Location: Beigang Chaotian Temple, Taiwan
It’s traditional in Taiwan to visit a temple on Lunar New Year’s Day and pay your respects to the various gods by burning incense and spirit money. One of the most popular temples in Taiwan is the Chaotian Temple in Beigang, Yunlin.
Chaotian temple is over 300 years old, and was built for Matsu, the goddess of the sea. The temple is huge and consists of a main courtyard, surrounded by a series of smaller courtyards, each dedicated to a different god.
The temple has been constantly rebuilt and added to during its history, the result is that it feels, and looks, almost like a miniature walled city. Especially when viewed from the Cultural Hall behind the temple.
Each of the gods in the temple have a specific purpose. If you have a certain thing you are praying for, then you need to pay for your respects to that god – For instance, if a couple wanted to have a baby they would visit the Goddess of Childgiving. I found that a lot of people were visiting all of the gods, making their way around the temple burning incense as they went.
There are many doors to each courtyard and paths you can take through the temple, giving it an even bigger feel.
In front of the temple is Beigang Old Street (Zhongshan Road), which is full of traditional sweets and cakes, and leads all the way to the Beigang Tourist Bridge. I didn’t make it that far down the road this time as it was so packed with people and I wanted to focus on the temple.
While the temple is the main tourist attraction of the area, there’s lots to see in Beigang. The small streets and alleys that surround the area are signposted with areas of historic interest, but it’s good to just get lost walking around for a few hours.
It’s difficult to describe how it feels to be there. The street is filled with hundreds of people, all bearing down on the temple. Inside, people are surging towards the main courtyard, holding handfuls of incense high so as to avoid burning anyone. Packs of spirit money is accumulated and then ceremoniously burnt. The smoke from burning incense fills the air. It comes in thick waves and after a while stings the eyes.
To try and share the experience, I made the video below. I clipped my action camera to my cap and made my way from the back streets of Beigang onto the old street, and then into the temple:
If you do visit, make sure to view the temple from the Cultural Hall, which is located behind the temple. The first time I visited I didn’t know it was there so missed out on a great view. There’s also a giant statue of Matsu there that’s well worth seeing.
For more information and photos of the area you can check out these websites and blogs: