It sits an hour by train from Taipei in the chain of cities that dot Taiwan's west coast. But Hsinchu isn't like the rest. From shaded arcades in the compact, walkable city of 40 0,000 spring dozens of temples, mini-museums and Western-style buildings built under Japanese rule before the 1940s. Hsinchu is best known for its hi-tech park, a zone just outside the city where companies such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing and the incubator Industrial Technology Research Institute give the city a brains trust plus plenty of money to throw around on eating, drinking and entertainment. A day traveller to Hsinchu can take an older train, rather than the high-speed link, from Taipei for NT$282 (HK$73) return, and see the city's highlights by foot in as little as three hours. Knead to know Hsinchu's Cheng Huang Temple allows people to pray for fortune in its two main chambers. The Taoist monument on Dongmen Street complex is packed with sculpted deities, carvings and, just outside, about 30 food stalls. Cooks there specialise in meat balls ( gong wan ) and thin noodles made from locally milled flour. Hsinchu chefs have figured out how to knead it, by hand or machine, into unusually spongy noodles and meatball wraps. "You should knead until it becomes springy," says Yang Jen-yi, co-owner of 70-year-old market-side restaurant A Chung's Meat Balls (tel:+886 3 525 5054). "How long do you knead? That's something that's up to the chef." A Chung's menu offers meatballs with noodles and in soup. Its seven tables fill quickly on weekends. On Dongmen Street a branch of the island-wide Coco ( coco-tea.com ) chain sells 33 types of blended tea drinks. Fruit teas contain pieces of apple, lemon, mango and passion fruit. Historic downtown As soon as you step off the train, you can begin your tour of Hsinchu's downtown, which has a number of historic structures still intact. When Japan ruled Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, the government was wowed by Western architecture and built a series of landmarks in that style. Ceilings twice the normal height and a dome-like clocktower mark the Japanese-designed railway station, which was built in 1913. The Hsinchu City Art Gallery & Reclamation Hall (tel: +886 3 524 7218), a two-storey red brick building with an arched entry and high windows, is a few blocks away on Zhongyang Road. Exhibitions are open from 9am to 5pm. The Chinese-style Yin Hsi East Gate is a block away. The sole surviving gate in the once 2.8 km-long city wall which was commissioned in 1826 has 24 columns and a double-eave red-tiled roof. Glass half full This residence built in 1936 for Japanese royalty now houses the Hsinchu Municipal Glass Museum ( glassmuseum.moc.gov.tw ) and is just 10 minutes from the railway station. City officials opened the museum in 1999 to promote glass sculpture, mirroring a 40-year-old local glass industry. Glass crafts with English and Chinese titles include a giant green toad, several bamboo stalks, a sow with five piglets and a set of flowers with glass beads for stamens that have fallen out of the petals. Illustrations explain how glass is blown and shaped. One details the seven-step process of recycling glass bottles into a solution to make new ones. "You can see glass crafts elsewhere, but not like this all in one place," says Huang Lien-sheng, a Taiwanese university junior visiting the museum. Garden leave Tropical gardens on a small hillside form the city's chief park just behind the railway station at the end of Dongda Road. Just inside and next to an artificial lake, the 12-year-old city government-run Vision Hall of Hsinchu City shows a 1-to-300 scale model of the city today and a draft of its future development. The hall's executive director Yeh Wen-hao calls the true-to-life mini city "part of the city government's effort to help local people understand our plans." It also draws visitors from out of town. On sale are hats, pillows and suitcases bearing bright floral designs that represent the culture of Hakka people, a group from central China. About 3.5 million of the 80 million Hakkas worldwide live in Taiwan. There is also a small zoo (tel: +886 3 522 2194). Its 27 species live in a compound with a heavy tropical jungle canopy. Look out for the Malaysian black bear and tigers from Bangladesh. A festive night market is open next to the zoo on weekends. Moving images The city theatre built (below) in 1933 was Taiwan's first air-conditioned venue. It was renovated in 2000 as a museum charting the development of cinema in Hsinchu over the past century. Exhibits include obsolete cameras and projectors the size of suitcases. The city-run Hsinchu City Image Museum (tel: +886 3 528 5840; hcccb.gov.tw ) on Zhongzheng Road near the East Gate still has screenings. It shows films, some old and mostly Taiwanese, almost every day. Locals sometimes gather there to discuss cinema. Opening hours vary depending on day of the week, but it is normally open from 9.30am to 9pm, with breaks around meal times.