluo’s history on the English language web1 so I will hazard a guess: much like Lukang 鹿港, a historic town in neighbouring Changhua 彰化, the lack of a railway link and the inability for large ships to dock along the shallow, muddy river consigned Xiluo to relative obscurity in the post-war years. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, of course, for there aren’t too many places in Taiwan that have escaped modernization and development.
Getting to Xiluo might be a bit tricky if you rely on public transportation. There is a bus station, however, so it’s just a matter of figuring out where those buses go apart from Taipei 台北. I’d be surprised if there weren’t a link to the county capital at Douliu 斗六, which is also on the railway line (and also has a rather cool old street). Personally I went there by bicycle and scooter. Many more photos from Yanping Old Street can be found in the Chinese language blogosphere here, here, here, here, here, and here2.
- I have struggled to identify specific buildings in these photos but had some luck raiding this school project and Girl Meets Formosa. If anyone out there has information please feel welcome to leave it in the comments. ↩
- An amusing quirk of Taiwanese blogging: food is every bit as important as architecture, if not more so. ↩