Well Jiufen is known for many things. It is a popular weekend getaway for Taipei residents and a tourist attraction. One can enjoy a magnificent vista of surrounding mountains and their foothills merging into sea or hike on Mt. Jilong for a beautiful seascape or visit Jinguashi for another handful of tourist attractions. I and Selina decided to spend a relaxing afternoon there. Our plan was to step through the alleys of Jiufen old street, visit one of the many teahouses on Jinshan street for an afternoon tea and possibly in the late evening have a good look at the well talked about night-view from Jiufen and then head back to Taipei.
Jiufen being a very popular destinations is quite easy to reach. You can catch an hour long bus ride from Zongxiao Fuxing MRT station or as we did, from Taipei take a 45 min train ride to Reifang and get on a 15 min bus ride to Jiufen from there.
We arrived Jiufen at around noon and quickly got into the business of exploring old street shops. We were starving so first up were food shops. Apart from some regulars like meatball noodles and vegetable soups we feasted on some possibly Jiufen specials like peitou meatball and mixed-vegetable rools with a scoop of ice cream.
Mixed vegetable Rolls with peanut powder and two ice cream scoops
[Diclaimer: The two food pictures ain’t mine. I copied them from a Chinese websites selling these products. The url is generated on search so I can not link them here.]
Its amusing to see how they made peanut powder for the rolls.
Jiufen Old Street
Old street is known for its stepped alleyways illuminated by Chinese red lanterns hung all the way on both sides. Apart from food stalls it boasts exceptional number of exquisite artwork shops [I came across a crazy mask store that had a ghost like ambiance], stores selling leather products and several tea shops. There are also quite a few stores that sells Indian stylized cloths. Like many other Taiwan market places its unbelievable how they house so many shops in such a small place. As we made our way up to the Jiufen elementary school we had already spent three hours navigating through the crowds, getting in and out of numerous shops, queuing up to buy food. There is a great store that sells Yu Yuen [yam or taro balls I guess] at the far end of old street. We bought some, sat on the steps of school and enjoyed the magnificent evening view of Jiufen still bustling with flocks of people. Our plan for an afternoon tea on Jinshan street was long forgotten.
Mt. Jilong on our right looked inviting so we decided to spend exploring Jiufen at night and take a hike up on Mt. Jilong early next morning. That meant next we had to look for a nice hotel to spend our night. Finding a accommodation for a night in Jiufen looked pretty easy as lots of locals provide their private house rooms for accommodation but we went for a B&B hotel run by a Taiwanese and his Vietnamese wife. As most Taiwanese tend to be, this friendly & courteous couple managed a lovely little cozy hotel up on the hill of Jiufen. Surprisingly the night view room cost us a meagre 1700 NT$ as compared to ones near/on old streets costing well over 3600 NT$ per night.
After an hour or two of resting our tired knees we went back to old street for some shopping. It was late evening and street had receded as most of the day tourist left the scene. The shops were still open and it had become hell lot easier to get in to have a look at stuff without bumping into others.It was hard not to be bitten by a shopping bug. I picked up a nice wallet for myself and as the “Mothers Day” is nearing, it was fitting to get something for my mother. I bought a brown leather handbag for her, which I must admit was chosen by Selina. I am quite pathetic when it comes to choose anything that concerns fashion or style.
We came back to the hotel only to find that It shared a wall with a graveyard. I guess that solves the mystery of low fares as compared with the other places LOL. I don’t believe in good or bad spirits or ghosts for that matter but I guess majority of Taiwanese do so Selina was pretty uncomfortable with this fact. At least our rooms were on the opposite side facing Jiufen town. A spectacular night panorama of Jiufen helped calm her nerves. I haven’t had time for reading lately so I spent my rest of the evening reading notes written by Che on his motorcycle ride he took with his friend across south america and also peeking through my window once in a while to see ships coming in and out of Keelung bay and circling around Keelung Islet [Peace Island].
It was the glare coming from window that finally poked me and brought me back from my dreamless slumber at 8 am next morning. I stuck my head out of the window to breathe fresh air. Sun was well up on the hill behind our hotel and showered left half of Jiufen on steep mountainside with morning sunshine. I felt it was uncomfortably hot at that hour. The heat in addition to the fact I will be heading to Yilan coming thursday for a small outdoor trip with my colleagues made me drop the plan of climbing up Mt. Jilong. So instead we decided to grab the free breakfast at the hotel and head for Jishan street for early afternoon tea as we had decided initially.
Its weird now when I think about it that 2 years of living in Taiwan has had made me kinda mild and how I was feeling 30 plus temperature an awful lot hotter than it really was considering I come from a small town in India which boasts 40 plus average temperatures during summer.
Since it was pretty hot when we stepped outside and we were still craving for Yu Yuen from the earlier evening we made our way back to the store at the end of old street again. On our way we came across a group of old people taking their photography lessons. Jiufen alleyways provides perfect photo ops. Unfortunately at this point I realized my camera had started playing antics on me. For auto settings the pictures were coming as if the lens were staring right into a bright white light. I was determined to take some nice pictures from this trip so I spent lot of time figuring out what went wrong and how can I fix that. Finally it turned out that I could no longer take pictures with auto setting and auto focus. If only I zoom in on the subject I could take a decent picture. This too was of erratic nature and some times I had to retake many shots. Nevertheless I still managed to take some decent pictures.
On the way to our hotel.
After feasting on yet another Yu Yuen we took a small path along the sidewalls of school to Wufankeng Park. We were not interested to actually visit the park. We found the path finally merged into Jishan street and that is where we chose a small cafe & tea house to spend our afternoon. It was too early to order for afternoon tea so coffee was first on the menu. Coffee was terrible but the place was quite nice. Unlike other retro teahouses on Jishan street this one had a modern look with red glossy walls, simple but classy curtains and lanterns and Bose speakers were playing impressive collection of smooth jazz tunes.
Our Coffee table with a spectacular backdrop of Keelung bay.
I went up to see the the tables on the open terrace. It was too windy out there so we decided to sit indoor.
The cafe shop is situated at a perfect location, right in the middle of the mountain range that appears to embrace Jiufen village. With my camera that limiting me to take wide angle shot which was exactly what required to capture the scene out of the cafe window, least I could do was to take a video. I took it from the balcony for more clarity as glass from the window was reflecting the cafe shop lights.
The video first shows Mt. Jilong on the right and numerous other sea facing teahouses. It then moves across to left panning on Keelung bay and surroundings lower parts of the mountain merging into the sea. The turtle shaped island in the distance is known as Keelung Islet or Peace Island.
Finally it was time for our much awaited afternoon tea :D
Afternoon tea set for 280 NT$ included a fruit tea pot, a small smoked chiken pizza and a milk pudding for desserts.
Reluctantly or so we left the shop at around 5 pm and walked along the Jishan street. The decision to choose the cafe shop at the far end of Jishan street turned out to be an excellent one as we saw increasing number of people crowded in the teahouses which were at the start of Jishan street.
Obligatory picture of the steps flanked with teahouses on both sides
It was a fantastic getaway and nice weekend albeit a little expensive one I guess I won’t mind to get back there in near future again.