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Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Quaint Towns of Shifen and Jiufen

The North East Scenic Zone of Taiwan is something that I have read from Lonely Planet and not one that is often mentioned in blogs and Tripadvisor. It is a collection of beautiful locations around the north east coast that is usually best reached by private transportation, I have tried to visit see some of these places during my 16-day sojourn because aside from natural landscapes, there are also a number of historic and cultural sites that visitors like me would definitely enjoy. I made my way to New Taipei to see the towns of Shifen and Jiufen to explore some of the country's finest destinations.

jiufen

As I was around the Pingxi Railway Line, I decided Shifen would be my next stop after Sandiaoling, a town famous for its three beautiful waterfalls. It was a very crowded train ride, everyone with dripping umbrellas and wet jackets from the rain. It was not less than 30 minutes that I arrived on my destination.

Shifen Station
Shifen Station

HOW TO GET TO SHIFEN 
The most convenient way to get around the different towns around Pingxi is through train. The Pingxi Railway Line stops through the towns such as Shifen, Pingxi, Sandiaoling, Houtung and more. Take note that this line is quite popular and gets packed especially during weekends.

There is also a shuttle bus from MRT Muzha Station or Ximending but I am not privy on the details.

shifen
the busy commercial line of Shifen

Located in Pingxi District, New Taipei, Shifen 十分 used to be a small mining town and is now famous for its Sky Lantern Festival which has been described as a must-see by Fordors in 2013. Aside from that, tourists also flock the old commercial district.


shifen sky lantern
despite the heavy rain, there's no stopping the tourists from letting those sky lanterns up in the air

I actually didn’t come here to purchase a sky lantern. I admit it looked interesting, but certainly that is not just the main sight in Shifen. What is now called as Shifen Old Street is located along the railway tracks that was previously used to transport coal around the neighboring districts. Now, it has been transformed into a lively commercial lane filled with small diners and cafes and souvenir shops selling pineapple cakes, key chains and of course, sky lanterns. It definitely gives of a sense of nostalgia.

prayer board
spotted this prayer board, I'd commend you if you spot mine

shifen river
the negative effect of these sky lanterns.. unwanted litter.


The town of Shifen is quite small and aside from the Old Street, one of the place that draws tourist is Shifen Waterfall 十分大瀑布, which is the widest in the country. It is 40 meters in width and stands tall at 20 meters and is situated on the upper reaches of the Keelung River. It is coined as the “Rainbow Pond”, if you are lucky enough to come here on a bright sunny day, you might get to see those beautiful colorful wonders. Because of the heavy rain that day and from the previous days, the torrent was terrifyingly powerful. It seemed like the rainy days are here to stay.

Again, like other waterfalls in Taiwan, you could only appreciate the scenery through a view deck, this area is really popular and there’s even a queue just for a photo op.

Shifen Waterfall

Shifen Waterfall taiwan
it’s not the tallest in the country, but Shifen Waterfall is impressive nonetheless

taiwan falls
had to fight a spot to have my picture taken, was it worth it? be the judge lol

falls taipei

my filling biandang, perfect to energize packed with carbs and protein!

The downpour did not show any signs of stopping, seems like it would go on until the night, which it did. The trains along this railway line only have trips every hour so once it finally arrives, you could only get a small personal space. It was already dark when I arrived at Ruifang Station and because of the heavy rain, I had troubles finding the right bus stop for Jiufen, I even got in a wrong one which was headed for the opposite direction. Good thing I was with attentive locals who helped me find the right way.

ruifang

HOW TO GET TO JIUFEN
Just like Shifen, you might need a couple of transfers to reach Jiufen. In my case, I previously went to Sandiaoling and Shifen, which were both in Pingxi. I had to get off at Ruifang Station and take either bus 827 or 788. If you are coming to Taipei and keen on using TRA, the same direction would apply.
There is a bus service from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT, I took this bus on my way back to Taipei. Bus number is 1062. There is also a shuttle bus service from Ximending but reservations must be made beforehand.

jiufen night
the town looks peaceful right, but truth be told, it was raining cats and dogs that night!

The town of Jiufen 九份 is set on a hillsidearea of Ruifang District, New Taipei. Like Shifen, it was also a prosperous mining town thanks to the discovery of gold during the Japanese occupation.When the industry fell into a decline after WWII, the government decided to turn it into a booming tourist destination. Due to the heavy influence of Japanese culture in the area, there are a number of buildings that have retained its design and structure, so you’d be able to see a good combination of distinct architecture. It has been claimed to be where Hayao Miyazaki got his inspiration for the backdrop of the movie Spirited Away, a 2002 Oscar Winner for Best Animated Feature.

jiufen market
seriously, I had a hard time picking which food to buy they all looked so appetizing

jiufen taipei

As I got.off the bus, I didn’t expect that the rain has turned into something far more worse. I couldn’t tell if it was a typhoon at that point but it definitely felt like it. Big droplets of rain were pouring nonstop coupled with strong winds, it felt like you’d be spirited away to the underworld. Even my umbrella proved to be useless as I got soaked anyway. I decided to grab some food while I gather my senses and prep myself for the cold gloomy weather.

jiufen restaurant
you surely won't get hungry strolling around Jiufen, despite most restaurants being packed, there are just way too many options

jiufen commercial

taiwan ice cream
who's up for more ice cream? meee!

I headed for the cobble stoned streets of Jishan Street 基山街 and Shuchi (Shuqi) Street 豎崎路. This is the historic commercial area of Jiufen filled with different stores, tea houses and restaurants. Even though there were lots of interesting sights in store for me, I found it hard to focus with the teeming tourists on all sorts of directions. I had hoped to leave as soon as possible, not because I wasn’t enjoying, but because I was already freezing.

jiufen teahouse

jiufen toursim
there's no stopping these zealous visitors to explore Jiufen

taiwan mask
unique museum of masks

taiwan doraemon
and another unique display of owls? the Taiwanese surely have a thing for them

jiufen street art

I hoped to see the most photographed section of the town before I left but at that time I didn’t know what it was and how you could ask where it was. It definitely felt like I was on a maze going back in forth on the same alleyways and lanes. I decided to take things slower and not let the rain dampen my spirits. As soon as I did, I discovered the charm of Jiufen. The mysterious glow of red lanterns, the welcoming smile of restaurant owners beckoning you to take a breather, the cobbled streets that makes it all the more memorable. I now get why people love this place.  Even though it was just a fairly small district, the food options are limitless! I also discovered museums and unique stores that piqued my curiosity. I also thought that the tea houses were one of a kind and a must see, some of them have the perfect location of being on the hillside providing an amazing view of the ocean.

jiufen teahouse
where tourists would flock in Jiufen, A Mei Tea House 阿妹茶楼

jiufen spirited away
the famous teahouse

and most likely, one of the most photographed scenery in Taiwan

jiufen red lanterns
I noticed the crowd getting thinner..

red lantern taiwan

jiufen lantern

As the tourists left and the shop owners start to close their stores, I discovered this magical moment where I was just left alone with these red lanterns..

jiufen taipei

jiufen hayao miyazaki
the famed red lanterns of Jiufen

jiufen night scene

jiufen town

jiufen rain

jiufen nightscape
somehow the rain made my pictures look.amazing, look at those reflection

If I had more time and was there during good weather condition, I would have also visited Pingxi as well. At Jiufen, I would have also wanted to hike up Mt. Jilong 基隆山, for a majestic view of Keelung city and the northeast coast. It is said to be doable for less than an hour. I bet it would be lovely to stay here overnight and enjoy the romantic atmosphere.

I did not let the treacherous rain bother me, I pushed through and was rewarded with an amazing experience. I hope to explore more of these small charming towns if ever get the chance to go back to Taiwan.

jiufen blog
I only had very few pictures of myself in Jiufen, so I need to post this one as a remembrance :)

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