I’ve been sitting on these photo diaries for a while now but it finally feels like a good time to talk about fall/winter in Taiwan. (My last travel series felt a bit lost in time lol.) Since we’re approaching the holidays, there are probably quite a few people looking forward to traveling to Taiwan next month. I thought I’d up the excitement factor a little by sharing some bits and pieces of what you can expect, especially if you’re a first-timer there. Let’s start by talking about Jiufen (九份) and Shifen (十分) Old Streets.
Now these two locations are super popular, and to be honest I didn’t get to do much exploring because we were constantly on the move during this particular visit to Taiwan. Nonetheless, I made a video that will hopefully give you a feel for the place. Next time I visit, I will stay longer and make a more comprehensive guide. For now, I hope you enjoy my little snippets.
Jiufen’s history is actually quite interesting. Before, the only thing that existed here was a village housing just nine families. Every time ships arrived carrying goods or rations, they always asked for just nine portions, or jiu fen in Mandarin. It wasn’t until the Japanese colonization that the village developed into an actual town, because it was discovered that the hills and mountains in this area actually had quite a bit of gold.
When World War II ended and the Japanese withdrew from Taiwan, the gold mines in this area were shut down. At this point, people stopped caring about this town, to the point that it almost disappeared from memory. That is, until it became the setting of a very controversial Taiwanese historical film. It was a banned film, which as always just spurs people to want to watch it even more.
The film became popular and people became curious about Jiufen again. Later on, Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ put Jiufen in more people’s radars. Regardless of whether or not he drew inspiration from Jiufen (because he denies it), the publicity has been nothing but good. The people here are even milking that reference. I saw tons of ‘Spirited Away’ merchandise over here, which was okay with me since I love that film! 😉
I kind of feel like Jiufen is busy enough with just the locals visiting the place. There are A LOT of people walking through both Jishan (基山街) and Shuqi (豎崎路) Pedestrian Streets. The popular food stalls have lines. It’s just a place that is alive and kicking. All the inns and shops stand shoulder to shoulder, literally, and there is really no sign that this place was ever NOT thriving.
Jiufen is an almost claustrophobic maze of alleyways, but navigating is part of the fun. You find yourself drawn towards certain food stalls using your nose, or maybe even mesmerized by the music being played in shops selling wooden instruments. There are souvenir stores, costume stores, specialty snack stores, tea stores, food stores, cafes… Just so much to see and eat!
Speaking of eating, I recommend you try out these peanut ice cream rolls. This particular shop constantly has a line. You definitely need to recharge every once in a while if you decide to visit here during the fall/winter season. The combination of the cold weather and the effort climbing up the slope will leave you constantly hungry!
Again, I wasn’t able to explore this place for long, but the taste of Jiufen I had (both figuratively and literally) has me craving for more! It’s certainly a worthwhile 2-hour trip outside Taipei.
[Instructions on HOW TO GET TO JIUFEN]
Near Jiufen is another equally charming location called Shifen (十分). It’s almost similar to Jiufen in its history but instead of being a gold mine, this area was a coal mine. The Pingxi-line train tracks that run through Shifen was originally used for transporting coal, but now the Shifen Old Street stop is a popular tourist destination. And boy are there plenty of tourists, mostly Korean.
Shifen is known as the place where people fly sky lanterns. These lanterns were once used as a signaling system for those working in the railroad industry, but they have managed to adapt it to the times very cleverly. Understandably quite a novelty for young people, there were also some members of the older generation participating in this activity. As expected, a Sky Lantern Festival is held here every February.
There’s an open space where you can write your wishes on your purchased sky lanterns (costs TWD 150 to 200 each). The lantern-releasing area is right on the train tracks though, and these same tracks run straight through the village. It’s an interesting set-up. Any time a train is approaching, people are asked to get off the tracks for a bit. There are a lot of people assisting the lantern-fliers, so there was never any real danger that I could sense being on the train track itself.
As opposed to Jiufen, visitors are mostly walking under an open sky here in Shifen. As far as my eye could see, people dotted the train tracks on both directions to fly their lanterns. A marketplace surrounds this entire area and I was able to buy some souvenirs real quick. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to eat. We did release a lantern for fun. I busted out some of my old Mandarin knowledge and wrote random stuff down.
Honestly, I would much rather think about these lanterns as things that carry my worries away rather than things that bring my wishes to the skies. I just kind of channelled my worries to the stuff I wrote down and bid farewell to them.
Apart from the market, a place I didn’t get to explore was the Shifen Waterfall, 30 minutes away from the train platform area by foot. I’m not really one for making wishes because I do know that things don’t magically come true without action, but I do wish I could come back here sooner rather than later to visit that waterfall known as the ‘Little Niagara’. (One of my dream destinations is actually Canada so yeah…)
Normally, people lump a daytrip to Jiufen and Shifen together in one day, but if you are planning to fully explore each location, I honestly think it’s better to take a full day to leisurely walk around each place. This is my plan for next time. I don’t even have a concrete idea of when I’m returning to Taiwan yet, but I’m already looking forward to it!
[Check out this great guide to Shifen + Instructions on how to get there!]