Tourist boats in Taijiang National Park bring visitors close to mangrove forests, endangered birds and oyster farming.

  • Tyler Cottenie / Associate Reporter

On the far western edge of Taiwan lies an ecologically and historically rich expanse of land and sea. Many of Taiwan’s earliest Han settlers arrived here in today’s Tainan region. As their descendants and successive waves of immigrants built economies based on fishing, farming, salt harvesting, and aquaculture, battles for control of the area raged between European and Asian powers, silting up the original lagoon and changing people’s livelihoods. Today, the area is protected as Taijiang National Park (台江國家公園). Its mangrove wetland is a haven for birdwatchers, but for the average tourist, the boat trips offered near Sihcao Dajhong Temple (四草大眾廟) are often their first experiences in the park.


As you can see from above, the interior of Taijiang National Park is more water than land. It is a maze of rivers, canals and fishponds, with a network of devious paths. Natural mangrove forest is still preserved along some of these waterways. For those looking for a quick introduction to the habitat in a photogenic environment, look no further than the Green Tunnel boat ride, a 30-minute excursion along a narrow channel with mangroves on both sides creating a cool, green canopy above.

Photo: Tyler Cottenie

Along with a driver and guide, visitors board a lightweight PVC tube boat whose design mimics traditional bamboo fishing rafts and plunge into the mangrove microcosm. Fiddler crabs thrive on muddy shorelines, while mangrove pneumophores wander among the strange-looking vertical aerial roots that help trees breathe despite the waterlogged soil.

Guides here will point out the various bird species and mangroves that inhabit this compact space and any additional wildlife that might make an appearance, such as fish that can survive and emerge from the water. for a long time.

Near the end of the canal, the boat driver slowly rocks the boat, giving people on both sides an unobstructed view of the green “tunnel” created by the mangroves and their reflection in the calm waters (and a chance to photograph them).

Photo: Tyler Cottenie

At the far end of the route, the boat approaches a brick wall with sluice gates. This was the site of Likin Tax Bureau (釐金局). During the Qing Dynasty, goods transported by water were subject to a transit tax known here as likin. Another man-made point of interest on the Green Tunnel walk is the former site of Fort Zeeburg, originally built by the Dutch as a complement to the larger Fort Zeelandia. Nothing remains today, but when it was built the ocean reached so far inland that it was an important defensive position.

The inland sea that existed at that time has now completely silted up, and it is hard to imagine the ships that sailed here only three or four centuries ago, but it was here that the Ming general Cheng Cheng-kung (鄭成功, also known as Koxinga) landed. Before besieging Fort Zeelandia, his contingent permanently pushed the Dutch out of southern Taiwan.

Koxinga was not the only one to approach Taiwan via this route. Many early Han settlers came to Taiwan, especially after Dutch forces offered the colonists some protection and stability. In addition, the coast here is a relatively short crossing from the Penghu Islands, thus shortening the dangerous open sea journey. In fact, Taiwan’s westernmost point is also within Taijiang National Park, marked by a steel-framed lighthouse on a sandy beach that is easily accessible to the public. The old immigration route itself even falls within the park’s boundaries, as the park covers a long rectangular ocean stretch from Penghu’s Dongji Island to the Tainan coast.

Photo: Tyler Cottenie


Another boat ride available to tourists here is a 70-minute excursion through another mangrove waterway and up the larger Yanshuei River (鹽水溪) near Tainan City. Wider waterways don’t provide the visual effect of a green tunnel, but the wide open space provides cool sea breezes and expansive views. It also makes for better bird watching opportunities. The black-faced spoonbill winters here and was the impetus for the creation of the national park in the first place. Conservation efforts have increased the global population to just over 6,000 — more than half of which winter in Tainan — but the species remains endangered.

The economic activity of a person shows itself more prominently in this boat. The boat floats directly on the river next to oyster farming operations, with bamboo stilts suspended underneath for the oysters to grow. Oyster farmers can be seen busily at work without being phased by the tourist boats plying the river every day.

Photo: Tyler Cottenie

The boat then passes another brick wall with Japanese-era sluice gates. Installed to control water flow to nearby salt evaporation ponds. This industry has all but dried up today, but demonstration ponds have been set up elsewhere in Taijiang National Park for those interested in learning about this historically important part of Tainan’s economy.


Finally, on the shore behind the oyster farms, one can see an interesting complex of buildings that combine elements of Taijiang’s human and natural history. They are conspicuously white, drawing immediate attention as spoonbills do. In fact, the buildings were designed to reflect the environment in which they were built. Viewed from above, the structures are said to resemble a group of spoonbills and ribs, the white color itself reminiscent of the heaps of salt that abounded in the area during the salt harvesting years.

Photo: Tyler Cottenie

The single sloping angles of the roof match the distant Central Mountain range on the horizon. Driftwood and oyster shells are incorporated into the complex’s exterior, further integrating it with the natural environment. Finally, the buildings are partly on stilts above the water, reflecting the centuries-old importance of water to the local economy.

These buildings are the park’s headquarters and visitor center and are worth seeing in their own right. They are an interesting mix of rather sterile modern architecture with soothing natural elements, while their contrasting colors, irregular shapes and sharp lines make them highly photogenic. Buildings are also designed as “green buildings” because they incorporate innovative energy-saving features. Guided tours are organized four times a day to learn more about this unique complex. The visitor center offers a wealth of information about the ecology of Taijiang as well as the human history of the area.

Whether you’re into birdwatching, geography, history, aquaculture, architecture, photography or just a beautiful boat ride, Taijiang National Park has something for you.

If you go

Many city bus routes serve the park. A private car is a better option for those who want to visit salt evaporation ponds, lighthouses or many bird watching spots. Tickets for both boat tours do not need to be booked in advance and can be purchased in person at the ticket office next to Sihcao Dajhong Temple. Both cost NT$200. For a more peaceful experience, plan to take a boat trip on a weekday outside of school holidays, but be prepared to wait a while until there are enough passengers. The area can get quite busy on weekends and school holidays, but the boats run almost non-stop and there is a food market set up near the Sihcao Dajhong Temple. For more information about Taijiang National Park (in Chinese and English), visit:

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