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Monday, November 17, 2014

✈ Day 2 in Taiwan: Shifen (十分), Jingtong (菁桐) and Jiufen (九份)

Continued from my previous post of day 1 & 2: Keelung Miaokou Night Market (基隆庙口夜市) and 891 Goldwater Romantic Shuttle Bus (891金水浪漫号):

It's always fun and adventure to hop on from one bus to another and discover these beautiful small towns. After experiencing 891 Goldwater Romantic Shuttle Bus and visited all the attractions in Jin Gua Shi, we then rode on Pingxi and Shen'ao Line (平溪,深澳双支线) at Ruifang Station (瑞芳火车站), winding its way almost 13km up the Keelung River valley to the atmospheric village of Jingtong and passing through the old mining communities of Shifen and Pingxi. The railway was originally built to transport coal and now has transformed to an internationally renowned railway for one to discover the coal-mining history of Taiwan and experience lighting sky lanterns.

The original Pingxi Branch Rail Line has now been replaced by Pingxi and Shen'ao Line with extra stations. One day pass is available at only NT 64 per person with unlimited rides. The routes for Pingxi Line and Shen'ao Line are as follows (it's printed at the back of your ticket as well):
Haikeguan (Museum Station) (海科馆) > Ruifang (瑞芳) > Houtong (猴硐) > Sandiaoling (三貂嶺) > Dahua (大华) > Shifen (十分) > Wanggu (望古) > Lingjiao (嶺腳) > Pingxi (平溪) > Jingtong (菁桐)

Our first stop, Shifen Station (十分车站). If you do notice, Shifen Station is larger than other stations along the Pingxi and Shen'ao Line as it has dual tracks that allow trains to intersect here.

Shifen Old Street (十分老街) has steadily become one of the busiest tourist stops along this line. It's mainly filled by sky lantern and souvenir shops, grocery stores and restaurants on both sides of the railway. Although Shifen Old Street is now a popular tourist shop, the old street still keeps its nostalgic, relaxing ambiance, where one may sometimes find residents sit in front of their houses, chatting and socializing. Shifen Old Street is not only a great place for photography, sky lanterns and to see the unique scene of trains running right through the old street, but also a nice place to sample local snacks that will satiate your taste buds.

Hand-drawn map of Shifen was discovered in one of the alleys.

The famous Jingan Suspension Bridge (静安桥) is located right behind Shifen Station. The bridge connects Shifen and Nanshan Village (南山村), and was originally used for transporting coal and later renovated to a pedestrian bridge after coal-mining industry has ended. According to travel information which I've found online, all the houses in Nanshan Village (windows, doors and even exterior walls) are all painted in blue, which is one of Nanshan Village's characteristics.

One activity where you can't miss out here in Shifen, the sky lanterns. When settlement was underway in Pingxi during the early to mid-19th century, the village was often disrupted by bandits. After autumn harvest ended, villagers packed their belongings and retreated to the mountains to hide. When Lantern Festival came, somebody would be sent back to the village to see if the bandits are gone. The scout then released a sky lantern so the villagers would know it was safe to return. Sky lanterns soon came to symbolize peace and represent the sending of one's wishes to the heavens.

Sky lantern comes in various colours and each colour represents different wishes (eg. red for health, yellow for wealth, purple for study, green for success and etc). For those who has multiple wishes, most of the shops do sell multi-colour sky lanterns as well. The price for sky lanterns and souvenirs are the same for every shops so there's no need to compare price and bargain. Besides, they do provide 'photography services' where the owner or staffs will help you take pictures while you lit up and release the sky lantern.

Apart from Shifen Station and sky lanterns, one of the popular attractions here is Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), 15 to 20 minutes walk away from Shifen Old Street. As a cascade waterfall similar to Niagara Falls, where the bedrock slopes in the opposite direction of the water flow, Shifen Waterfall is known as "Taiwan's Niagara Falls" and it's actually Taiwan's broadest waterfall with a total height of 20 meters and 40 meters in width, located on the upper reaches of the Keelung River. Shifen Waterfall is also called the "Rainbow Pond" as it's often shrouded in mist throughout the year, iridescent rainbows appear against the clear sky when the sun shines on the droplets of the waterfall and form this spectacular natural phenomenon. My mom and I were too lazy to walk there, hence we just linger around Shifen Old Street.

After an hour, we hop on the train and move to our second destination. The final station on the Pingxi and Shen'ao Line, and the one with the most Japanese influence, Jingtong (菁桐). Entering the traditional wooden building is like stepping eight decades back in time. The wooden ticket gates speak of an earlier age, as does the tiny boarding area. Antique tables and safes are still used, and old electric train tablets for preventing collisions remain. Jingtong Station is an excellent destination for anyone with a fondness for history or an interest in the golden age of the Pingxi Line.

There is a Jingtong Mining Museum (菁桐矿业生活馆) here displaying various cultural artifacts of Pingxi including coal and railway relics where you can get to know more about how the coal-mining industry operates back in years ago.

One of the reasons why I visit Jingtong, and also highly recommended by my host family, is this police precinct with a 9-meter-high glass structure in the shape of a sky lantern (菁桐天灯派出所). Everyday from 4pm onwards, it will display LED animated videos about the history of sky lanterns. We only managed to catch half of the show as we don't want to miss the train and move on to Jiufen.

Jiufen (九份) is definitely one popular tourist spot and always on my must-go list in Taiwan. Long time ago where there were only nine families living in the area and due to the inefficiency of transport to the region, the families would reserve nine portions of each household good to be delivered at one time. Thus, the name Jiufen, "Nine Portions", stuck and has been the name of the town ever since.

It's very easy to get around Jiufen; it's covered by two pedestrian streets: Jishan Street (基山街) right beside 7-11 which runs along the ridge line, and Shuqi Street (豎崎路) which runs up and down the slope of the hill. For Japanese anime fans, you may recognize that Jiufen Old Street (九份老街) served as the inspiration for the setting of Hayao Miyazaki's Academy Award winning "Spirited Away".

There are many eateries up here in Jiufen and the first one we've tried is this Fish Ball Uncle (鱼丸伯仔). It's a famous homemade shark fish ball noodle stall with more than 60 years of heritage. Taiwanese fish balls are very different from ours one; theirs taste very Q and chewy with tangy broth which I personally love it very much. (Y)

Add: No. 17, Jishan Street
Operating hour: 10:00AM - 7:00PM daily

A-Xin's Shop (阿信的店) selling various specialty Taiwanese snacks including fruit jelly, plum wine, mochi, almond cookies, peanut brittle, iron eggs and etc.

Add: No. 21, Jishan Street
Operating hour: 8:30AM - 7:00PM daily

One of the souvenir shops which attracts my attention, Shicheng Taiwan Ocarina (是诚陶笛). Ocarina is a kind of wind instrument made up of pottery clay. As long as the airflow control is proper, the notes with above two bars can be blown out with a little air. The ocarinas here are made into many different type of animal shapes such as duck, elephant, cat, dolphin and etc... too cute to resist! I've bought myself a mini owl-shaped ocarina for NT 150 and comes with a guidebook and instructions.

Add: No. 4-7, Jishan Street
Operating hour: 10:00AM - 7:00PM daily

Cute cartoon shaped maltose candies (麦芽糖) are spotted!

Another popular snacks highly recommended by travel bloggers, A-Zhu Peanut Ice Cream Roll (阿珠雪在烧). Two scoops of ice cream with grounded peanut, malt sugar and celery leaves wrapped in popiah skin, it tastes really good surprisingly!

Add: No. 20, Jishan Street

Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake (阿兰芋粿草仔粿); it taste exactly the same as Ang Ku Kueh (紅龜粿) here in Malaysia but the texture is much more chewy. There are sweet and salty versions of fillings while I picked the one with red bean filling and shredded radish for mummy, both taste equally good!

Add: No. 90, Jishan Street
Operating hour: 9:00AM - 10:00PM daily

Among all the eateries, Grandma Lai's Yuyuan (赖阿婆芋圆) seems to be the most popular and favoured by the locals. Chewy and flavourful taro balls in hot red bean soup is definitely the best comfort in this chilly weather.

Add: No. 135, Jishan Street
Operating hour: 7:00AM - 9:00PM daily

Shuqi Street (豎崎路) and A-Mei Tea House (阿妹茶楼) are often flooded with tourists. If you are wondering, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "A City of Sadness" (悲情城市) has utilized Jiufen as the backdrop to the events of the 228 incident and these two are specially featured in the movie.

At the end of Jishan Street (基山街), there's a platform where you get to enjoy this scenic and breathtaking view of Jiufen. There are many tea houses and coffee shops along the streets as well. Jiufen is such a treasury with an array of local Taiwanese food along the streets, offering exquisite view of mountains and lively environment in this area. Here's a list of eateries and shops which I've compiled from various bloggers (including me!), travel books and also the locals (in no particular order):
  • 李仪饼店 Li Yi Cake Shop
  • 鱼丸伯仔 Fish Ball Uncle
  • 九份张记传统鱼丸 Chang's Traditional Fish Ball
  • 金枝红糟素肉圆 Jinzhi's Vegetarian Meatball with Red Vinasse
  • 阿珠雪在烧 A-Zhu Peanut Ice Cream Roll
  • 黑山猪香肠 Kurobuta (Black Pig) Sausage
  • 阿兰芋粿草仔粿 Ah Lan Hakka Glutinous Rice Cake
  • 赖阿婆芋圆 Grandma Lai's Yuyuan
  • 阿柑姨芋圆 A Gan Yi Yuyuan 
  • 海悦楼 Hai Yue Lou Scenery Tea House
  • 阿妹茶楼 A-Mei Tea House
  • 是诚陶笛 Shicheng Taiwan Ocarina
  • 泥人吴 Sculptor Wu's Ghost Mask Museum
  • 昇平劇院 Shengping Theater


As I've mentioned in my previous post, I hop on the 891 Goldwater Romantic Shuttle Bus to get around Jin Gua Shi at Gold Ecological Park and get off at the same place as well. Then I hop on to another bus, Keelung Bus No. 788 (基隆客运788) (bus routes as attached) to go to Ruifang Station and rode on Pingxi and Shen'ao Line. From Jin Gua Shi to Ruifang Station, bus fare costs NT 15 one way per person (swipe your EasyCard (悠游卡) one time only) as it doesn't passes the staging point, New Taipei City Community (新北市界).

In my opinion, one can spend the whole day here for Pingxi and Shen'ao Line discovering these small towns. The popular stations are Houtong (猴硐), Shifen (十分), Pingxi (平溪) and Jingtong (菁桐). Houtong was one of Taiwan's largest coal-mining sites up until the 1970s but now it's acknowledged as "Cat Village" (猫村), where approximately 100 stray but friendly cats roaming the streets freely. Definitely a must-go place for cat lovers! While for Shifen, Pingxi and Jingtong, I personally think these three places offer the similar scenery and activities, hence if you're rushing for other itinerary, you may just stop by Shifen only.

Based on my experience, I would suggest you to stay about 2 hours in Shifen includes visiting the "Taiwan's Niagara Falls", Shifen Waterfall and lighting a sky lantern. You may need to estimate longer time for picture taking if you're going with a big bunch of friends/family. One important thing that you must take note when taking Pingxi and Shen'ao Line is time management as the train interval is 1 hour. If you miss the train, you will have to wait for another hour and there may be nothing much to do around the village. Hence, you must mark down the time when you get off the train and come back on time.

After visiting Jingtong, we took the train back to Ruifang Station and hop on Keelung Bus No. 788 again to get to Jiufen. The bus station is right opposite of Ruifang Station and in front of Wellcome Supermarket (顶好). There are two stations where you can get off the bus and access to Jiufen, namely Jiufen (九份) (nearby police precinct) and Jiudao (旧道) (nearby 7-11).

(map sourced from Google but edited on my own)

As I've mentioned earlier, Jiufen is covered by two pedestrian streets: Jishan Street (基山街) and Shuqi Street (豎崎路). I would recommend you to get off the bus at Jiudao Station (nearby 7-11) and start exploring from Jishan Street and walk further down to Shuqi Street. In that way you can skip climbing up the stairs all the way to Jiufen Old Street. I've attached the map of Jiufen as above for your references.

Other posts of Taiwan:
[Accommodation] Levite Villa (利未庄园民宿):
[Accommodation] Cloud Village (雲山水小築民宿):
Day 1 & 2: Keelung Miaokou Night Market (基隆庙口夜市) & 891 Goldwater Romantic Shuttle Bus (891金水浪漫号):
Day 3: Cyuanji Temple, Baoshi Mountain and Gold Ecological Park: (勸濟堂, 报时山, 黄金博物园区):


  1. What a great place to visit, you must be enjoying a lot :)

  2. Thanks for the lengthy post. Great pic of foods and scenery.:D

  3. i never enjoyed any of the taiwanese food other than perhaps, hao da ji pai and boba tea... but omg, i saw osmanthus nougat! lucky you to actually find such yummy snacks! i'm a huge fan of osmanthus, if only i'm lucky enough to find them while i was in TW

  4. your pictures are lovely! I really wanna visit taiwan right now. <3

  5. Interesting post. I love the photos and those souvenirs are really cute. :)

  6. Lovely place!! Will include this one in my Bucket list of places to visit!! Seems like you had an awesome time!

    GIG Love

  7. Wahh!! I want go Taiwan!! Your pictures are really great! =)

  8. Wow, this is culturally rich! I do wonder though if an english only speaking visitor could also get a chance to enjoy these types of travel to taiwan? How does it work for an english-speaking tourist?

    1. Yes of course. Most of the signboards/menu now are in English as well and Taiwanese are all very friendly that they're willing to help out if you're lost or don't understand anything. :)

  9. Omg I love Taipei so much!!! <3 Your pictures brought back so many wonderful memories :') The Jingtong/Jiufen/Shifen train line is my favourite part of Taipei, I've been there twice and never felt it was enough..!!!

  10. Great description of Taipei. Seems totally different than Europe. I wish one day I would be able to travel at these places and try all these food that looks delicious! Thank you for sharing your experience :D

  11. everything in this post, i really want to do one day! i will have to go next time I'm in hk and make a short trip to taiwan

  12. Taiwan is on my bucket list actually. I just find it weird 'a police precint with lantern show/light show' but that is really interesting though. thanks for sharing

  13. Taiwan is now within reach specially with all the availability of budget airlines in the Philippines. Great pictures! This is definitely in my bucket list. Looks cold too!

  14. Such beautiful pictures! I'm loving the one on the bridge! gig

  15. Thank you for your itinerary and your great photographs. Just curious, does Taiwan use the Traditional Chinese characters or Simplified? I know Traditional characters better because I learned that in school, but I am still having a hard time with Simplified because I learn it only now that I am tutoring my kids with their Chinese lessons.

    1. I can read both traditional and simplified characters so I didn't really notice. About 60% of them are still in traditional characters, I supposed. :)

  16. This is such a fun virtual tour. I have the same concern, I hope the signage will have an English translation at least. Or maybe, we'd go for a tour guide instead. Love your photos! It really gave me a virtual tour.

  17. hey i've been there! =D you make me miss the place and the food there!


  18. I regularly visit Taiwan for work but mostly Taipei. I would like to see these areas in my next visits.

  19. I love the last photo with the lights. Honestly, I was never interested in going to Taiwan but, lately, I have seen photos of people who went to Taiwan including your photos. Now, I want to visit the place, too.

  20. what a vibrant and exciting place. I really would like to visit. Love the look of all that local street food too.

  21. Awesome to travel in Taiwan through your photos and I can feel that I am on that place.

  22. I loved the Maltose candies. They are looking so cute. Glad you had a wonderful time :)

  23. omg such a good things you can having holiday in taiwan..
    seems great~

  24. Nice post! Love the sky lanterns! and the peanut ice cream roll? Weird! but pretty interesting! hehe Would love to visit Taiwan now!

  25. I wish I could buy one of Shicheng Taiwan Ocarina musical souvenirs, I also love your photos of the tasty food and the beautiful landscape, definitely great places worth visiting!

  26. Wow! What a beautiful place to visit! I wish I reach there one day. Liked your pictures too, they reflect how nice and calm things are around there. Thank's for sharing!

  27. I feel like I always comment on the food in these travel posts but I love trying new different foods. The shark fish balls and peanut ice cream wrapped in celery sounds interesting.

  28. i love that you are always exploring around! i have never trried shark fish balls, which i am sure they have in chinatown...but now that i trhink of it they banned shark fins ion my city. giglove

  29. What a wonderful adventure! I would love to do this someday. So much to see and take in. Your pictures say so much!

  30. You did an awesome job of walking us through Jingtong, and the old mining communities of Shifen and Pingxi. They are such beautiful villages with a lot of history and your photos showed them well..

  31. Beautiful photos! This is the first time I go tom know that various colours of sky lanterns represent different wishes!

  32. Oh gosh, can't wait to go back to taiwan again for a longer stay this time! I haven't had the chance to go these places. Taipei alone is fun enough!

  33. We have similar kind of food here in Indonesia called satay :D
    You seems enjoy traveling so much ^^

  34. your photos are gorgeous :D
    I'm studying in taiwan right now, and jiufen is amazing ^^ still have to write my blog post about it, though i doubt it will be as interesting and informative as yours.
    it's really cool to learn all the background information that you tell us about those places :D

  35. What a wonderful adventure! and Such beautiful pictures! Awesome to travel in Taiwan through your photos and I can feel that I am on that place. I am Justin Hinkle from USA. I am working as an IT profession and holds a very good experience in the same field. In present I'm working for the company which provides McAfee antivirus.
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