Jiufen is known for its street food. I was in line for some taro ball soup when Ren spotted a stall selling these green, unappetizing-looking blobs. Those green blobs turned out to be glutinous rice cakes, a Hakka dish that’s one of Jiufen’s most popular delicacies.
Admittedly, I didn’t like it at first. It’s soft, glutinous coating led me to believe it had something equally soft and sweet waiting for me inside, like taro or red bean. It didn’t. Instead, it had a savory vegetable filling, pickled and salty, like something my grandmother would eat. It tasted like an old dish, a dying dish that you can find only in the most preserved of enclaves. Which fittingly, is exactly the kind of environment we were in. To me, it tasted like Jiufen.
It may not have been my favorite at the time, but it’s one of the dishes I remember most from our trip, and the one I associate most with Jiufen. There’s a character to this preserved mountain town that’s unlike any we experienced in Taiwan. It’s a character you can appreciate in its architecture, its tight alleyways, and of course, in its food. If you’re looking to visit Shifen and Jiufen on your next trip to Taipei, then I hope this guide can help you plan your trip.
GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
SHIFEN & JIUFEN AT A GLANCE
Shifen and Jiufen are both small towns in New Taipei City, about an hour east of Taipei. Shifen is in Pingxi District while Jiufen is in Ruifang District.
As far as tourism is concerned, Shifen is known primarily for two things – Shifen Old Street and Shifen Waterfalls. Shifen Old Street is the area where sky lanterns are released, while Shifen Waterfalls is recognized as Taiwan’s broadest waterfall, a distinction which has earned it the nickname the “Little Niagara of Taiwan”.
Jiufen, on the other hand, is a former mining town that saw its peak during the gold rush of the Japanese era. It maintains much of its architecture from that time period and has developed into a popular tourist destination because of two films. First in 1989, when it was featured in the Taiwanese historical drama A City of Sadness, and again in 2001 due to its resemblance to a town in the highly acclaimed anime film Spirited Away.
Today, because of their proximity to the city, Shifen and Jiufen have become among the most popular day trip destinations you can make from Taipei.
BEST TIME TO VISIT JIUFEN & SHIFEN
More often than not, Shifen and Jiufen are side trips from Taipei. The best time to visit Taipei is typically from October till February, so that would be the ideal time to visit these places as well. Based on 2017’s rainfall statistics however, October and November saw significantly more rain than the other months within that stretch. For that reason, I think December to February would be the ideal time to visit. The temperature and precipitation will be at their lowest. Jiufen gets terribly crowded so I wouldn’t want to be there when it’s hot and humid.
Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Jiufen
To help you better understand the weather in Jiufen, I’ve included average temperature and annual rainfall graphs below. Suggested months to visit are indicated in orange.
TRAVELING TO SHIFEN & JIUFEN
There are two ways to get to Shifen and Jiufen from Taipei – by public transportation or by guided tour.
By Public Transportation
This is the cheapest method, though not the easiest. You’ll need to do it in two parts.
TAIPEI-SHIFEN: You’ll need to take a TRA train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station, then transfer to the Pingxi Line to Shifen Station. The trip should take you about an hour and a half. From Shifen Station, you can follow the signs to Shifen Old Street where the sky lanterns are released, and to Shifen Waterfalls which is about twenty minutes away on foot. According to their websites, the Taipei-Ruifang leg costs either NTD 59 or NTD 76 (depending on the train), while the Ruifang-Shifen leg costs NTD 80. You can follow these links to check train timetables: Taipei-Ruifang | Ruifang-Shifen. For the Taipei-Ruifang leg, be sure to select Taipei > Taipei and Taipei > Rueifang as the route.
SHIFEN-JIUFEN: There’s no transportation from Shifen to Jiufen so you’ll need to go back to Ruifang Station first. Make a left after exiting the station and walk down to Mingdeng Road. Next to the police station is a bus station where you can catch bus 827 or 788 to Jiufen. On weekends, you can also catch bus 825. Please be advised that you’ll want to wait at the bus stop next to the police station. Buses across from the police station will take you back to Taipei. The ride to Jiufen takes about 20 minutes and costs NTD 15.
By Guided Tour
This is what we did. It’s the easiest and most convenient way to go. We went on a guided tour with Kkday that took us to Yehliu Geopark, Shifen Old Street, Shifen Waterfalls, and Jiufen. But instead of taking the bus back, we stayed the night in Jiufen and took bus 1062 back to Taipei the next morning. The tour costs NTD 1,000 per person and is the most hassle-free option. Plus, Yehliu Geopark is pretty cool too and not to be missed. You can follow this link for more information and to book the Yehliu, Shifen, Jiufen tour from Taipei with Kkday.
HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAMPLE ITINERARY
You can visit both places on a day trip from Taipei but I suggest staying the night in Jiufen to maximize your experience. That way you can take your time at each spot and not have to rush. Jiufen gets ridiculously crowded during the day so it’s best appreciated at night, when the lanterns are lit and there are fewer people, or early in the morning. For that reason, I think an overnight stay is ideal.
| DAY ONE|
9AM – Take the TRA train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifeng Station.
10AM – Take the Pingxi train to Shifen.
11AM-12:30PM – Release a sky lantern at Shifen Old Street. Have a snack at one the street food stalls by the rails.
12:30-2:30PM – Spend time at Shifen Waterfalls. Eat more here if you like. There are a few food stalls by the waterfalls.
2:40PM – Take the train back to Ruifang Station then catch the bus to Jiufen.
3PM onwards – Spend the rest of your time exploring Jiufen. Stay the night.
| DAY TWO|
8AM – Have breakfast.
9AM-12NN – Explore Jiufen some more.
12NN – Take bus 1062 back to Taipei.
Pictured below is the bus stop where you can catch bus 1062 back to Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station in Taipei. The stop is on the opposite side of the road from the steps leading up to Jiufen Old Street (going down the mountain). Be sure to flag it when you see it, otherwise it won’t stop. The fare is NTD 98 (bus driver can’t give change).
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
Taiwan’s unit of currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (NTD). I didn’t see any banks in Shifen or Jiufen so it’s best that you exchange your currency in Taipei. You can do so at any bank. Currency exchange service is strictly regulated by the Taiwanese government so you won’t find any independent money changers like you would in other Asian countries, which is a relief.
It’s best to exchange your currency at big local banks like Bank of Taiwan, China Trust Bank, or South China Commercial Bank. We walked in to a smaller bank once and they advised us of a service charge, so I made sure to look for a Bank of Taiwan every time.
Alternatively, you can also withdraw NTD from an ATM. The rates are competitive. Just be sure to advise your bank you’ll be using your ATM card overseas so you don’t run into any problems. In my experience, my ATM card works in some machines but not in others.
WHERE TO STAY IN JIUFEN: Jiufen Alleyway B&B
Compared to other cities in Taiwan, accommodations in Jiufen seemed pricier than most, which is why I was happy to find Jiufen Alleyway B&B. For just USD 47 a night, we got this huge room with breakfast already included. On top of that, the room is located in a quieter part of Jiufen away from the chaos of all the shops and eateries. We would happily stay here again.
We booked a room here through AirBnB but you can make a reservation through Booking.com or Agoda as well. Be sure to check all three sites to find the best deal. If Jiufen Alleyway B&B isn’t right for you, then you can go through those websites to find alternate listings in Jiufen: AirBnB | Booking.com | Agoda. If you’re new to AirBnB, then you can get USD 31 free travel credit when you sign up via this link.
The place is a little hard to find so I’ve added the following pictures to help you locate it. When you walk up the stairs to Jiufen Old Street, make a right and keep walking along that road until you reach the alleyway pictured below. Enter this alleyway.
This is the main door to the B&B. It’ll be on your left shortly after entering the alleyway. The owner will make arrangements with you beforehand to give you the key to enter the property.
Approximate Room Rate: USD 47 per night (as of Apr 2018)
THINGS TO DO IN SHIFEN & JIUFEN
1. Make a Wish & Release a Sky Lantern
This is the main reason why people flock to Shifen, to write prayers and wishes on paper lanterns before releasing them into the sky. It isn’t a big annual event like the Yee Peng Festival in Chiang Mai. Instead, it’s something you can do at any time of the year on the railway tracks of Shifen Old Street.
Lanterns come in different colors and combinations, each color representing a wish like good health, success, luck, and love. Single-color lanterns go for NTD 150 apiece, 4-color for NTD 200, and 8-color for NTD 350. We wanted maximum luck so we went with the 8-color.
As described, we went on the Yehliu, Shifen, Jiufen tour from Taipei with Kkday and this was one of our stops. Follow the link if you’re interested in booking the same tour.
Time to Spend: 30 mins – 1 hr / Cost: At least NTD 150
2. Marvel at Shifen Waterfalls
Located about a 20-minute walk away from Shifen Old Street is this 20-meter tall cascading waterfall. It isn’t the biggest waterfall but it’s a pretty sight, with plenty of viewing platforms set up all around. You can spend about half an hour here taking pictures. Can you see the people standing there to the left of the waterfall?
Like Shifen Old Street, this was one of the stops on our Yehliu, Shifen, Jiufen tour.
Time to Spend: 30 mins / Cost: FREE
3. Eat Your Way Through Jiufen Old Street
This was the main reason why we wanted to visit Jiufen, to gobble our way like Pacman though Jiufen Old Street. We had read it’s one of Taiwan’s most popular food streets, and with good reason. From glutinous rice cakes to peanut ice cream rolls, there are tons of delicious streets food snacks to be had here. Jump to the What to Eat in Jiufen section of this post for more suggestions.
This was the last stop on our Yehliu, Shifen, Jiufen tour. But instead of heading back to Taipei with our tour group, we stayed here for the night and went back on our own the next day via bus 1062.
Time to Spend: As long as you want, or as long as your tour group allows you / Cost: Varies
4. Dress Up in a Qipao and Level Up Your Instagram Game
Aside from eating, the one other thing people like to do in abundance in Jiufen is to take pictures. It’s a picturesque town with plenty of Instagram-worthy spots. If you really want to look the part and ramp up your #OOTD game, then why not rent a qipao? A qipao or cheongsam is a one-piece body-hugging dress traditionally worn by Chinese women.
You can rent a qipao in Jiufen through Kkday. It costs NTD 750 for women and NTD 375 for men (changshan) and children. Follow the link to rent a qipao in Jiufen through Kkday.
Cost: NTD 750 for women, NTD 375 for men and children
5. Drink Tea at a Traditional Tea House
Ren and I aren’t tea drinkers so we didn’t do this, but drinking tea is a popular pastime in Jiufen. There are several Japanese-inspired traditional teahouses here, perhaps none more popular than A-MEI Tea House and Jiufen Teahouse. A-MEI Tea House is the most iconic building in town, the one that’s often featured in pictures of Jiufen.
Cost: Starts at NTD 375 per set at Jiufen Teahouse
6. Get Spirited Away by Studio Ghibli Merchandise
As described, part of the reason why Jiufen’s become such a popular tourist destination is because of its resemblance to a town in Spirited Away. Which is funny because the film’s writer and director, Hayao Miyazaki, has denied that Jiufen was the model city for his movie. But that hasn’t stopped people from associating it with the film anyway, as evidenced by all the Spirited Away and Studio Ghibli merchandise you can buy there. If you’re a fan of Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro, then you’re going to love Jiufen.
7. Take a Peek Inside Shengping Theater
Since we’re on the topic of movies, you may want to visit Shengping Theater which is one of the oldest movie theaters in Taiwan. Badly damaged by a typhoon in 1986, it was renovated and reopened in 2011 largely as a tourist attraction, but I believe they do have showings here from time to time. From what I understand, it’s experienced a recent revival due to its role in A City of Sadness.
WHAT TO EAT IN JIUFEN
1. Glutinous Rice Cake
It’s not going to happen, but if you were to limit yourself to just one dish in Jiufen, then this should probably be it. I’m basing this purely on how interesting it is. Pictured below is a Hakka glutinous rice cake made with a variety of fillings like salted vegetable, preserved turnip, and sweet red bean. It’s a curious snack that packs a major flavor punch. A few stalls sell glutinous rice cakes in Jiufen, but none are more popular than the Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake stall.
Where to Try it: Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake / Cost: NTD 10 per piece
2. Peanut Ice Cream Roll
This is another interesting, albeit slightly unusual dish. It’s basically an ice cream peanut burrito. To make it, peanut shavings are spread over traditional popiah skin and topped with two scoops of ice cream. It’s then folded up like a thin flat burrito before being cut into two and served. Yes, it sounds a little odd, but it’s delicious. The place to have it in Jiufen is at the Ah Zhu Peanut Ice Cream stall.
Where to Try it: Ah Zhu Peanut Ice Cream / Cost: NTD 40 per roll
3. Taro Balls
Like Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake and Ah Zhu Peanut Ice Cream, Grandma Lai’s Taro Balls is one of the most popular stalls in Jiufen. As their name suggests, they specialize in taro ball soup made with chewy handmade taro balls, sweet potato balls, green tea balls, and kidney beans. You can have it either hot or cold. We had it hot.
Where to Try it: Grandma Lai’s Taro Balls / Cost: NTD 50 per bowl
4. Fish or Meat Ball Soup
Who doesn’t like a good fish or meat ball? At Jiufen, you can have them made with different ingredients like fish, pork, squid, and vegetable, all served together in bowls of soup. It’s a delicious and hearty snack that’s fun to eat with a side of noodles. Some of the more popular places to try it are Zhang Ji for fish balls and Jin Zhi for meat balls.
Where to Try it: Zhang Ji Traditional Fishballs, Jin Zhi (meat balls) / Cost: NTD 65 per bowl (combination meat ball soup)
5. Ice Cream Puff
Unless you’re lactose intolerant, then I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this. It’s basically two scoops of ice cream sandwiched between two halves of a flaky puff pastry. We had ours with raspberry and dark chocolate. Yum!
Where to Try it: Misty Cake / Cost: About NTD 250 for a large puff pastry with two scoops of ice cream
If these five aren’t enough for you, then check out our post on 10 delicious things to eat in Jiufen for more suggestions.
TAIWANESE FOOD GUIDE
Taiwan is all about night markets and street food. There are so many more things to eat in Jiufen other than what’s outlined above. For more Taiwanese food suggestions, check out our post and video on 57 Things to Eat in Taiwan.
BUDGET / SUMMARY OF EXPENSES
Assuming you’ll be taking public transportation and staying the night in Jiufen with one other person, then a budget of around NTD 1,500 for the overnight trip should be enough. This takes into account round trip transportation, a sky lantern, inexpensive meals, moderately priced accommodations, and pocket wifi rental.
Assuming you’ll be visiting Shifen and Jiufen from Taipei, then you should be paying NTD 349 round trip.
| SKY LANTERN|
If you’re sharing a sky lantern with one other person, then it will cost you at least NTD 75 each.
This is subjective, but based on our experience, I’d say NTD 200-300 for the whole trip is plenty. This assumes that you’ll only be eating street food and not dining at any sit down restaurants.
As described, accommodations in Jiufen seem more expensive overall but if you book a room at Jiufen Alleyway B&B like we did, then expect to pay around NTD 1,390 for one night.
| POCKET WIFI RENTAL|
If you’re sharing the cost with one other person, then you’ll each be paying NTD 40 per day.
This comes out to about NTD 1,459 per person for the entire trip. You can add to your budget if you plan on doing any shopping in Jiufen.
1. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
Having a constant and strong wifi connection is a must when traveling these days. You’ll need it to navigate, do research, convert currencies, and post shameless selfies on Instagram.
We rented a 4G pocket wifi device through Kkday for NTD 80 a day. You can pick it up and drop it off at Taoyuan, Songshan, or Kaohsiung International Airports. It gave us a strong wifi signal no matter where we were in Taiwan. Beach, mountains, intercity trains, it didn’t matter. Our wifi signal was always good, even in Jiufen. Battery life was decent, maybe 6-7 hours so I suggest bringing a power bank as you’ll probably need to charge it before the end of each day. Follow this link to rent a pocket wifi device in Taiwan through Kkday.
2. All Sky Lantern Shops are Created Equal
Before letting us loose, our guide advised us that sky lantern pricing at Shifen Old Street is regulated. Don’t waste your time going from shop to shop looking for the best deal because they all charge the same – NTD 150 for one color, NTD 200 for four colors, and NTD 350 for eight colors.
3. Have Patience in Jiufen
This was something I needed more of myself. I expected Jiufen to be crowded, but I had no idea it would be THAT crowded. It was the most crowded place we visited in our two weeks in Taiwan. It made the simple act of walking incredibly frustrating which definitely detracted from the overall experience. We went on a Thursday too so I’m not sure if it makes a difference when you go.
In any case, there’s nothing you can do about it so just prepare yourself for the huge throngs of tourists you’ll be encountering there. This is another reason why I think it’s best to stay the night. Jiufen is most pleasant late at night or early in the morning when the crowds are at their thinnest.
4. Check for Discount Passes
There are many websites that offer discount passes to tours and services. One of my favorites is Kkday. They offer deals to many destinations around the world, including Taiwan where they’re based. They’re a Taiwanese e-commerce travel platform so in my opinion, there’s no better website to purchase deals from in Taiwan than Kkday. They have the widest selection.
If you’re looking for deals on tours, activities, pocket wifi rental, etc, then you may want to search through Kkday’s website for a list of deals involving Shifen and Jiufen. You’ll often find interesting activities that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself, so it’s definitely worth a look. Here’s a list of some of Kkday’s most popular deals in Shifen and Jiufen: (pictures borrowed from kkday.com)
5. Get Travel Insurance
To be honest, it was only recently when we started buying travel insurance. Back when we traveled just once or twice a year, travel insurance felt like an added expense, and one we didn’t really need. But now that we’re older and travel more, I understand how important it is to have it. Fact is, you never know what might happen. It’s one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but if you do wind up needing it, then you’ll be thanking the gods that you had it (or cursing them if you didn’t).
Though I do find it more necessary now, it’s still up to you if you think you need it. A 3-day trip to Osaka just shopping and eating may not really call for insurance but if you plan on doing more active things like skiing, horseback riding, or mountain biking, then I’d say travel insurance is a must. We went bike riding twice in Taiwan so we did get travel insurance for this trip.
We buy travel insurance from World Nomads because every long-term traveler I know recommends it. From the sound of it, they’re the best in the industry by a mile. Not only do they provide a high coverage limit for medical expenses (up to USD 5 million with the Standard package), they also cover things like trip delays, missed flight connections, theft/loss of passport and luggage, etc. Follow the link or use the widget below to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.
6. Bring the Right Power Adapter
VISA-FREE TRAVEL TO TAIWAN
In 2017, TECO implemented a 9-month visa-free trial program for Filipinos. From 1 November 2017 till 31 July 2018, Philippine passport holders will be able to travel to Taiwan visa-free for stays of up to fourteen (14) days, provided the following requirements are met.
- The applicant’s passport is valid for at least six months starting from the date of arrival in Taiwan.
- The applicant has an onward/return air/ferry ticket and a visa for that destination (if required).
- The applicant has no criminal record in Taiwan.
- The applicant can provide proof of accommodation (or host/sponsor’s contact information or arrangements of tour, travel, visit, events and meeting etc.) in Taiwan.
HOW TO GET CHEAP AIRLINE TICKETS
Ever since I scored my first piso fare from Cebu Pacific, I’ve been hopelessly addicted to cheap airline tickets. Our tickets to Taipei with a shared 20 kg baggage allowance came out to about PHP 4,587 each roundtrip. How awesome is that?
These piso fare tickets are limited and sell fast, so you have to be quick. To give yourself an advantage, I suggest liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter to quickly find out about these seat sales. If you check off “Get notifications” on Facebook, then you’ll receive instant alerts every time they post something new.
I’m not an expert on Jiufen but I do hope that you find this post useful. I’m only sharing some of the things that I learned from our trip. If you have any suggestions or simply want to share your own experiences, then please feel free to do so in the comments section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well. We’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for stopping by and have a delicious time eating your way through Jiufen!
These are some of the things we brought with us to Jiufen. As you can tell, I document a lot of content for this blog so most of the things I bring are photo and video equipment. 😆 If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
We’re a Kkday affiliate and worked with them on this trip. We paid for our airfare, accommodations, and incidental expenses like transportation and food, but we were allowed to go through their website and choose activities and services in exchange for an honest account of the experience. They gave us vouchers to pocket wifi rental and the Yehliu, Shifen, Jiufen guided tour from Taipei. They didn’t ask us to do any of these things. We chose them on our own volition. As always, all words and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone.
Some of the links in this guide are affiliate links, meaning we’ll get a small commission if you make a purchase at NO extra cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!
JB and Renée are the Traveleaters behind Will Fly for Food, a travel blog for the gastronomically inclined. They enjoy experiencing food from different cultures so they’ve made it their mission to try every country’s national dish. Read more about them and their National Dish Quest here.