Ghost Festival’s Eve in Keelung: Hungry Spirits, Parades, & Burning Boats

Taiwan’s time-honored traditions and phenomenal festivals account for a great part of the island’s charm. If you’ve lived here long enough, you’ll know that the locals pull out all the stops when it comes to celebrating their heritage – from the colorful cornucopia of candy for sale and the deafening blasts of firecrackers during the Lunar New Year to the dizzying pilgrimage processions, fabulous costumed parades, riveting drum sets, and enchanting dances and acrobatics, among a slew of other performances at the Mazu International Festival. 

The Hungry Ghost Festival, or the Zhongyuan Festival, one of the most spectacular and anticipated events of the year, is no different. The Keelung Zhongyuan Festival was the first of its kind to be officially listed as a “national heritage asset” in 2008. 

Last week, Taiwan Observer had the privilege of joining MyTaiwanTour on a trip to Keelung to experience their take on Ghost Festival’s Eve.    

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

For starters, a “hungry ghost” is a spirit that has been doomed to an eternity of torturous starvation as punishment for their wickedness on Earth. Referring to them as “ghosts,” however, is considered poor form. They prefer to be called “Good Brother,” “Good Sister,” or presumably, by gender-nonconforming spirits, “Good Friend.” 

The Taiwanese version of the underworld, or “diyu,” has often been compared to Dante’s nine circles of Hell. Diyu consists of 10 dians, or courts, each realm guarded by its own judicial king. Upon death, all souls descend to Diyu and are put on trial in these courts. The duration of their stay and the types of retribution inflicted upon them as they graduate from one court to the next are determined by the severity of their sins. 

Not only are those who lived honorable lives exempt from punishment, they are given the option of choosing between a golden or silver bridge – the first of which takes them straight to Buddha’s paradisal kingdom, where they will be forever liberated from the shackles of mortal life, and the latter to the Jade Emperor’s realm to be crowned a deity. The excruciating journey of damned souls, on the other hand, culminates in reincarnation, specifically as vermin, beasts of burden, or humans destined to live a life rife with extreme hardship and misfortune.    

Our first stop was the Grand Salvation Altar, also known as “Chu Pu/Zhu Pu Altar” (主普壇).  The first permanent shrine dedicated to the celebration of Ghost Month was erected during the Japanese colonial period in 1929 in what is now Zhongsi Road, but it was relocated to its present-day location at Zhongzheng Park in 1971 to alleviate the inevitable traffic jams -both vehicular and human – that arose when the festivities rolled around. 

For some context, Ghost Month began on August 19th this year, the first day of the seventh lunar month. Ghost Festival’s Eve occurs on the 14th day (September 1st), and the Ghost Festival itself, celebrated on the 15th day, took place on September 2nd. The ghosts are due to be chased back to Diyu on September 16th, the first day of the eighth lunar month.    

According to Buddhist lore, one of, if not the original hungry ghost was the mother of a monk named Maudgalyayana (AKA Mulian), who was sent to the underworld after her death, where she was relentlessly tormented for her excessive cursing, devouring dog meat, and various other misdeeds. He made regular food offerings to his mother, but the cursed woman’s throat had been whittled down to the width of a reed stem. What’s more, whatever she attempted to consume instantly turned into flames. 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The faithful son begged Buddha for his mother’s freedom. Buddha initially repudiated his pleas, citing the magnitude of her wrongdoings, but the pair ultimately found common ground. Buddha agreed to open the gates of hell and allow the underworld’s hungry ghosts to roam the mortal world for a month. In return, the living were to perform a series of rituals and hold an extravagant feast for their ancestors and wandering souls on the 15th day. You will often find Western dishes among the food offerings in Keelung, which are laid out for the French soldiers who perished in the port city during the Sino-French War (1884-1885).                  

The temple, normally a regal, but plain red-and-white structure with multi-tiered golden-yellow roofs, was adorned with vibrant panels, miniature puppet stages and displays complete with beautiful hand-painted backdrops, and brightly-colored banners bearing the names of the festival sponsors. Red lanterns lined the path leading up to the altar, meant to guide the spirits to the shrine like illuminated breadcrumbs. Bonus side quest: find the hidden Totoro.

The festival is hosted and its public rites performed by one of the 15 Keelung “kinship associations” – long-established fraternities typically composed of members that share the same surname – every year. This year, the honor fell to the Lianxin (United Clan Family), who splashed out a whopping $5 million NTD for the altar’s decorations alone.  

The burning of joss paper, or “spirit money,” is another integral Ghost Month ritual. Following our trip to Chu Pu Altar, we headed to one of the oldest joss paper shops in Keelung, run by a lovely lady who has been in the joss paper business for three decades. The age-old establishment is a one-stop shop for all your worshiping needs, stocked with incense sticks, candles, stacks of ghost bills available in different currencies, elaborate paper ships and lanterns fashioned out of spirit money, and even pre-packed boxes of clothes and paper cutouts of cell phones, hair and make-up kits, jewelry and other accessories, and so on. 

Ghost Month traditions also come with a lengthy list of taboos. Meat (mostly pork), rice, noodles, unpeeled fruits, tea, rice wines, and assortments of cookies and treats are some of the most common food offering staples. In Taiwanese culture, however, bananas, plums, and pears must never be served, as each fruit is a homonym for “greet,” “you,” and “come,” respectively, and in doing so, you are openly inviting the hungry ghosts to overstay their welcome. You will also want to delay construction projects, avoid moving into a new home, and refrain from whistling at night, lest you become a pied piper for evil spirits.     

After dinner and a leisurely stroll through the night market and harbor, which was decked out with giant lanterns of animals and fabled figures and creatures from local folklore, we joined the swelling crowds on the sidewalks of the main roads for the preliminary event: the parade. Some spectators and journalists who were particularly committed to getting a good view huddled at the balconies of nearby buildings and climbed atop the roofs of underground passages. Although the parade this year was considerably downsized for COVID-related reasons, the procession of ornate floats – dressed in fresh flowers and a rainbow of LED lights, and blasting curiously lit tracks (from EDM to old pop songs) – was still a highly entertaining experience.

Our final stop of the night was the Badouzi fishing port. As tradition dictates, king-sized water lanterns built in the shape of old-style houses, each filled with ghost money, are set ablaze and launched onto sea. These lanterns are the living’s way to extend invitations to the underwater spirits, namely shipwreck victims and fishermen lost at sea, for the grand feast at Chu Pu Altar. These invitations are to be sent out before 11PM on Ghost Festival’s Eve. 

Each lantern, emblazoned with the name of each Keelung clan, were carried down the slope by a group of its members, who were wearing color-coded uniforms and sashes, then passed onto the lantern launchers, kitted out in helmets and life jackets. The dazzling display was set to fireworks. Fistfuls of money were hurled into the air, raining on the water like confetti.

They say that the farther your lantern floats, the better your luck will be the next year.  


Walk Among the Clouds at the Top of Taipei 101

Despite its modest 15-year history, Taipei 101 has quickly cemented its place as one of the most iconic and beloved landmarks on the island. 

The eight-tiered skyscraper, slender and understated, yet majestic, is impossible to miss, be it near or from afar – and both literally and figuratively, what with its image plastered onto T-shirts, keychains, postcards, and a bevy of other merchandise found in department stores and night markets across the city. To locals, Taipei 101 has become a familiar presence, one that we often find ourselves instinctively on the lookout for when admiring the scenery from a rooftop or some other great height. Naturally, the stately tower attracts millions of visitors each year (it welcomed its 20-millionth visitor in the spring of 2016), excluding, without fail, the thousands that flock to the area to take in the fantastic fireworks display up close every New Year’s Eve. 


In June of 2019, management announced that the gates to the observation deck on the top floor would be opened to the public for the first time, as well as the debut of its new Skyline 460 feature; the outdoor deck now serves as a companion to the original viewing platform on the 89th floor. 

Chances are, you’ve come across the widely shared photographs of history’s freshest prince, Will Smith, posing up a storm on one of the world’s highest terraces when he visited Taiwan last October to promote his film, Gemini Man. 



Taiwan Observer was recently invited to experience Taipei’s pride and joy from a fresh and exciting perspective, a special adventure arranged by MyTaiwanTour. (click the link to take the tour)

Fun facts captured in infographics, an interactive multimedia wall, and sculptures dotted along the corridor entertained those waiting for their turn on the elevator. Designed and erected by C. Y. Lee & Partners, a local architectural firm, Taipei 101 shattered the world record when it was first unveiled in October 2004. It achieved the title of tallest building in the world at its impressive height of 1,667 feet (508 m), sailing past the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, and remained unrivaled until 2010, its thunder snatched by the 2,716-ft-tall (828 m) Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The skyscraper has since been demoted to 11th place, sandwiched between Beijing’s China Zun and the Shanghai World Financial Center. 

After a headcount and a brief breakdown on the day’s activities, we rocketed to the 89th floor in 37 seconds flat, as indicated by the video screen on top of the elevator buttons. The lift to the lower observatory, which travels at a speed of 60.67 km/h (37.7 mph), is among the fastest of its kind. 

As to be expected, the indoor observatory was astir with tourists and sightseers peering out the floor-to-ceiling windows, amusing themselves with touch-screens and displays, and browsing the gift shops. 

Before the main event, we were shepherded into a separate room to check out the gargantuan globe suspended between the 87th and 92nd floor, which was installed with the island’s high propensity for earthquakes and typhoons in mind.  The innovative design of the “tuned mass damper,” which weighs a whopping 660 tons and is capable of absorbing up to 40% of the tower’s movements, effectively stabilizes and guards the structure against these acts of God.


To access the observation deck on the top floor, we rode up two different elevators and scaled another flight of stairs. Those looking to conquer their acrophobia may find comfort in the fact that all sky-walkers were required to strap into safety harnesses provided by the staff. Clear plastic pockets with neck straps, for those who wished to bring their cellphones with them, were also available.

Upon entering the 360-degree observation deck, our guides clipped our harnesses onto the railing, which some of us clung onto for dear life. All nerves, however, were almost instantly calmed by the stunning panoramic view that greeted us, coupled with the embrace of an exhilarating breeze. For the next 40 minutes, we marveled at and snapped multiple shots of the seemingly endless circuit board-esque vista, all the more enhanced by the sliver of gold slicing through the horizon. 

Our stroll among the clouds was topped off with a cloud of a different kind. Following our trip to the outdoor observatory, we headed down to the chic and aptly-named Bar 88 on the 88th floor. Here, we enjoyed a round of their signature beverages: a selection of “cloud” coffees and teas. The “cloud” bubble tea (雲朵珍奶), crowned with a delightful afro of cotton candy, is definitely one to try out. Those who aren’t keen on tapioca pearls can opt for coffee (雲朵咖啡), which is presented with the illusion of a cloud hovering over your mug. 


A cool gift bag, which included a collectible mug, a souvenir photo from the Skyline 460 experience, and a flat bottle of “pocket water” completed our adventure.

If you want to take this tour of 101 visit MyTaiwanTour to book it now.

Why Tainan is the Gem of the South

Immersing yourself in flashing lights, pulsing music, and smoke machines can indeed be a grand way to celebrate the weekend. That being said, it can also be immensely rewarding to unwind by another route: to step back from the sometimes relentless, never-ending motion of Taipei City life, treat yourself to a quick getaway, and soak up some sun and culture. There’s no need to book a flight, hop on a plane, and jet over to the nearest white sand beach just so you can de-stress, either – which is ironically quite stressful in itself. Sometimes, the greatest treasures are hidden in our own backyards. 

Just recently, Taiwan Observer joined MyTaiwanTour (click the link to find tours like this and more) on a trip to Tainan, the oldest city and one-time capital of the island. Tainan’s love for timeless recipes, the genuine hospitality of its locals, and its vintage, time capsule-like quality are just a few of its charms. Here are some of the attractions you don’t want to miss:


Huoshan Biyun Temple (火山碧雲寺)

Nestled about midway up Zhentou Mountain (Pillow Mountain) in Tainan’s Baihe District, the sanctuary bears all the hallmarks of a classic Taiwanese temple – from its remote location and mystical aesthetic to its own unique folklore. The temple, which features a blend of Japanese and Fujian architectural styles, has remained largely untouched since its debut 221 years ago; some of the red bricks and wooden beams used in its original construction are still visible. Next to the temple is a cluster of boulders with a small cavity in its center. Legend has it that rice magically streamed out of the hole year round, providing the temple residents with ample food day in and day out. That was until a gluttonous monk attempted not only to take more than his share, but to hoard all the blessings. Never again has a single grain of rice tumbled out of that hole.       


Guanziling Mud Hot Springs (關子嶺溫泉風景區)

Those looking for a twist on the traditional hot spring experience or to unleash your inner swine will want to check out the Guanziling Hot Springs, home to the only mud baths on the island. Japanese soldiers brawling with local anti-Japanese forces stumbled upon one of these unusual springs in the late 19th century. Specialists who were convinced by the medicinal properties of the mud pools aided in propelling Guanziling to the forefront of the hot spring game; it was soon crowned “Taiwan’s Number One Hot Spring.” 

The rejuvenating mud baths are replete with natural minerals and antibacterial sulfur that are said to eliminate toxins, fortify the immune system, alleviate joint pain, and soothe certain skin conditions and minor ailments. Take a dip in the velvety pearl-gray waters, whip up a creamy lather, and bask in the sun like a majestic seal. Be prepared to emerge fully relaxed with all the negative energy flushed out of your system and buttery-soft skin to boot.      


“Salt Town”/YanXiang B&B Restaurant (鹽鄉民宿餐廳‧古早味風味餐) Traditional Beimen Cuisine

The restaurant owner, Mr. Hong, who has become something of a celebrity in these parts, decided to return to Jingzhaijiao years ago to launch a business that would celebrate the underrated culture of his beloved hometown. The rustic interior is a throwback to simpler times and offers the kind of warmth associated with visiting a dear relative or old friend, but its award-winning dishes are the stars of the show. Be sure to try their signature crispy boneless milkfish, milkfish sausages, oyster rice noodles, and a steaming plate of extra-large, deliciously juicy clams. Postcards and letters from happy customers are proudly displayed under the glass tops of the dining tables. 


Beimen Saltworks

After lunch, we were given a tour – via a miniature train – of the Beimen salterns (北門鹽場) and the old saltworks by Mr. Hong himself, which included a stopover at Saltern No. 16 to sample some edible grass. The Beimen Salt Works Administration Office, listed as a historic building, is easily one of the most standout structures within the saltworks complex. The turquoise timber structure, which features quintessential Japanese Colonial and British building techniques, was constructed in 1923, and was the former center of the surrounding salt fields, overseeing taxes as well as the sales and distribution of the hot commodity. 


Mercy’s Door Free Clinic

In the wake of the 1957 outbreak of blackfoot disease that swept across Beimen and other neighboring townships, Dr. Wang King-Ho (also spelled “Wang Jin-He) and Presbyterian missionary Lillian Disckson, on behalf of the Mustard Seed Mission, co-founded the Mercy’s Door Free Clinic. The blackfoot epidemic, which resulted in raw, pus-gushing lesions, blackened and mummified gangrene-riddled appendages, and a host of organ-specific cancers, was most likely caused by the locals’ 80-year exposure to “artesian well water” tainted with arsenic. The clinic opened its doors to the public three years later with Wang as head physician, and between 1960 and 1986, served as a safe haven for sufferers of the terrible disease, who received medical treatments free of charge.    


Jingzhaijiao Tile-Paved Salt Fields (井仔腳瓦)

Set against a backdrop of the glittering Beimen Lagoon, the Jingzhaijiao Tile-Paved Salt Fields are a spectacular sight. The salt ponds, the oldest of its kind in Taiwan, are neatly spread out across square mosaic tiles, hence its name, with conical mounds of lace-white salt seated within each square of the glassy grid. The iconic salt fields were first developed in 1818 during the reign of Qing Emperor Jiaqing, and was originally known as the “Laidong Salt Fields.” Salt miners ingeniously sprinkled broken pottery fragments over the salt ponds to keep salt crystals from clinging to the soil. 

The salt ponds were temporarily abandoned when the local salt industry crashed in 2002, but the salt fields were soon resurrected and transformed into a popular tourist attraction. Be sure to catch the salt ponds at sunset, and keep an eye out for the enchanting swirl of birds fluttering over the lagoon. Visitors can also shimmy across the walkway, and receive blessings of peace, love, and good fortune in the island’s only pig goddess (豬母娘娘) temple. After a mob of villagers decided to drive a pregnant sow off a cliff, as the legend goes, local farms and farmers became cursed by a string of bad harvests and inexplicable illnesses. They quickly erected a shrine dedicated to the sow, and only then, they say, was the curse finally lifted.


Zhuxinju Restaurant (筑馨居)

Dine like a true Qing dynasty local in this century-old house, which features most of its original doors and roof tiles, and brick walls adorned with vintage plaques, paintings, and shelves lined with old pottery and spice jars. The restaurant’s lack of a fixed menu only makes the dining experience all the more memorable. Expect textbook old-school Tainanese cuisine, which primarily focuses on seafood, local produce, and flavorful broths. The owner of the restaurant, Mr. Chou, was kind enough to introduce us to his prized antiques collection, among which included a portable general goods store mounted onto the back of a bicycle, an old-fashioned cash register, and an assortment of medicinal jars and vials.   


Thinking Homestay/Bed & Breakfast

We topped off our trip down memory lane with an evening at Thinking Homestay. Each room of the stunning old manor-turned-bed-and-breakfast boasts a distinctive decor and layout, and is furnished with Japanese-era antiques and heirlooms. Guests can also grab a nightcap at the old-timey, no-menu bar, manned by an effortlessly cool bartender, behind the reception area on the ground floor.  


Wushantou Reservoir (烏山頭水庫)

In 1919, Japanese hydraulics engineer Yoichi Hatta took on the ambitious task of designing and building an irrigation system for the Chianan Plain. Construction of the Wushantou Reservoir began the following year and was completed in May of 1930. The sprawling reservoir, which had a capacity of 150 million cubic meters and was fitted with a powerful, earthquake-resistant dam, was once the largest reservoir on the continent. Hatta’s innovative irrigation system tapped into Coral Lake, where over 30 rivers collide, and regularly supplied water to over 100,000 hectares of farmland, turning the once sterile plains into a thriving center of rice cultivation. Today, it is the only reservoir in the world that actively employs the “semi-hydraulic fill technique.”   

Statues and shrines devoted to Hatta and his family are scattered across the Yoichi Hatta Memorial Park. Tragedy struck twofold when Hatta’s ship, en route to Manila, was sunk in a World War II submarine attack in 1942; a portion of his ashes were buried on reservoir grounds. Unable to cope with the sudden loss of her husband, Hatta’s inconsolable wife, Toyoki Yonemura climbed onto the red bridge above the reservoir and leapt into the surging waters three years later. 

Visitors can also enjoy a dreamy cruise on Coral Lake, studded with 100 scenic isles and peninsulas, explore quaint Japanese-style houses, and (if you’re lucky) a lovely serenade from a local zither master.

A Taste of Hakka Culture With MyTaiwanTour

Night markets, bubble tea, shrimp fishing, temples, and hot springs – these are the beloved staples of Taiwanese culture, and are indispensable items on every tourist’s itinerary. That being said, this vibrant and remarkably unique island is loaded with hidden gems and one-of-a-kind experiences that even many of the locals have neglected to fully appreciate. One of these underrated jewels is tucked away in Hsinchu County’s Beipu Township, home to the largest Hakka population in Taiwan. Taiwan Observer recently had the privilege of experiencing a taste of Hakka heritage, courtesy of our friends at MyTaiwanTour.  

Our first stop was the old market by Zhudong Train Station, which was surprisingly bustling for a Thursday morning. In true Taiwanese fashion, the bazaar was both a wet and a dry market, lined with trucks, dizzying stalls, and small eateries peddling everything from crates of fresh fruit and vegetables, and snacks to munch on as you cruise and peruse, to clothes and bedsheets. The massive spice-crusted slabs of roasted pork, a Hakka specialty, are not to be missed.

Next on the agenda was the Sky Water Tea House (天水茶房擂茶), where guests were invited to partake in the Hakka tradition of tea-pounding. Each table was provided with a large ceramic bowl, a thick wooden pestle (for added aroma), a green tea base, and an assortment of toasted peanuts, black and white sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, melon seeds, and grains. The tea-grinding itself was a workout, but it was well worth it. After some blood, sweat, and tears were shed, we dug into our lei cha (擂茶, “thunder tea”), paired with traditional Taiwanese biscuits.

The thick, hearty tea, topped off with oats, was a full meal for older Hakka generations, who subscribed to the “waste not, want not” proverb. Nomadic Hakkas from the Qin dynasty, as well as their descendants, ground what little grains, seeds, and herbs they had into their teas. Lei cha was especially popular among farmers, who consumed these filling tea soups before toiling away in the fields. 

After a delicious family-style lunch at a nearby Hakka restaurant (老頭擺餐廳), where we were treated to sweet potato rice, a layered pickled cabbage dish, “white cut chicken” with a side of tangy orange sauce, persimmon pork rib soup, and more, we embarked on a tour of artistic installations in Nanpu. 

First, we admired “A Pickling Story” (鹹菜故事盒): a quirky, colorful mural documenting the stages of the Hakka pickling process. We then hopped on handmade bicycles provided by the MID 單車 company, and pedaled over to BK Square, a delightful artisan bakery with an old-fashioned wood-fired brick oven, and snacked on an array of freshly baked bread and dipping sauces. The “House of Smells” we swung by afterwards – a barn shaped like an oversized basket, previously used for the preservation of crops – was a feast for both the eyes and the nose. Be sure to catch a whiff of the “marketplace” (市場) crock.

After a spot of coffee at the HuKu PuKu Cafe, we headed over to the Chiang Ah Hsin Residence (姜阿新洋樓). The Baroque-style mansion, built in 1949, was commissioned by the wealthy black tea magnate following the success of his tea production factory and export business (Yongguang Company, Ltd.). The stately residence, designed by architect Peng Yu-Li, was constructed by local craftsmen, and doubled as a reception center for existing and potential clients. The mansion has since been designated a historical landmark, its restoration completed just last year, and is memorialized for the significant role it played in the development of Beipu’s once-booming tea industry. 


The final leg of our trip was rounded off by three more artistic installations. We were fortunate enough to have the Spanish sculptor Isaac Cordal himself guide us through the winding alleys of Beipu, where he had hidden a series of “micro-sculptures,” not unlike real-life easter eggs. These small, but exquisitely detailed figurines, mostly of middle-aged men, serve as a commentary on the local life, as well as global issues. 

We then moseyed over to Beipu Xiuluan Park (北埔秀巒山), where we were greeted by Australian artist James Tapscott. Tapscott’s signature piece, “Arc Zero – Ascension,” is a circular, illuminated steel portal mounted on the stairs leading up to the mountain, fitted with a misting system, and despite its simplicity, is an absolutely mesmerizing sight, particularly come nightfall.  Local artist Liu Chih-Hung’s “Timeline,” by Beipu’s 100 Point Bridge (百分大橋) – an optical illusion consisting of a series of 1s and 0s erected along the riverbanks, designed to demonstrate the fleeting nature of time – was the perfect way to end this culturally enriching experience.    


Image Courtesy of


WISH Upon a Sustainable Sky Lantern This Fall in PingXi 

Fully embrace the arrival of autumn this year by partaking in a beloved local tradition, modernized to show better regard for Mother Earth, and a magical outdoor festival that will have you wishing you never had to leaf.



Taiwan Observer was recently invited to a demo tour for a taste of the much-anticipated WISH 2019 Sustainable Sky Lantern Festival, hosted by MyTaiwanTour, to be held on the 12th of October in Pingxi. The sure-to-be unforgettable evening will include: a cool ride on an actual coal train, courtesy of the XPX Taiwan Coal Mine Heritage Park; a colorful market packed with delicious eats, an arts and crafts fair, and live music at that; a scrumptious farm-to-table feast in the forest perfect for Pinterest boards; and the launching of environmentally-friendly lanterns into the starry night sky.   


Pingxi and its famous sky lanterns are an indispensable item on the to-do lists of visiting tourists for obvious reasons. According to one legend, the centuries-old practice arose from the customs of Minnan settlers who came to the coal mining town in the early 1820s. When the island was under Qing rule, villagers fled deep into the mountain wilderness to escape the roving bandits – especially ravenous in the months leading up to the winter solstice – who targeted ill-guarded towns for food. The hearty young men left to defend the village released waves of lanterns to indicate that it was safe to return home.  

Photo: courtesy of CNN

While undoubtedly a bewitching sight to behold, the 300,000 to 400,000 lanterns released in Pingxi each year pose a serious threat to the environment, inevitably leaving partially-burnt lanterns and other garbage strewn about in the countryside. Birds and other wildlife are also made to suffer, often becoming entangled in iron wire lantern frames that have failed to decompose. 


WISH aims to celebrate the treasured tradition with an eco-friendly twist. The sustainable sky lanterns, designed and developed by Bank of Culture over two-and-a-half years, are entirely made out of paper, down to its frame, which is fashioned out of egg cartons and recycled paper pulp. You can actually watch your zero-waste lantern disintegrate in the sky, crumbling into a ball of flames and vanishing into thin air, which is pretty awesome in itself.     


General Admission tickets and Forest VIP Passes are available for sale now. For more details, head over to WISH’s official website.


WISH 2019 Sustainable Sky Lantern Festival Promo Video:


Additional Reading:

3 Most Instagram-Worthy Historical Mansions in Taipei 

If you’re looking to kick back on a lazy Sunday afternoon, snap some sweet shots for the ‘gram, and simultaneously experience Taiwanese culture, check out these gorgeous old mansions in Taipei:  


  1. The Lin Family Mansion & Garden (No. 9, Ximen St., Banqiao District, New Taipei City; Mondays-Sundays 9:00AM – 5:00PM, closed on the 1st Monday of each month)

Just a stone’s throw from Fuzhong Station, this handsome historical home is hard to miss. 


The Ben-Yuan Lin Family Mansion & Garden is an arresting compound steeped in history (1), and is packed with striking structures, interesting archways, scenic greenery, and a private pond. Its lantern-lit arcades, spacious courtyards, quaintly furnished halls, and miniature grotto make for perfect Instagram backdrops. You’ll also find a nifty collection of ceramics and a variety of artwork on display, as well as a souvenir shop stocked with Lin Family-branded mementos and a penny press.



  1.   Lin An Tai Ancestral House (No. 5, Binjiang St., Zhongshan District, Taipei City; open Tuesdays-Sundays between 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM)

This 200-year-old complex was erected by a wealthy first-generation Taiwanese businessman, Lin Hui-Kung, its name an homage to his hometown, Anxi County, and his firm, the Rong Tai Company. Check out the cool partition walls with vase-shaped doors, the winding trail of step stones, the artificial clay hill, and the Tea Lover’s House by the lotus-covered Moon Pond.


Bonus: Hit up Xinsheng Park (No. 105, Section 3, Xinsheng N. Rd., Zhongshan District), just a 3-minute walk away, to really round out your photography session.  


  1. Chiang Kai Shek Shilin Residence Park (No. 60, Fulin Rd., Shilin District, Taipei City; open Tuesdays-Sundays between 9:30 AM to 12:00PM, and 1:30 to 5:00PM)

This sprawling estate-turned-museum by the Shilin MRT Station was once home to Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife, Soon Mei-Ling. On top of their not-so-humble abode, the complex features a chapel, an outdoor amphitheater, and multiple one-of-a-kind gardens, complete with shaded walkways lined with an assortment of trees and shrubbery, seas of exotic flowers, and manicured lawns. Spice up your pictures with the quirky sculptures peppered throughout the park – a giant guitar, a massive pair of canary-yellow clogs, dozens of animal statues, and more.




Touring Kaohsiung: War Paint, Swinging Swords, & A Trip To The Moon! Pt.2

Read Pt.1 here

Following a tasty Taiwanese breakfast at the canteen, the group filed into Shunsian Temple just next door to the hostel. A sweet older woman, who we learned was a volunteer, led the tour while our trusty MyTaiwanTour guide, Gordon, played translator. The natural lighting drifting into the temple was almost redundant, for the intricately carved gilded ceilings and pillars brightened up the sanctuary with ease.

First, our temple guide directed us to what appeared to be a blemished section of the wall. This was, as dictated by legend, the site of the Mazu Miracle. After a grueling day of hauling timber and mixing concrete, the laborers poured the paste for a portion of the roof and clocked out for the day. As the story goes, the laborers returned the next morning and were stopped in their tracks by the distinctive face that had supposedly materialized onto one of the walls overnight. Upon closer inspection, the laborers spotted the close-set, heavy-lidded eyes and the small, round chin of the sea goddess.

Upstairs, the guests were given a closer look at the army of brightly-painted animal statues adorning the multi-tiered roof. The Holy Dragon and Tiger paintings emblazoned across the ceilings on either side of the second floor were, in my opinion, the temple’s most memorable attractions. Peer out the windows on the upper wall from inside of the Guanyin shrine, and you’ll see the tiger silently staring you down. Shuffle out to the corridor, however, and you’ll find that the trippy tiger’s head has suddenly shifted via optical illusion, its amber eyes seemingly glued to yours.


We had circled back to the entrance on the first floor by the end of the tour. The group was given the opportunity to choose from the tridents, spears, and other pole arms and fighting knives on display for photographs with the prop weapons. The temple’s in-house performance troupe presents incense to their patron god of theater, General Tiandu, before the start of every practice.

After the quick photo session, we sidled through the swelling crowd and took our seats, just in time for the opening ceremony of Round 1. The four teams competing on Day 1 – Shih Chien University, Lunghwa University of Science & Technology, University of Taipei, and Da-Yeh University, respectively – assembled on the temple square. Each entrance was enlivened by twirling flags, swinging battle axes, synchronized spear thrusting, cheerleading, and other acrobatics.


Intermission was called following a riveting performance by Team 1. Before proceeding to the canteen for lunch, we broke away from the crowd and ducked into the basement of the Yixian Service Center, where the contestants were recharging and prepping for their upcoming numbers. Some touched up their stage make-up – from decorative swirls, intense eyeliner, extreme eyebrows, and drawn-on beards to traditional opera masks.  A few in the group had their faces painted, courtesy of a friendly student from Lunghwa University.

We walked off our lunch at Chishan (also spelled “Qishan”) Old Street. We strolled past historic Japanese architecture and baroque buildings, and snacked on the treats we picked up from the bustling market – with no shortage of free samples, much to our delight – which can only be described as “banana central.” A couple of us also purchased boxes of banana cake from a banana-themed cafe and novelty shop.


Our next stop was the Tianliao Moon World Landscape Park. The dull, beige color and jaggedness of the rambling rock-hills are reminiscent of the moon’s rugged mountains, hence the park’s name. The group split up for the hike, and eventually reunited at the top of the climbing trail, where we enjoyed a stellar panoramic view of the badlands.

We stopped at a local re-chao place for dinner on our way back from the moon before returning to Shunsian Temple for the Day 1 closing ceremony. Once again, we cut through the throng of spectators, photographers, and camera crews, and took our seats. Kaohsiung City Mayor, Han Kuo-Yu, was the guest of honor. Politics aside, the Korean Fish’s entrance was pretty spectacular.


Spectators craned their necks and teetered on the tips of their toes as Han and his entourage strode towards their seats in the front row, a swarm of photographers and camera operators in tow. He waved at the cheering crowd and hit them with a few fist-and-palm salutes. The billows of purple-tinted smoke from the fog and light machines, dancing across the stage behind him, only added to the drama of his arrival.

The event concluded with a hypnotic fireworks and dancing fountain display. You could say that the tour ended with a bang – several bangs, in fact. 

Tiny Trains, a Giant Buddha, & Dinner and a Show! Kaohsiung! pt.1

The glorious sunlight immediately made up for the dangerous two hours of sleep I barely managed to squeeze in the previous evening. Or it could have been the two macchiatos I downed en route to Kaohsiung; we may never know. What I do know is that the transition from the glum-faced, umbrella-toting early birds of Taipei to the sea of sunglasses and parasols in the sunny southern city was a sight for sore eyes. The equally sunny disposition and informative narration of Gordon, our delightful MyTaiwanTour guide, was a fun bonus.  

Our first stop following the roughly four-hour bus ride was the Pier-2 Art Center in Yancheng. Past the curious collection of cartoonish statues, which included curvy fisherwomen, boxy-torsoed construction workers, and a fully-transformed Bumblebee were old buildings tricked out with murals, and warehouses converted into museums and seasonal exhibition spaces. Tourists posed with surreal scrap metal sculptures scattered across the old train tracks. Photographers turned into contortionists, angling for that perfect shot.    


When the rest of our tour group arrived, we headed over to Platform 8 ⅖ (cute) in the Hamasen Museum of Taiwan Railway. We hopped aboard a pint-sized light rail train, modeled after the trams of the Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit, and zipped around the miniature tracks. Yes, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds.


A tour of the railway museum came next. Among its nifty displays was a life-size replica of a train carriage interior and an interactive one-seater rail bike that you could pedal around a short strip of tracks installed in the corner of the room. The centerpiece of the permanent exhibit, a sprawling hall inhabited by an exquisite scale model of the island, did not disappoint.


The craftsmanship and attention to detail were on another level. Illuminated toy trains disappeared into mountain tunnels and glided past colorful buildings, billboards, and public squares as thumb-sized animatronic civilians pumped water and hung up their laundry. There were teenie chickens pecking the grass, for crying out loud.  

The tour was paused for a filling lunch at the Jhan-2 Warehouse, which was stocked with a variety of restaurants and kiosks vending everything from artisanal crafts and souvenirs to maxi pads. We then set off for the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, a sacred treasury erected to enshrine a tooth from the Sakyamuni Buddha himself. Leading up to the Fo Guang Big Buddha was a long, white path – a reference to the Great Path to Buddhahood – flanked by the Eight Pagodas and neat columns of flower shrubs and other greenery. The glinting bronze Buddha was even more striking up close.  


We were asked to put our cameras away during the tour of the shrines. The relief carvings, engraved into fragrant wood and jade slabs, as well as the statues spotlighted in each shrine were sights to behold – in particular, the thousand-armed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva and the Reclining Buddha fashioned out of white jade. Smiling staff members seated by the entrance of each shrine handed us flower pots that we then placed on the altars as offerings for the deities. In the Golden Buddha room, which featured a wall housing some 6,000 white Buddhas in separate niches, were Dharma Advice Boxes. Visitors knelt before these boxes, quietly submitted a question, and fished out words of wisdom printed onto paper scrolls, available in both Mandarin and English.  


We later reconvened at the Starbucks in the Front Hall, boarded our bus, and proceeded to Shunsian Temple. This was the venue for the main event: the Neimen Song Jiang Battle Array.

MyTaiwanTour hooked us up with great rooms at the Yixian Service & Event Center, according to TaiwanGods, “the most famous five-star pilgrim’s hostel in Taiwan.” Once we were all settled in, we made our way towards the temple square. Performers and guests located their seats in the mass of round tables, ready to dine bando (banquet) style. We feasted upon a blur of seafood platters, an assortment of meats and vegetables cooked in various ways, and broths, capped off with, of course, a plate of fruit.

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The banquet was complemented by vibrant song, drum, and dance numbers prepared by the eight competing schools. The school spirit demonstrated by these institutions, among them an elementary school, was infectious. What’s more, the diversity of the performers was a breath of fresh air.

All in all, an appetite-pleasing and emotionally gratifying end to an action-packed day.

Looking to learn more about traveling in Taiwan? Check out Taiwan Scene. Also, book a custom tour with MyTaiwanTour to make the most of your trip!

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