Famous for its umbrellas, noodles, and tobacco, MeiNong (美濃) is a stronghold of Hakka culture and tradition, all within easy reach by car from Taiwan’s southern city KaoHsiung (高雄). The area offers a fairly easy 1-day drive to all of its local highlights.
By Stuart Hill
Located in what used to be called KaoHsiung County, the MeiNong District is a group of semi-rural communities within roughly an hour’s drive by car.
The two main town locations are MeiNong and the even larger and more modern QiShan, but between these two and the mountains are a number of interesting sites that can all be enjoyed as a full day of activities.
While the region was originally occupied by aborigines, the area these days is more famous for its exceptionally large ratio of Hakka, who began migrating to the region (and driving out the aborigines) roughly 300 years ago. The proportion of Hakka to other cultural groups is roughly 95% of the local population, which is far higher than the ratio measured across the whole of Taiwan, so local culture and traditions reflect a heavy influence from this group.
Throughout the year different events highlight various things that MeiNong is famous for, including a butterfly festival, paper festival and various Hakka celebrations.
Some Highlights of the MeiNong District:
1. MeiNong Farms
While tobacco was the biggest crop grown in the MeiNong region until recently, and arguably generated its most wealth over the years, the shift in economics has forced farmers to harvest other crops, such as fruit and flowers. This farm near the Hakka Folk Village, and others nearby, offers lots of photo opportunities, and highlights the beauty of the region.
2. MeiNong’s Hakka Food
Hakka food in MeiNong District is famous for its use of cultivated lotus, pork and noodles, and was traditionally high in salt as a need to replenish the salt intake of local farmers. Several restaurants in the area are very popular and offer a range of traditional local dishes. The food is reasonably priced and pretty good to eat too.
3. Hakka Culture at the MeiNong Hakka Museum
The MeiNong Hakka Museum is a worthwhile stop that provides a quick overview of the history and lifestyles of Hakka in the MeiNong region. While English is minimal, you can still get an idea of the paths of migration to the area, the heavy impact of the Japanese and other Chinese on their society, plus the industries that the Hakka developed. The museum features a diorama of a tobacco curing factory, as well as real everyday items from families living in the area.
4. MeiNong Architecture
One of the key highlights of towns throughout the MeiNong District is the large number of traditional “u-shaped” houses that still stand today, and are being maintained in good condition. Simply walking through some of the back streets of MeiNong you will see some beautiful examples of architecture you rarely find in Taiwan’s bigger cities. Some of the “downtown” commercial buildings such as this one in the township of QiShan are also in fairly good condition and reflect the wealth of this region in previous eras.
5. MeiNong District Arts & Crafts
The MeiNong District is famous for its design and production of waterproof paper umbrellas. These are unadorned examples hanging from the ceiling of the local Hakka Museum, but today most umbrellas are sold as vibrant tourist souvenirs.
6. MeiNong’s Historical Relics
MeiNong’s East Gate watch tower, built during the Qing Dynasty, is a remnant of the regions long history. The area also still features many small shrines, and more recent structures such as the old tobacco curing towers. MeiNong’s East Gate is located near a road bridge crossing the local river. The site used to mark the edge of the town. There is a photo of kids playing in the river nearby the tower that you might find in the Hakka Museum.
7. Hakka Culture
The MeiNong Hakka Folk Village is a tourist-friendly highlight that includes a few places to eat, buy local souvenirs, and let the kids get a feel for what it might be like to “live like Hakka”. Nearby road stalls sell local produce, including fruit, vegetables and flowers all at pretty low prices.
8. Lots to Eat in MeiNong & QiShan Towns
QiShan is the larger commercial center of the MeiNong District, and these days resembles many other smaller cities in Taiwan. The weekends see throngs of people heading for its Old Street where you can get lots to eat from night market style stands as well as several old establishments. The shop in this picture was taken at QiShan Bing Cheng (旗山冰城) or QiShan Ice City, an old store selling Taiwan “iced desserts” including their specialities based on bananas. MeiNong district used to be a big grower of bananas.
More information about MeiNong District: