Get off the Beaten Path in Yanshuei (鹽水)
Most tourists come to Yanshuei for the famous Beehive Fireworks, a wild celebration that takes place on the night of the Lantern Festival, but this normally quiet district in northern Tainan has a surprisingly rich history and rural charm that make it well worth a visit at any time of year.
Yanshuei (the name means "salt water") was once a major port town, with wealthy merchants trading in grain, sugar, and other goods, and ships sailing back and forth to the mainland and beyond. This bustling entrepôt was originally settled by officers who had fought under Zheng Chenggong in 1662; by the mid-19th century, it was the fourth most important city in Taiwan.
Over the years, however, the shallow waters leading to the harbor slowly silted in, and by 1900, the area had been left high and dry (Yuejingang Riverside Park, the site of the old port, is now 16 kilometers from the coast). The once-busy mercantile center languished and declined, becoming the peaceful rural backwater that we see today.
Taiwan's rush to modernization over the last several decades largely bypassed the Yanshuei area, and therein lies its charm. It's the perfect spot for those who are looking for a place that's off the beaten path.
Ready to leave the city behind for a while? You can begin by checking out the hamlet of Zhupu (竹埔) and enjoying a stroll along Poetry Road. This section of Yanshuei District is dotted with beautifully maintained traditional courtyard houses and farms whose fields stretch out to the horizon. The bucolic landscape and meandering country lanes of the area are ideal for a relaxing bike trip.
If you are interested in delving into Taiwan’s history, the old port town of Yanshuei is one of the best venues you will find. Remnants of its storied past can still be seen at every turn, from the unusual Octagon Building (八角樓) and Qing-era lanes and alleys to the original vintage theater housed in an enormous Japanese-style wooden building. Yanshuei is a great place to spend a day poking around and exploring. As an added bonus, the back lanes of this town are a photographer’s paradise—a sleepy hotbed of perfect photos just waiting to be taken. During your trip, be sure to check out the interior of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, a place that takes the localization of religion to a beautiful extreme.
If you’ve got some extra time, then head over to nearby Jingliao (菁寮) for a side trip. This tiny town with its Old Street, historic Chinese drugstore, and prime agricultural land was the inspiration for the 2005 movie-length documentary Let It Be, an exploration of traditional farm life in Taiwan. Jingliao also happens to be home to an unusual little church that was designed by none other than Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gottfried Böhm.
Whether you spend an afternoon, a day, or a weekend there, a visit to Yanshuei is like a magic bullet for urban stress. It’s one of those wonderful little secrets that you’ll wish you’d been in on sooner.
∎ Recommended Routes ∎
Zhupu (half day):
Yanshui (full day):
Jingliao (half day):
This page is under construction! We will be adding new material on a regular basis, so please visit us again to learn more about Yanshui and our other off-the-beaten-path travel routes!
∎ Cultural Events ∎
∎ Where to visit ∎
∎ Where to Rent Motorbike/Bicycle ∎
∎ Where to eat-drink-buy ∎
∎ Where to stay ∎