Guide to Jiufen
Jiufen is probably my most favorite travel location in Taiwan. The location inspired the setting to one of my favorite movies, ‘Spirited Away’. If you were like me, you thought this location must be some exotic Chinese or Japanese location– absolutely not! Taiwan has some of the best-hidden gems for travel!
How did Chihiro find herself in this magical spot? That’s right, much like me, she got lost. It’s ok– I’m finding having a penchant for getting lost is most advantageous when you are traveling abroad!
It turns out, in Taiwan, there are probably too many options to get you where you want to go! It can get somewhat confusing, but it makes for absolutely perfect travel conditions. You can take taxis, buses, trains, or the MRT to get wherever you want to go. And, above all, it’s all very cheap, quick, and convenient. Wonderful!
I ended up on a train to Keelung then hopped on a tourist bus line that spans the island for a scenic drive along the coast. While these tourist buses take a while to get to your destination, they are an excellent choice for sightseeing!
Enjoy the extra time to discover all kinds of hidden crevices and corners of Taiwan! Click To Tweet There are some surprising parks and statues along the way from Keelung to Jiufen!
Also, this is where the Bustracker app comes in mighty handy– find a wifi hotspot, plug in your destination, let the GPS do the work to find you a bus route! For the bus tours, find the Leisure Bus Tour pamphlet in most information centers or visit taiwantrip.com.tw!
There is also a direct bus that picks you up from Zongxiao Fuxing MRT (blue line) in the heart of Taipei.
What to See in Jiufen
Right as you pull up the hill, you will see a gorgeous view of the ocean. Very reminiscent of a small California inlet, it’s very easy to want to pull into a cafe to sit all day and stare off into the distance, breathing in the salty air. But there is a ton of things to see in this relatively small town!
All the locals will probably assume you will want to see Old Street. That’s where Chihiro started with her parents as well– it is a very viable option!
Old Street, like many ‘Old Streets’ in Taiwan, are lined with traditional Taiwanese market shops and restaurants. Many seem a little touristy and high priced, you can always barter to find a pretty good deal. There are a couple shops that stand out– a shop with traditional Hakka clothing and crafts and an antique store, filled with old Chinese relics.
You may notice Old Street twisting and winding tightly in an upward slant like it could’ve been built on stairs, but it is wholly paved. However, there are corridors that are full of stairs. It is very beneficial to wander off the beaten path to visit some of these corridors as they lead to more traditional Taiwanese fair.
Namely, the corridor that meets up with Shuqi road– a street made of stairs that leads to the famous Amei tea house. You may notice a similarity between the grandeur of the windows, the luminous lanterns, or the quaint interior– it looks strikingly similar to the bathhouse in ‘Spirited Away’!
What to Eat
Much like every market in Taiwan, there is plenty to eat here! Once you enter Old Street, the smells nearly floor you! Many vendors will be selling tea or the traditional pastries, but watch out for a couple special foods to try! Unlike the movie, I recommend ‘pigging out’ here!
Many foods you see in the beginning of the movie have vendor stalls dotted all over Old Street. You don’t need to look very hard as you can smell the food coming from all around you!
There are lots of Taiwanese foods to try, such as the meat dumplings Chihiro’s dad picked out– they look like soap and they sit on ice outside the vendor shops.
Or try the Chinese sausages that are sweet, the sticky rice balls, and the pastries the locals cook up. I tried the honey muffins from a pastry shop towards the beginning of Old Street– definitely a great choice. You cannot make a wrong choice here!
There are many foods, too, that I missed in the movie– make sure to try them!
Towards the beginning of Old Street, there is a stand selling ice cream in what looks like a tortilla. It is peanut ice cream wrapped in a spring roll wrapper and it is absolutely amazing.
And, of course, find a taro ball stand here! Jiufen is famous for its taro balls. These are tiny balls of taro, battered and deep fried. Delectable!
There are also many restaurants dotting Old Street that have English menus or pictures of their food. It’s a great idea to stop along the way for a snack, all the restaurants seem to have a special dish or two. If you love trying new foods, this is definitely a great place to do it!
Where to Stay
At this point, I bet you are beat! It’s a surprisingly long road to wander, and the stairs sneak up on you after a while!
At the end of Old Street there is a large guest house that serves dim sum and specialty coffees along with a view that is to die for! The rooms they rent for the night are reasonably priced and serve up their fair share of atmosphere.
The view from the rooms overlooks the ocean from the highest point of Old Street and the rooms are decorated in a Japanese-esque design. They have a wrap-around deck adjoined to the guest house that is perfect to end your journey– particularly with a cup of coffee or tea peering out onto the ocean view!
The guest house is called ShanHaiGuan Guesthouse– 九份山海觀民宿.
Have you ever made it out to Jiufen? Do you have anything you would like to add? Let us know in the comments section below.
Michaela left her small town in the flat cornfields of Iowa in April of 2015 to explore the world before becoming condemned to a desk in an IT corporation. She has been teaching at Hess International English school in Taipei,Taiwan and shopping, hiking, and eating her way through the foreign streets. She has traveled alone and encountered many interesting experiences and hopes to aid others traveling alone as well.