Of all the places I’ve visited in Taiwan, Rainbow Village in Taichung is the one I remember the most fondly. Not just because of all the colorful buildings there, but because of the inspiring story behind how it was created.
Yes, Rainbow Village is a fabulous backdrop for Instagram photos, but it’s so much more than that. Read on to find out how one elderly man took his fate into his own hands and created this beautiful place.
Where is Rainbow Village?
Rainbow Village is located on the outskirts of Taichung, the second-largest city in Taiwan. Until recently, Taichung was never thought of as a tourist destination. Most visitors interested in city life in Taiwan would travel to Taipei, Tainan or Kaohsiung but skip right over Taichung.
This is starting to change though, and Rainbow Village is a big part of the reason why. Though not Taiwan's most beautiful city, Taichung has a lot to offer when it comes to art and culture. And Rainbow Village is definitely one of its top attractions.
It's one of the most colorful places I've ever seen, right up there with the Rainbow Mountains in western China.
The History of Rainbow Village and Rainbow Grandpa
How It All Began
Rainbow Village was created single-handedly by one elderly war veteran. His real name is Huang Yung Fu, but these days everyone calls him Rainbow Grandpa.
Born in Guangdong province in southern China in 1924, he joined the army at the age of 15 to fight against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War (which was part of World War II). He then fought with the Kuomintang against Mao Zedong’s Communist army in the Chinese Civil War.
When the Communists won, Huang retreated to Taiwan along with two million other Kuomintang soldiers and their families.
After his honorable discharge from the army at the age of 55, he continued to work as a security guard. According to a sign at Rainbow Village, “he has won rave reviews on his justice as he has caught thieves and fought against rascals”!
In 2010, when Huang was 86 years old, he received a letter ordering him to evacuate his home because it was going to be demolished. But it was the only real home he’d ever known, and he didn’t want to leave. So instead, he started painting.
He began by painting a bird on his bedroom wall, and then he just kept going, painting the outside walls of his house and those of the abandoned houses surrounding it. Since he hadn’t painted since childhood, he recreated the simple figures of animals and people that his father had taught him to draw as a young child.
From Nearly Homeless to Internationally Famous
One day, a student at the local university passed by while he was painting and stopped to ask what he was doing. Moved by his story, she shared it with her fellow students and her professors.
They successfully petitioned the mayor of Taichung to protect the paintings as valuable cultural property. Rainbow Grandpa was allowed to keep his home.
Thanks to photos shared widely on websites and social media, his fame quickly grew. Rainbow Village is now a popular attraction for both domestic and international tourists in Taiwan. It received more than 1 million visitors per year!
To find out more about Rainbow Grandpa’s inspiring story, visit the building called “Story House” inside Rainbow Village. There you’ll find old photos of Rainbow Grandpa, framed drawings signed by him, and a TV showing news clips about him.
Next door to the Story House is the two-room house where Rainbow Grandpa still lives. Please be especially quiet and respectful in this area.
Is Rainbow Village Really a Village?
Well, sort of, but not exactly. The Chinese name is a bit more accurate. It’s Caihong Juancun (彩虹眷村), which translates as “rainbow military dependents’ village”.
What Is a Military Dependents’ Village?
These communities were built on public land for Kuomintang soldiers and their dependents after the Kuomintang army retreated from the Chinese mainland in 1949.
Hastily built, they were meant to serve as temporary housing until the day when the Kuomintang army could recapture mainland China. Of course, that day never came.
Over the decades, as the former soldiers either moved or passed away, their homes fell into disrepair. In the mid-1990s the government began demolishing many of the military dependents’ villages to make way for high-rise buildings. Out of the 879 military dependents’ villages built in Taiwan, fewer than 30 remain today.
Rainbow Grandpa’s Military Dependents’ Village
When Rainbow Grandpa moved there, his village was home to 1,200 households. But over the years, all those people either died or moved away, until he was the only one left.
By 2010, real estate developers had bought up all but 11 of the 1,200 homes and demolished them to build high-rise apartments. This is why the government ordered him to vacate, so that developers could bulldoze what was left.
But as you already know, that’s not what happened. Rainbow Grandpa took matters into his own hands, by picking up a paintbrush.
He managed to save those last 11 buildings, including his own house, by painting them. They are now surrounded by modern high-rises. I’m telling you this to manage your expectations, because some visitors are disappointed by how small the “village” is.
This short video clip from the BBC includes aerial footage with overhead views of the village, giving a good idea of its size.
Unlike the two rainbow villages in Indonesia (this one in Malang and this one in Semarang), Rainbow Grandpa’s village is clearly not really village-sized. This is because most of the buildings had already been demolished before Rainbow Grandpa could save them.
The painting are also not on the same scale as the ones in Quinta do Mocho, the largest open-air street art gallery in Europe. Most of the buildings there are three stories, whereas the Rainbow Village houses are all single-story buildings.
But don't forget that one elderly man painted this all by himself! And he still wakes up at 4 am every day and spends three hours touching up his older paintings or creating new ones.
Whenever he’s in good health and physically able, Rainbow Grandpa waits in the souvenir shop for visitors who want to take selfies with him. I was super excited to find him there when I visited!
He even complimented me on my Mandarin skills when I introduced myself. Which was very kind of him, because my Mandarin is quite rusty. I’m working on it, though!
Is Rainbow Grandpa Really a Grandpa?
I don’t really think people are going to be disappointed by this in the same way they’re disappointed about the size of the village. But for the record, Rainbow Grandpa is technically not a grandpa.
He never had any children of his own, so, therefore, no grandchildren either. In fact, Rainbow Grandpa remained a bachelor for almost all of his life. But he’s happily married now!
I mentioned above that he poses for selfies with visitors whenever he’s in good health. In recent years, he’s been in and out of the hospital for various heart and lung ailments.
During a hospital stay in 2013, he fell in love with an elderly nurse who took care of him there. While she’s not a public figure like he is, Rainbow Grandpa and Rainbow Grandma now live together in the little two-room house.
The Art of Rainbow Village
Along with complaints that Rainbow Village is too small, I’ve also read complaints that the paintings are childish. Well yes, they are, and that’s the beauty of them.
Rainbow Grandpa is a self-taught artist. He never had any training beyond what his father taught him when he was a young boy growing up in China.
When he got the idea to save what was left of his village, he painted the same things he had learned as a child, because that was all he knew.
Full of happy memories. Some of the scenes on his walls depict him and his brothers and sisters when they were children. Others depict animals, children and young lovers, because he loves their happiness and innocence.
To me, it doesn’t really matter if the art is “good” or not. What I love about Rainbow Village is the inspiring story behind it.
There are many art and culture parks in Taiwan, where the government sponsors and promotes creative initiatives. But this is not a government-backed project. On the contrary, it’s one man’s quest to save his home from destruction by the government. And he won.
Vegan Food at Rainbow Village
As a vegan travel blogger, I feel I should say something about the availability of vegan food at Rainbow Village. Taiwan is one of the most vegan-friendly countries in the world, and Taichung is full of great places for vegan food.g
Unfortunately, Rainbow Village is not one of them. Of course, it’s not really a foodie destination anyway. There's a snack area that sells rainbow popsicles and tea eggs, but I didn't see any vegan options other than drinks.
Although you may get (un)lucky and have a mango fall on your head from the large tree out front!
You don’t need a long time to visit the village, but if you come by public transport the journey could take a while. If you think you might get hungry, bring some snacks.
How to Get to Rainbow Village
How to Get to Rainbow Village from Taichung HSR Station
Rainbow Village is located in the Nantun District on the western outskirts of Taichung. Taichung’s MRT metro system has been under construction for a long time, but at the time of writing it is not yet open. So to get to Rainbow Village, you will need to go by bus or Uber.
It’s about eight kilometers from the city center, though it’s much closer from the Taichung High Speed Rail (HSR) Station. Bus No. 800 leaves from the HSR station and stops right in front of the village, taking about 15-20 minutes.
How to Get to Rainbow Village from Taichung Station (City Center)
From Taichung Station and other points in the city center, however, the bus ride could take over an hour. Various bus routes pass near Rainbow Village, including Nos. 27, 30, 56 and 290. Public transport directions in Google Maps are quite reliable for Taiwan, so just check for the best route at your time of departure.
The good news is, bus rides under 10 kilometers are free in Taichung! BUT, you do need to have an IC card to board the bus. You should definitely get one of these anyway if you’ll be traveling around Taiwan. The EasyCard, iPass, and iCash cards are all accepted on Taichung city buses.
If you don’t want to deal with public transport, an Uber should cost about NT$ 300 each way. Uber is more convenient than a taxi if you don’t speak Chinese.
But if you need to show a taxi driver your destination, the Chinese name for Rainbow Village is 彩虹眷村 (Caihong Juancun). The full address in Chinese is: 408台中市南屯區春安路56巷25號.
Occasionally people call the place Caihong Juan Village, but this is a rather odd mix of Chinese and English. Caihong (彩虹) means rainbow, and Juancun (眷村) means “dependents’ village”, so it seems strange to translate just one of these characters and transliterate the others.
Best Time to Visit Rainbow Village
The secret is out about Rainbow Village, so I recommend arriving as early as possible to avoid the crowds. We got there around 9:30 am, and there were at least four big tour buses there already.
As already mentioned, the place is not that big, so it can get crowded pretty easily. Of course, I’m writing this in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so presumably, the crowds are much smaller right now.
You may be surprised that the village is open at all, but actually most tourist attractions in Taiwan are still open. Taiwan has done a better job than most other countries in controlling the spread of the virus.
Part of how it has done this, though, is by closing off its borders. So if you’re not already in Taiwan as of April 2020, don’t expect to visit anytime soon.
For those who are there, the village remains open. Rainbow Grandpa is even still making appearances for selfies. Although, in a recent Facebook post, staff ask visitors to wear a mask and refrain from shaking Rainbow Grandpa’s hand.
Given that he's 96 years old, these seem like very sensible measures to take.
Check the official Rainbow Village Facebook page and Instagram account for the latest developments.
Have you been to Rainbow Village in Taiwan? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!