Danshui (but commonly referred to by its’ English name, Tamsui) was probably the most tourist-friendly area in Taipei. Or at least tourists seeking a “real” Taiwan experience. We only had an afternoon, but still managed to knock quite a few “classic” tourist spots off the list. It is right next to the river (that later flows into the ocean).
1. Hop on the Red Line to the end (淡水) Dansui. Dansui is a small town north of Taipei and easily accessible by public transportation. During the 19th century, it was the center of shipping and commerce in Taiwan. As a result, it has a fun, rich history that appeals to foreigners.
2. When you exit the station, go left and walk along the Tamsui Old Street. It runs parallel to the Dansui River and is filled with cheap food, drinks, candy, toys, and souvenirs. We walked along this street a couple times, eating dumplings, ice cream, fried squid, bubble tea, and tiny eggs.
My favorite was the squid.
It was a little spicy; they give you the option of a couple flavors. We ate two pieces, each with a different style.
The ice cream has several flavors, and is famous in Taiwan for towering up above the cone. Seriously, it’s famous. Try it.
3. Visit the Fuyou Temple. I love Taiwanese temples. They are absolutely beautiful, with exotic colors and gorgeous infrastructure. At the temple, you can buy money for your ancestors (that can be burned, so that you ancestors can spend it in the next life), use special wooden stones to make a wish (which I will write a post about later), burn incense, or get the temple to bless food for your ancestors.
Remember how I said that Dansui has a high percentage of foreigners? It was mostly Japanese foreigners. My fiance and I met a cute pair of old, Japanese ladies who told me my Japanese was beautiful. From then on, we tried to gauge what language tourists spoke, and then loudly conversed (granted our options were limited to English and Japanese).
I swear there were more Japanese tourists than American/English speaking. Or any other country. When we were ordering at a shop, we often used Japanese instead of English, because there was a higher percentage that someone could understand us.
I got the weirdest looks when I used Japanese, though.
4. Try out some BB-gun shooting and dart throwing games. I got a small pistol with 12 rounds, destroyed 11 balloons, and got a little pink squeaky hammer.
At a different booth, Ryosuke and I got 12 darts and destroyed 6 balloons. We got the same squeaky hammer.
I felt ripped off…
Except that the games cost less than $1 each. So it wasn’t really a rip-off at all. I just felt sad that the prizes weren’t merit based.
I wanted to win the enormous stuffed Stitch doll (though, now that I think about it, that totally wouldn’t have fit in my suitcase back home).
5. Climb 106 rickety stone steps up to the Red Castle. It was a building created in 1899 and the Japanese travel brochure we picked up highly recommended it. Like the name suggests, it was built with bright red bricks and steeping arches.
6. Realize that the Red Castle was bought out by a company a couple years back, and is now a restaurant. If you’re like me, and didn’t even realize that could happen… well… it can. You can awkwardly walk around the restaurant for a while, looking at the historical signs and explanations (and smelling the delicious food) before shuffling away.
7. Stroll along the river for a bit until you reach the next spot in the tourist brochure, Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf. Realize that although pretty, it is famous for coffee shops, restaurants (remember, you’re still full at this point from all the street food), and being the departing spot for cruise ships.
8. Keep walking.
9. Arrive at Hongmao Castle (Fort San Domingo), a fort constructed by a red-haired Dutch man. The sign said that the Taiwanese name “Hongmao” is some reference to the Dutch-man’s weirdly bright red hair. Neat. The fort passed hands between the Dutch, Spanish, and British.
Like Red Castle, Fort San Domingo is constructed out of bright red bricks (possibly to match the bright-red hair of the Dutch man). Unlike Red Castle, Fort San Domingo is not a restaurant.
The fort is pretty straight-forward. You get to explore the prison, the main house, the grounds, and another large building whose purpose I wasn’t able to determine. At every stop, there is a helpful guide who will point you in the right direction. If you try to “skip” a section of the castle because you’re pressed for time, a guide will most likely assume you’re lost, chase you down, and point you in the “correct” direction. Just go with it.
10. Try not to get in the way of all the people doing photo shoots. The fort is free to enter and has beautiful colors. I don’t blame them. We saw an elderly couple taking couples shots, a young woman in a bright blue dress shooting what looked like the Taiwanese equivalent of Senior Portraits, and a man which an enormous, black rolling luggage taking professional shots of his small, exquisitely dressed porcelain doll collection.
But we weren’t judging.
(I wanted to take a picture, but it seemed like bad form)
11. Get back to the river in time for the sun to set. Dansui is right next to a mountain; we got to watch the sun set behind the mountain, over the river.
12. While waiting for the sun to set, watch a street yo-yo dancer by the station.
The boy had skills. He messed up a couple times, but had great form. He played some fun, techno music while a performed, dancing for two songs, then resting for one.
We waited for about 20 minutes, calculating how much he made on tips. He couldn’t retire on the money people gave him, but he could make a fairly good living.
Especially since he seemed to get better at each round. From what I hear, there are various street performers every day in Tamsui / Danshui.
13. Watch the sun set and be thankful for all you have.
I am thankful for my fantastic fiancé, great friends, a fun internship, and the chance to travel to Taiwan.
This year was great, next year is going to be even better!
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