Taipei and its Surroundings
Jiufen, City of Red Nights
Jiufen was the inspiration for the town featured in the film, ‘Spirited Away’, by Japanese animé legend Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Since its release in 2002, the fantastic journey in ‘Spirited Away’ has wowed audiences around the world and the film was re-released in February 2015, more than ten years after its original release. The continued popularity of the film has made Taiwan a tourist attraction for its fans. Taiwan’s small town, Jiufen.
What is the relationship between these two, seemingly unrelated things? Let’s think back to the animation we watched before. After being terrified by the sight of her parents turning into pigs and running away, she sees hundreds of red lanterns over her head. The red lanterns are used to signal the operation of a bathhouse for the gods. Can you remember now? These red lanterns from within the animation are the connection between ‘Spirited Away’ and Jiufen.
What could be so special about Jiufen’s red lanterns that they would be the inspiration for an international work of art? The red lanterns are always hung up around the city, but you have to see the city at night to feel the magic of the lanterns. Travel around Taipei and its suburbs during the day, but head back to Jiufen to walk the streets at night. As the sky darkens, the red lights of Jiufen grow stronger and fill the city.
Recommended travel path by preference
When preparing for your trip to Taiwan, you’ll see and hear words like ‘Ye Jin Ji Shi’ or ‘Ye Su Jin Ji’. These are just shortened names for tours based on the first syllables of Yehliu, Shifen, Jinguashi and Jiufen so that you can see the day’s schedule more quickly. These aren’t the official names.
Leave Taipei early to go to a nearby area and look around. You can go straight to Jiufen or look around central Taipei before heading out to Jiufen. If you have some free time, you can spend a whole day exploring Jiufen, but if you’re short on time, head back into Taipei to see the city at night. Follow your own preferences. Here are some of the recommended itineraries.
There is a stamp system for each station on the MRT (Taiwan’s subway). You can gather stamps as you travel as a special memento, so keep your eyes open inside the station.
Taipei Main Station (台北車站)
Get ready for the charm of Jiufen’s red lanterns after dark and head out into Taipei’s suburbs. You can start your trip with a single, one-hour bus ride out of the city.
Just like Seoul Station, Taipei Main Station is the central transportation hub in the city and there are many bus stops. Take the Z3 bus from Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A.
Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園)
It takes an hour to travel from Taipei Main Station to Yehliu, but just look out the window and you’ll be there before you know it. Get off the bus and walk along the harbour for 15-20 minutes and you’ll see Yehliu Geopark. Yehliu Geopark is one of only five marine parks in the world, and you can feel the mysterious, natural beauty. Because this is a natural phenomenon that hasn’t been artificially manipulated, it’s a must-see for those who want to see Taiwan’s natural wonders. Just looking at all the rare stone and rock formations, time will pass without you even knowing it. It’s impossible to predict when the strange rock formations will fall, so time here is even more valuable.
The most famous rock formation is known as the Queen’s Head Rock because it looks like the head of an Egyptian queen. You’ll have to wait to take a picture with it, though. The shape can only be seen from the photo zone, so even if you don’t want to take a picture, make sure you take a look from this angle.
Yehliu Geopark is on the coast. If you choose a sunny day to visit, you can enjoy an unimpaired view of the sea. When people are asked about their favourite tourist spot in Taiwan, there are a lot that mention the mysterious and beautiful view of Yehliu Geopark.
If you’ve decided to go to Jiufen, stop in nearby Jinguashi. There isn’t a bus that goes directly from Yehliu Geopark to Jinguashi, so you’ll have to change once. If it’s too complicated to transfer, you could take a taxi tour. You can hire a taxi for a set period of time to reduce the travel time between Yehliu, Jinguashi, and Jiufen, but it’s much more expensive, so you might want to think it over. If you have some free time, you certainly don’t need to take a taxi, because taking the bus is not difficult.
Jiufen and Jinguashi are both old mining areas, but Jinguashi’s old mines have been restored as a tourist site. In the Gold Museum, you can actually touch the world’s largest gold nugget. Make sure to try a “miner’s lunch box” meal in Jinguashi. These lunch boxes are sold as recreations of the meals real miners ate when the gold mining industry was active. It’s not that they are particularly unique, but they are reminiscent of the mining scenes from the film “Ode to My Father”. The lunch box itself can be included with the meal and you can take it as a souvenir.
If you haven’t gone to Jiufen yet and you don’t feel confident going to a number of places, or just don’t want to head out to the suburbs, there is plenty to do in central Taipei during the day. The bus to Jiufen goes from Zhongxiao Fuxing station. Near the station, we’d recommend checking out Maokong and Taipei Zoo. You can just visit one, but as Maokong and Taipei Zoo are close together, it’s possible to see both if you move quickly.
Taipei Zoo (臺北市立動物園)
Taipei Zoo is the largest zoo in Asia. They’ve recently had baby pandas born there, making it even more popular. It’s hard to tell whether people are visiting the zoo or just going to see the pandas. Blue sheets of paper given out at the entrance give you a set time to visit the Panda House. This is designed to minimise waiting times in the zoo.
Outside of these times you may be able to get in at employee discretion, but if you don’t have a ticket, you can’t get in – so hold on to them. Also, remember that once you’ve left the Panda House, you can’t go back in. Work out where the Panda House is and look at the other animals as you wait for your entrance time. If you don’t want to walk all the way through such a large zoo, you can take the mini-train.
You can go from the western part of Taipei Zoo to the Maokong area by cable car. There are four stops on Taiwan’s longest cable car route: “Zoo – Inside the Zoo – Zhinan Temple – Maokong.”
There are two types of cable cars – normal and glass-bottomed cable cars. You can ride crystal cable cars at Hong Kong’s Ngong Ping 360, but they are more expensive than the regular cable cars there. In Taiwan, they are all the same price, so as long as you’re riding, why not try the crystal cable cars?
At first they are scary and exciting, but after a while you will get used to them. It takes 30 minutes to get to Maokong. If you get off at Maokong, the middle station, you’ll have to decide if you want a quiet day or a more dynamic one.
You can enjoy Maokong Tea House, famous for its tea, or get off at Taipei and go for a 40-minute hike. Having a cup of tea is a great way to enjoy Maokong by yourself. The tea houses start at the entrance, and become more and more common as you go in. We recommend the Dragon Door Inn. There is a nice view and you can even try some delicious tea leaf bibimbap.
If you plan on hiking, you should first go to the Maokong Information centre and get a map. You can enjoy a light stroll around the area and take a cable car down, or you can hike all the way down to Zhinan Temple and take the cable car from Zhinan Temple after looking around.
Maokong is nice during the day, but even better at night. After dark, riding the cable car and having a cup of tea provides a great view of the city lights. Just thinking about it is romantic.
Zhinan Temple (指南宮)
If you’re not interested in hiking down to Zhinan Temple from Maokong, purchase a round-trip cable car pass for NTD 100. You can also get a one-way ticket for NTD 50 and go from the zoo to Zhinan Temple, or from the zoo directly to Maokong. If you get a round-trip ticket, you can also get off at Zhinan Temple and look around.
Zhinan Temple is a Taoist Temple from the Tang Dynasty that is home to the hermit Lu Dongbin. It has a colourful exterior and an even more beautiful interior. Believe it or not, some people claim that if couples visit the temple, they will break up due to Lu Dongbin’s jealousy.
Jiufen is a small village in New Taipei City in the north of Taiwan. It was also the inspiration for the film ‘Spirited Away’. In the past there were only nine houses, so when supplies were purchased from other towns they would always come in sets of nine. This became the village’s nickname and now Jiufen actually means “divide into nine” because of this tradition.
There were active gold mines here, but the gold ran out at the end of the 20th century, and over time they were abandoned. There are relics of the mining industry but here you can see that they are in the past. But knowing this before you go, it’s fun to see all the smaller sculptures throughout the city.
If you take the 1062 bus that comes to Jiufen, you’ll see a convenience store. The small road on the right will be the start of your adventures in Jiufen. Head down that road and you’ll meet a strong smell. That smell is stinky tofu, one of the world’s seven worst smelling foods. You might struggle with the smell, but if you’re feeling courageous, try some of the stinky tofu.
If the smell is a bit much for you, move along to the restaurants and shops on Jiufen Old Street. Here you can slowly walk through the area and take in the sights and sounds. If you follow the footprints and the red lanterns above you, you’ll eventually arrive at Jiufen’s famous Shuqi Road. This is where the iconic photos of Jiufen are taken.
Before Jiufen was featured in ‘Spirited Away’, there was a Chinese film called ‘A City of Sadness’ that used Jiufen as its primary shooting location. If you follow the steps down Shuqi road, this film is playing at the Shengping Theatre. Built in 1927 while gold-mining was still active, it was the largest theatre of its time. It was destroyed at one time, but was rebuilt and the doors have opened again. The film projector, screen and even the seats have been conserved. It’s like taking a trip back in time. Entrance is free, so if the timing is right, stop in for a film. Watching a film in such a unique place will be something you remember for a long time.
There is even a café near Shuqi Road named ‘A City of Sadness’ after the film, but it wasn’t the location for the film. The actual film site and the same reason that Jiufen became the background for ‘Spirited Away’, was the view from a café called A Mei Tea House.
Jiufen is an amazing town at night. Once the sun starts to go down, the red lanterns light one at a time and visitors to the city can’t wait to see the whole city illuminated by the lanterns. They all wait and at once fall into a trance from the beauty of the lights, and the bus stop is a war zone in the evening. Buses back to Taipei from Jiufen stop quite early, so the best way to end your stay in Jiufen is by staying a night there. Book yourself a room in advance and enjoy some of Taiwan’s signature beer while enjoying the evening. As a note, once the red lanterns are all lit, many tourists leave and the shops start to close. If you decide to stay for the night, remember this and get something to eat earlier.
If you’re planning on staying the night in Taipei, let’s concentrate on your next stop. Buses travelling from Jiufen to Taipei disembark at Zhongxiao Fuxing station. You’ll probably be hungry when you get back. The food sold along Jiufen Old Street might not suit you and it can be hard to get a full meal. Zhongxiao Fuxing is heaven for restaurant lovers. Find somewhere around here to eat.
Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)
The first restaurant we’ll introduce is Din Tai Fung. There are 106 Din Tai Fung restaurants in 11 countries around the world. There is one open in Korea, but you have to try it where it started to really appreciate it. The headquarters is on Yongkang Street, and all the Din Tai Fung restaurants in Taiwan are always packed with tourists. Menu favourites are shao mai, xiao long bao and beef noodles. They will provide a menu in English (or Korean), so don’t worry about ordering. You can book a table via their website.
Kao Chi (高記)
The second restaurant we’d like to introduce is a dim sum specialist. Din Tai Fung is a restaurant that caters more to locals and Japanese tourists than to international tourists. Din Tai Fung has branches all over the world, but Kao Chi can only be found at Yongkang Street, Zhongshan, Zhongxiao Fuxing and Shi Zheng Fu stations. If you like dim sum, you should try one from Din Tai Fung and Kao Chi each day to really compare and enjoy them. Kao Chi is right by the bus stop at Zhongxiao Fuxing coming back from Jiufen, so it’s easy to find the place.
If you’re not too big on dumplings, try hot pot. Hot pot or stew is a trademark Taiwanese dish and is sometimes also known as Shabu Shabu. The special thing about Mala’s hot pots is that they are all you can eat. They also have English (and Korean) menus, so you don’t have to worry about ordering and you can get your drinks yourself. There are even all you can eat Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars, so enjoy! However, bear in mind that you can only stay for two hours.
Also, you cannot order a hot pot for just one person, so if you’re travelling along, you’ll have to skip this one and head to a café. Eating hot pot together with a lot of people is a new and fun experience. To get to the Zhongxiao Fuxing Mala, look for the red sign near the 1062 bus stop.
The road between Zhongxiao Fuxing and the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall is known for its restaurants. There are far too many places to mention, but if we had to mention just one, it would be Ice Monster, home of the mango ice flake desert. It has always been famous, but was made even more famous as the mango ice flake dessert restaurant in the Korean drama ‘Boys Over Flowers’. Ice Monster is just a short walk away from Zhongxiao Dunhua, the station after Zhongxiao Fuxing. If you don’t like mango, you might not want to try it, but you should go if you just don’t like mango-flavoured drinks. There’s no comparison between fresh mango and mango drinks, so even if you hate the juice, you might try Ice Monster and fall in love with mangoes.
Their signature menu item is the ‘Fresh Mango Sensation’. The price varies by season and is NTD 220 in the summer and NTD 250 in the winter. You’ll need at least NTD 110 per person. In other words, two can order one to share, but three people can’t share one order, so keep this in mind.
Chia Te (佳德)
If you’ve had a good dinner and dessert, go have a nice cup of tea or pineapple cake to relax. The best-known place for pineapple cake is Chia Te near the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. Pineapple cake is Taiwan’s signature dessert. It’s pineapple bread and is often given as a present. The traditional flavour is pineapple bread, but there are also strawberry and cranberry flavoured breads. It also means you can stop looking for souvenirs to take home for friends and family. Pineapple bread is the most popular thing for visitors to take back as presents.
With both hands full of presents, you can head back to your hotel satisfied. For your last night in Taipei, enjoy the view of the city from a special location.
Taipei 101 (台北國際金融大樓) and Xiangshan (象山)
The first spot is the 101 Tower. The official name is the Taipei Financial Centre, but it’s usually called Taipei 101 or the 101 Tower. The tower has an 89th floor observatory as well as a 90th floor outdoor observatory. The entrance fee is a little expensive, but the view is better than you can imagine. The second location is Xiangshan. The word itself means Elephant Mountain and it is Taipei’s best spot for seeing the night skyline.
We recommend Xiangshan over the 101 Tower, because if you look from the 101 Tower, you won’t be able to see the tower itself. It’s similar to seeing the Paris skyline from the Eiffel Tower. Don’t worry that it’s a mountain. It’s not very tall and there are observation spots all along the path, so you can choose how far up you want to go. Take a couple of bottles of water and go for a little hike up Xiangshan. Take it slow up the stairs, and you might feel a little bit tired after a while.
If you’re not sure what the point of a trip to Taiwan is, we strongly recommend that you come here. You can take some time to yourself and think, spend time at tea houses in Maokong during the day and come to this spot, Xiangshan, at night. All your worries and concerns will slip away and you can finish the holiday on a positive note.
The romance of travel can be broken down into three things. Planning a holiday, enjoying the experience of listening, seeing and doing during the holiday, and remembering the holiday when you get back home. Get ready for your holiday so you can remember it for a long time after you get back. We hope you have the best possible trip.
Copy/Images by Seo Ji Eun
1. Taipei Main Station (臺北車站)
2. Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園)
3. Jinguashi (金瓜石)
4. Taipei Zoo (臺北市立動物園)
Address: No. 30, Sec.2, Xinguang Rd., Wenshan Dist., Taipei City 11656, Taiwan, R.O.C.
Opening times: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (Admission until 4:00 pm)
Admission charge: NTD 60/students (with ID), children NTD 30
Zoo shuttle bus: NTD 5
5. Maokong (貓空) Cable Car
Address: 7, Lane 48, Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd., 10448, Taipei City, Taiwan
Opening times: Tuesday-Thursday 9 am – 9 pm /Friday, Eve of Public Holidays 9 am – 10 pm/ Saturday, Holidays 8:30 am – 10 pm
Sunday, Holidays (last day only) 8:30 am – 9 pm
Admission charge: NTD 50 for entry to all areas
6. Zhinan Temple (指南宮)
Address: No.115, Wanshou Rd., Wenshan Dist., Taipei City 116, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
7. Jiufen (九份)
8. Kao Chi (高記)
Address No.150 Sec.1 Fuxing S.Rd., Taipei
Opening times: 10:30 am – 10:00 pm
9. Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐)
Address: B2, No. 300, Sec. 3, Zhongxiao E. Rd., Taipei City
Opening times: Saturday to Thursday 10 am – 9:30 pm / Friday, Saturday, Eve of Public Holidays 10 am – 10 pm
10. Mala Hot Pot (馬辣)
Address 4F., No.152, Sec. 1, Fuxing S. Rd., Da’an Dist., Taipei City 106, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
Opening times: Lunch: 11:30 am – 4 pm (NTD 448), Dinner 4 pm – 2 am (NTD 548), Weekends and Holidays 11:30 am – 2 am (NTD 548)
11. Ice Monster
Address No.297, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd. Taipei, Taiwan
Telephone: +886-2-8771-3263 +886-2-8771-3092
Opening times: 10:30 am – 10:30 pm
12. Chia Te (佳德)
Address: No. 88, Section 5, Nanjing East Road, Songshan District, Taipei City
Opening times: 7:30 am – 9:30 pm
13. Taipei 101 (台北國際金融大樓)
Address: No. 7, Sec. 5, Xinyi Rd., Xinyi Dist., Taipei City 110, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
Observation deck: 9 am – 10 pm (ticket sales until 9:15 pm)
Shopping mall: Saturday to Thursday 11 am – 9:30 pm / Friday, Saturday, Eve of Public Holidays 11 am – 10 pm
Observation deck entrance fee: NTD 500
14. Xiangshan (香山)