Jiufen & Shifen: Taiwan’s Old Streets

Did you know that Taiwan was actually Japan’s first colony? You can still feel it, once you step on the shores of Taiwan–you can feel a little bit of China, and a little bit of Japan… but don’t tell the Taiwanese that.

Japan wanted to show off to the world that they can also do the imperial colonizing thing like the Westerners can, and wanted to set Taiwan as a model example. You can still see the remnants of Japan especially in Taiwan’s old towns, particularly Jiufen and Shifen. If you want to experience more history and culture, these old mining towns give a feel of what Taiwan was like during the late 20th-century Japanese occupation.

In the late 20th century, gold was discovered in the area which ushered the gold rush and brought in a lot of people in that area. Mining was a lucrative industry in the hey-day: naturally rich in sulfur, gold, clay and gold. Nowadays, however, Taiwan now relies on imports to meet their mineral demands.

Jiufen and Shifen are good to visit in a day’s trip, as they are quite nearby and accessible. (Personally, I think it would be better if you allocate one day for each town!)

How to Get There?

Jiufen and Shifen is 40km and 30km away from the capital, respectively.

To get to Jiufen and Shifen, you need to get to Ruifang Train Station. You can also take the bus (approx $15-22 NTD/trip). . The commute is fairly inexpensive and easy to navigate, and takes approximately 40 minutes to 1 hour to get to your destination. The travel offers scenic views of the Taiwanese countryside.

shihfen flying lanterns

I should warn you that the commute back is a lot less pleasant. Queues at the bus station get pretty long after sunset. Day visitors often have to compete for a seat to the bus ride home.

So if you’re not the hustling kind, it would be better if you take the train (buying a roundtrip ticket in advance gets you a guaranteed seat) or simply hire a cab for the day. It will be more comfortable that way.

Jiufen

Jiufen is a charming little mining town in Northern Taiwan where time literally froze. It used to be a bustling gold mining town, until the gold depleted and it became a deserted, forgotten gem. There was a revived interest in the town when it appeared in the acclaimed movie City of Sadness, and it became a famous tourist attraction.

Although there is some dispute regarding this, Jiufen is said to be the real-life inspiration behind Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away. If you haven’t seen the animated film, it’s about a little girl whose parents transformed into pigs and enters into a spirit world. Jiufen offers the magical backdrop of the film, from the winding, cobblestone streets  down to the  pork dumplings the Chihiro’s parents devoured greedily in the film.

Jiufen is filled with shops selling unique food and quirky things you will never find elsewhere. Shops sell trinkets, calligraphy art, peanut ice cream, shaved ice desserts… all sorts of things!

One particular shop had a handmade mask exhibit that reminded me again of another scene from the Miyazaki film.

The bathhouse is inspired by the A-mei Teahouse nestled in the highest part of the mountain. The teahouse is said to be a century old, where you could have traditional tea served with a good view of the town

Shifen

Located in Pingxi Disctrict is another charming town famous for another thing: their magnificent flying lanterns. Annually, they hold the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival every February wherein thousands of sky lanterns are flown. I bet that is a sight to behold.

Once a bustling town with a railway that was a major player in Taiwan’s coal mining industry, the city is now best known for two things: the Shifen Waterfalls, lovingly dubbed as ‘Taiwan’s Niagara Falls’, and the flying lanterns, where visitors could send their wishes to the sky.

Wishes are color-coded and prices could vary from NT100-NT150, depending on the lantern you wish to send to the sky.

Just like most people, we wished for good health, love and more travels. Oriental characters on the flying lanterns seem more awesome than the English alphabet though… Watch our lantern go up in the sky!

It was magical to see your lantern fly up the sky and see your wishes reach the heavens… Unfortunately, I was told that the lanterns fly up for 10 minutes before it comes down to the ground. The lantern shops have workers whose job is to retrieve the fallen lanterns. Boo. Not as magical as I thought.

photobombing pixie sticks shifen taiwan

In the evening, we bought some fairy sticks and acted like kids. Who knew it was so much fun to light these things? Thanks fairy light photobombers for making this photo of me awesome! 🙂

So here you go! Do yourself a little favor and have a side trip to Jiufen and Shifen when you’re in Taiwan.

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13 thoughts on “Jiufen & Shifen: Taiwan’s Old Streets

  1. Most people do not know that, that Japan were the first colonizers. Taiwanese love Japanese foods too. And I know in their local dialect, merong Japanese words din. The two places you went to, are really nice little towns that I have had the chance to visit when I was a kid. So what you saw there is not the same as what I did.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t know that Japan were the first ones to colonize Taiwan, didn’t even know they were colonized by Japan at all! Taiwan was never on my bucketlist to be honest but seeing your post makes me want to write itup high on my bucket list. I have a feeling that visiting Taiwan is like hitting two birds in one stone.

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  3. I didn’t know that Taiwan had these pretty old streets that explains their culture. The feel and the vibe is just inviting.It’s just so sad that the photos at the end of this post are not loading. I hope you can check it on your end. Or maybe I’m the only one who’s experiencing it.

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  4. Beautiful photos of Taiwan’s Old Streets. Jiufen & Shifens are very Attracting, and have a feel of excitement and soothing. Great and informative post!

    Neonalton | Businessmyriad.com

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  5. I love the handmade mask exhibit! Alsways love to visit these kinds of shops when I’m travelling. So much fun to see what of things they have and how it looks. I think these look pretty impressing. Beautiful pictures!

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  6. I didn’t know that Taiwan was colonized by Japan, but I did know that the Japanese colonized much of Asia. How could it be in the late 20th century though? Do you mean the 19th? If Jiufen is the inspiration for Spirited Away, then I must go. It’s one of my favorite movies!

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    1. 20th. Much of Asia (including Philuppines) were under Japan 1900-1950. Before that, most of us were western colonies–PH being Spanish and TW used to be a Portuguese colony

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  7. Jiufen and Shifen looks so pretty and charming! I would love to visit them! I am more interested in small places rather than large capitals, this would be a perfect gateway for me, especially with all this much history and culture behind!

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  8. Jiufen and Shifen offer charming spots in Taiwan. I like the maintained value of tradition and nature offering in Shifen. Glad that Jiufen could transform its sadness brand into a lilvely tourist spot. Truly the places that should not be missed in Taiwan. 🙂

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  9. I didn’t know that japan thingy about Taiwan. Thank you for sharing! Taiwan is so close to the Philippines and I know that the place is one of the best for food trips. Thanks for sharing a glimpse of Taiwan 🙂

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  10. Woah. Japan colonized Taiwan? That was not taught in history or social studies subjects. Travelling in Taiwan sure has that definite Asian vibe. It’s like a melting pot of different conquerors and countries; just like Philippines.

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