If there is the biggest adventure that I had in Taiwan it’s the journey to Jiufen. This old mining town was one of the major reasons I wanted to go to Taiwan. It is said to be the inspiration for the setting of the animated film, Spirited Away, which happens to be one of my all-time favorites. It didn’t matter to me that I had to travel for at least two hours from Taipei just to reach the place, my mind was set to go. Reaching Jiufen was supposed to be easy, but some things happened along the way that made traveling longer than necessary. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove, it’s not like my friends didn’t give me tips on how to go there. For some reason, I decided to follow an online guide instead. What’s supposed to be useful became a thing of inconvenience.
I am going to save you the trouble and tell you exactly which method to take out of all recommended to get to Jiufen. But first let’s talk about those methods.
Note that my point of origin is Shilin District.
There are 3 known ways to get to Jiufen.
- By Taxi
- By Bus
- By MRT
Option:1 Shilin > Jiufen
Taking a taxi is the most convenient but the most expensive way to reach Jiufen. If like me you choose to stay in Shilin District, the fare could set you back from TWD 850 (PHP 1,388.10 – USD 27.61) to TWD 920 (PHP 1,502.42 – USD 29.88). If you got the money then by all means take the taxi, Taiwan is largely a safe country. But I read somewhere that some taxi drivers might try to scam tourists by not turning on the meter; not sure if this is true. Just to be safe, ensure that the meter is on when you do take a cab. [Read: Where to Stay in Taipei: Happy Taipei Hostel]
Option: 2 MRT Shilin Station > Taipei Main Station >
Zhongxiao Fuxing > Ruifang > Jiufen
Second option is the first direction that I followed that almost caused me hypothermia. I found the instructions from this site called, GuidetoTaipei and thought it to be the easiest way. I woke up very early and left the hostel a little before 6:00 in the morning. I took the MRT, got off at Taipei Main to switch to the Blue Line where I took another train to Zhongxiao Fuxing. My train fare for this was only TWD 24.00 (PHP 39.06 – USD 0.78).
Upon reaching Zhongxiao Fuxing station, I took Exit 1. I was supposed to wait for Keelung bus with route 1062. Fare rate is only TWD 102 (PHP 166.57 – USD 3.31) according to the site. So I waited for the bus in the cold. It was 14 degrees Celsius, and apparently my layers of clothing were not enough to keep me warm. It was so cold it hurt my face and numbed my hands. Most Taiwanese wear face masks. I thought at first that it’s a healthy measure against bacteria; I soon realized that they were covering their faces to fight the cold. I didn’t have a face mask with me so I had to get creative. I remembered I brought my sleeping eye mask, so I put it around the lower part of my face and voila I got a face mask.
There are many buses driving by the area. I spotted several Keelung buses but according to the instruction, I had to wait for Route 1062 because that’s the one that goes to Ruifang where I could take another bus to reach Jiufen. After like 45 minutes (yes, that long), a Route 1062 bus finally arrived. I excitedly got up from the seat, hailed it, and watched the damn bus pass me by. Did the driver miss me? Nope, I’m pretty sure he saw me waving. Was the bus full? Nope, in fact there were many empty seats.
I started having a bad feeling about it. I had a feeling then that I should have taken another way, but I decided to wait for another bus. And what time did the second bus arrive? After 45 minutes! That’s right, this bus is so elusive, I only saw two in the entire time I was waiting there.
This time I made sure that the bus driver would see me. As soon as I saw it round the corner, I started waving like my life depended on it. Did the bus stop for me? Nope! It went past me again like what the fudge is going on? Was I invisible? Do I look like I cannot pay? Was I waiting in the wrong stop? But I was standing in the freaking bus stop!
I checked the time, in total, I wasted almost 2 hours waiting for nothing in the middle of the cold! That’s when I decided to find another option.
Option 3: MRT Shilin Station > Taipei Main Station > TRA > Ruifang Station > Jiufen
Disheartened, I went back to MRT and took the train to Taipei Main Station. Inside Taipei Main Station is another train station that goes to the north. This is the train that could take you to Ruifang where you could ride a bus to Jiufen. Thank heavens I found a more helpful website that I took as a guide. I am not going to go in details about TRA and how to get to Ruifang because TravelCoconut pretty much covered it already, complete with pictures. It’s so detailed only a fool would be lost.
Now TRA has a weird setup. In the Philippines, all trains in the MRT and LRT stations go and take the same routes and destinations. In the north train, each train that passes by has a different route. Don’t ask me how it works, I really don’t know. All I know is, you have to wait for the train with your specific destination. In my case, I waited for the one that goes to Ruifang. This train comes every 50 minutes, meaning if you miss riding one, you will have to wait for 50 minutes to take the next train.
Finally the train arrived and I noticed that it looks a bit older than the regular MRT trains. I got in and maybe because it’s a Monday that I was able to find a seat. The train started to slowly empty as we moved along. Soon there were many seats available, one could have just easily lie down and take a nap or something. This is not case if you go on a Saturday or Sunday though because most tourists visit the place on weekends. Guess I was right to move my Jiufen trip from Saturday (as I originally planned) to Monday.
The ride was pretty long, about 40 or so minutes. As if I didn’t waste enough time, I got confused with the signs that I got off at the wrong station . And do you know what’s funny? It’s only one station away from Ruifang! I wouldn’t have minded if it weren’t for the fact that I needed to wait for 50 minutes for the next train [insert another expletive here].
So I calmed myself down because what else could I do. I decided to help pass time by watching The OA (no it doesn’t mean overacting) on the tablet that I had instead. But I stopped to appreciate the view, this station is old, a far cry from the modern stations in Taipei, but it is enveloped with a quiet vintage charm that I so loved, I have soon forgotten my disappointment.
If you’re on a budget forget option 1, if you don’t want to wait for nothing forget option 2. If you want to make sure you waste no time reaching Jiufen take option 3.
Another best thing from taking option 3 is you will see the beautiful old suburban district of Ruifang. It used to be called Zuihō Town during the Japanese occupation. If you are looking for a little bit of a rural feel, Ruifang is a good place to visit.
From Ruifang I walked until I found the bus stop where the buses bound for Jiufen can be found. As soon as the bus arrived, I hurried my way to it, making sure that I would take that particular ride. Pretty soon the bus was already full that by the time I stepped in that the only vacant space I could take is the one beside the driver. Easy Card is also accepted in bus but when I tapped mine it didn’t work. The driver then told me to just pay in cash but he spoke in Chinese so I didn’t understand him. One of the passengers was kind enough to translate for me. She said that I only need to pay TWD 15 for the fare (PHP 24.43 – USD 0.49).
It took no more than 20 minutes to reach Jiufen. I was so happy that after all the mishaps, I finally made it! Immediately, I started exploring this old gold mining mountain town.
Along the narrow alleyways you can find shops of different variety; there are souvenir shops, stores that sell accessories, cafes and tea houses, and lots of food establishments. Indeed, Jiufen is considered as one of the best food destinations in Taiwan due to the many restos and food stalls in the area.
Jiufen was discovered and built by the Japanese in 1893. The town developed into a mining town due to its rich supply of gold. If you are looking for some glimpse of history and culture, Jiufen should be included in your Taiwan itinerary. Here you can still see the Japanese influence in the buildings and architecture. It’s amazing that they are able to preserve them. [Read: Visiting the Land of the Meteor Garden]
The most famous spot in Jiufen is this teahouse building decorated with red Chinese lanterns. I am not a tea person so I decided not to go in. I just took some pictures of the building’s facade.
My original itinerary involved staying overnight in one of the hostels in Jiufen. A friend’s recommendation though changed my mind so I just had a day trip. I sort of regret it though because I would have loved to explore this beautiful town more. I am going to do just that when I return in Taiwan. [Read: Taipei’s Memorial Halls: Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek]
After the sightseeing is the food tripping. I went around and ate food that I wanted to try. My most favorite is the sausage, yes it looks just like any regular sausage but I swear to you that it’s delicious.
And so my short time in Jiufen has come to an end. I wanted to stay longer but I decided to go back to Taipei at around 1:00 in the afternoon because I was set to go back to the Philippines later that night. Despite the drawbacks, the wrong decisions, the waiting in the cold, etc., going to Jiufen is my most favorite part of my Taiwan trip. Even when I wasted so much time and even when I almost suffered from frost bites, I choose to celebrate the fact that I was able to reach the place on my own safely. It is no wonder that it has become an inspiration to an iconic movie, Jiufen is lovely; all my efforts are worth it.