Taiwan's night markets are famous throughout the world and one of the must-see sights of Taiwan for visitors. Locals and tourists alike flock to night markets in the evenings seven days a week to have good food, meet friends, shop, or just people watch.
Visitors to Taiwan should understand that night markets are generally crowded, busy places where noises, lights, and smells await you at every step. Be ready to be squished into small alleys or streets inching your way by the throngs of people looking at a product demonstration, sale, or popular food stall. Its not uncommon for vendors to set up shop in the middle of the sidewalk further reducing the space to walk. Despite being crowded, with a healthy dose of patience, the night market is one of the most rewarding tourist experiences in Taiwan.
Be Smart in the Night Market
Regarding safety, Taiwan is an unusually safe place, even by western standards. However, the Shi Lin night market is largely considered a place for tourists and for locals who want to do some one stop shopping when finding cheap clothes. Some amount of caution is worthwhile in any crowded market just due to the sheer volume of people and keeping your belongs somewhere passingly safe will prevent theft.
A much more common practice in night markets targeted at foreigners is price inflation, specifically where prices are not posted. This practice is most common at fruit vendors who don't post their price, at corn stands where corn is measured by weight, or clothing stores where prices aren't listed. Unlike in the mainland bargaining is not considered standard, prices are posted, and that is what people pay in 95% of occassions. Tourists looking to avoid being overcharged should always buy from places which have their prices posted, and if absolutely necessary to buy from a store which doesn't post its prices do NOT pay more than you would pay in the USA, Hong Kong, or Europe.
A General Overview
Night markets offer a mixture of street stalls and stores in the first floor of buildings. Despite nightmarkets using usually narrow streets, there seems to always be another place to fit a store. Looking across a street, it is not uncommon to have an indoor shop, a second shop set up on the sidewalk in front of that shop, a walkway, a food stall, a second food stall, a walk way, another sidewalk shop, and then an indoor shop on the other side of the street. Thats 6 different businesses in a row, and this is repeated over and over again as far as the eye can see.
Night market goers are generally a slow moving bunch, especially because there are so many stores to look at and finger foods to eat. It's best to give yourself plenty of time when visiting the big night markets in Taipei City - although for most visitors two hours will have you ready to call it quits. Besides the number of shops, the number of people can make it hard to move quickly, so it can take a long time to cover a little space. Come ready with an open mind and patient attitude, a camera, cash for whatever you're going to buy, and if you're a man, be a nice guy and join the locals and help carry the girls bag(s) while you're roaming these shoppers paradises.
士林 ShiLin Night Market
The biggest night market in Taipei is the ShiLin Night Market 士林夜市. This night market is most easily accessed from Jian Tan 劍談 station on the red line. English signage is everywhere, MRT staff range between fluent and passable in English, and there is almost always a crowd headed towards the market. It is located diagonally across from the MRT. In previous years there was an old bus station which served as a kind of food court. That was closed in late 2011 with the opening of the new ShiLin Market area 士林市場 which is actually a bit far from the MRT and serves food on the ground floor and basement levels.
A second approach is from Shi Lin 士林 station which is set to the north of the MRT. Exit out the south exit and follow the MRT or the side streets into the thick of the market. It's easier to get lost this way if you're not familiar with the area, but you will pass by some good restaurants and eventually stumble into the market provided you keep walking south on the streets east of ZhongShan Road. There is ample food to choose from at this night market, the most famous of which are the Ji Pai 雞排 Stinky Tofu 臭豆腐 and the different buns and dumplings. Oyster Omlettes, organs, and the more exotic foods are sold in and around the new Shi Lin Market area or at small carts on Wen Lin 文林 road.
There are a lot of clothing stores in this night market - nearly all of them now chains - with clothes ranging from 100NT on up, and while cheap clothes are a great find, all products should be viewed with an eye towards it's basic construction quality. Some shops are a little picky about not letting you try something on, so you might end up with a bit of buyers remorse if you're not used to sizing yourself off a piece on a hanger. Our secret is to measure everything using points on your body as reference so you become a portable ruler. We measure pants from palms to elbow, and minimum leg width from finger to wrist and we know where to hang the pants so we know if the pants are long enough. Practice at home in the mirror with a few different types of clothes to avoid mistakes.
ShiLin has a bunch of small streets and alleys and you'll know when you've exited the market proper. Feel free to take your time and walk around here and it's best to budget extra time if its your first and only visit to a night market on your trip.
Visitors be warned: this market is probably your best location for getting ripped off or pick pocketed. There are swarms of tourists who flock here and over time this market has - in some respects - become more of a showpiece about Taiwanese market life than a real market unto itself.
With the swarming crowd pick-pocketing is incredibly easy and a few years ago a night out ended somewhat violently after catching a man's hand in my thankfully empty pocket and not letting him go. Taiwan is incredibly safe but theft does occur. Be smart in this market especially. Zip, button or close your purses and pockets if you can, keep your things out of sight, and be proactive in not being a victim.
A fruit scam seems to be surfacing where fruit - which runs 30NT a bag (3 for 100NT) - is being sold at double or even triple the market price. Be wary of any vendor who weighs the food before you buy it - especially grilled corn - because there are just too many ways to rip you off. In Taiwan's markets corn is sorted by weight with listed prices for each pile, not weighed moments before grilling. The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to never buy anything without a price written on it because if there is no published price their only customers will be tourists.
師大 Shi Da Road Market
Once arguably the most popular night market with locals, the Shi Da 師大 market changed radically beginning in early 2012 after the government started to shut many businesses down. The neighborhood association still strongly opposes too many restaurants in this area and most of the stores now sell clothes or have upscale interiors.
If you're only in town for a short visit and want a glimpse at student life you should ignore whatever out of date information suggested this market and go a little farther south to GongGuan station. Tons of food there, and equally impressive shopping choices.
At full capacity this night market still can reach overcapacity with people packing its VERY small spaces, and visitors should be prepared to feel literally trapped in the street. Despite the changes this is still a great place to go to look for reasonable deals on girl's clothing which is fashionable with 20-something Taiwanese women. Many of the clothing stores have a presence in the other markets so if you're only coming here to shop, consider WuFenPu instead.
The market is most easily accessed by following the crowd at TaiPower Station exit 3 (stairs only) and turning right, then immediately right onto ShiDa Road. There is no real "start" to this market, and arriving by Gu Ting station can also provide access the northern portions of the market via back alleys. The alleys connecting off of Shi Da road hold the bulk of the restaurants and stores, while the parallel alley behind ShiDa has nearly all clothing stores.
饒河 Rao He Night Market
The Rao He 饒河 Night Market was not near an MRT until the green line opened in 2014. Previously this place was far less frequented by foreign visitors but now there are tons of tourists. There are many ways to get to this night market by bus or getting out at SongShan MRT station. The market is located off Ba De road between TaYou road to the West, SongHe to the North, and a river at BaDe/NanGang Road to the East. The nearby Rainbow Bridge offers a relaxing and breezy retreat from the crush of the market. This market is known for making some famous black pepper buns - loosely translated from 胡椒餅 - with long lines forming at the stall near the temple on the far east end of the market. This night market is densely packed and vendors set up shop in the middle of the road. Unlike other markets where these vendors are actually breaking the law RaoHe provides spaces and pedestrian passage ways.
This night market has lost a lot of its local flare over the last few years but it still provides some new food choices. There are a few shops which are run by expats and the owners tend to be professional but friendly. The best way to see this market is to head down one side and back along the other. If you're not into eating from the food stands there are some restaurants tucked into the alleys south of the market street near the temple. The most obvious of these alleys has a partial roof and is packed with Taiwanese style treats.
臨江/通化 LinJiang/TongHua Night Market
The Tong Hua 通化 Night Market (also called the Lin Jiang 臨江) is likely the fourth biggest market in size but closest major market to Taipei 101. It is centered around the Tong Hua / Lin Jiang intersection between Ji Long 基隆 and An He 安和 to the East and West and Xin Yi 信義 to the north. On the southern end there is no immediate end, and those using the LiuZhangLi MRT station to access the market will have a chance to explore this. The best way to arrive is to take the MRT to XinYi AnHe and join the flocks of people crowding this market since the new subway line opened. You can also access the market by taking a buses along Xin Yi Road to the XinYi/TongHua intersection or along JiLong Road.
Stores line the main streets leading up to the market proper which is located along a narrower street south of XinYi. South is most easily found by making sure you are on the opposite side of XinYi Road as Taipei 101.
Many foreign students live south of this night market, and the huge boost in tourists to the market since the MRT opened means English is totally acceptable. Many stores at this market change ownership frequently which means that month by month this market feels rather different. Food is located on alleys which intersect the main market street. Much of the food at this market is similar to those at other markets with the exception of the stalls halfway down Lin Jiang road which offer some foods which are nearly impossible to find elsewhere in Taipei. You can find tons and tons of restaurants in this area away from the market, which eventually leads into bars on AnHe road.
If you're in the market for furniture come to this neighborhood by day. There are tons of furniture stores selling outrageously beautiful pieces. No promises you'd get a deal, but why not ship yourself home a new handcrafted living room coffee table?
南機場夜市 ZhongHua Road Night Market
The final major market has no definitive English name and it is nearly impossible to navigate if you don't speak Chinese or Taiwanese. It's Chinese is 南機場夜市 perhaps for some colonial era "southern airport" which was located nearby. For those looking to get off the beaten path, this market offers some quality dumplings, cold noodles (lunch only), and is a bit cheaper than other markets. This market predominantly serves food and long lines develop for the popular items. Don't be surprised if locals take second looks at you or watch you walk by. As of 2015 there is less surprise at foreign visitors here, but few tourists ever make the journey here despite its proximity to XiMen MRT.
This is a good place for those with a local guide and despite the good food it is rather small. Further, some of the areas surrounding this night market can become somewhat unsafe late at night, specifically for women travelling alone. Find this market near the Youth Park 年輕公園 on Zhong Hua 中華 Rd, just south of the ZhongYi Elementary School. Bus 204 or 630 will take you from near the Chiang Kai Shek (CKS) Memorial Hall station on Nan Hai 南海 Road. Similarly bus 212 can take you from XiMen station south to the market.