You’d think that getting out of a busy city and going to the mountains would result in a quiet break but that’s certainly not true of this place on the north east coast of Taiwan. Jiufen is an old town decorated with old style teahouses, Japanese-style inns and traditional narrow lanes amidst a beautiful backdrop of emerald mountains and the ocean. Its close proximity to Taipei means that it’s absolutely teeming with Asian tourists and we joined the masses on our first full day in the country.
Late afternoon and early evening is when its busiest, and we knew this, but as we were on a short timescale we had no choice but to do the same. The bus we boarded from Ruifang Station (the nearest train station about 5km away) was absolutely packed and it’s worth noting that not all those waiting in line were able to get on. Likewise for us with the bus before!
After about 15 minutes the bus arrived in Jiufen and pulled up in front of Jishan Street; a long, narrow, inclined lane under cover full of craft stalls, snacks, souvenir shops, mask exhibitions and so on.
Jiufen is famed as inspiring Hiyai Miyazaki’s ‘Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi‘ a.k.a. ‘Spirited Away‘ (2001) in English which of course we watched ahead of our trip to Taiwan. Whilst I’m no anime fan I can certainly appreciate it and am always keen on seeking out a few locations which inspired the settings such as those of another Miyazaki film, ‘Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea‘ (2008) in Tomonoura.
It may not provide the exact sort of match-ups like Onomichi does for the ‘Kamichu!’ animated series, but it was still interesting to wander around trying to speculate on which parts of town inspired features in the film.
A very slight detour at the top took us to a temple fringed by the mountains and away from the masses to give us a bit of respite from the crowds elsewhere.
The town’s many red lanterns, winding lanes and long staircases all became a common theme in ‘Spirited Away‘. Once the sun goes down this place really becomes quite a sight albeit a slightly chaotic one as the crowds descend the staircases conveyor-belt style in terms of everyone heading slowly in the same direction whilst snapping away with selfie sticks poking out in all directions.
Perhaps the most famous sight in town is the Grand Tea House (below) which was some kind of inspiration for the bath House where the main character Sen/Chihiro worked.
It had been a long day for us so we didn’t hang about too much once we’d seen the bright red lanterns. We decided it was time to return to Taipei but not before a brief stop off at Keelung Night Market which I mentioned briefly in ‘Taiwan 2016 Pt I: Dining Out In Taipei‘.
How to get there: Take the train from Taipei to Ruifang and a short walk from the station is the stop where buses go to Jinguashi via Jiufen. A taxi is also very reasonably priced especially if there’s enough people to share the cost.
Click here to read ‘Taiwan 2016 Pt IV: Ximending & Longshan Temple’