Today, a few of us went on a day trip to Jiufen. Jiufen is a small town, north east from Taipei, easily accessible via public transportation. We started by taking the bus to Ba De Dunhua Intersection continuing with one of the long distance buses to Jiufen. The total ride was less than $100 and we got to see lots of different countryside along our one and a half hour bus tour (total commuting time). The bus was very comfortable and offered air conditioning, so even on a hot day travelling to Jiufen via bus is a good option, if you get cold easily this might be your hint to bring a light jacket.
Once arrived, and you really cannot miss the main stop “Jiufen Old Street”, get ready to experience Jiufen and its tourism. We walked straight down a few stairs to have quiet moment and eat a sandwich we had brought before mingling with the crowds. And yes, there were crowds after this sole bus ride. There is a beautiful temple right in the town center, definitely worth having a look without disturbing locals practicing their religion. Start your stroll around town anywhere. We went ahead and stopped a little here and there, taking in the beautiful views from up the road that snake like winds down.
Jiufen has so many stairs and narrow streets to explore that you will find yourself lost at times, unless you have your best friend google maps with you to consult at times with no orientation lost. That however, is what we loved and liked best about Jiufen. Its flair from the old days, tiny houses built into the mountains, different architecture styles combined. Old meets new, and new meets old.
Cafes and tea houses around every corner mixed with bright flashing lights trying to attract tourists to come and buy. There are heaps of stores and souvenir shops, cute little things to take back home. Our favorites were particularly funny face masks and little cats sitting holding a fishing wire. Besides those you will find heaps of places offering food and drinks. Quite some local specialties around too. Most famous teas are offered in cute and old style tea houses overlooking the north end of Taiwan, as well as specialty jelly meat balls and other little snacks we had not encountered anywhere else beforehand. Treat yourself and try some!
Be prepared however, there will be many other tourists and despite of us going during the week, it was fairly busy. Large tour groups will be part of the adventure, so dont be shy. As you walk the Old Street, simply remember for how long people have walked these grounds and traded good along these steps and under the roofs you are walking. I kept looking also up and down, peeking around little corners and daring to take a step or two off the beaten track – absolutely worth it! At the end, we kept straying away from the busy tourists spots and found ourselves walking along long abandoned little houses and places. Suddenly the streets were very empty, and narrow steps were winding down towards the main road. The view over the ocean and mountain got better and better as we walked. Some stray cats were greeting us, a river passed down flowing peacefully alongside. Despite a rather cloudy day, the impressions you will get and remember are worth the long bus ride.
To sum it up, despite not seeing a Jiufen as displayed on the post cards with empty old streets and red lanterns hanging lit up, (but then it was during the day time), we had a pleasant day out. On our way back, we decided to mix it up a bit and took a local bus to Ruifang to transfer to the train station and take the train home. We could have just hopped back on the bus to Taipei but felt we wanted to try out both ways, train and bus. From Ruifang the train ride will take about 45min back to Taipei Main Station and conveniently leaves every 20-30 minutes. The price is almost identical to taking the bus, we just thought we wanted to ride back seeing a different route. It was well worth it as you will get a different impression from seeing the mountains through a train window. Great day trip, even for a rainy or cloudy day, as in Jiufen you will mostly walk under covered streets.