Monday, 1 May 2017

Night Market: Taiwan vs Malaysia

Night markets are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Famous night markets like Petaling Street (KL), Shilin Night Market (Taiwan) and Ladies Market (Hong Kong) are considered must see attractions in their respective countries. For many visitors, the night markets are all about food, cheap bargains and experiencing the local culture. Many of my friends tell me the night markets in Taiwan WAY are better than Malaysia. However, is this true?

Before I begin, let me begin with some disclaimers. Firstly, this is a general comparison between the 2 countries rather than between any specific night market. Also, the phrase "pasar malam" means night market in Malay. Morever, I am NOT going to compare price. Finally, the information presented are only based on which the markets I visited before. Here is the complete list of major night markets that I have visited in both Malaysia and Taiwan.

Shilin (Taipei)
Raohe (Taipei)
Fengchia (Taichung)
Sandao (Kaoshiung)
Liuhe (Kaoshiung)
Petaling Street (KL)
Jalan Alor (KL)
Gurney Drive (Penang)
Cameroon Highlands


The most important criteria for any night market has to be food. Here, both sides are quite evenly matched. Taiwanese night markets are well known for their smelly toufu (臭豆腐) and also a large variety of unique snacks produced by creative local entrepreneurs. By contrast, Malaysian night markets serve a lot more fried food, seafood and traditional kampung snacks and biscuits. 

Personally, my favourite night market food is the kebab carts, only found in Malaysia. There are 2 types: the Malay style which is deep fried and the Chinese style (Lok-lok) which is cooked in various types of soup. It really brings back old memories of doing BBQ under the stars at Marina South. Oh yes, you should really get coconut drink there! Its priced RM5-10 compared to SGD 4-8 in Singapore.

As for Taiwan, there are many varieties of fried chicken (ie. 姜葱鸡, 盐酥鸡, etc). However, one major compliant I have for Taiwanese night market food is that there is a lot of bones inside. Therefore, it is not very convenient to eat while walking. Taiwanese night markets also serve far more exotic food like snake meat!

Can someone tell me how to appreciate chocolate sausage?

erm... no thank you!

This is a tough one, but I must give the winner to Malaysia for a couple of reasons. Firstly, maybe I am just more familiar with the Malaysian taste. More importantly, the atmosphere at Malaysia is more conducive for eating because the night markets have more seating and less congested. I do not see any real difference in quality and variety of food. Finally, Malaysian night market food is really, really cooked very well. Taiwan's night market food is also excellent but the taste and richness just does not stack up to Malaysia's

Beware at Gurney Drive. The tables are owned by different stall owners and you can only sit at their table if you buy their food!

A rare place where you can actually sit down and eat something. At Shilin Night Market

Taiwan: Malaysia

Variety (3)

Taste (4)

Eating Environment (3)



In the shopping category, Taiwan wins hands down. Malaysian night markets only have a small number of shops selling cheap toys or clothing. By contrast, Taiwanese night markets offer a wide selection of products ranging from locally design fashion to high street brands. For example, at Shilin, the pedestrian street is often lined with small booths selling local products while the shop houses behind them contains more atas brands like Converse or Under Armour. 

The only night market in Malaysia that integrates atas brand shopping with dining in the way Taiwan does is Petaling Street. Even then, the variety of high street brands pales in comparison to Fengchia or Sandao night market.

Taiwan: Malaysia



This is an interesting one. Taiwan and Malaysia each has its own set of activities. For Taiwan, it is without a doubt the game stalls. There are shooting games, fishing games, basketball games and even entire stalls dedicated to arcade machines. Just a word of caution: the game stall owners are known to "make adjustments" to the game if they see that you are doing well so you will not win the prizes so easily.

If you want to impress your girlfriend with a couple of wins...

For Malaysia, the main highlight is street musicians. Even then, this one is mainly found at Jalan Alor only. For other night markets, there is really nothing much else except for the food.

Street musicians are found all over Jalan Alor!

Taiwan: Malaysia



I know, people are going to tell me that Taiwan has a better public transport system. Yet, I think that (at KL at least), the night markets in Malaysia are more accessible that those at Taiwan. Firstly, there are many hotels, located in the vicinity of night markets. For example, just at Petaling Street, there are at least 10 budget hotels and 4-5 "official" hotels within walking distance. In fact, most of the budget hotels in KL are concentrated around the 2 night markets at Petaling Street and Jalan Alor. Not to mention, the 2 night markets KL are just 2 train stops from each other!

Taipei may have a "better" rail system, but the night markets are so far apart that you will have to travel halfway across the network to reach the other one.

Taiwan: Malaysia
0: 2


Other things

Each night market has some features that I think are worth adding or deducting some points:

A car trying to squeeze through Jalan Alor night market

Firstly, vehicles driving through night market is a big problem. There are more motorcycles winding through the night market in Taiwan, while for KL occasional cars will try to take "short cut" and end up getting stalled in the crowd. Note that Petaling Street (KL) is closed off to vehicle traffic and Raohe Night Market (Taipei) is so cramped that no vehicle can squeeze in. I find this more serous in Taiwan because it is more cramped and there is a higher frequency of vehicles passing.

Taiwan: Malaysia
-2: -1

At night markets, it is not uncommon for raw and cooked food to be placed in close proximity to one another, especially in ... yong tau fu style stalls like this one.

Not surprisingly, night markets are very dirty and unhygienic places. In both countries, there is litter on the ground and some food stall operators are not even wearing gloves. However, I would like to commend the locals at Fengchia night market (Taichung) because they really use the trash bags provided in the night market and the floor is so much cleaner. But in general... 

Taiwan: Malaysia
0, -1

For toilets, it really depends on which night market. In Taiwan, there are free and paid toilets all over Shilin that are of decent quality, but you will struggle to find a toilet at Liuhe (Kaishiung) or Raohe (Taipei) night markets. In Malaysia, toilets are present at Petaling Street (KL) and Gurney Drive (Penang), but at Jalan Alor, the only way to use a toilet is to be a customer at a restaurant. And enjoy your bladder marathon at Cameroon Highlands!

Taiwan: Malaysia
0, 0

Total Score:

And the winner is:

Taiwan: Malaysia

Okay fine! Taiwan night market really score higher than Malaysian ones. However, I think the 2 countries' night markets each have their own merits and are worth visiting on its own. For a good balance of food, shopping and games, and to get a taste of local entrepreneurship, a Taiwan night market is ideal. However, if you want to go all out food, you cannot go wrong going to Malaysia's Pasar Malams. And lets not forget price. If I added price as a category, Malaysia will actually beat Taiwan in total score!

My Favourite Night Market?

So, after talking so many night markets, which one is my favourite? Okay. For me, food is far more important to the night market experience than shopping other activities. That eliminates shopping oriented night markets like Shilin (Taipei) and Petaling Street (KL). Also, I really, really like seafood. And the only night market with a row of seafood eateries? Jalan Alor! Moreover, that place is full of life with musicians, artists and street performers. Also, there are many full service and budget hotels all around Jalan Alor, so you can literally be there every night! Finally, who needs shopping when the place is just beside Sungei Wang and Low Yat Plaza (KL's Bugis Junction and Sim Lim Square)

This is just 2 of more than 10 seafood restaurants at Jalan Alor!

However, I think that Raohe Night Market in Taipei really gives the best night market atmosphere. Yes the shopping is mediocre. Yes all the food there can also be found at Shilin and Ximending. Yes it is very small compared to Petaling Street or Shilin. Yet, it is the only night market that feels very local. Honestly, the feeling when you are there is like it is Chinese New Year. It really showcases the vibrance and energy of the Taiwanese people.

So, do you agree with my comparison? Why not look at other comparison posts such as Hong Kong Disneyland vs Universal Studios Singapore or Royal Caribbean vs Star Cruises