The first thing you will notice upon reaching is the cats. There’s a number of them: lazing away on the village generator while giddy tourists take tons of pictures of them; there are cat posters and cat painting and little ceramic figures made up of cats.
In a tourist town made famous by a drama (City of Sadness starring Tony Leung) and a legendary animated film Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – the cats, without a doubt, are the resident queens of Jiufen. No offense to Yubaba.
When I finally had the chance to return to Taiwan, on top of my list was to see Jiufen, a small town on top of the mountains of the Ruifang District of New Taipei City near Keelung, Taiwan.
Jiufen (or “nine portions” from the nine families who first settled in the area) used to be an old mining town from the late 1800s to the decline of the gold rush by the 1970s. When the mines was shut down, Jiufen faced decline, with the town possibly going the way of forgotten settlements. That is until it was featured as location of the seminal movie “City of Sadness.” The interest came after the release of the movie saved Jiufen from being a forgotten town. The interest only further intensified after the release of “Spirited Away” by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Jiufen was credited as the inspiration for the winding steep roads, the lantern laced alleyways and the magnificent bath house owned by Yubaba as seen in the animated film.
How to get there
There are two ways to get to Jiufen. First is you take the High Speed Railway going to Riufang county. From there, you can either take the cab to Jiufen or contract a fan who will serve as your tour guide to the many sights of the province, Jiufen included. Prepare to shell out at least NTD3,500 to rent the whole cab.
Or you can do it my way, courtesy of mad research skills:
Here’s a cheaper and more painless alternative to the option above. From where you are staying, take the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station under line 1. Take MRT exit 1, as you come out of the stairs, make a U-turn heading to the direction of the elevated walkway. The large SOGO Department store should be on your right hand side, with you facing the elevated MRT.
Take the first left to the immediate intersection which you will reach in less than 60 seconds. Walk a few steps and you should see the pick up point for the 1062 Keelung bus headed for Ruifang and Jiufen.
During weekends, expect a long line of local and foreign visitors waiting for the bus as Jiufen is a popular weekend destination. Ignore the touts offering their contracted service by saying there’s no bus going to Jiufen. Have your EasyPay tap card ready or NTS90 to cover the fare.
Eventually, the highway will melt away to reveal a rustic and peaceful rural scenery.
The best way to enjoy Jiufen is to get lost and just enjoy the little nooks and crannies of the town, then marvel at the little discoveries you have along the way:
Note: photo heavy post
And then you start seeing placed which remind you of of Spirited Away:
Of course, the piece du resistance was the Ahmei Tea House, which bear a striking resemblance to the Spirit Bathhouse being ran by Yubaba.
Here is the Ahmei Tea House in Jiufen:
To say that I squealed when I found it was a gross understatement. I was so happy to find it (thanks to the hubby) after walking to the many windjng streets of Jiufen. The only let down is that dining inside the Ahmei Tea House is quite expensive: they expect diners to order a tea set for NTS300 or if it’s lunch, have the lunch set at NTS400. There are no Ala Carte order or an English menu. We chose to take our lunch elsewhere.
When in Jiufen, you will be assailed by the delicious smell of cooking meat or the sweet aromatic smell of herbs anywhere you turn. It is a foodie’s haven and there is something for everyone, regardless of their meal preference:
Jiufen is a good place for a day trip. However, there are also those who choose to spend the night here. There are many guest houses or home stays in Jiufen. All one needs to do is ask. Like the rest of Taiwan, the people of Jiufen are unbelievably nice.
I can’t wait to go back to Jiufen someday. Maybe stay a bit longer? I hope it retains that authentic and quaint little town vibe that-in spite the hoard of tourists – makes the town a sweet place to live in.