I felt like I had really explored Taipei City yesterday, even if I hadn’t seen everything there is to see. So I decided to take a day trip out of the City, I was going East to the more mountainous region of Taiwan. I picked up a healthy breakfast of donuts on the way.
As a big anime lover and especially anything Studio Ghibli I was really excited for two places. Houtong, an old mining village that now plays host to a lot of cats and lets you know about it. Plus Jiufen, an old gold mining community that apparently inspired Spirited Away, the classic Hayao Miyazaki anime.
So I took the underground to Shongshan station and from there it was about an hour to Houtong. The scenery was amazing from the train, rolling slowly into the mountains. I arrived at Houtong, and it was everything I dreamed of and more.
As soon as you walk along the bridge over the railway tracks there are cats and cat themed signs and info everywhere. The village itself is small and built up into a hillside, and you basically wander around looking at cats for as long as you like. Perusing the souvenir shops of all things cat related. There’s even a cafe called ‘Meow Meow’.
Interestingly there is another side to Houtong as an ex-mining town. I discovered you could explore a whole mine on a little train. I was on my own, with one girl who worked there leading the way. It was great fun, giant spiders hung ominously in the backdrop as she encouraged me to try my hand at pneumatic drilling and riding my own cart on some tracks.
After this wonderful bonus, I explored a little more of this adorable place, including abandoned buildings, a huge river winding through it and a little hill hike.
I was on a slight time frame, so it was on to the next stop to see Taiwan’s largest waterfall! Shifen falls can be found just a short walk away from the town of the same name. Again, I hadn’t realised that these little towns held so much more. At Shifen I realised that everyone was on the train tracks taking selfies and releasing Chinese lanterns, all with a backdrop of a beautiful old town.
Obviously I took a couple of selfies and pictures of this cute place as I walked past in wonder, and picked up some Tofu and spicy corn on the cob to snack on. It was easy to follow the street along to the waterfall visitors centre. Then from here it was a beautiful country walk over bridges and past huge cliffs to the waterfall.
The location was amazing and they’ve really gone all out so you can enjoy it, you can look at it from various levels depending on how wet you want to get! Plus you could get food and drinks and there was a cute little park to walk through.
Now dripping wet but happy to be out in nature, I stopped and had a beer before heading back to Shifen station. I got some sweet snacks and patiently waited for the next train to take me back to Ruifang then from here I had to jump on the bus to Jiufen, the cherry on the cake. The bus stop in Ruifang to Jiufen is located about 250 metres away in front of the police station numbers 788 and 827 will get you there in 20 minutes.
I couldn’t wait to walk through the little streets, and they didn’t disappoint. Food of every type filled the lanes, with lanterns hanging all around us. This was truly sensory overload in the best possible way, an I picked up a few various bits to eat as I got Spirited Away.
I emerged into a square with some beautiful traditional tea houses that instantly reminded me of Spirited Away and Ghibli. I was so happy! I would have to pass the time til the sun set to really enjoy it though.
So I decided to explore the countryside a little bit, there’s a hike you can do up to the to of one of the mountains, but it would be dark soon and I didn’t want to get caught up there with no light. So I stayed around the outskirts of the town, and I was rewarded with these amazing views out over the mountains and to the sea.
The sun started to go down, casting a golden glow over the countryside. I was awestruck by the beauty of the place. It’s definitely one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.
With the sun gone it was time to see how Jiufen lit up at night, and again it didn’t disappoint. I had read that one particular tearoom really stood out from the crowd, but to really enjoy it’s exterior you have to sit in the one opposite.
Eventually I worked out the correct tearoom and got in line. It was a very busy place at night and I probably queued for about 45 mins before I got a little table.
I ordered a beer, and sat looking at this gorgeous wooden tea room, with it’s various coloured lights giving it a surreal glow. I was truly loving every minute of this experience.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and now I had to make my way back to Taipei. I was really worried that I’d struggle as it was getting into the night, but I took a bus back to the train station, got some more snacks for the journey and after just a little wait I was on my way to the City.
I was sad to be leaving Taiwan behind, it had been a totally left field choice to come here, and if I’d known how much there was to see and do, I would’ve extended my stay there for sure. As it was I knew one day I’d be back, and I spent one more night in my little bunker, excited to be going to my next destination, the Philippines!!