Jiufen & the Northeast Coast

I was very fortunate to be given a half-day tour as a parting gift from my old workmates. Ahh bless! Such a thoughtful present – and of which has been put to good use! So on a sunny day, what more do you want and need than to see the sea and the mountains all in a day?

Cosmopolitan Taipei is fortunate to be within short reach of natural attractions. Our journey to the coast took only around thirty minutes by car once on National Highway 1, and we were soon gaping at green mountains, rugged capes and amazing rock formations. The Northeast Coast Scenic Area is famous for its diverse geology and fresh seafood – A popular fishing destination for locals, there were only a spatter of fellow tourists, allowing the area to maintain a certain calmness. We passed by fishing villages to rest in a alcove in front of Bitou Cape and marvelled at its impressive cliff face with tall striations and other eroded land formations marked by the wind and the sea. Perhaps it was the ocean breeze and the smell of sea spray that made me feel nostalgic of beaches back home, but I enjoyed the Scenic Area immensely.

We then travelled a short distance to Nanya to see what locals dub ‘the bamboo shoot’. I may have misheard our tour guide’s explanation as we reached our destination. I was so sure we were going to see wild bamboo and thoughts of bamboo soup filled my brain as we walked up the rocky sandstones.  It then dawned on me as we reached the cliff what we were supposed to be seeing.

Nanya Peculiar Stone (南雅奇岩), as its formal name suggests, is not made of bamboo at all. Though slightly disappointed that I was left hungry, I thought it was quite a handsome piece of sandstone. I know this sounds slightly alarming since it really is just rock I’m staring at, but oxidisation of ferric oxide and the weathering away of the stone that just so happens to shape it like bamboo isn’t a common occurrence!

Our next destination was Jiufen.  You may have come across plenty of images of this tiny but bustling town before.  It is no longer that quaint little mountain village that people need to seek and find.  No, Jiufen doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, and has had many a time its starstruck moments. Despite popular belief that this is the inspiration to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Mr Miyazaki himself has confirmed, this is NOT the case! It is however, the backdrop for the historic Taiwanese epic A City of Sadness, and the 2008 Korean Drama On Air. It was also home to Taiwan’s first modern movie theatre, the Shengping Theatre (昇平劇院)quite an astounding achievement for a sleepy mining town in 1914.

The ever famous red lantern teahouse did NOT inspire the bath house scene in Spirited Away!

Jiufen was said to have been established during the Qing period after a small commune of nine families decided to try their luck with living on a mountain instead of staying in the fishing district nearby – Hence the name Jiufen, literally means ‘nine parts or shares’.  The town quickly became a booming mining hub once gold was discovered in the mountains, and saw strong development and influence from Japan during its occupation from 1893. However Jiufen’s gold rush had a less shiny streak when the town housed a prisoners of war camp during World War II for captives of the Allied Forces who were forced to work in the mines. Today however, Jiufen enjoys the reputation of a flourishing tourism spot and offers an ecclectic mix of specialty food and souvenir shops amongst its teahouses, retro cafes and of course, its beautiful surroundings.

We roamed around Jishan Street (基山街) enjoying the various sights and smells, and tried almost any delicacy we came across. Before lunch, we visited the old Jiufen Teahouse (九份茶坊), once famed as an inspiring meeting point for Taiwanese artists and writers. Upon entering the teahouse, you will be greeted with walls of tea and clay pots nestled within coal fires. If you have time, I recommend a tea tasting, where you could select your favourite tea and accompanying treats. Admire the koi pond (there’s a particularly large white one that’s almost frightening), and as you make your way downstairs, do go see the little gallery – it’s worth a visit.  The gallery holds quite a nice selection of ceramics and handmade gifts (amongst the abundance of tea) for your personal collection or for friends back home.

After a busy day of sightseeing, we hopped back into the minivan, homeward bound. Although I’m all for going off the beaten track and discovering little gems myself, sometimes it’s just nice to have logistics already figured out for you! And though it was short and sweet, we did see alot of Taiwan’s mountain and coast scenery for a wee half day-trip.  If you ever find yourself wanting a short but thorough taste of places outside of Taipei, do hit up Edison Travel in Taipei.  Our tour group was only four people large, and we were given decent information to make every stop interesting. This was the second time I visited Jiufen, and there were parts that I haven’t yet come across until this tour…So to my old workmates, thank you again – I had a wonderful time!

If you haven’t yet visited Jiufen and the Northeast Coast, I hope this post would inspire you to add it to your list of places to go when you’re in Taiwan!

Getting There:  We used Edison Travel, but you could also take the train or the bus to Jiufen.  Click here for more information on public transport.

Masks made for all sins
Demon masks – one of which is for gluttony which I’m sure I’m guilty of.
A retro cafe perched on the face of the mountain overlooking the Northeast coast
Away from the main busy Old Street, there are little alleyways worth exploring too