Jiufen, Taiwan

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Jiufen, north of Taipei, is an old mining town carved out from the side of a mountain, is now transformed into a tourist town of sorts. It is famous for its old street and tea houses. The name Jiufen means nine pieces/plots, because the area was originally divided into 9 plots for the nine founding families. If you look around there’s another town called Shifen – as in 10 pieces/plots. This area is full of all many tourist attractions. We were a little ambitious and had about 5 items for the day, ranging from a small hike to catching a local rail, to lighting sky lanterns, to seeing a waterfall, walking a suspension bridge, to checking out an old Japanese provincial house. That’s 6 items on the agenda in case we had time leftover. As it turned out, we ended up doing one thing – the Old Street of Jiufen. We were so charmed by it, we spent the whole afternoon there. Next time we are back, we want to put aside 3 days for this part of Taiwan.

Our first mistake was having a lazy morning. We did not get to the Taipei Main Station until about 10 am. We knew we had to catch a train to Ruifang, an interchange station north and about 40 minutes away. At the self serve ticket booth, we were unable to book the ticket and took time to decipher the ticketing system, even on the English screen. After some 10 minutes bickering, complaining and random pressing of buttons, there was a grunt from a commuter next to us. He pointed at his screen and the ticket was ready for purchase. Quick as a flash, he was gone and we didn’t get the chance to thank the random local stranger.

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We got to RuiFang, an interchange station where you can catch a local bus to Jiufen, or local train ride ticket towards Shifen. Finding the bus stop was easy – right outside the station but we couldn’t figure out which side of the street was the right direction.

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After crisscrossing the street a number of times, and looking like idiotic tourists, some other kind locals pointed us to the right bus stop – the one opposite to the train station.

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A 20 minute bus ride through narrow roads on the mountain brought us to the bottom of the town and we did not move for 10 minutes.

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After the bus stop, you simply follow the crowd. This particular day was overcast and it was a weekday, which probably worked in our favour. I can imagine the crowds on the weekend on a sunny day – a tourist nightmare.

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The old street is narrow and now full of shops catered for tourists – food, leather goods, tea houses and more food stores, some more leather shops and other attractions. We walked the entire old street and was having a great time taking photos. The overcast weather, narrowness of the streets and plastic coverings meant soft and dark lighting for photos.

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By this time, it was noon and we made the big mistake of having a sit down lunch. The noodles were yummy. But Taiwan is a land of small eats. And we were soon enticed by all the other food stalls.

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We did try the local taro balls. Reminded us of Meet Fresh, eats rubbery, not to our liking.

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We also tried lots of other good tasting foods.

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We enjoyed these ‘sea snails’. Rubbery, but taste full of the sea.

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We could only gawk and salivate at other food stalls.

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This boss claims that all his food is marinated free of presevative, and msg. So we ate some more.

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Most tourists probably come here on a tour bus and only have time to walk to the mid point. We ended up walking to the end.

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We took a break at this tea house and had Taiwan High Mountain tea. This is a delicious tea with subtle and fragrant flavours. The Taiwanese take their tea seriously. We were given a set of instructions and a timer to brew the tea a number of times.

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We would have been happy drinking tea all day long and having a nice chat.

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If this teahouse looks familiar, it is because Hayao Miyazaki visited here and took inspiration from this teahouse for some scenes in Spirited Away. Every now and then, you can spot some Japanese young girls taking photos with the V sign.

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But I am pretty sure Stephanie Myers didn’t take any inspiration from this wonderful town.

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You can see Keelung harbour from this viewpoint. We certainly have to make a visit there next time.

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As a final treat, we couldn’t resist a just made and still warm local pastry. Flaky, fatty, oily, chewing, sweet taro – a joy.

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By this time, it was about 5pm and raining heavily. We had to cancel out trip for the sky lanterns and caught the peak hour commuter train back to Taipei. We had a great time at Jiufen and missed so many other attractions.

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