“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,Healthy, free, the world before me,The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”
– Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road
During my first stay in Taipei, I headed to the touristy hillside town of Jiufen, which was a dilapidated mining community until tourism connected with Miyazaki’s film “Spirited Away” took hold. In my final months before departing Taiwan, I decided to head back to the little town to see more without the tourist hordes.
The bus from Zhongxiao Fuxing has changed its stop and it’s not where it once was. There are also varying reports online of where the bus stop is located. There’s also no sign for the bus at the location where it should stop. This causes problems. The Taipei Bus Tracker app does have the correct location, but it did not have the correct time for the bus — I ended up waiting much longer for it to arrive than it claimed.
Despite the bus mishap that included a bus with TWO bus numbers (one of which was the one I was waiting for) that did not go to Jiufen, the overall trip was a success.And by success, I mean that I was able to see the town sans tourists.
Arriving in the town at 11 pm is not ideal — I was exhausted from the day and almost nothing is open that late. Fortunately, the bus stop is next to FamilyMart, and this particular convenience store has a nice outdoor seating area as well as an indoor one that looks out toward the sea. It is quiet and relaxing, and there were a few people milling about when my travel companion and I arrived. Had we not intended to wake up early to see the town, we would’ve grabbed a beer or two to sip while enjoying the view.
After grabbing a refreshment, it was time to walk down the winding road to Way Young House B&B. It’s a simple, quiet hotel with a path leading to Keelung Mountain — it’s away from Jiufen Old Street, so a bit more quiet during the day, but it’s also farther from the sights. It was definitely good enough for a night.
My only regret on this trip was that I had hurt my foot — possibly because my shoes had been seriously worn out (the padding under my big toe was completely gone) — and I couldn’t hike Keelung Mountain or search for that mountain upon which I got lost the last time I was in Jiufen.
Early morning in Jiufen
We didn’t wake up early enough for sunrise, but we were early enough to avoid the extreme summer heat as well as the tourist hordes. The view out to the sea was beautiful in the morning — a small parking lot next to the FamilyMart provided a great spot for photos, but it was later full of cars and inaccessible.
The walk through Old Street was quiet. Without the tourists, all the shops were either shuttered or just getting set up. The first part of the walk wasn’t as interesting without the life that the tourists bring, but it became more attractive. We wandered around the alleys, up and down stairs in search of the best views.
The main stairway through the town was the best to see without the crowd. My photo would’ve been better if that one guy would’ve gone away — I was tempted to ask him to move, but he looked like he was waiting to get to work.
Other than that, it was nice to not have to take photos above everyone’s heads for once.
As the crowds arrive in Jiufen
As the crowds descended on the town, we wandered farther away from the center of Jiufen and the tourist trap that is Old Street. With the heat and exhaustion, we needed to find a place to sit and relax, preferably with a pleasant view.
We came across a small house that was converted into a cafe that included a courtyard with an amazing view out to the sea called Zhuanjiao (轉角) at the intersection of Qingbian and Jishan Street. Had the courtyard been shaded, we would’ve sat outside, but it was just too hot to sit in the sun. It seemed this little cafe didn’t attract many tourists and the owner was interested in getting to know us, particularly as we were the only customers at the time. Unfortunately, he only spoke Mandarin, which meant that I had to rely on my sometimes questionable language skills. He recognized that my Mandarin isn’t fluent (also I have difficulty understanding Taiwanese accents) and simplified his word choice as best he could.
We learned that this little cafe was popular with local artists and writers. The owner showed us some art books and pointed out where some of the scenes were nearby. He also showed us a book of poetry by a local writer, but I didn’t understand much of it.
Along the slow walk back toward Jiufen Old Street, we stopped in a few shops that sold crafts mostly of the tea variety.
For our last stop before getting the bus back to Taipei, we decided to have tea at A-Mei Tea House (阿妹茶樓) in the center of the tourist area. This tea house not only offers great tea, but also a relaxing atmosphere and wonderful views. This is a touristy spot in Jiufen, but it’s still worth checking out. The tea house is supposedly more than a hundred years old and was originally a mining tool blacksmith shop. If the weather isn’t unbearably hot, I’d recommend sitting outside to enjoy the view a bit more.
The tea set was a small selection of local snacks and all the tea you can possibly drink for about $10 per person. We weren’t hungry after grabbing some snacks along the walk through town, but we would’ve liked a bit more. So, we sat and drank tea for a few hours. After all that time drinking cup after cup of tea, we decided we’d better head out before we drowned ourselves.
We headed back out toward the entrance to Old Street to wait for the bus with the weekend crowd. By some miracle, we avoided the overcrowded bus and were next in line for the nearly empty bus that arrived five minutes later, guaranteeing us seats for the ride back to Taipei.