A ONE DAY GUIDE TO JIUFEN, TAIWAN
Beautiful Jiufen, oft referred to as the Santorini of Taiwan. A mountain town that almost seems stuck in time- red lanterns sway overhead, visitors amble the narrow alleyways, and vistas of mountains and the sea beyond stun from all directions.
In May, when I visited Taiwan at the start of the rainy season, I decided to get out of Taipei’s city centre for a day to visit the small towns of Jiufen and Shifen.
You can get to Jiufen and Shifen by train, which requires making a few transfers, but I opted to take a Klook shuttle.
It wasn’t very expensive (under $20 USD), and meant I didn’t have to do any planning. The shuttle isn’t a guided tour- just a van that takes you from Taipei to Juifen, and then onward to Shifen before returning you to the city.
Once you arrive in each destination, you’re told a time to be back at the van and then given a few hours to explore. The best part of the shuttle in the rainy season means you don’t have to spend time wading through heavy downpours to find a train station or bus stop.
To say I was sold would be an understatement.
A ONE DAY GUIDE TO JIUFEN
Jiufen was the first stop of the day for us. As we drove through winding mountain roads, the rain was relentless.
Even when we reached Jiufen, it wouldn’t let up. Taiwan even issued a rain warning, because of the volume of rain and how quickly it fell. I ended up buying one of those highlighter yellow coloured full-body ponchos in the hope of staying some degree of dry.
And then, I set off to wander.
Our guide had given us just over two hours to see Jiufen. It was enough time to not feel like I missed anything, but I would have loved a half day or even longer to really observe the pace of life in this small, mountain town.
From the lower parking lot, I shared a taxi to the top of the old street with other van passengers. The heavy rain discouraged us from walking 300 steps to the top.
If you don’t know much about Jiufen, you’ll find it an easy place to explore.
The small, winding streets are straightforward- there’s a old street with a few smaller ones branching off of it.
While you should wander the streets that branch off, going the full length of the old street will only take you 10-15 minutes each way. Which meant I had plenty of time to grab a few things to eat, sip tea in one of Jiufen’s historic teahouses, and just generally, enjoy the town.
Jiufen’s history is interesting. Formerly a gold mining town, walking through Jiufen is like looking into Taiwan’s past.
As with many places, the old street has become commercialised for tourism, but there are still reminders of Taiwan’s heritage, mainly in the food you’ll find.
Jiufen’s sloping old street is highly regarded as a place for great eats throughout Taiwan. There are even food tours you can book if you’re staying in Jiufen for longer than a few hours.
Don’t leave without trying taro ball soup, peanut ice cream rolls, rice cakes, mochi and bubble milk tea. If you’re really hungry, there’s also ice cream puffs and stinky tofu to be had.
You’ll spot great eats by walking around the old street- as a rule of thumb, always follow crowds. But, you can’t miss the taro balls at Grandma Lai’s. You can have yours hot or iced- I did hot because it was a cool day with the rain, and found the taro ball soup so comforting. Tasty, too.
And, the peanut ice cream rolls (think a burrito with crushed peanuts and a lump of ice cream) are the best at Ah Zhu Peanut Ice Cream.
I loved watching the people at restaurant stalls cook.
Some of the recipes have been passed down generations.
Finally, right before it was time to leave for Shifen, the rain started to dwindle. I meandered down one of the side walkways in search of the popular view you always see in photos of Jiufen.
You can see it for yourself outside of the A-Mei teahouse.
With just under an hour to go, I found a teahouse with a good view of the misty mountains and ordered a cup to sip. The absolutely best way to warm up from the rain before heading to Shifen.
With Taiwan being known as a major tea producer, you’d be remiss to not take every opportunity to try one of the country’s blends. I’m partial to oolong, and green tea.
Before I knew it, it was time to head to Shifen. My morning in Jiufen ended up being one of my favourite parts of my visit to Taiwan. Truly, a can’t miss activity if you’re planning a trip to this incredible country.
A Few More Tips for Visiting Jiufen
- I visited on a day trip because I needed to work while in Taipei, and thus, didn’t have a lot of flexibility to move around Taiwan freely. However, I’d read that visiting Jiufen overnight was the best way to experience the town without as many crowds. Many people recommend arriving late afternoon, right before sunset (which, is said to be spectacular on a clear day). Seeing Jiufen at night, when all of the lanterns are lit up and swaying in the night sounds straight up dreamy. Then, in the morning, you should have a few hours in Jiufen before the crowds begin to descend
- If you follow my tip for an overnight visit, before you head back to Taipei, I’d head to Shifen. Why Shifen? Impressive waterfalls and a historic old town, where thousands of people come from around the world to make a wish and set a lantern free
- Both Shifen and Jiufen are connected to the train station, Ruifang, which is what you’d need to take if coming by train from Taipei
- Jiufen doesn’t have its own train station- you take the train to Ruifang, then a bus to town
- I’ve heard Ruifang station has cheap luggage storage available (in case you need to use it)
- Take out cash in Taipei before you visit. I didn’t notice ATMs (I’m sure there’s at least one in town), but best if you have cash.
- There’s a convenience store at the beginning of the old street, in case you need anything (medicine, drinks, etc.) during your stay
Have you ever been to Taiwan? Is it somewhere you’d like to venture to one day? Would you spend one day in Jiufen?
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