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The otherwise unexceptional town of BEIGANG (北港; běigǎng), a short bus ride northwest of Chiayi, is worth a visit for the Chaotian Temple, 178 Zhongshan Rd (朝天宮; cháotiāngōng), one of Taiwan’s most significant religious sites. Dating back to 1694 (it’s been expanded many times since then) to enshrine what many consider the country’s most powerful Mazu image, the temple is one of the island’s greatest mother temples. As such, it’s constantly filled with worshippers, making it arguably the best place in Taiwan to grasp the fundamental importance of Mazu to the Taiwanese, as well as featuring some of the most exuberant temple art on the island.

The most dramatic time to visit is during one of the weekends preceding Mazu’s birthday, on the twenty-third day of the third lunar month, when hundreds of thousands of devotees besiege Beigang for the goddess’s annual inspection tour; the image is paraded around town to a chaotic backdrop of fireworks, lion dances and stilt performers.