After seeing a lot of Taipei city in a few days, we decided it was time to venture further afield and took the local bus to a town called Jiufen, just under two hours from the centre of town.
In the 1950s, Jiufen was a prosperous gold mining town but went into a sharp decline after the industry discontinued. Now, Jiufen is a popular tourist destination for Taipeites and tourists alike, eager to explore the quaint alleyways, traditional teahouses and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
As our bus crept up the lush mountains and gained some height we were able to fully appreciate the beauty of Jiufen’s surroundings. Despite the haze, the coastline was breathtaking, hemmed in by impressive mountains covered in jungle greenery with Jiufen town sprawling up the cliff side.
We had read that Jiufen was the inspiration for ‘Spirited Away’, a Japanese animated fantasy film produced by Studio Ghibli. We made sure to watch the film as research before our arrival and definitely recognised some similarities (FYI it’s a great film that’s well worth watching). There was something quite magical about wandering the meandering cobbled streets beneath swaying lanterns and wooden teahouses. We also drew some similarities with the Vietnamese ancient town of Hoi An. Like Hoi An, Jiufen has great food to snack on, lovely souvenir shops, tea, and beautiful lanterns which give the streets a warm and colourful glow.
The maze of lanes centred around Jiufen’s Old Street, where we grazed on more delicious Taiwanese foods. We ate ice cream peanut wraps, some seafood balls (fried of course), braised pork and rice, and dry beef noodles. There were also plenty of free tasters forced upon us as we walked which were more than happy to sample.
Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse about half an hour after arriving. The panoramic sea and mountain views became obscured by a thick wall of cloud, so our pictures certainly don’t do the scenery justice. Nonetheless, the drizzle gave Jiufen even more atmosphere and it still looked rather pretty in the rain. Tourists bustled for space with their lethal umbrellas or cloaked in ponchos, all adding to the vibrancy of this town. Nothing was going to dampen our spirits. Luckily, most of the main road selling food and souvenirs were under cover by canopies. We would have gotten much wetter if it wasn’t for these walkways. We did seek shelter at Sidcha, a very cool coffee shop in the afternoon and sipped on a black sesame matcha latte and black sesame mocca. The café had floor to ceiling glass windows, which would have offered spectacular views if only the clouds had passed!!
We were back on the bus to Taipei city by 4:30pm to beat the crowds (it was a Saturday after all), and Taipei appeared a little less rainy. When we first arrived in Taipei, we were in shorts and t-shirts, but by day 4 it was trousers and jumpers. But it’s honestly been very refreshing walking around without sweating non-stop. All of the locals seem nonplussed by the weather and waltz around in short sleeves and shorts so maybe we’re the pathetic ones struggling after 3 months living in a Saigonese oven.
We stayed local to our hostel for dinner and avoided any more night markets for fear of having a cardiac arrest. We ate some delicious beef noodle soup, which was mouthwateringly rich and tasted like a hearty stew with meat that flaked off the chop sticks! A perfect end to yet another wonderful day in Taiwan.