When I watched the anime classic, Spirited Away, in high school, I couldn’t have guessed that I would one day visit the coastal mining town that the spookily lit spirit world was based on. I had never heard of Jiufen, but once I started living in Taiwan, I heard it mentioned over and over again, as a charming and magical place; perfect for a day-trip or weekend away. Due to feeling over-worked (Chinese New Year isn’t until the end of Febuary this year, so the students and I have yet to experience the freedom of winter vacation), I was quite in need of a jaunt out of town, so Kasey and I took a train into Taipei.
From Taipei Main Station, there are two choices for transportation to Jiufen. The one we chose was taking the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing (exit 1) and paying a cheap fare for the #1062 bus. The ride was an hour and some change and it was pleasant enough, but no real views until the last 20 minutes or so. The other option is to take a train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station. From there, people can catch a short bus to Jiufen. This is a faster option, but we’re all about saving money and not having to get up during our journey 🙂
Jiufen’s name comes from the Chinese words for “nine portions”. Long ago, there lived only 9 families in the area, so all shipments came in 9 parts. A quaint history that definitely is a long gone past. Jiufen is one busy tourist destination these days. We got in around noon and the Old Town, packed with its street food (like peanut ice cream) and trinket shops was already swarming. It was even worse when we left around 3pm, so I’d advise going early. Luckily, I had a Bailey’s coffee, right off the bat, from a stand near the start of the Jiufen Old Street and this kept me from feeling too claustrophobic.
It is hard to call a place “magical” when you have to move at a shuffling pace because of the amount of people, but Jiufen does have a certain charm. The red lanterns that hang over the steep stairways, that are lined with teahouses and cafes, give a traditional vibe and there are little treasures to be found, like a secret tunnel and secluded look-outs, where the view of the shockingly blue ocean and its islands is phenomenal.
The moments when Kasey and I were able to escape the hordes were the sweetest. We were cajoled into a mediocre Chinese restaurant, where the food was less than decent, but it was quiet and we had a lovely view of the famous teahouse from Spirited Away. Sharing some Taiwan beer, we sat on our thin, wooden benches and soaked in the actual calm of Jiufen. But our fried noodles and three-cup chicken were rubbish and it was time to head back to Taipei. So, we went back down into the charming labyrinth.
*Tip: When heading back to Taipei on the 1062, you need to catch the bus up the street from the entrance to Jiufen Old street and 7-11. The bus will not be picking you up at the temple where it dropped you off.