Saturday, August 23, 2014

Second Time Around Jiufen

Last year when I was in Taiwan, I got to visit the old mining town Jiufen. It was such a great experience that I had to go again this time. The name "jiufen" translates to "nine portions." Legend has it that there originally were nine families that lived in the village, a long time ago. It was difficult for them to get to the big markets outside of the village. Whenever one family made the trip, they would get "nine portions" of everything so they could divide up the supplies amongst all the other families, hence the name "Jiufen!"

It was another beautiful clear afternoon, another winding and picturesque journey up the side of the mountain. When you are riding the bus to Jiufen, make sure to sit on the left side if you want to best views of the ocean. 

This time, it was seemed so much more crowded than I remembered when I went last October. The Old Street was packed full of visitors and large tour groups, perhaps all the people taking summer vacations. I could hardly move, especially in front of some of the more popular stalls, where people bunched up together to wait in line.

I walked through the entire street again, taking note of the interesting food items I missed the last time. There were several vendors selling these little sweet desserts made out of rice flour, stuffed with various fillings, and wrapped up in plastic wrap. They don't look very appetizing, but as with most Asian foods, don't judge it by how it looks! I tried one with a red bean filling and green tea flavored outside - kind of like a Japanese mochi, but less sweet. 

There were a variety of meatballs and fishballs, sold on sticks or in a bowl of soup. 

Another popular treat is a snack wrap with filled with peanut shavings and scoops of ice cream...

As you go further down the Old Street, the crowds become a bit more sparse and you pass by sections of teahouses and cafes with gorgeous views of the coast. Here's a nice minimalist teahouse I passed. 

We had some extra time so we wandered past the end of the Old Street, into a quieter and more residential part of Jiufen. It's a really tiny town, but there are little alleyways snaking up the side of the mountain around homes and temples. We found quiet homestays and artsy galleries in these quaint lanes.

It was so much more peaceful than the bustling main street, but just as interesting, in its own charming way.

If you go far enough on these back lanes, they start to loop around and branch off into overgrown paths up the mountains.

You can get some pretty neat views from up here, without having to crowd around other people, waiting for them to move so you can enjoy the sight of the valley below.

The best part of Jiufen is seeing the sunset from way up high. There's a pavilion right near the bus stop, but it will be full of tourists. What you should do is keep walking up the winding road right outside the Old Street, up past the next bus stop. Even better views await! And there is no need to jostle with other people for a good spot.

Higher up on the hills are old cemeteries. I was surprised by how large each of the monuments is. There are little altars for the descendants to present offerings to the ancestors. I wonder who all these people are that are buried in these hills...

We stayed up here, watching the sunset, until the sun lowered behind the mountains. The sights were stunning - unfortunately, nothing is ever as good in a photograph as it is in real life, though we can try...

It was a good trip.

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