Day 3: Shifen and Jiufen
I usually like planning my own itinerary when traveling and avoid going with tour agencies. However, Shifen and Jiufen are very difficult to access without a car so I had to admit defeat. I booked a tour through Klook for $20 per person. This included a tour bus to 4 different destinations and free exploring time at each destination.
The tour bus met us at Ximen Station, which was a short 10min walk from our hotel. We picked up some pastries at a nearby bakery while we waited, including some pineapple buns, a local staple. At around 10am, everyone boarded the small tour bus, which was comfortable and had a mix of visitors, including foreigners, families, and couples from all ages. There was a Canadian family with a baby, which we thought was weird since some parts of the tour can be pretty physically strenuous.
We were blessed by some cloudy but dry weather so far on the trip, although that looked like it was going to change. As we drove out of Taipei, the clouds rolled in and the rain came down. Once we got into the mountains, the rain really picked up, which started to become concerning. Luckily, by the time we got to our first stop, Shifen Waterfall, the rain had slowed to a light drizzle. About five minutes after getting off the bus, the rain stopped and never started again. It was a short hike to the waterfall, which was lined with old bridges, shops, and temples. The waterfall itself was huge and spectacular.
Our next stop was the Shifen Old Town. This place is most famous for lighting up lanterns and sending them off on the main railroad that bisects the town. Each side of the lantern had a different colour which represented themes like love, wealth, career, and peace. We also painted our own words and wishes on each side and then sent it off into the sky. This was a really cool experience and the sales person even filmed it for us.
By now it was around lunchtime, so as we explored the old town we stumbled on a small mom and pop wonton house. This was really cool as it was literally someone’s home. We sat at a communal table and enjoyed the hot bowls of wonton soup, which was absolutely delicious.
After some more exploring through the traditional residential areas, we hopped on the bus for our next stop – Jiufen. Jiufen is known to be the inspiration for Studio Gibilli’s Spirited Away. This town is located on a steep mountain side, so there was a lot of stairs. The area was stunning, with vibrant red lanterns against the backdrop of the lush mountain and the sea. At the mid level, there were alleys filled with delicious street food. One of the most famous here is the taro mochi, which we tried in both the hot and cold flavors. The cold one was very refreshing after the big hike up and the hot one was very satisfying as well.
When we got back to the bus, we found that the Canadian family was still missing. Those stairs were definitely not baby suitable, the area was very crowded, and it would be easy to get lost. We waited an additional 10 minutes and just as we were about to leave, the family arrived. It turns out they got lost and went to a different parking lot. That was a close one, because it would not be easy to get back to Taipei if they got stuck here.
We then headed off to our final stop, Keelung Night Market. Keelung is a major port city northeast of Taipei. Given that this was our third time in three days, we were pretty night-marketed out. Nonetheless, there were these really tasty small sausages that we went back for twice. We also explored the Keelung Port before heading back onto the bus.
We got back to Ximen a bit past 7pm. When we got off, there was this wonton shop that looked really good and we hadn’t had a full dinner yet. They had the spicy wonton that I always get at Din Tai Fung, so we got some to-go and ate at our hotel. It was so delicious, even better than Din Tai Fung (and way cheaper). Great way to wrap up the last full day in Taiwan.