I remember Tamsui. I remember visiting the town 10 years ago. I remember the wharf and its pretty bridge, and the river promenade where we had long ice-creams. It might not be too long ago, but it was a time before I wrote about my travels, and before we could take pictures on our phones. Therefore I have vague memories — but I remember Tamsui. We were on a tour back then, so we didn’t really walk around much; so on this second visit, I made sure I spent an entire day exploring this charming port city.
Tamsui in New Taipei City (淡水)
The official English name of 淡水 is Tamsui. It is based on the Taiwanese dialect, but in Mandarin it is pronounced as Danshui. This port city is located in the northern tip of Taiwan, along the country’s northern coast where the Tamsui River flows into the Taiwan Strait. It is within the boundaries of New Taipei City (新北市) — which is the most populous special municipality in Taiwan, located on the northern part of the country where it completely surrounds the capital of Taipei. Tamsui was colonised by the Spanish, Dutch and English as far back as the 17th century — and the centuries of foreign influence is reflected throughout the city in its culture and architecture.
A day is just enough to visit and get to know this charming little city. Some people stay the night, but with the convenient public transport system to and out of Tamsui — it makes a great place for a day trip. So that’s what we did. I was in New Taipei City on a travel assignment with my travel buddy, Wilson from Places and Foods; and during the first part of our trip, we were based in the small district of Luzhou (蘆洲). The later part of our journey brought me to the district of Sanxia (more about it here); and the Wanli and Jinsan districts in the northern coast (read about it here).
The F Hotel, Luzhou
We arrived at the Taoyuan International Airport at about 8 plus at night via Eva Air (you can read about my experience here), and took a taxi to our accommodation in the district of Luzhou in New Taipei City. The taxi ride took approximately 40 minutes and cost about NT$1000 (US$33) — almost the same for anywhere in the capital of Taipei as well. Our accommodation in Luzhou was in the newly built 3-star hotel, F Hotel 蘆洲館 — visit their website here.
I liked that F Hotel is pretty central in the district, close to a couple of restaurants and convenient stores (so we could get a bite to eat after arriving so late at night). My room was on the highest floor — it had a balcony with nice views, and came with all the basic facilities and amenities, a comfortable king-sized bed all for myself, a working space, tea and coffee making facilities, and a bathtub. The hotel also offers other room combinations for families (with children’s play area, or a 1-King and 2-single beds room); as well as single (backpacker-style) rooms with shared bathrooms and facilities like washing machines for the solo travelers. The hotel also provides a common area with free snacks from 7am to 11pm and a gym; and since there is no attached restaurant — breakfast is offered at a McDonalds down the road.
Getting to and around Tamsui
We left our hotel for Tamsui early in the morning after breakfast. The closet MRT to F Hotel is only a few meters away — so it was easy taking the train from St. Ignatius High School Station to Tamsui Station. We had a quick train change at Minquan West Road Station, and arrived at Tamsui in about 45 minutes. The trip cost NT$55 (US$1.8) per person per way.
Once in Tamsui, we roamed almost everywhere on foot, as most of the city attractions are pretty close to one another. The only ‘slightly’ far-off place from the main town area is the Fisherman’s Wharf — we got there on the public bus for NT$15 (US$0.5) per ride; but you can also enjoy a long seaside stroll, take the ferry on a one way 15-minute cruise for NT$60 (US$2), or cycle there on one of the many public bicycles for rent.
Tamsui Old Street (淡水老街)
We arrived in Tamsui Station at about 10am in the morning, and were immediately right smack in the hustle and bustle of Tamsui Old Street (淡水老街). The old street is located along the Tamsui River, and runs from the north part of the station to the end of the Ferry Pier. It was fun walking along the main Zhongzheng Road and exploring its many side streets that are lined with a wide variety of shops, restaurants, cafes and stalls selling snacks and local delights. It was already busy when we arrived in the morning, and this goes on until late at night.
Snacking and Shopping
We spent most of our morning at Tamsui Old Street. One of the many things I wanted to try while I was in the city was its famous Castella Cake (古早味現烤蛋糕) — the cake made an appearance in Malaysia for a while and attracted crazy long queues. It was absolutely satisfying watching the huge, bouncy, milky sponge cake being cut into small loafs — and we bought one (with cheese) for NT$100 (US$3). I also got myself a few packs of the local specialty snack, Iron Eggs (鐵蛋) — black-colored and chewy chicken and quail’s eggs stewed and pickled in a mix of herbs and spices. And thanks to the New Taipei City x EVA Air coupon booklet we received — we managed to get good deals at HiWalk (海邊走走) for their delicious egg roll snacks, and Cosmed (康是美) for a little shopping for me!
Fuyou Temple (福佑宫)
While walking along Tamsui Old Street, we passed by the local temple, Fuyou Temple (福佑宫) along Zhongzheng Road. The temple is dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu (媽祖), and was built in 1782 — making it the oldest temple in the city. The main area of the temple is flanked by two other worshipping halls that houses a few other deities as well.
Tamsui Ferry Pier (淡水渡船碼頭)
From the old street, we made our way to the Tamsui Ferry Pier (淡水渡船碼頭) where ferries dock, waiting to take passengers to Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf or the town of Bali (八里) on the other side of the Tamsui River. We weren’t planning on taking a cruise, but the view from the Ferry Pier was absolutely beautiful that morning so we stayed a while to admire the scenery and the lovely blue skies. Many stalls line the waterfront — and I got distracted by the ‘pop the balloons with darts’ stall and ended up playing a game or two. They also sell the popular sky-high ice-creams here, which would have been perfect for a hot summer’s day (but it was too cold during my visit).
A-Gei Lunch (阿給)
One of Tamsui’s most popular stalls to get a taste of A-gei (阿給) is located in a corner of Tamsui Old Street, facing the Ferry Pier. It is a local specialty food — made of a fried bean curd emptied at its center, stuffed with glass noodles cooked with ground pork, sealed with a meat mixture, and then steamed and served with a soy-based hot sauce. The place is called the Original A-Gei Store (老店阿給) — and because we were one of their first customers for lunch, we had the chance to watch them prepare the dish. The shop also serves fish ball soup and noodles — and each dish cost NT$40 (US$1.3). I really enjoyed the A-gei, as it reminded me of a local Malaysian Chinese dish — the Yong Tau Foo.
Hobe Mackay Hospital (滬尾偕醫館)
After filling up our tummies, we were ready for more exploration. We took a short walk over to the Hobe Mackay Hospital (滬尾偕醫館), passing by the statue of Rev Dr George Leslie Mackay in the center of the roundabout at Mackay Street. Rev Mackay was a Canadian Presbyterian missionary that was sent on a mission to Taiwan in 1872 — he established many buildings in the city, including the Hobe Mackay Hospital. It was the first hospital to practice Western medicine in northern Taiwan; and after several renovations throughout the years is now a designated historical building of the city. It was closed during our visit, so we could only see its front exterior.
Tamsui Presbyterian Church (淡水禮拜堂)
Next to the old hospital is the Tamsui Presbyterian Church (淡水禮拜堂), also founded by Rev Mackay. During his time, he conducted most of his religious services in rental houses — and this current Gothic-style church was only opened in 1933 by Rev Mackay’s son (Rev Mackay died in 1901). The church’s beautiful exterior makes it a popular spot for wedding photos, and that was all we could admire because it only opens during services.
Guang Zi Cafe (光子)
We spotted this cute little cafe just opposite the old hospital and thought it’d be nice to pop in for some coffee. It turns out that the Guang Zi Cafe hides a really pretty little garden area at the back of the shop! The outdoor area is such a lovely spot for pictures, so we spent some time in the garden chilling in the chilly weather while enjoying a cuppa caramel coffee and a very delicious slice of pumpkin cheese cake. The owner was really friendly too!
From the cafe, we took an autumn’s stroll along tree-lined pathways around Tamsui, passed a lovely lane with murals of the city’s popular attractions, and even crossed a pedestrian bridge towards our next destination.
Customs Officer’s Residence (前清淡水關稅務司官邸)
The Customs Officer’s Residence (前清淡水關稅務司官邸) is a colonial-style bungalow constructed in 1869, built to houses foreigners employed by the Chinese government in the early 1860’s when Taiwan was forced to open to foreign trade. It is nicknamed the Little White House (小白宮, xiao baigong) because of its white exterior. We had a quick tour along the building’s long verandah and arched columns, admired the view of the river from the grounds, and strolled around its lush garden. Tickets costs NT$80 (US$2.5) and includes entry to the Fort San Domingo (which we also visited) and Hobe Fort (we opted to miss this as it was a little further away).
Aletheia University (真理大學)
The entrance of Aletheia University (真理大學) is a short 5-minute walk from the Little White House. This private university is the site of the original Oxford College of Tamsui, founded by Rev Mackay in 1882. It was Taiwan’s oldest institution of higher learning — and then later expanded and renamed Aletheia University in 1999. The Oxford College building is now a museum within the university; and houses old pictures of the founder and his family, as well as photographs and memorabilia from the college’s past. Entry is free. We also spent some time sitting by the lovely garden in front of the college building.
Fort San Domingo (紅毛城)
Another 5-minute walk from the university and standing on top a small hill is Fort San Domingo. The fort was built and named by the Spanish in the early 17th century; and then later rebuilt by the Dutch in 1644. They renamed it Fort Antonio, but the locals decided to nickname it after their ‘red-hair’ — and the name “Hong Mao Cheng” (紅毛城), which translates to Red-Haired Fort is still used today. It later served as a British Consulate in 1868 and was painted red; and they also built the adjacent British consul’s residence that is now a museum, showcasing its British interior decorations.
Tamsui Customs Wharf (淡水古蹟群)
Downhill and across the road from the fort is the Tamsui Customs Wharf (淡水古蹟群). It was an important port in the 19th century — the British established their boathouse and controlled the customs administration at the wharf. The 150m-long wharf was built using stones from Guanyin Mountain. A few of the old buildings still stand today — we went into the two-storey western house for a quick look see, and then dropped by the two warehouses that was showcasing an interactive exhibition on the “1884 Battle of Tamsui” during our visit.
While strolling along the wharf, I came across a couple of local elderly ladies painting the view of the Tamsui River and the Guanyin Mountain in the distance — they welcomed my presence and even asked if I knew how to paint. I said, “Definitely not as good as this!” It made them giggle.
Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf (淡水漁人碼頭)
From the wharf, we walked over to the bus stop across the street and took a bus ride to the Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf (淡水漁人碼頭). We arrived at the perfect time — at sunset. We walked along the wooden boardwalk that lines the river on one side and the boat/yacht wharf on the other, and got to enjoy the beautiful colors of the sky as the sun set over the Tamsui River and the Taiwan Strait. The boardward ends at the iconic Lover’s Bridge (情人橋), a white 196m-long bridge that was completed in 2003. It was the perfect place to watch the sun disappear, and to see the bridge light up in many different colors.
We were famished after a long day walking the streets of Tamsui, so we looked for the fastest (and nearest) meal we could find. We ended up in Subway at the Tamsui Fish Market building near the entrance to Lover’s Bridge. After that, we decided not to wait for the bus and took a taxi straight to Tamsui Station. The night wasn’t over for us because we still had one more place we wanted to go to!
Christmasland in New Taipei City (新北耶誕城)
About an hour’s ride on the MRT metro train and we arrived at the Banqiao Station on the blue-coloured Bannan Line. From there, it’s just a short walk from the station’s Exit 2 to the location of New Taipei City’s Christmasland (新北耶誕城), a special winter event that is held from November to December every year. We were in the city at the perfect time to witness the entire Banqiao area light up in Christmassy, twinkly, fairy lights — and join the crowds in a big and extravagant Christmas party.
The celebration begins at sundown until midnight (5.30pm-12am) every day during the event, and features many exciting activities like flashy projection mapping, art installations, glittery photography spots, Christmas concerts, theme park rides, a Christmas themed market… and it even features what is said to be the tallest open-air Christmas tree in the country. I had so much fun taking pictures everywhere! For more information on specific Christmasland events and performances, click here.
Before heading back to our accommodation at F Hotel in Luzhou, we decided to have a quick dinner at the Global Mall (sort of like a food court) inside Banqiao Station. We chose to dine at Kai Don — and I have to say, I had the most wonderful donburi (rice bowl) with beef cubes, roasted garlic and double truffle sauce. It was the perfect way to end my lovely day exploring Tamsui — there was so much to see, so much to learn, and so much to experience in the lovely port city.