In the greater Taipei area, there are two kinds of night markets: those that have been “prettied up” for tourists (like HuaXi a.k.a. “Snake Alley”) and those that are more organic in nature and serve the community that surrounds them. Sanhe Night Market is one of the latter. It’s not wide streets with Net outlets lining the boarders, but narrow alleys crammed with stalls selling fashion, fun, and food. One thing I love about the more “local” night markets such as Sanhe is that often the preparation of certain snack foods is hidden in the back or done off-site in more “on-trail” markets is done right in the outlet. In fact, it is advertising! Ever wonder how string dried pork is made?
And now you know.
Don’t you roast coffee beans in one of those?
Moving on… .
As is implied in the moniker “Night Market”, Sanhe and other such markets are open and active at night. From very early morning to just after lunch the Sanhe market area is full of vendors selling cookware, butcher stalls, and freshly-caught fish. It’s definitely worth a visit for the non-squeamish and non-vegetarian. Sometimes we need to be reminded that our food doesn’t come from Styrofoam and syranwrap packages.
After the day market closes down there’s a break for a couple of hours while things are cleaned up. Then around 4PM the night market opens and this is really the best time to arrive. Even in winter there is still daylight about allowing for more freedom in your photography. In addition, you will still be able to catch some stalls and shops being set up and foot traffic is still minimal giving you a lot of freedom of movement.
Then grab an early dinner. This ensures two things:
You’ll be able to get a table.
You’ll be ready for snacking before you go home.
This only cost me a couple of bucks… pork chop in mushroom sauce, noodles, and an egg.
By the time you finish the sun is down, all the shops are open, and the thoroughfares are full of eager shopaholics. With all the bare bulbs and neon signage illuminating the cramped darkness, a flash isn’t required. EI400 will give you a decent shutter speed up to f/5.6 most of the time. It’s also the perfect opportunity to use a short prime so that you can go a little faster if need be. With the alleys being no wider then a few feet, there’s no real need for anything longer then a 50mm, even for a headshot portrait. If you do feel the need to use a flash, try and use it in slow synch mode so that you can keep as much of the ambient lighting as possible. The mix of neon, tungsten, and florescent key lights makes for a wonderful atmosphere.
And hang around as long as you’d like. I lived for a couple of years in an apartment just half a block from the center of Sanhe Night Market and not once do I recall it closing, no matter how late I stayed up. Obviously at some point it does close to make room for the next day’s wet market, but that transition probably doesn’t take place until the wee hours of the morning.
Come early. Stay late. Take in the atmosphere. Shoot ’till your battery dies.