Jiufen is about an hour away (via train and bus) from Taipei Main Station and most people would make it a day trip. However, my plan was to stay at Jiufen for 3 days / 2 nights and use it as a base to explore the nearby places such as Keelung (基隆) and Jinguashi (金瓜石). Since this was an eleven day trip to Taiwan, one of the main challenges of traveling out of Taipei was the handling of the luggage. To avoid the lugging of big bags around the countryside, we actually left the main bulk of the luggage in our hotel in Taipei while we travel light.
Another point to take note is that the streets in Jiufen are narrow, steep, bumpy and full of staircases. In one of our accommodation, we even had to go down a steep ladder (yes, it’s ladder!) as our room was at the “basement”. In other words, avoid four-wheeler luggage to Jiufen, if possible. Now that you have been warned … Read on and you will know what I mean. ^_^
Jiufen probably shot to fame after the award winning movie “A City of Sadness” (悲情城市) (Venice Film Festival) was filmed and many people came to Jiufen to visit its teahouses (as shown in the movie). However, I like Jiufen for its rich Japanese heritage / influence. Having seen quite a few Old Streets and Night Markets in Taiwan, I would safely say Jiufen Old Street is my favourite. I would also strongly encourage you to stay for at least one night in Jiufen’s minsu (民俗) if your schedule permits. It should be an interesting experience for city dwellers, like myself. You can read my review on the minus here.
Based on my research, the easiest way to get to Jiufen from Taipei is probably via a train to Ruifang (瑞芳) station and then followed by bus (either bus #1062 or #1042). In fact, any buses that have destination Jiufen or Jinguashi (金瓜石) will bring you to Jiufen.
Train rides in Taiwan are generally rather smooth and comfortable. The seats are usually allocated based on cabin and seat number, thus do make sure you wait at the platform nearest to your cabin. Another word of caution, look out for your train code from TV screen at the station platform as there won’t be any train assistant/conductor to call out for the passengers. When your train arrives, let the passengers alight first and then board it immediately. The train will leave on the dot. 😉
The bus stop is also conveniently located just opposite Ruifang station. Once you are out of the station, cross the road and the bus stop is in front of the shops. The bus journey is about 20 minutes up the mountain road and if you have motion sickness, you may want to get ready the necessities such as sour plums. The ride was very comfortable to me though and by the way, you can use the EasyCard for the bus fare.
Locating the bus stop at Ruifang is easy but knowing where to alight at Jiufen may be a little tricky as the bus stop is just after a bend. The good news is that there are usually a lot of people alighting at this stop and if you are unsure, you can always request the bus driver to notify you when you reach Jiufen. Bus drivers in Taiwan are generally very friendly people and I have not had any unpleasant experience with them (yet). In any case if you miss the Jiufen stop, you will probably end up in Jinguashi, which is about 10 min away. Just take the bus in reverse direction back to Jiufen and you should be alright. Check out the 2 photos below for the bus stops.
After alighting at the bus stop, the entrance to the famous Jiufen Old Street (基山街) is just further up the slope. Jiufen is a very small town that can be covered easily by foot. Like I mentioned earlier, a day trip is usually good enough but we chose to stay for two nights just to experience the 名宿 (i.e. private home lodging). I could imagine myself waking up early in the morning and to be greeted by the nice warm sun rising above the mountains. In fact, I was so looking forward to it that I even brought my camera tripod along to shoot the sunrise. To my dismay, I was told that I won’t be able to catch any sunrise in Jiufen! So Jiufen on the west side of the hill, eh? Oh my god, what a disappointment!
In Jiufen, there are 2 main streets that you should not miss. The first one is obviously the Old Street (基山街) which runs along the ridge line. It has many shops selling handicrafts, souvenirs and, of course, food. Here’s a list of must-try in Jiufen.
- 李儀餅店 (Opposite seven-eleven, refer to the bus stop photo above)
- Ah Mei Tea House or City of Sadness Teahouse
As the queue for 九份張記傳統魚丸 was ridiculously long (perpetually), we kinda gave up the idea. Actually in our second morning, we were early and the crowd had not come in yet. However, we still didn’t try 九份張記傳統魚丸 as we came across another fish ball stall with a lot celebrity photos. We thought it must be good and since there were plenty of seats available, we decided to have our early lunch at that stall. While waiting for the food, we realized that most of the photos were actually the lady boss herself. Ok, to be fair, the food was quite nice and below are some photos of the narcissist’s stall. ◕ิ‿◕ิ
You can find a lot of souvenirs along the Old Street and most of them are handicraft. Some of these items are rather unique such as Ocarina and preserved loquat (枇杷), just to name a few. If you come across something you like, get it to avoid disappointment later. I made this mistake and then realized I could not find them anywhere else in Taiwan. ;-( Anyway, most of them are quite reasonably priced.
The second street that you shouldn’t miss is Shuqi Street (豎崎路), which runs up and down the slope of the hill. This street is located towards the end of the Old Street and it runs perpendicularly across the Old Street. This is where you can find a lot of teahouses, including those filmed in the movies. These teahouses overlook the hills and provide an idyllic ambience for an afternoon tea. The prices are, however, not cheap.
At the end of the Old Street is a good vantage point where you could have a bird’s eye view of Jiufen on a clear day. There is nothing much beyond this point, by the way.