Taipei's waterways -- the scenic pleasures of its four rivers

Taipei, April 6 (CNA) Taipei is a city of rivers. Walk around the Dadaocheng(???), Yuanshan(??), Dazhi(??) and Neihu (??)areas and you'll enjoy plenty of river views. Travelers who ride a bicycle will know about the city's comprehensive, interlinked system of riverside bikeways, with a total length of 112 kilometers along the Tamsui(???), Keelung(???), Xindian(???), and Jingmei rivers (???). Discover Taipei, a bimonthly published by the Taipei City Government, introduces to readers the city's four river in its March/April edition. The following is the article: The History of Tamsui River In former times, the Tamsui River played a key role in local communication and goods transportation, and was at the center of the city's rise. In the 18th century soldiers were sent by the Qing dynasty (??) government to garrison Taiwan, and in the Taipei area the Tamsui River system was the primary channel of communication with the outside world. The main trade and transport node in the area was along the Xinzhuang (??)shore. Silting became a serious problem after 1767, and commerce began a slow shift downriver to Bangka(??), today called Wanhua(??)in Mandarin Chinese. However, it too began to suffer from serious silting, restricting and finally halting rivercraft access. Bangka's slow decline marked Dadaocheng's rise as the Taipei region's main goods and materials entrepot. Many foreign traders and wealthy Chinese merchants moved in to set up operations, and Dadaocheng flourished as a distribution center for regional specialty goods, tea, and fabrics. During this era, most land along the riverbanks in today's Taipei was farmed. In addition to the major centers of population and commercial activity -- the old walled city, Bangka, and Dadaocheng -- a number of smaller trading hubs for agricultural and household items took shape, notably the towns of Shilin St.(???), Dalongdong St.(????), and Xikou St. (???). The end of the 19th century saw the fading away of river transport as a result of silting, and the emergence of railway transport. Their role as water-traffic nodes gone, the river port towns went into decline. The Four Rivers -- Scenery, Boat Tours, Cycle Paths According to Chen Shi-hao, director of the Hydraulic Engineering Office, Public Works Department, Taipei City Government, the main function of the Tamsui and other city rivers is now leisure and recreation. Riverside parks and nature reserves line the riversides, and what is locally called the Blue Highway has been reopened, with Blue Highway yacht cruises offering residents and visitors the opportunity to enjoy the riverside scenery and natural ecology from the water. The office has established an interlinked system of riverside bikeways totaling 112 kilometers in length, presenting grand views from Jingmei in the south and Neihu in the east and extending downstream to the wetlands of Guandu (??)in the north. A Sprawling Canvas of Historic Sites and Natural Landscapes The main boat-traffic points on the Tamsui River Blue Highway were Dadaocheng Wharf and Guandu Wharf, and there was heavy traffic between the river-mouth port towns of Tamsui and Bali (??). Dadaocheng was the last place to flourish in the days of river transport, so start your tour on foot here, where many precious cultural and historical relics have been preserved. A good example is the Zhuangxiefa Cultural History Pavilion (?????????), an official city heritage site, which stands at the junction of Guide Street and Xining North Road, where the docks used to be before silting altered the shoreline. Built in the late 1920s, this was originally a common family-run grocery store; after renovation it was opened to the public as a cultural-history pavilion. Also on Xining North Road is another building constructed in the 1920s, the former residence of Li Lin-qiu (???). Li, a lyricist, wrote the words for many popular Taiwan tunes, including the 1930s hits "Craving for the Spring Breeze" (???) and "Four Seasons of Red" (???). There are many commemorative items on display at both locations (advance registration required). The head of the Cultural Heritage Division of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, Lin Chang-chieh, says that the building of port facilities at Dadaocheng made it a "world trade center." The area's Guide Street was also the first in Taipei to feature Western-style buildings. The Zhuangxiefa site brims with the scent of this bygone era, an eyewitness to its heyday and its decline, serving as a viewing platform into history. Every Saturday, Taipei Walking Tour offers a fixed time/location tour in Chinese, English, and Japanese: an invaluable way for foreign travelers to explore Dadaocheng's old streets. After gorging yourself on the area's historic spots, walk to the river and Dadaocheng Wharf via its water gate. The rich, panoramic landscape here includes a scale mock-up of a Tang dynasty (??)junk, a wharf arch bridge, and Yanping Riverside Park. Board a craft plying the Blue Highway Tamsui-Xinyi Line and head to Guandu Nature Park, then on to Tamsui to browse Tamsui Old Street, trying its well-known traditional snack treats. Head back to the city center on the Taipei Metro. On this Blue Highway outing you can also choose to disembark at Guandu, rent a bike, and explore the natural delights of the Guandu Nature Park, an important wildlife habitat. The park's ecology has three foci, waterfowl, wetlands, and insects, and trained professionals are available to take guided tours following these themes. Another fun touring option is to soak up the appealing riverside scenery on a long, leisurely bike ride. You can start off on the Guandu Bikeway. Head out from Guandu Temple, pass by Guandu Nature Park, follow the Guizikeng Stream, and head back once you come to the hiking trail entrance. Along the way there are fine views of Mt. Guanyin (???), a large swath of mangrove forest, flocks of waterfowl in flight, and other magnificent natural sights. The Resplendent Keelung River Nightscape -- Deepening Night, Deepening Beauty Many nighttime scenic attractions are to be found along the banks of the Keelung River -- among them the lights of the Grand Hotel and Miramar Ferris Wheel and the multicolor lighting of the Rainbow Bridge. This is a favorite area with many who enjoy cycling at night. Bikeways follow both the left and right banks, enabling a leisurely look at all the many different night attractions for cycle enthusiasts, accompanied by a gentle night breeze. A daytime Blue Highway tour offers an entirely different experience; embark at the Dajia Wharf(????)in Dajia Riverside Park and the boat passes under Dazhi Bridge, along the Dazhi waterfront to the Taipei Neihu Technology Park and then back again. The star here is the beauty of the Taipei cityscape -- along the way you'll enjoy close-up views of aircraft landing and taking off at Taipei Songshan Airport, the Grand Hotel, and the Miramar Ferris Wheel, as well as the soaring Taipei 101 tower in the distance. The Xindian and Jingmei Rivers -- Bike Rides Through Landscaped Green Spaces The Xindian River and Jingmei River riversides are key urban-core green spaces. Join the riverside bikeway at Fuhe Bridge, along the right bank of the Xindian River, and the scenery slowly changes from cityscape to expansive green spaces. You'll pass by Treasure Hill Artist Village (????????), through Guting Riverside Park and by Taipei City Hakka Cultural Park. Time and again you'll be inspired to stop off and enjoy wonderful scenes, such as flocks of birds. There are bikeways along both banks of the Jingmei River, interlinked via Daonan Bridge and Yishou Bridge. The contrast of the red flowers and green grass at Jingmei Bridge, seen along the route, creates an especially striking scene. Though the days are long gone where the Tamsui River teemed with merchant craft heading to and from busy marketplaces, sails billowing in the wind, outings on the river by yacht, or along the river by bike, bring the same refreshing spring breezes, matched with the novel vistas and experiences of a new day.