Before Taipei was even a thing, there was Hsinchu, the first northern city to be developed in Taiwan in the early 1700s. Savvy international investors and world leaders have definitely heard of this rather small, unassuming town because even though it is older than the United States of America, it is practically the exclusive producer of the world’s most advanced semiconductor chips–you likely have one in your phone or computer–thanks to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) based there along with the nation’s Science Park and multiple universities specializing in science and technology.
Despite producing world class cutting edge technology and being only about an hour and a half drive away from the bustle of international Taipei, Hsinchu has some of that old Taiwan that is no longer easy to find in the capital city. If you’ve got time for a day trip away from Taipei or a long layover at Taoyuan International Airport and want to experience Taiwan’s yesteryear, Downtown Hsinchu is a convenient and storied destination.
Whether you take the new high speed rail or old train system, getting to historic Hsinchu Station should be a cinch. If you’re familiar with Tokyo Station and wonder why Hsinchu’s Train Station (not to be confused with the High Speed Rail Station to the northeast) low key looks like the one in Tokyo, the two stations were both built in the early 1900s by Imperial Japan during Taiwan’s time as a colony.
A quick walk to the east of the station and you’ll find yourself at Hsinchu Park where there are a number of attractions: Glass Museum, Insect Museum, Hsinchu Zoo, and Confucius Temple. You’ll also find more remnants of Japanese colonial architecture and gardening styles, as Hsinchu was used as a main base of governance.
To the northwest of Hsinchu Station you’ll find the Moat Park, a long lush green waterway area lined on both sides with shopping, restaurants, and hotels. If you have time to stay overnight, this little strip would be a cozy stay with plenty to see within walking distance. I recommend the Shin Yuan Park Hotel.
As the old town part of the city, you’ll find these red brick arch buildings that have been there for over a century, also designed by the Japanese architects from the colonial period.
Also, at the gates of this temple are a plethora of street food options where you can have some local favorites like bawan (meat ball), shaved ice, and daohue (tofu dessert).
The Southeast Asian-esque street eats seating and local tastes haven’t changed much in almost a century, so you’ll be sure to get some time travel in with your Taiwan travels.