One Day Trip To Shifen & Jiufen (十分九份一日游)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

On our fourth day in Taiwan, we decided to explore the eastern coast of New Taipei by going on a one day trip to Shifen (十分) and Jiufen (九份), which is about 2 hours away from Taipei. ★Tip: If you're planning to do a similar trip like we did, and even include even the nearby towns like Pingxi (平溪) or Houtong (猴硐), I'd advise you to go early to ensure you make the most of your time. We left rather late—around 9:30am—so by the time we got to Shifen, it was almost noon. We originally had three places we wanted to visit that day, Shifen, Pingxi and Jiufen, but ended up skipping Pingxi because it was almost dark by 5:00pm and we couldn't include another town to our schedule.

Although even though we were late, we didn't want to skip breakfast so we went to a have a quick yet traditional Taiwanese breakfast at Soy Milk King (永和豆漿大王), which was a 5 minute walk from our hotel. It's not the prettiest restaurant nor cleanest one I've ever been to, but it does attract a good handful of locals and foreigners alike. The line moves pretty fast, so you better make sure you know what you want when it's your turn to order. We ordered one serving of warm soy milk (豆漿), an egg pancake (蛋餅) and a clay oven roll with egg (燒餅夾蛋). They were all very delicious, but weren't very filling, so we bought another sandwich at a breakfast shop nearby.

Getting There

In order to get to any of these small towns, you will need to take the train (TRA) to Ruifang Station (瑞芳站) first. We took the 10:12am train, as shown on our tickets below. ★Note: The indicated departure time is when the train actually leaves, so do ensure that you arrive at the correct platform no later than 10 minutes before the indicated time.

Ruifang (瑞芳)

Once we arrived at Ruifang Station at almost 11:00am, we went to buy our One Day Pass for the Pingxi and Shen'ao Line (平溪深澳雙支線一日週遊券) just outside the station. This ticket allows you to travel unlimited times on those two lines for one day, so if you're travelling from Ruifang to Houtong (猴硐), San Diao Ling (三貂嶺), Dahua (大華), Wanggu (望古), Shifen (十分), Lingjiao (嶺腳), Pingxi (平溪) and/or Jingtong (菁桐), the NTD$80 ticket is worth every buck. Unfortunately, we only travelled to Shifen to Ruifang and back again so it wasn't really worth it.

Shifen (十分)

Unlike the Taipei where you can travel on the MRT to and from different stations in a matter of minutes, it took us almost 40 minutes to get from Ruifang to Shifen. Not to mention that each train is very full in peak hours, chances are you'll be standing up the whole time. But once you finally arrive at Shifen, you'll realise that the travel is all worth it. Contrary to bustling Taipei city, both Shifen and Jiufen are cultural towns so you'll definitely get to experience old Taiwan in a very beautiful and unique way.

One you get off the train, you'll be on Shifen Old Street (十分老街) which has many food stands, souvenir shops and of course, shops where you can release sky lanterns. What I particularly like about Shifen Old Street is that the sidewalks are just beside dual train tracks—which is a feature of the town itself. It's not very safe per se, but trains only come every half an hour so people do tend to freely cross the tracks with little caution.

Maybe because Shifen is quite close to Houtong, we saw quite a number of cats in some of the smaller lanes and alleys of the town. So if you're a cat lover like my sister and I, you'll love Shifen a bit more :)

After visiting Shifen Old Street, we made our way to Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布), another attraction the town is known for. Located about 20-30 minutes from the station, we decided to take a taxi to the waterfall entrance to get there slightly quicker. However, that turned out to be a bad idea because it was totally within walking distance so the NTD$100 taxi fee we paid was a total rip off. ★Tip: Unless you're really tired, in a rush or if it's heavily raining, walk to Shifen Waterfall from Shifen Old Street instead. We walked back from the waterfall back to the station and it only took us about 15-20 minutes. There wasn't much of a view, but it turned out to be a pretty nice stroll.

When we came back to the Shifen at around 2:00pm, we figured that we didn't have time to go to Pingxi, so we decided to release our own sky lanterns there instead. Each lantern is about NTD$200 depending on the number colours you choose (with each representing a type of wish: e.g., wealth, love, friendship, etc). The store vendors even offer to take photos and record videos for you, so you don't need to worry about leaving your memories behind.

After we were finished, we went to grab some food. There weren't many proper restaurants around, so we got some snacks instead: a charcoal grilled chicken wing stuffed with glutinous rice (炭烤雞翅包飯), chicken rolls (鷄卷) and a pork sausage (豬肉香腸). Albeit a little salty, I still recommend the chicken wing because it's not often that you find a fully deboned chicken wing! While waiting for the next train to Ruifang, we ordered some milk teas at a very modern café just outside the station to quench our thirst.

Jiufen (九份)

Can you believe that it was raining when we went to Jiufen 6 years ago and again 6 years later? What luck! The rain was starting to get pretty bad when we got to Ruifang station, so instead of taking the bus (the only means of public transportation to get there) we took the taxi for NTD$200 instead. Unlike Shifen, Jiufen is located in a very mountainous part of the city so I didn't want to risk any potential accident getting up there on a bus—especially on a rainy day. I'm sure the bus drivers are very skilled (and I noticed that they have put more safety measures in place) but I remember going up to Jiufen on a tour bus and our bus driver drove extremely close to the cliff edge.

Once you arrive at Jiufen Old Street (九份舊道), you'll realise that the alleys are quite narrow, so be prepared to walk slowly. However, most people do tend to walk in one direction save for some stragglers so the best tip that I can give is: always keep to your left. No doubt the fact that it was raining made it quite difficult, especially when you're holding bags of shopping in one hand and an umbrella in the other (and a few more umbrellas in your face), it was quite memorable this time in Jiufen because we could go wherever we wanted to go without a strict itinerary in place.

It was a shame that we couldn't eat as much as I originally wanted to, but I don't think I could've argued with my stomach at the time. For one, I really wanted to try Jiufen's fish balls (魚丸), but because we arrived quite late in the day, it was all sold out at the restaurant we sat in. Therefore, we just got a bowl of beef noodles and wonton noodles to warm us up.

Next we got a red-bean filled imagawayaki (紅豆車輪餅) and the famous ice cream roll (九份阿珠雪在燒), which is basically two scoops of taro ice cream with shaved peanut candy wrapped in a spring roll skin. The actual recipe actually has cilantro in it, but I forgot to ask them to put it in (sigh). I'm not a huge fan of the herb, but I've always been curious to see how it would taste altogether.

By 4:30pm, we were starting to get tired and needed to use a bathroom. Therefore, we stopped by a nearby teahouse called SIID CHA (吾穀茶糧 SIID CHA 食茶館) which conveniently overlooks the town of Jiufen. We weren't even hungry nor did we plan to have the meal below, but because it was store policy to order something first, we caved in and ordered some pancakes with green tea ice cream. I quite enjoyed our time at the teahouse because of its relaxing ambience and modern interiors. I absolutely love their contemporary designs of tea products and highly recommend their Golden Buckwheat Green Tea (黃金蕎麥綠茶).

Other than getting a truckload of tea, we didn't buy too much souvenirs and mostly just ate our way through the town. More so than Shifen, I have a soft spot for Jiufen because there's so much more to see and the streets are just full of character. And despite the foggy weather, the view from up high is simply breathtaking.

Finally, seeing A-Mei Teahouse (九份阿妹茶樓) in person at night was on my list of to-do at Jiufen, but we somehow made the wrong turn and mistook the teahouse below to be the one instead. However, because it was getting dark (although it was only around 5:00pm) and raining heavily as well, we decided to give up and go back to Taipei. A-Mei Teahouse was the inspiration of the bathhouse in Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away", so I'm still a little disappointed that we couldn't see it the second time round. I don't know when I'll visit again, but I hope the weather will be good next time I come back.

Once we were back in Taipei, we dropped off our bags at the hotel and went to Ximending (西門町) for dinner. Craving for some Japanese food, we stumbled upon Da Che Lun (大車輪日本料理), a sushi train restaurant which literally uses toy trains to display their sushi (such a nice touch).

Their sushi may not be the prettiest or the most delicate looking, but the quality is worth praising about. The sashimi was fresh and unlike most Japanese places, their sushi pieces were big. (Look at the size of the unagi!) However, do note that they don't have a lot of dishes on the sushi train itself. You will have to download their menu on their phone and order from it separately if you want more of a variety. So if you're looking for a place with friendly staff, delicious, good quality and reasonably priced sushi, I highly recommend Da Che Lun—one of the very few restaurants in Taiwan we visited twice.

Soy Milk King (永和豆漿大王)
台北市 中正區 衡陽路 11號
No. 11, Hengyang Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei

Da Che Lun (大車輪日本料理)
No. 53, Emei Street, Ximending, Wanhua District, Taipei
台北市 萬華區 西門町 峨眉街 53號

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