TAIPEI (The China Post) — Just a 30-minute drive from Taiwan’s bustling capital lies the port town of Keelung, whose coastline ranges from soft sandy beaches to rough, rocky cliffs. For many, the city is known for a particularly eventful festival which takes place yearly on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month — the Ghost Festival (中元節).
Although celebrated throughout East Asia, Keelung’s Ghost Festival has been crowned as Taiwan’s most bombastic and unique, where open-air busses dressed up in multi-colored designs parade the streets and large “water lanterns” are set ablaze and cast into the sea.
It has remained a highly anticipated yearly event for locals since the mid-19th century, with many families paying their fair share to showcase their devotion, and inviting the spirits of their ancestors back from the afterlife if only for a month, hence the name “Ghost Month” (鬼月).
Non-Taiwanese should resist any temptation to equate these festivities with Halloween, however. Local customs not only double-down on their commitment to lights, music, and ceremonious revelry, but Keelung’s main night market also bustles with locals and tourists feverishly scanning through each food stall.
Don’t miss the best braised pork rice from stall No. 31, sweets made from taro, sweet potato and even seaweed, dishes made from freshly caught fish and, of course, a wild variety of milk teas to hold back the mid-summer heat.
This year, the festivities begin on Sep. 1, and our guide from My Taiwan Tour has highly recommended to experience three locations — the Main Salvation Altar (主普壇), Miaokou Night Market (廟口夜市) and the surrounding city streets and finally, the burning of water
However, a large banquet is also held at the Main Salvation Altar on the following day Sep. 2 to welcome and “dine” with ancestral spirits who have come from afar to visit family members.
Visitors are encouraged to reach this mountain-top temple and observe the lively, scarlet-colored feast for themselves; but just remember, no pears, bananas, plums allowed because it might cause the ghosts to overstay their welcome!