Lying around 20km southeast of Hsinchu, just north of the Lion’s Head Mountain Scenic Area, the small town of BEIPU (北埔; běipŭ) is the centre of Hakka culture in north Taiwan, the counterpart of Meinong in the south. Though it’s a bit touristy these days, the compact area of old buildings and teahouses around Citian Temple has plenty of rustic charm, and it makes an easy excursion from Hsinchu or even Taipei.
Beipu’s tiny bus station is on Zhongzheng Road (中正路; zhōngzhèng lù), a short walk from the old part of town. Walk a few metres to Nanxing Street (南星街; nánxīngjiē) and turn right, passing some good places to try léichá, and on to the next junction with “old street” (aka Beipu Street; 北埔街; běipŭjiē), thick with touristy shops and food stalls. The shop on the corner is Lung Yuan Pastry Store (隆源餅行; lóngyuán bǐngháng), established in 1871 and maker of tasty sweet potato and taro cakes. Turn left here and head towards Citian Temple (慈天宮; cítiān gōng) at the end of “old street”, established in 1830 and the town’s main centre of worship. The Main Hall is dedicated to Guanyin, flanked by tablets on the right representing the sānguān dàdì (Three Great Emperor-Officials) and on the left, the sānshān guówáng (Three Mountain Kings), all Hakka favourites.
Beipu’s oldest and most appealing buildings are crammed into a relatively small area around the temple, a mixture of traditional red- and mud-brick Chinese houses, well worth exploring. To the south, the Zhongshu Tang (忠恕堂; zhōngshùtáng) built in 1922, is a charming Qing dynasty house with an unusual Baroque facade. Many of these houses are linked to the wealthy Jiang family – patriarch Jiang Xiou-nuan built the grand A-Hsin Jiang Residence (姜阿新宅; jiāng āxīn zhái) in the 1940s just to the north of the temple on Miaoqian Street (廟前街; miàoqiánjiē) in a blend of Western and Japanese styles. Like most of the buildings here, it’s still privately owned and closed to the public. Beyond here, on the corner of Zhongzheng Road is the traditional building known as Jinguangfu (金廣福; jīnguǎngfú), the old meeting hall built in the 1830s, and opposite, Tianshui Tang (天水堂; tiānshuǐtáng), a huge Chinese mansion still occupied by the Jiang family. Zhongzheng Road becomes a narrow alley east of here, containing some of the town’s most atmospheric teahouses.