Part one of our day trip outside Taipei led us through a memorable adventure in the mountains. Part two will now bring us back to civilization, to old streets rich with history from early mining days.
Part Two: Shifen + Jiufen
十分老街 [Shifen Old Street] is a fairly small street. It’s biggest appeal lies in the release of sky lanterns. The annual Sky Lantern Festival takes place here in February. As part of this ancient tradition, people write their wishes and prayers onto a large lantern, then release them into the sky above. The “Tangled” lover in me has wanted to release a sky lantern for years, and this day, that wish finally came true!
After a morning of empty roads and streets, encountering mass crowds of tourists here shocked us a bit. We only came for the sky lanterns, but I hear that the surrounding area, especially the rock formations along the coast, is worth exploring as well. From here, we boarded the train again towards Ruifang to get to Jiufen.
- As you can probably see from the pictures, people release sky lanterns in the middle of the train tracks. Vendors know the train schedule very well and will hustle everyone off the tracks well before it arrives, so no worries.
- Sky lanterns cost between 150-200NT, depending on if you want a multi-colored lantern, or if you decide to add firecrackers to it. The vendor provides a calligraphy brush to write on the lantern, pictures of you with your sky lantern, and assistance for when you release it.
Jiufen 九份 is a small village better known for being the alleged inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away.” And in fact, Jiufen still features some residual elements from its Japanese colonial era. We battled the densest crowds here [yes, even on a rainy Tuesday], which the narrow streets did not alleviate. It’s a charming town, and definitely worth a visit, but I’m undecided on whether or not it’s worth returning to, with the hordes of people.
After walking around and trying different yummy foods, we made our way to the A-Mei Teahouse for posh Japanese afternoon tea. As my first time watching an Asian tea ceremony, the experience made me feel more cultured and sophisticated than I really am. For 300NT/person, you get one type of tea + 4 tiny desserts [we had oolong tea]. A server comes over and gives a demonstration, helping you brew the first pot and explaining how to do it yourself afterwards. We remained here for the rest of the evening, slowly sipping our light, but wonderfully fragrant tea. The break from all the walking of the day prepared us for the journey back to Taipei.
- From the Ruifang Train Station, take the east exit and walk up the street, turning left at the first intersection. Walk until you get to the 788 bus stop. You can also exit the other side, turn left as you exit the station, and walk until you reach the police station. There’s another bus stop across the street from there, but more people board from this stop.
- On the ride to Jiufen, sit on the left side of the bus [your right as you board] for the best views going up the mountain.
- To return to Taipei, take bus 1062 all the way to the last stop, which is at Zhongxiao Fuxing. Line up early because there’s usually a long line, and about 20-30 minutes between buses.
- Ah Lan Hakka glutinous cakes [阿蘭宇粿/草仔粿] [90 Jishan St, Rueifang District, New Taipei City, Taiwan 224]: Very inexpensive mochi-type snack with your choice of filling. This is a famous Hakka dessert, which made me feel mildly connected to the 1/4th Hakka part of me. 😀
- Taro Balls Ah Gan Yi Yu Yuan (阿柑姨芋圓) [5, Shuqi Road, Ruifang District New Taipei City, Taiwan 224]: I’m not a fan of taro, but this sweet dessert was surprisingly delightful, with a nice mix of taro, yam, and green and red bean balls. There is plenty of seating [follow the signs] with some tables with a view of the coast.
- A-Mei Tea House [阿妹茶樓]: The teahouse that inspired “Spirited Away,” which you can easily see from the exterior and interior decor. There’s plenty of seating inside, but we still had to wait for a while because it was so crowded, even though we were first in line. If at all possible, make reservations ahead of time [sometimes it’s so busy that they don’t even let you make reservations..], and try to get an ocean view. By the time we left, the line had extended all the way down the stairs and into the main street. It’s that insanely popular!