DISTANCE: About 13.5km, although there is potential for plenty of diversions.
TIME: 4-5 hours depending on how many breaks and side explorations you wish to make.
TOTAL ASCENT: Less than 100 metres – for the most part you’re walking at the same level as the river.
DIFFICULTY (REGULAR TAIWAN HIKERS): 1/10 – very easy, you just need to pick your route through the city.
DIFFICULTY (NEW HIKERS): 2/10 – the distance is a little far if you’re not a regular walker, but it’s in the city, so there are ample opportunities for resting and refreshments.
SIGNAGE: This isn’t considered part of the restored Tamsui-Kavalan Trails (TKT), so there aren’t any official signs to guide you. However the river park has plenty of maps and it’s hard to get too lost in the city.
FOOD AND WATER: I took a single refillable 500ml bottle. The river park has water fountains where I filled up a couple of times, and you’re never more than ten minutes walk away from a convenience store.
SHADE: The city streets are relatively shady, but once you’re in the riverside park there isn’t much shade.
MOBILE NETWORK: Perfect throughout.
ENJOYMENT: This section of the walk has comparably fewer points of interest than the other road sections, but there are still things to see. Also, I think it would be even more enjoyable if you ended in Wanhua in time for lunch or dinner.
SOLO HIKE-ABILITY: Absolutely no problem at all.
OTHER: Many alternative routes are possible – for example a route that stays away from the water’s edge might take you through Taipei Botanical Garden, through the grounds of the prestigious National Taiwan University, or briefly into New Taipei City for a quick look at Fuhe Flea Market if you go early enough.
TRAILS AND POINTS OF INTEREST ALONG THE WAY:
- Jiyi Temple (艋舺集義宮)
- Jinyihe Company Offices (金義合行股份有限公司)
- Wanhua Train Station (萬華車站)
- Taipei Fish Market (台北魚市)
- Machanting Memorial Park (萬華馬場町紀念丘碑文)
- Xindian River Cycle Path (新店河自行車道)
- Hakka Culture Park (客家文化主題公園)
- Treasure Hill Artist Village (寶藏巖國際藝術村)
- Toad Hill Community (蟾蜍山)
- Yifang House (義芳居) and Fanglan Mansion (芳蘭大厝)
OPTIONS TO SPLIT THIS ROUTE: Since this route is all through the city it’s easy enough to stop or start wherever you fancy, there are always bus stops nearby.
GPX file available here.
Numbers by photos refer to the GPS coordinates at the end of the post.
09:20 – Wanhua is known for Longshan Temple (which was where I stated my walk on this leg of the journey), but as the oldest corner of Taipei it should come as no surprise that the area is has a number of historic religious sites. One that caught my eye was Jiyi Temple (艋舺集義宮). Standing near the junction of Kangding Road (康定路) and Heping West Road (和平西路), the temple seems to have been squashed in between its neighbours and is deceptively narrow with the interior stretching back about four or five times the width of the building. (1)
The temple first went up in this location in 1900, but its origins predate this iteration by a number of years, since there are records of it existing in some form as far back as the 1850s. One source I read said that (according to someone currently involved in the temple management), the deities were brought on ships that sailed over from China and that they were originally housed in someone’s home until the number of visiting worshippers became too great and they were moved into a purpose built temple. In those early years, the camphor trade was an important industry for Wanhua and the surrounding area. Men would venture off into the hills in search of camphor trees, and unsurprisingly this was a danger-filled profession. So prior to departing, the camphor harvesters would pay a visit to Jiyi Temple to seek protection during their labours. Over time, it became popular with regular folk too, and the deities gained a reputation for being closer to the people than some other more stand-offish gods. One of the reasons for this popularity is that in the days before modern health care, patrons could go to the temple to receive a prescription of medicine from the gods. Obviously in the twenty first century gods don’t have any place in doling out medications and, this practise is no longer allowed, so instead believers can now pick up a gold paper token that can be added to water and imbibed or bathed in for health benefits, (probably best not to think too deeply about what kind of chemicals may be found on said gold paper). Another traditional practise that continues to this day is that the deities here enter the bodies of the temple masters so that believers can consult with them directly. Not so many young people are willing to put in the time and effort that it requires to cultivate this skill, and as such it’s getting harder to find people who can take on this role.
Another building that attracted my attention was this 1920s, mock-European construction close to the train station. The baroque detailing clearly marks it out as dating back to the Japanese occupation when, intent on turning Taiwan into a glowing example of what a colony could be, Japanese architects drew heavily on European architectural influences as they rebuilt the capital to their own tastes. Characters above the central ground floor doors read “金義合行” identifying this as belonging to the Jinyihe Company, a company affiliated with Jinyihe Porcelain Factory (金義合玻璃製造工廠), which first set up shop in the 1880s under the management of Chen Yi-tu (陳義塗). It was Taiwan’s very first glass manufacturer and became known for producing an extensive array of porcelain products, predominantly tableware and teaware – eventually expanding to incorporate branches in Beitou, Zhongli and beyond. The company ceased in house production in 1984, but they are still involved in importing and distributing ceramics and still use this building as their offices.
09:23 – I crossed paths with myself in front of Wanhua Train Station (where I had started my journey to Xizhi a couple of months earlier).
The streets in Wanhua are what come to mind when I call up my mental picture Taipei with buildings like this kind of squat, tile-and-stained-concrete monstrosity sprouting air conditioning units, wires, grates, adverts and weeds from all available surfaces. I used to find them horribly ugly, but they’ve grown on me somehow.
I meandered around the streets a bit, getting vegetarian fried rice for breakfast from a market vendor, checking out a second hand clothes stall and wandering down whatever alley took my fancy. One street I turned down had been blocked off at the far end by this travelling Budaixi (布袋戲) theatre. It was kind of lovely to come across this kind of traditional theatre in the street, even if it wasn’t in action (and even if it was a terrible violation of fire safety standards).
I’ve seen them several times before, often at temples during special events, and in a very basic sense they remind me of the Punch and Judy booths that would arrive in my village for the summer fete, (although the range of stories and characters in a Budaixi theatre is far wider than the variations on a single story told by the Punch and Judy professors).
Although there are plenty of old buildings to be seen in this district, I get the impression that there has been a lot of redevelopment in recent years. There are plenty of newer apartment blocks and the streets are punctuated with the shiny facades of more recent builds.
The main drag of Wanda Road (萬大路) which runs south from the train station towards the fish market has been undergoing extensive building work for the past couple of years whilst the TRTC works on the construction of the Wanda-Zhonghe-Shulin Line.
10:11 – Just before the road crosses Huazhong Bridge into New Taipei City I decided to take a left down Fumin Road – a street lined with markets and market stalls of all sizes. (2) The stalls here are only for the earliest of early risers, since they open in the wee hours and were already swept and shuttered for the day by the time I passed through. Fumin Road seems to be the local butchers’ row, but the area doesn’t just limit itself to the choicest cuts of meat. Across the road is Wanhua Fish Market which keeps similarly antisocial hours. Its doors open at 2am every morning (night?) to take in the day’s fresh catch and the adjacent fruit and vegetable wholesale market is only an hour behind. Maybe one day I will wake up early enough to experience the markets at their busiest, or perhaps it would be better saved for a night when sleep eludes me.
I walked along Fumin Street until I saw that I’d have to turn left at the bottom end, so I turned left early to walk up another market street instead of the boring main road. Here I found myself stood in front of an urban farm, an elderly gentleman tending to his crops under the far too hot September sun.
Near the allotments I saw an interesting temple sticking up over the entrance to an underground car park and built around a tree. Finding it involved a small detour onto the main road before cutting back into the narrow lanes again. There was indeed a tree growing through the temple, but the detail that pleased me the most was this row of chairs lined up – seemingly waiting to be filled with the pious posteriors of gossiping grannies.
10:27 – From the temple I made my way towards the parks that run alongside Xindian River, entering through Machang Evacuation Gate into Machangting Memorial Park. (3) Over the 100 years starting from the late 1800s, this little strip of land beside the river had quite a chequered history.
Before the Japanese came to Taiwan, when Wanhua was a busy trading hub for the settlers who walked and first wrote about the Tamsui-Kavalan trails, local people harvested flowers from the fertile earth along the riverbank and took them to be processed at the tea factories of Dadaocheng, from where the end product would be shipped around the word. Then in the early part of the 20th century the land was requisitioned by the Japanese army who needed a training ground for their soldiers and their horses. It’s this latter use of the land that the name Machangting (or Machangding/馬場町) comes from as the place was used both to train and race horses. In 1920 there was an airport added, and until the construction of Songshan Airport was completed in 1936, this was this site of Taipei’s only airport. The very first flight took off on April 17th and was as much a show of might as anything else – aboriginal delegates who witnessed the event were instructed to return to their tribes in order to spread the word of the Japanese government’s strength and warn their people not to rebel. However, once the larger Songshan Airport was finished, this southern one gradually became less important to the army and government officials, and by the time World War Two arrived, only private flights took off and landed here. After the war, the plot of land was once more pressed into service by the military, but this time by the Republic of China soldiers who divvied it up into areas which were used as basic accommodation for general soldiers and their families, as well as housing for high ranking officials, (they got given the rather nice houses left over from the Japanese occupation), and the remaining space was turned into a golf course. This is the most tragic chapter in the life of the riverbank here – as officials practised golf and the army children played nearby, many a political prisoner was lead out to the execution ground at Machangting and shot. The very saddest thing that I learnt whilst reading up on this is was a description of a game played by children who grew up in the military dependents’ village here. In the game which was called “Shooting the Spy in Machangting” (馬場町槍斃匪諜), children took on the roles of the accused spy, the executioner and the crowd, and acted out the events that they saw unfolding around them in their daily lives.
10:29 – If you look right after you enter the park you will notice a small mound – this is the memorial that has been left to those who were executed here during the White Terror period.
It was raining north of the city, but I was lucky with my weather, I got late summer fluffy clouds, with the grey ones staying far away on the distant horizon.
The cycle path through the park is wide and spacious enough for plenty of exercisers, although I had it almost to myself on a Monday morning. On the downside it was also quite exposed and therefore extremely hot.
Here and there along the river banks there you can spot fishermen enjoying the solitude of the water’s edge.
There was a brief stretch of cycle path that was at least partially shaded, but it didn’t last nearly long enough.
Looking across to the far bank you can see multiple new housing developments that have sprung up in the southern part of Wanhua. This is in fact a bit of an illusion, since they’re actually on the same side and just appear to be across the water because the river bends as it circles around Yonghe District.
After crossing under Zhongzheng Bridge the park becomes a lot more arty with mosaics and sculptures adding colour.
It’s also around here that the river completes a turn and starts to head south which gives you some beautiful views of the mountains towards Wulai.
11:00 – On the right very soon after you enter Guting Riverside Park there is a collection of temples.
I can’t really find any information about them, but there are at least four separate altars, with areas dedicated to buddhist gods as well as taoist gods – with Tudi Gong and Huye both making appeatances, (bottom right).
11:06 – I’ve cycled this route a fair number of times, but despite that, I had never taken this bridge across the road to have a look at the Hakka Culture Park, so I decided this would be a good opportunity to explore.
The view south towards Xindian is better from up high, and from the ground I hadn’t appreciated just how tree-covered the park is.
11:15 – The Hakka Culture Park looks like it has seen better days. There are a few sculptures of people engaged in farming activities, a waterwheel, a stream full of fat fish and mini terraced farms. Information boards give a few details about each point of interest, but they all seem very temporary, as if the park authorities ran out of money or interest during the final stages. (4)
The best tended area in the park is this Fude Temple – at least two people came to pray here as I was exploring the park.
Once I’d finished my wander, I decided to head back over to the riverside park to continue the journey.
One of the artworks along the riverbank. I believe the theme of the artwork is ‘love,’ you’ll see a heart tunnel, silhouettes of a girl kissing a shy boy, the double happiness character and other pieces with similar motifs. This band seems to be the exception.
11:52 – Pass under Yongfu Bridge and you will almost certainly notice the huge blue pipe which runs parallel – if you live in Sanchong, Dazhi, Datong or Songshan Districts then your water will travel over this bridge on its way to your apartment.
11:59 – Not far from Yongfu Bridge (in fact you can spot it in the background oft his photo), you will see a collection of houses rising from the hill on the left. These belong to Treasure Hill Artist Village – an old military dependents’ village that was saved from demolition and turned into a place for artists to make and share work. (5)
The community retains an air of gradual decay, but it’s clear that it’s looked after and loved by both the artists and long term residents who inhabit it.
Visitors can roam the network of stairs and stumble across small cafes, studios, and installations, (although not on Mondays when the village closes to allow it some quiet time).
12:27 – Leaving Treasure Hill Artist Village behind, I headed out onto Keelung Road, turned right onto Roosevelt Road and then took a flight of steps heading up and over a small hill towards another military dependents’ village that is still clinging on to life in its quiet little corner of Taipei. (6)
This is Toad Hill Community, and like many of these military dependents’ villages around Taiwan, it is facing pressure from developers. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend you check out this article on Over the City which goes into quite a bit of detail about the site.
12:39 – Heading on towards Fuyang Eco Park I had to do a bit of weaving up and down the streets through the university buildings.
12:45 – As I was nearing the final stretch, I noticed a sign indicating that Fanglan Mansion (芳蘭大居), so I decided to head up and take a look.
12:50 – Actually I didn’t come across the Fanglan Mansion, this place is the nearby Yifang House (義芳居), which was built by the same family. (7) The partriach, Chen Zhen-shi was a Fujian immigrant who came to Taiwan as a child in the 1800s. He did well for himself in business, and built Fanglan Mansion, later his descendants built both Yinfang House and Yufang House (玉放居) close by. The latter was unfortunately lost when the land it stood on was bought by NTU and the university decided to knock it down. The one positive that came of this is that Fanglan Mansion (which is also on NTU property) and Yifang House were both subsequently designated as being historical monuments. Fanglan House is now sealed off behind a fence, and Yifang House is used as a private residence, so it’s not possible to get too close to either, but they can be admired from the outside.
There are plenty of older houses lining Fanglan Road, forming a buffer zone of sorts between the green spaces and the city proper. Some, like this one are looked after and lived in, but the majority are crumbling behind curls of barbed wire and stained concrete.
13:25 – I got to the top edge of Fuyang Street, joining up with the path I’d taken when I’d walked to Shenkeng, and with that I completed my journey along the southern trail.
HOW TO GET THERE
- Jiyi Temple – N25 02.095 E121 30.080
- Fumin Butchers’ Market and Wanhua Fish Market – N25 01.140 E121 29.855
- Machang Evacuation Gate – N25 01.185 E121 30.260
- Hakka Culture Park – N25 01.205 E121 31.445
- Treasure Hill Artist Village – N25 00.605 E121 31.890
- Back entrance to Toad Hill Community – N25 00.495 E121 32.295
- Yifang House – N25 00.700 E121 32.840
Public transport: The walk starts and ends at MRT stations, so transport is extremely easy. There are also many bus routes along the way if you find yourself getting tired.
- 十三站：馬場町╱南機場 文章來源：重大歷史懸疑案件調查辦公室 – This is where I found most of the information relating to Machangting.
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