Exploring Jiufen, Taiwan

For anyone sick of shopping non-stop in Taipei, Jiufen is an ideal day trip as it is reasonably near Taipei city, yet offers a refreshing change in scenery with mountain views, old-fashioned walkways and cool teahouses.

I’ve visited Jiufen long ago when I was a student in Taiwan but couldn’t quite appreciate its beauty and charm because I visited in the daytime where it was crowded and bright. Plus, I wasn’t aware then that this is the destination that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away movie. Now that I’ve re-watched Spirited Away, visiting Jiufen takes on another significance and adds a romantic aspect to its charm.

To me, Jiufen is best explored when it is during the cool season, because when you go during the summer, the heat plus the crowd in the narrow alleys makes it quite unbearable which takes away the positive experience.

It is possible to take a bus up to Jiufen, but being lazy I just boarded a cab from Ruifang train station since it wasn’t expensive either, about 200 TWD.

The mountain view you get when you reach Jiufen.

Jiufen is all about shopping along the old streets and trying out the snacks. And even though it is quite a touristy experience, I really enjoyed it, because I’m just someone who likes cheap and cute trinkets, and Taiwan is really great in producing cute stuff!

Due to Jiufen being the source of inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, there are many stalls selling Spirited Away’s merchandise. But of course, the most famous attraction is still “A Mei Teahouse” (阿妹茶楼), which is cited as the teahouse that inspired the bathhouse in Spirited Away.

This teahouse looked pretty nondescript in the daytime, but started resembling the famous bathhouse once the sky dimmed and the red lanterns lining it were lit up at night.

The exterior of A Mei Teahouse.

I was quite surprised at how expensive it cost to have tea in A Mei Teahouse. 600 NT for 2! And all it included was a small pot of tea for 2, and a few random pieces of snacks like sugared plums and crackers. Completely unsatisfying. And the cost price was probably 50 NT.

Surprisingly, Jiufen was still pretty crowded at around 7pm even though most of the shops have closed or were in the midst of closing. I guess it is because everyone is just like me, waiting for the sky to turn dark so as to capture the iconic lantern-lit scene of Jiufen. However because it was so crowded, it was impossible to capture a serene lantern-lit Jiufen as seen on postcards, but one with many people in the picture.

A still crowded Jiufen at 7pm.

Most daytrippers would go home by about 7pm to head back to Taipei, but I had booked a night’s stay at Jiufen because I heard reviews that you can then wake up to fresh air etc. haha. In the end, it is not like I woke up bright and early to take a morning walk anyway.

But I do appreciate the fact that staying in Jiufen means I can enjoy Jiufen in the morning before the hordes of tourists come. In fact it was probably the only time when there were no crowds. It is for once quite peaceful.

An empty Jiufen in the morning.
Jiufen in the morning.This is a nice place for picture-taking!

One of my best discoveries in Jiufen this time round is a shop that rents out costumes from different eras which allows you to cosplay in different settings.It is called 秘密基地. I had a great time trying out the different outfits and trying to look like I am a princess from the Qing Dynasty though I was suffering inwardly from the heat.(Read it here)

The place where you can cosplay and take pictures!

Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed myself in Jiufen since I basically like everything about Taiwan. Looking forward to my next trip there.