Dihua Street is a charming traditional area of Dadaocheng, which according to some, is the oldest street in Taipei. Some sections of the street have existed since the period of Dutch rule (1624 – 1661) and a lot of the architecture has been preserved by the city – albeit this is mainly from the 1850s. Interestingly, Dadaocheng was once the second largest city in Taiwan, after Tainan, the country’s traditional capital.
The varied and colourful history of Dihua Street means that you have traditional Qing Dynasty style-homes, alongside the modernist Baroque flavours brought to Taiwan during the Japanese occupation. Almost every building tells a story too – and I’m happy to share a couple of my favourites below.
Firstly, there’s the A. S. Watson & Co. building, which housed Taiwan’s first Western pharmacy over a hundred years ago. On the second floor you’ve now got a British-themed tea shop. I’ll be honest, I’ve never been here during the day – however in the evening it transforms to Watson’s Bar, selling whisky and craft beers in a very atmospheric setting. That’s more my kind of place. I can thoroughly recommend the Pale Jade, but I’ll return to try the others very soon.
On the opposite side of the street, you’ve got Yongle Fabric Market – one of the most iconic buildings in the area. The fabric market is on the second floor and tailors shops on the third. Whilst this is still the largest fabric market in Taiwan, there’s now a lot more than fabric here – including places to grab some food on the ground floor. Some of the higher floors house cultural exhibitions too. I have zero interests in fabrics and find shopping to be one of the most painful experiences in the world – but even I can appreciate the historical and cultural importance of this building (for about 15 minutes and then I have to move on to something more… me).
Later on you’ve got Wang Tea, which is easily one of the most popular stops along Dihua Street – especially for several of the walking tours you can find online. The self-proclaimed ‘most professional tea refinery factory in Taiwan‘ is a great place to try Taiwanese teas manufactured in the traditional manner – baskets above hot coals. You can read more information here. This shop has been open for almost 130 years and has been run by the same family the whole time.
(Disclaimer: I’ll be completely honest – for the first quarter of a century of my life I was not a tea drinker. Over the past couple of years, however, and especially since moving to Taiwan, I’ve dabbled and will always try what’s on offer. Therefore, I am by no means a tea expert and I implore you to visit Wang Tea yourself. You can then let me know if it’s really as good as they claim).
Finally, there’s Xiahai City God Temple, a small, but ALWAYS crowded temple housing the Xia Hai Cheng Huang God, or City God. Not only is it one of the oldest temples in the city, but it’s also got a fascinating history (and whilst not the oldest, it is lucky in that it has not had to undergo a complete rebuild in the same way that several of the others have). The City God is a protector who looks after the affairs of a particular village, town or city, and therefore, there are hundreds of these temples all over Asia, with worship of the City God going back over 2000 years. He works hand-in-hand with the elected officials of the city, aiming to improve the lives of those within the city’s limits. Considering that Dadaocheng was (and remains) one of Taipei’s most economically prosperous areas, it is unsurprising that visiting this temple to pray is as popular as ever.
That being said, if you’ve read my Longshan Temple post, you’ll remember that the busiest God there was Yue Lao (The Old Man Under The Moon) – essentially the Taiwanese matchmaker. Interestingly, it’s this temples association with Yue Lao which is also a reason it’s so busy here. Many young people who are looking for love visit this temple each day. I’ve even heard that the temple keeps a list of those who believe that their prayers to Yue Lao was the reason they found love – often returning to leave him cookies after their wedding.
Unlike many of the other temples in Taiwan this one has printed handy introductions to the God’s in English too – as well as some reading material you can take for free – clearly that shows just how many tourists they must be getting. I’d definitely recommend a visit as it is not only beautiful, but it’s also one of most tourist-friendly temples in Taipei.
Bonus – If you head a few metres up the street from the Temple (store number 69 – look for the big banana), you’ll find a place which apparently has the oldest ice lollies in Taiwan – established almost 100 years ago. Their signature item is a banana ice cream bar and I can confirm it tastes really good. For only 35NT you should treat yourself to several.
Ultimately, this is a commercial street. Chinese medicinal herbs, fabrics, incense, Taiwanese tea, dried fruit and a whole range of other products are sold by the vendors, many of who have been in business for over 100 years. Shamefully, even though I’ve been down this street several times, I’m yet to actually buy anything from these shops. I hope to change this on the next visit.
No matter if you’re in Taiwan for a week, a month or a year – I would thoroughly recommend spending at least an afternoon wandering down this street. Even if you’re not interested in buying the products that are available, stop for a coffee (or beer – I support this choice), visit the temple and take in the architecture and atmosphere on one of Taipei’s oldest streets.