Have you ever been too tired to walk any longer and had to take a rest before continuing your shopping in a night market? Tainan Flowers Night Market, or "Huayuan Yeshih" in the local dialect, will do that to you.
Though the night market has the word flowers in its name, it has little to do with flowers, and does not have even a single flower-selling stall. The whole market is more like a recreation zone or a shopping mall, offering all kinds of merchandise and entertainment. With an over 10,000m2 shopping area and anywhere from 300 to 500 vendors on a given night, the outdoor Flowers Night Market in Tainan City is the biggest night market of its kind in Taiwan.
Well laid out
Most of Taiwan's night markets have taken shape randomly in their earliest stages, while Flowers started out with a very clear plan. The vast area of market space is divided into three zones - the food, the goods, and entertainment. The market's administrative committee also hired a private security firm to maintain security and order in the market, including traffic control, which keeps the market much more orderly than other night markets.
Although Flowers Night Market is relatively new, with ten years of business under its belt, it has drawn the attention of the media in recent years after attracting a growing number of consumers. Increased media coverage has boosted its already flourishing business, although sales have suffered somewhat since May due to gasoline price hikes and the resulting inflation.
Flowers is really located in the middle of nowhere, on a large vast tract of land on the outskirts of northern Tainan City past the juncture of Haian Road and Weiho Road, with only a few buildings and residences in the nearby area. The rapidly-rising popularity of Flowers Night Market seems to have come as a complete surprise, as very little public transportation is linked to the location.
Still, the large, free parking lot at Flowers Night Market does a lot to neutralize the disadvantage of its remote location, and the market is attracting more and more customers to spend their free time there. Around 16,000 of the total 26,000m2 goes toward parking spaces - considerably more than the 10,000m2 given over to vendors. Most customers agree that they would not stop to shop at a place which is inconvenient for parking.
Unlike Taipei's Shihlin Night Market or Kaohsiung's Liuho Night Market, which are open for business seven days a week, Flowers market opens only three days a week - on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Such a special schedule for the night market is actually common in Taiwan outside the large metropolises of Taipei and Kaohsiung, as vendors tend to move around between night markets in different locations to do business. In addition, customers in one area tend not to visit the night market every day.
When you walk into Flowers, one interesting thing you will notice is the lofty banners with gaudy logos that are erected next to each booth, with the hundreds of flags in the upper reaches of the market making for quite a interesting sight. Vendors hang up these lofty banners largely to show off their booths, and night market visitors who lose their way while walking through the market can hone in on the banners to reorient themselves or find a booth more easily.
The food area in Flowers provides a rich variety of choices, with most of the famous local cuisines on hand. There are also foreign cuisines such as Thai, Korean, Japanese, Malaysian, Singaporean, Turkish, Indian, German and many more. For steak alone, you will find it available at three or four different stalls.
One food stall which grabbed my attention was Tungta Chicken Steak. This stall attracts too many customers and frequently causes 啍raffic jams' in the area near Tungta, and has received plenty of complaints from nearby vendors as a result. The owner of Tungta had little choice but to rent more stall space to be used exclusively for the lines of people queuing up to buy its chicken steak.
The fruit stall Amei Yenchao Guava is also an interesting booth, with a pretty neon-lamp signboard displaying the words Amei Guava that is easily spotted inside the market. Five or six large basins containing peeled and sliced fruits can be found in the booth, all soaking in salt water to make them even sweeter. The generous salespersons at Amei will pass out free pieces of fruit to passing visitors.
The goods area of Flowers is an ideal place to shop for fashion or funky stuff, featuring many creative stalls selling handmade crafts or other creatively designed merchandise such as leather goods, handmade soap, funky caps, rings and necklaces, and many others great finds. Hardware and grocery stalls are also available in this area, but most of them are still occupied by booths selling clothes. The style of clothes covers a wide range of choices - you can find something for the young or the old, men or women, underwear or office wear. Clothes in night markets are usually cheap, though this may not always be the case.
Fancy a flutter?
The entertainment area of Flowers is also quite an interesting place to go, and not every night market has their entertainment stalls all gathered in one section. The entertainment section makes the night market even more like a recreational park, with various kinds of games on offer here such as hoop toss, BB gun shooting, goldfish scooping, baseball pitching, toy auctions, and mini Pinball, dart shooting and Mahjongg Bingo.
Most of the games seem to be some kind of Bingo in nature, where players who are lucky enough to hit a target in some specific game will get certain prizes. Among all these games, Mahjong Bingo is the game which occupies the most space with the most stalls, with at least three stalls in the entertainment area offering Mahjong Bingo.
One brisk circle of Flowers Night Market takes at least one to two hours, that is if you never stop for a drink or some food or to pick up some kind of funky toy. The market is open for business on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and if you really want to avoid being stuck in a bunch of slow-moving browsers when shopping at Flowers Night Market, then Thursday night would probably be your best bet.
(This story can be also seen at http://www.culture.tw/)