When one visits Taiwan, one must visit Shifen and Jiufen. Two places that one can never forget. Light up an old school lantern in one hand and take a trip down memory lane to Spirited Away on the other hand.
|Way too excited...|
|Up up andddd away|
Since both districts are both west of Taipei, I'd recommend to start super early and visit the two places in the same day, unless of course you are staying overnight. To get to Shifen from Taipei, take the train to Ruifang and then take a connecting train to Shifen using the Pingxi line. MC and I didn't realise that part of Jiufen closes early so if you want to take your time in Shifen, then you are best of going to Jiufen first. But if you want the stunning night view of Jiufen with all the lights lit, then either start the day super early or cut short your trip at Shifen.
|MC's and my lantern|
The most popular activity in Shifen is to pick a blank lantern, write your wishes all over it and then let it up in the air whilst standing on the railway tracks. Each lantern is approximately AUD6 to AUD10 so they are quite fun and inexpensive. If you can't write in Chinese like me, or if you don't feel like writing then there is always the option of drawing heh. The people selling these lanterns are also super nice as they help you take a photo next to the lantern at every side / angle so ladies, there is no need to panic and feel FOMO.
|Shallot "crepe" and nougats in all the flavours you can possibly think of|
There is also a popular waterfall in Shifen, Shifen Waterfall, which is also one of the most famous waterfalls in Taiwan. The only downside is that it is a 20 min walk to the waterfall each way. Unfortunately, we were running short on time so MC and I decided to head back to Ruifang and start to make our way to Jiufen.
|Welcome back to Ruifang|
|Food court stalls near Ruifang station|
|Freshly made buns|
To get to Jiufen from Shifen, you need to take the train back to Ruifang. Once you are out of the station, cross the road and head left for about 5 minutes until you see the police station. Bus routes 788 or 825 will take you right outside the alley ways to Jiufen. The bus ride isn't long so if you have 20 to 30 mins spare or feeling a bit peckish, I would highly recommend checking out their food court that directly faces the station.
If your hungry then you got to get their freshly made buns. Not only is it made fresh in front of you but it is baked the old school ways. You can literally see them sticking them into an old school oven using their bare hands. Things like this takes the heart of food to another level, especially when they are so rare to find these days.
|View from Jiufen tea house|
|Jiufen Tea House|
Photo credit: MC
|Tradition tea at the tea house|
A must do in Jiufen is to check out the tea houses. MC and I went to the Jiufen Tea House which has a traditional decor and also, an outdoor seating area which overlooks part of city. The tea houses aren't that cheap compared to the things you can get from the street food vendors but the quality of their tea is seriously top notch. They even teach you the process of how often you should be string and changing your tea to really taste the true flavours of the tea leaves.
We purposely went in the late afternoon so we could see all the pretty lights and really take in the whole experience. All the warm lighting with the traditional decor really reminded me of my childhood days of when I was sitting in front of an old television and glued to watching Spirited Away again and again.
A must must must have in Jiufen is their signature traditional dish, yam balls, which is effectively taro and sweet potato balls made from gluttony goodness. You can't avoid them - there are so many of these dessert vendors as you stroll through the alley ways of Jiufen. The yam balls aren't really sweet as the bulk of the sweetness comes the syrup but they are pretty filling so I would recommend sharing a bowl between two. But as a tip, don't make the same mistake as I did and eat this earlier in the afternoon rather than the evening as all the street food vendors tend to close early than all the proper restaurants in Jiufen.
|Alley ways of Jiufen|
So for those who are travelling to Taiwan, Jiufen is a must visit. It is definitely one of my favourite places in Asia which I have travelled to and will definitely go back. MC and I were only there for half a day but that was barely enough. If you can, try to venture out early so you can spend an entire day there (including Shifen). It is such a magical place that you just want to spend every minute of your day taking it a lllllll in.
Gotta go eat!!