A town set high up in the mountains, in the northeast of Taiwan, Jiufen has a folkloric reputation. The winding road up provides incredible viewpoints of the surrounding lush tropical forests, with temples and houses nestled deep within them, with only the tops of their roofs poking through the canopy. If you’re lucky, you can see down to the ocean below. A breath-taking view of mountain, forest, and sea.
When we were there, the fog was dense and unrelenting. The view was blocked out, with only tiny glimpses of the surrounding environment. It also made the bus ride up a bit daunting as the view in front of the bus was mere feet. Once off the bus, the fog swirled and thickened by the minute. I was able to get a few photos, but then the very thing I took a picture of was swallowed up by the fog.
The entrance into the famous winding side streets of Jiufen is almost missable. It’s next to a convenience store, but it beckons with the bright red lanterns strewn along the sides of the roads, lighting the way. The closer you get to the Old Town, the more aromatic the air becomes from the cooking food wafting and mixing together, beckoning you in. My advice is to get to Jifuen as early as you can. We were able to see the streets, or alleyways, and walk in relative peace. But, within an hour the throngs of tourists took over, and the peacefulness was gone. That being said, it’s still enjoyable you will just be jostling for views, photos, and seats.
Wander the streets and eat as you go. Whatever entices you, grab it. Food culture in Taiwan is all about the ‘small bites’ which enable you to take in vast quantities of food, should you want to. As you wander let the streets guide you, you will have to make some decisions at the junctions I recommend down and then back up.
Save the Jiufen Tea House for after your first-morning stroll through the neighbourhood. It is an incredible place to relax, unwind, and find solace in the chaos. The tea house offers a traditional tea ceremony where you pick your teas and snacks, and then for the first pour you will be guided through the process of making the tea. There are many steps involved so pay attention to get the most out of the experience. Taiwan is famous for their oolong tea, I recommend getting an oolong because it can be re-steeped multiple times. Each steep reveals a slightly different flavour profile, which becomes a journey in and of itself. I recommend sitting outside for incredible views of the city, along with views of the lush vegetation and the ocean below. We were fogged in, but it made it moody and left us to quiet contemplation. There is also an art gallery and an art workshop below the tea house you can explore.
With hunger knocking, we left the solace of the tea house to find more snacks and explore more treasures of the city. When you venture up just past the tea house you will find several great shops for gifts and souvenirs. One of my favourites is the famous ‘Cat Shop.’ There are two resident cats inside, but don’t be saddened if they give you the cold shoulder or play coy. Here you will find a stunning array of cat-themed products, cute but also thoughtfully blended into the intricacies of Jiufen. Cat culture is strong in this city, and Taiwan at large. Stock up on postcards, stationery, washi tape, metro card holders, tote bags, and much more. If you have cats, they also sell the most adorable catnip toys. The catnip is next level, my cat approves. A little further up there is another shop that specializes in Lucky Cats.
The thing that I loved the most about Jiufen was the winding streets that take you deeper into the heart of the town. It felt like on every corner there was something to seek out and explore. Not to mention the incredible viewpoints along the edges. The discovery process was so exciting because not only were the streets were brimming with food, souvenirs, and various products each store held something unique inside. I recommend giving yourself a day to meander and explore without too much of an agenda, you will definitely be rewarded.