Start with a charming Taipei river suburb as your soup base, add equal parts college-town youth vibe and oceanside-boardwalk festivity. Toss in a healthy sea breeze and a hefty dash of old-world colonial architecture and you have got Danshui. Possibly among the coolest, and most unique, hangout spots in Taipei.
The long and storied history of this once-important fishing village has been shaped primarily by its geographical position at a place where the Danshui River meets the Taiwan Straits. Danshui was initially settled by the Ketagalan tribe, then at various times by the Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and the Han Chinese. By the mid-19th century Danshui was a bustling port city thanks to its natural harbor, and it boasted a sizeable foreign population and even a British embassy.
By the end of the 19th century, Danshui’s importance as a port had waned, and once Taiwan reverted to Chinese control after WWII, the town slowly settled into a comfortable position as farthest suburb of a major metropolis. With the opening of the Danshui line of the Taipei MRT in 1998, this town suddenly found itself as a popular weekend travel destination for locals and traveling visitors alike. Now in 2010, Danshui will be the most memorable destination in our Taipei trip.
After taking the MRT all the way to the Danshui terminal station, we walked towards the centre of town. The river front is on our left, while the town gradually slopes up the hills towards Tamkang University on the right.
Just 2 minutes north from the station is the famous Gongming Street and the waterfront pedestrian plaza. Gongming Street, is also known as Danshui Old Street and is lined with shops and food stalls. A few shops down the street, we saw this shop called “Believe It Or Not” (信不信由你), which more than caught our attention with a huge gorilla and Terracotta warrior flanking both sides of the shop front. A giant shark also looked down on passer-bys from above the shop.
Curious as cats, we paid the NT59 entrance fee and walked in with excitement. What followed was more than an eyeful of exhibits. Bizarre, weird, curious, unbelievable, fetish, stomach-turning… actually words can’t fully describe the exhibits there.
Yes! Unlike other museums (read NPM), we were more than welcomed to take photos here. So the above just for your viewing pleasure!
Gongming Street runs parallel to a the river-side promenade, which, though lacking an actual boardwalk, still manages to have a boardwalk vibe thanks to its seafood restaurants, outdoor seating, carnival amusements, but with just a couple of shrines to let you know you’re still in Taiwan. From a harbor along the promenade, you can actually catch a ferry across the river to Bali (八里) and the Guanyinshan (觀音山) area, or upriver to Danshui’s newly renovated Fisherman’s Wharf (淡水漁人碼頭).
Fisherman’s Wharf is where we wanted to visit that night. However, we did not take the more common ferry mode of transportation.
We love a good workout, especially when there is good reason for one, and when we saw the gleaming rides outside the front of the bicycle shop, we just couldn’t resist. Rental of the regular bicycles cost NT50 to NT100, but we opted for the NT150 tandem bicycle.
For the uninitiated, tandem bicycle riding is much more difficult than it looks. The wheel base is extremely long, making small turns impossible and balancing a coordinated effort by both cyclists. Everest joked that I was a slave driver because I gave out “orders” to pedal when we needed the momentum to get the bicycle moving from stationary. I was careful to point out to her that I had the tougher job of using my arms to steady the bicycle, steering it, and keeping all our knees and elbows from having a painful encounter with the ground!
Midway towards Fisherman’s wharf, we cycled over a bridge and through swarms of flying bugs. That has got to be one of the most memorable experiences of the journey, with all the bugs flying into our faces. You can see this in our video below!
Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to drink beer while watching the night scenery over the Taiwan Straits after we’ve exhausted ourselves walking and cycling around Danshui.
Nearest Metro Station: Danshui 淡水站
Two-wheels gets our endorsement as the perfect way to explore Danshui efficiently and independently. Just watch out for the sometimes random traffic and keep your mouths closed while cycling through the swarms of flying bugs along the bridge!