Taichung City reminds me of…me. It’s got decent looks but doesn’t like to dress up or put on too much makeup. It’s resourceful, known for industry and commerce (claim to fame: Giant bicycles and boba/bubble tea) but also has an artistic side. It’s so low-profile that when people finally get to know it, they exclaim: “I didn’t know Taichung was so worldly!”
Taichung may not be as vibrant as capital city Taipei, but while visiting design hotspots and other inner Taichung attractions over just 24 hours, I sensed an undercurrent of sophistication that I’m sure fellow creatives will appreciate. Here are some hip places to visit in Taichung, plus things to do in Taichung if you’d like to explore its art and design scene.
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Inspiration at Taichung Cultural and Creative Industries Park
For over 80 years before its reincarnation, the sprawling 5.6 acre Taichung Cultural and Creative Industries Park (台中文化創意產業園區) – quite a mouthful, I know – was Taiwan’s largest brewery, brimming with the heady fumes of rice wines. Today, however, the park is home to art galleries and design studios where you can shop for cool made-in-Taiwan souvenirs, or simply make your own with the many hands-on classes and workshops available.
Compared to the cultural/creative venues in Taipei, this place was far less crowded and I felt like I could properly explore the place. It’s a shame their website is entirely in Chinese, but here’s an example of activities you can join:
Ambition in architecture: tour the National Taichung Theater
From the outside, the National Taichung Theater (臺中國家歌劇院) appears to be a simple concrete-and-glass building. Mr Li, my guide for the NTT guided tour, quickly fixed that first impression by declaring: “The National Taichung Theater has been labeled one of the most challenging structures to be built in our time.” It certainly doesn’t look like something that took 11 years to build – until you step inside.
There isn’t a single column in the building. The vase-shaped outlines seen on the facade actually reveal a cross-section of impossibly fluid structural walls, and they all merge into a massive gyroid block. As a minimalist I fell for the clean, organic forms of the theater, while a fellow visitor simply fell (okay, he stepped) into an ankle-deep pool of water around the lift lobby. Who expects pools and streams inside a building? Toyo Ito, apparently.
Pritzker laureate Toyo Ito came up with NTT’s design in 2005, but the building was only partially opened in 2014 and officially opened in 2016. The drama behind its construction seems apt, considering it is the city theater: after Ito won the competition to design this building, the project underwent five rounds of bidding – and no one wanted to take it on.
Most construction companies estimated, rightly, that they would be building this at a loss. Eventually, Taichung developer Lee Ming Construction decided to do it – perhaps as a matter of local pride,” claims Li.
The building was pieced together from 58 individually shaped and formed tubes of steel and concrete, and one of these “cores” sits on display at the front of the building.
Each detail of the building is so well-considered that you won’t even notice it without an insider’s help, which is why I recommend the guided tour – it costs just TWD 100 (USD 3.50)! Li pointed out not just the best photo spots, but also cleverly integrated water screens and sprinklers, in-floor ventilation systems, and even the coolest-looking restroom I’ve seen in a while. Do note, however, that the guided tour doesn’t provide access to the Grand Theater and Playhouse; you’ll have to buy tickets to an actual performance to enter.
The National Taichung Theater is simply one of the most unique places to visit in Taichung. It also hosts several fine design stores and kiosks, and I recommend dining at VVG Can Play, where you’ll get a front-row view of the surroundings. The western cuisine is also a nice change from the prevailing Taiwanese street food and local delicacies.
Design revival in “Little Kyoto”, Taichung’s old town district
Much as I love local food and culture, when it came time for a mid-afternoon treat, I chose ice cream and waffles over Taichung’s renowned suncakes. After all, it was my Taiwanese host who recommended Miyahara Optometry (公園眼科) and Fourth Credit Union (第四信用合作社):
Both these cafes are located close to each other in Taichung’s original old town district, nicknamed “Little Kyoto” by Japanese colonialists when they first developed the city at the dawn of the 20th century. As their names suggest, Miyahara Optometry was once an ophthalmologist’s practice, while Fourth Credit Union was a bank. Both shops’ original interiors have been conserved and restored, lending a tasteful bit of retro glam to their modern form.
As a proud “Waffle Monster” (with my own waffle iron and secret recipe for regular and yeast-leavened waffles), Fourth Credit Union was like Disneyland to me. Enveloped in the blissful aroma of waffle batter, I darted around photographing everything, took ages to choose just one flavor of topping, and then went a little insane over the industrial waffle iron on show.
Having sampled the waffles, though, I’d say both these cafes will satisfy interior design (and Instagram) fanatics more than actual foodies. If you’ve filled your Instagram feed but not your stomach, Section 2 Ziyou Road (just one street down from Fourth Credit Union) is lined with over a dozen decades-old suncake bakeries.
Another novel attraction in Taichung City is Lüchuan stream (綠川), which you should see if crossing between Miyahara and Fourth Credit Union. This little stream has been primped à la Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon and turned into a walkable park and cooling hideaway for hot summer days.
View all the places mentioned in this post (and more) on my Taichung map!
That said, Taichung as a municipality is much bigger and more exciting than just Inner Taichung (the city), as fellow blogger Viola of The Blessing Bucket knows – head over to her Taichung guide for more Taichung attractions to add to your itinerary.
Last bites: Fengjia Night Market
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Every city in Taiwan boasts a greasy handful of suppertime night markets, and Fengjia Night Market (逢甲夜市) is supposedly the largest night market in all of Taiwan. Indeed, it’s not so much a night market as an entire shopping district – instead of being channeled through narrow lanes flanked by street food carts and game stalls, I was drifting along spacious streets with actual buildings and storefronts.
This isn’t exactly an art/design spot, but the vibrant colors and flavors of Fengjia Night Market are no doubt an essential part of Taichung. The creative street food on sale will surprise you and, at the very least, you’ll have some mouthwatering pics for Instagram. Stuff yourself before you leave, and don’t forget the bubble tea.
What else would you like to know about Taichung? If you’ve visited before, would you recommend any other creative things to do in Taichung?