The history of DanShui (淡水) represents an incredible timeline involving the various powers that have dominated Taiwan. Like the southern port city of TaiNan (台南), DanShui’s story is a reminder of the strategic position Taiwan held in the global trading routes of the last few centuries.
By Stuart Hill
Getting to DanShui on the MRT (subway) is a great way to get a sense of how Taipei must have functioned as a trading port with access to the sea. Fort San Domingo which was established first by the Spanish, taken over by the Dutch, then later the English, sits on a commanding site overlooking the entrance to the DanShui River.
Heading out from Taipei, the MRT begins to hug the river as it passes GuanDu (關渡) on its way to DanShui. If you like riding bicycles you can get off and hire one at GuanDu and ride along the river’s edge and through the mangrove forest around HongShuLin (紅樹林) and all the way to DanShui. Keep in mind that at GuanDu there is a great tapas restaurant called “Water Birds Tapas House” (水鳥 92) which overlooks the wetlands, and is a nice place to end the day.
The MRT terminates at DanShui. On weekends there are thousands of Taipei residents getting off to browse DanShui’s shops along Old Street, ie JhongJheng (ZhongZheng) Road, catch a ferry across the river to BaLi on the opposite bank, or make their way further toward the sea up to the Fisherman’s Wharf. On a weekday, the shops are pretty empty and finding a quiet seat to sit at and have lunch or coffee is easy to do.
Starbucks (with its second floor) has one of the best views along the river, and is located next to a small statue representing the landing spot at DanShui of the highly renowned Canadian medic and missionary George Mackay.
However, my favorite places to sit back and enjoy the view are at any one of the cafes that line the river just after Starbucks. Several huge trees line the walkway at this point, and if you aren’t ready to eat or drink, you can sit on the long concrete seats and enjoy the shade. The nearby Waterfront cafe, with its Bali-style grass-roofed marquees, is situated on the site once occupied by the customs office of DanShui that ran during the Japanese era.
If you head away from the river at the Mackay monument and walk along JhongJheng Road in the direction of the Fisherman’s Wharf (left), you will eventually come to the Consulate, a café directly facing the entrance to Fort San Domingo. Meanwhile, heading the other way (right) will take you back past the local post office, Matsu temple, Christian church, and along the shopping street, with its huge variety of gift shops, food stalls and even more touristy offerings.
The old Spanish/Dutch/English fort and consulate, which in Chinese are translated literally as “castle of the red-haired people” (紅毛城), are very well maintained, and you can spend two hours learning about the two buildings and wandering their grounds. There are detailed explanations of the site and its significance to the colonial powers of the time in English, Japanese and Chinese.
If you’ve arrived early enough in the day, take one of the ferries at the DanShui pier across to the opposite bank at BaLi. You can get single journey or return tickets from one of the ferry company booths near the pier. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the other side.
At BaLi, wander through the market to the first street of traffic (JhongHua Road) and catch the r13 bus to the ShiSanHang Museum of Archeology. There you’ll learn about the early prehistoric inhabitants of DanShui river who had developed iron smelting skills and possibly trading relations with China. The museum closes at 5 pm (6pm in summer), and you can spend about 1.5 hours checking out the exhibits.
Alternatively, walk along the shops closer to the river’s edge nearer the BaLi pier.
For more ideas about historical points of interest and some basic maps of the area, check out the DanShui District Office website.
An easy day itinerary:
- Catch the MRT to DanShui and arrive 11 am
- Walk along the river’s edge until the you meet the statue of George Mackay near Starbucks
- Find a place to have an early lunch, say at Waterfront
- Head toward JhongJheng Road in the direction toward Fisherman’s Wharf (which is the direction away from the MRT) until you reach the Consulate cafe
- Spend 1-2 hours wandering around Fort San Domingo and the consulate grounds
- Return to DanShui pier and buy a return trip ticket to BaLi. On the other side of the river buy some fruit or other snacks. Find a place to have coffee or come back to the DanShui side for that.
- Catch the MRT from DanShui to GuanDu in the early evening.
- Have dinner at the Water Birds Tapas House restaurant (the fried sardines with lemon are worth the journey). Check the map for 92 ZhiHang Road, GuanDu on their website for directions.
- Head back to Taipei from GuanDu MRT.