Most people only associate Chiayi County with Chiayi City itself. Gaining international exposure in 2019 when it was featured in Netflix’s ‘Street Food’ series, its famous for dishes such as turkey rice and tofu pudding. However, Chiayi County is also home to the spectacular Alishan National Scenic Area, known for sprawling forests and mountain hikes. Not to be overlooked is Xingang, a rural township comprised of 22 villages, boasting temples, parks and delicious street food. Here’s why you should consider a stop in Xingang during your next trip to Chiayi County. (Read more: Alishan: A world of high-mountain tea up in the clouds)
What to do in Xingang
1. Explore fabulous temples
– Xingang Shuixian Temple（新港水仙宮）
One thing you must do in Xingang is go and admire its fabulous temples. Xingang Shuixian Temple in the township’s Nangang Village is an apt reflection of the area’s past. Prior to the Qing era, it was an important trade portal for central Taiwan and the south, and locals who conducted sea trade with China would worship sea goddess Mazu, as well as Shuixian Zunwang (水仙尊王). The temple was built in 1739, destroyed by flooding in 1803, rebuilt in 1814 and renovated several times as recently as the early 1990s, and nowadays is an important resource in the study of traditional Taiwanese architecture.
– Fengtian Temple (新港奉天宮)
Fengtian Temple is another shrine to goddess Mazu and its imposing yet delicate design is a result of its construction being government supported. As well as Mazu, the temple is also a place to worship the Tiger God, known for watching over children, and every year there is a festive event on the Tiger God’s birthday where every statue of him is gathered at the temple so they can all be under one roof. (You might also like: Religion to Art Experience in Chiayi, Xingang)
2. Create your own pottery at Bantaoyao
If you’re into arts and crafts, head to Bantou Village and get involved with the ceramics at Bantaoyao (板陶窯交趾剪黏工藝園區). A workshop dedicated to the traditional handicrafts of koji ceramics and jian nian (cut and paste), at Bantaoyao you can create your own mosaics, pottery plates and more, all while learning how Xingang became Taiwan’s center for these two art forms. Founded in 2005, there is also an on-site craft museum, while the workshop’s garden backs onto Taiwan’s largest natural plain, the Jianan Plain.
3. Learn about traditional incense
And, to keep things hands-on, we also recommend stopping off at Da-Ching Incense Making Factory (大慶製香場), where you’ll learn all about the tradition of burning incense and also get the chance to make your own sticks.
4. Visit National Palace Museum’s southern branch
While not strictly not in Xingang, since you’re in the area, you definitely need to find some time to visit the southern branch of the famous National Palace Museum. From its stunning exterior, complete with a manmade lake, to its fascinating exhibits covering history and art from all corners of Asia, this spectacular museum is a must-see. Boasting incredible Asian textiles and resplendent Buddhist artworks, if you’re lucky, you may even see some exhibits on loan from the original National Palace Museum up in Taipei. (Read more: National Palace Museum Experiences: the Beautiful South)
What to eat in Xingang
We want to focus on Xingang’s amazing street food and traditional snacks. Duck farming is a profitable industry in the region and one of the most popular dishes is a thick duck meat soup (鴨肉羹). While widely available, a highly recommended spot to get it is at Xingang Yarou Geng (新港鴨肉羹) on Zhongshan Road, not too far from Fengtian Temple. Duck-bone broth is thickened with starch and strips of duck meat, with added ginger, bamboo shoots, onions, fungus and more.
Another store a stone’s throw away from Fengtian Temple, the halogen pigskin store on Daxing Road is peddling over 100 bowls of stewed pigskins (滷豬皮) and servings of rice cakes (米糕) per day and has been in operation for over 50 years. On Fude Road, you’ll find Uncle Chin’s Tapioca under the Big Tree (大樹腳阿欽伯粉圓), specializing in tapioca ice, offering tasty mouthfuls of QQ goodness. (Read also: 2-day Local Cultural and Gourmet Experience in Chiayi, Xingang)
Your best souvenir option will be Xingang candy (新港飴), a traditional candy originating from, you guessed it, Xingang. It’s said that a candy vendor found his Taiwanese peanut brittle had gone soft due the humid weather and, hoping not to waste the product, he mixed it with maltose, flour and sugar, creating a new, sweet, popular dessert in the process that turned out to be loved by both kids and adults alike.
How to get there
Xingang is approximately a half-an-hour drive from Chiayi City by car. The nearest train station is Minxiong Station which will still require taking a cab or catching a bus to complete the journey. The 7201A and 7202B buses depart regularly from Chiayi (check schedule before departure) and are your best and cheapest bet if you don’t wish to take a cab or hire a car, while you can also catch the bus from Minxiong Elementary School a short walk from the train station.