Our second day was spent exploring places that tourists most likely visit in Taiwan. The itinerary for this day trip took a while to complete. I always take into consideration the cost of getting there and the number of hours we have to spend travelling to get there. Taiwan currently has three train services: Taiwan Rail (TRA), Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) and the Taipei Metro (for going around Taipei). There are a lot of sources like vlogs on Youtube and travel blogs that can help you plan a day trip to Shifen and Jiufen, but some of them were written or made during the time Easy Cards were still not accepted by the TRA. All the how-to-buy guides just didn’t make sense to me. I also read about the Pingxi Line One Day Pass as well, but when we arrived the TRA ticketing station the night before, it’s already closed. We tried reaching out to TRA office personnel, but it was hard because they don’t speak English. It took a while before it came to us that we can use our Easy Card in the TRA. Thanks to the patience of both parties. TRA management could treat this an opportunity to put up English Translated Guidelines for tourists since an English speaking personnel is not available.
Important: Time tables in train stations are very accurate. Also, asking for correct platforms will save you time. Best ask train personnel in uniform for this info. Not all of them can speak English but you can tell them where you’re headed and they will help you find the right platform.
From Taipei Main Station, we rode the TRA to Houtong Station where Day 2 began with our quick visit to Houtong Cat Village.
Further reading: Houtong Cat Village
This is a legit village where residents know most of the cats. Litter boxes are present in certain areas of the station. Most of the shops are still close when we arrive around 9 am, maybe the best time to start is around 10 am. So we turned to their cat-themed 7-eleven for breakfast, where walls have cat designs on them while outside they have a Houtong exclusive photo booth for customers/visitors.
Inside the Vision Hall or their Tourist Information Center is an exhibit of the former coal mining town before it closed in the 90’s. Close by is the Village Cat Cafe slash souvenir shop where cat themed stuff and postcards are being sold. Prices range from 20-300NT$. If you have more time to spare, you can sign up for a tour and explore their Houtong Coal Mine Ecological Park.
The visit to Houtong Cat Village was not very long because we have to move to Shifen Old Street. To get there, we rode the train that took us to Shifen Station. Shifen is only three stations away from Houtong but the TRA travels at a slower speed compared to other train lines. One can just take advantage of the time viewing sceneries from the train window. I can’t believe Taipei still have places like these despite being so modern. We were standing the whole time on our way to Shifen. It seems to me that we are all going to the same place. It was lunchtime by the time we arrived. The moment these people got off the train, most of them were scurrying to find a place to eat.
Further reading: Shifen Waterfalls
Shifen Waterfalls is more than a kilometer walk from Shifen Station and I don’t think there are other ways to get there if you’re not signed up for a tour. Just keep walking and let google map guide you through. You might see a much smaller waterfalls along the way so let me tell you this: It’s not Shifen Waterfalls. You have to pass by a number of suspension bridges before getting to the Shifen Scenic Area and the Shifen Waterfalls. More nature appreciation and sightseeing opportunities coming up.
Now this is what we came here for. Others say that the best time to visit is when there’s rain, but for me the timing is perfect as it is. The feel of the mist coming towards me while I stood there was surreal enough. The selfie I took was terrible, so I decided not to post. I’ll share with all of you instead a shot that has captured the rainbow effect. I can just stand here for hours staring at the raging waters… but it’s a long walk back to Shifen Station and we are on a tight schedule. We have be in Jiufen before 4 pm for our reservation at A-mei’s Tea House.
Following the same path, we headed back to Shifen Station. We skipped Jing’an Suspension Bridge on our way back though. Shifen Old Street will wait for me to come back, I know. So much to see and discover here!
There are two ways to get to Jiufen Old Street from Shifen Old Street (if not signed up for tours): ride a cab or transfer to Ruifang Station and then take the bus from there. I believe the TRA is very reliable and much affordable compared to taxis so we hopped on the train back to Ruifang and took the bus going to Jiufen. You won’t get lost in Ruifang as there are a lot of signs that can help you find the right bus stop. From this point on I’d like to express how much I love Taiwan’s transport system because buses and trains come on time. In case of delays, time tables will let you know as well.
Tip: If you’re in Taipei City proper and you want to visit Jiufen, you may ride the express Bus 965 near Taipei Main Station to save time.
Jiufen Old Street is popular among Studio Ghibli fans because it is closely linked to the film Spirited Away. Some say Hayao Miyazaki used this town as reference for his Oscar winning movie, but he says similar places like it exists in other parts of the world. There are a lot of arguments online regarding this topic, but coincidence or not it seems the town has already embraced the Spirited Away thing to further strengthen its tourism.
Further reading: Jiufen
Since we haven’t eaten any lunch, first thing we did in Jiufen was find a place to eat. Close to the entrance of Jiufen Old Street is a stall selling Taro Balls. I don’t know the name of this store but I hope the photos will make it recognizable. They sell Taro Balls (hot or iced) at 50 NT$. Got one iced with pearl barley and it felt like a complete meal. Maybe the hot version is also nice but for us who were walking the whole time, the cold version is satisfying.
A-Zhu’s Peanut Ice Cream Roll is one famous stalls in Jiufen. You can watch a lot of vlogs about it on social media. One peanut roll costs 40 NT$. It’s made with peanut brittle shavings topped with Taro ice cream and then wrapped with something we call “lumpia wrapper” in the Philippines. You also have the option of adding some cilantro to it. The Taro “ice cream” has an icy texture rather than creamy so I think they should call it “sorbet” instead. I didn’t become a fan of this peanut roll because I’ve been paranoid the wrapper might bring me indigestion.
That day might be one of Jiufen‘s busiest days. When we arrived outside A-mei Tea House, we just sat there and waited for our accommodation because it was packed with tourists wanting to witness this spectacle similar to a scene from Spirited Away. If you are a fan, I’m sure you won’t miss the chance of having a photo with A-mei Tea House as your background. It was quite a moment for me as well, to stand there imagining Chihiro and Haku and Yubaba’s bath house. Probably the same for a lot of other Japanese tourists climbing up the Jiufen Tea House just to get a good view for their selfies. I am not exaggerating.
Further reading: A-mei’s Tea House
The highlight of our Day 2 is totally A-mei Tea House. To experience this, I bought vouchers from Klook to spare us from the hassle of lining up. Besides, you come to a tea house to have tea, right? If you book for this experience from Klook, you can easily choose from their sets which includes tea and snacks that go with it. Minimum of two vouchers per transaction for this so I guess solo travellers will have to line up to get in.
A complimentary postcard from A-mei Tea House is also included in the set. When I entered a bookstore in Xinyi District, I saw one and was surprised that it costs around 80 NT$ per piece. So please take care of your postcards if you get one.
A-mei Tea House staff knows how to speak several languages so it will be easy to communicate with them. Be prepared to listen to a set of instructions how to prepare the tea, how much of the tea you should brew, how many seconds you should let the tea sit and for facts about the tea you are about to drink. They say all of these things quickly so better ready those ears. Hot water is unlimited and staff make rounds to check if you have enough. We stayed until the red lanterns were lit but the number of people outside doubled since we arrived, plus it’s getting late and we really have to leave so I let it go. I just had my photo taken by the entrance instead. Can you imagine how we went past all these people so we could go back up?
We explored the area a little bit more before heading out to Raohe St. Night Market. I wish we had more time and also money to try more food! Though Jiufen is more like a shopping place than a food market, there are a lot of food stalls and small restaurants here that I wasn’t able to see anywhere else.
Commonly, travellers hit up Keelung Night Market right after visits to Shifen and Jiufen but it’s getting late and travel time to Keelung from Jiufen is almost two hours by bus. So I chose another night market closer to our hostel in the Zhongzheng District. Raohe Street Night Market is pretty popular in Songshan and among food vloggers/bloggers who have been to Taipei.
Time for dinner when we reached Raohe St. Night Market so we sat down and decided to order this thick seafood soup after seeing it from that huge steaming pot. Sorry, forgot to list down the price.
Before our phones and my camera ran out of batteries, we were still able to take pictures of food and stalls we saw as we looked around. Sure, there are lots of good food in night markets and with all that food around you it’s quite hard to choose which one appeals to you the most. As much as we want to try them all, I still had some restrictions like seafood and super oily food. Watched a couple of vlogs about night market food while doing my research and I conclude that Taiwanese and tourists alike here in Taipei seems to be fond of fried food otherwise there will be limited stalls here that sell them.
We tried some of these fried dumplings commonly found in night markets and are uniformly priced at 40-50 NT$. Bottom parts are fried while inside it remains soft and juicy. Spicy sauce is always the best choice.
I cannot resist the call of milk tea after all the food we had. Ordered a drink at ONECA but instead of milk tea, I bought matcha coffee. Not sure if we have this variation in milk tea shops across Manila but it’s my first time trying such combination. ONECA is new in Taiwan and currently expanding, with a plans to have branches in Taichung, Kaohsiung as well as Taipei 101. Can’t wait for them to reach Manila too.
Before heading home, this Japanese style okonomiyaki has come to our attention so we lined up and gave it a try. It has egg, strips of bacon, mayo and bonito flakes on top and prepared very nicely by these hardworking guys. Their stall isn’t hard to locate: Just look for that yellow sign and a long queue of people waiting to be served.
That is all for Day 2. On my next post, I will share with you our adventures in Maokong Village and the Xinyi District.