A few weeks ago, I took a four-day holiday in Taipei. I love the city. There is so much food to choose from, so many sights to see, and so many places to shop. Taipei is also conveniently located for a variety of day trips. During the long weekend I took two, one of which is the best city I’ve seen so far in Taiwan, and one of which is the worst, so sit back and relax while I weave a tale of two very different day trips.
Day Trip Number 1: Jiufen
Jiufen is a beautiful mountain town known for it’s tea shops and because it’s been used as the backdrop for a few movies, including the inspiration for Spirited Away. I went because I wanted to see the iconic tea shop that the bath house in the movie was based on and because the town always looks gorgeous in every photo I’ve seen.
And it did not disappoint.
Jiufen is an old city with narrow alleyways, and gorgeous architecture. I wandered for hours down quiet lanes taking photos of the ocean and mountains in the distance. If you step off the main pathways, you’ll be by yourself in a serene mountain town. None of the other tourists seem keen to leave the main streets, so even a little explore off the tourist roads leads to surprising and beautiful discoveries.
But that’s not to say that the main streets don’t have their charm. There are loads of funny shops.
And delicious eateries.
The highlight of the day for me was this sweet hot soup. It was perfect for chasing away the chilly mountain air.
Jiufen is also famous for its tea houses. It’s easy to find a tea house with a view. We paid 500 TND for our tea at this tea house and had a spectacular view while we munched dried beans and fruit and sipped our flowery concoction. It was very romantic.
Jiufen also has some great nature paths. Follow the signs for the mountain path and you can climb to the top of a peak. This is THE BEST nature trail I have done so far in Taiwan. I’m not entirely sure why I loved it so much, but the combination of bright flowers in smokey mountain air with lovely Jiufen in the background really tugged my heartstrings. I would highly recommend going for a hike if you come to Jiufen.
And best of all, even though there were tourists, it was very easy to find a peaceful area for yourself. I think we only saw five or six other people on the mountain trail, and the back alleys of town were completely tourist free.
So while Jiufen is a hot tourist destination, it still feels like an authentic, lived in, but quiet village. It’s by far one of the prettiest towns I’ve seen so far in Taiwan.
Day Trip Number 2: Shifen Waterfalls
That brings us to day trip number 2.
I read online that to get to Shifen Waterfalls, I should take a train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang and get on the Pingxi train line for some beautiful scenic views.
This was the view I got.
Granted, we left around 11 AM and possibly if you did this route earlier in the day, it would be less crowded, but at the time we left the train was so full, I couldn’t move my arms.
In fact, we hadn’t intended to go to Shifen at all. We had planned to go to the Sandiaoling Trails and see those waterfalls, as I’d read they were less touristy, but when the Pingxi train arrived at the Sandiaoling Station, the cabin was soo crowded, we couldn’t push our way out, no matter how hard we tried.
So we were bound for Shifen.
At Shifen EVERYONE got out. The only way to get to Shifen Waterfalls from the station, is to follow a path next to the train tracks that runs through a somewhat nightmarketish affair. So I and a million of my new friends were all forced to jostle each other for a good thirty minutes or so through the market area, walking in a single file until we reached the end where the road finally widens. You can see the path to the right of my overly-serious-faced dramatic railway photo below.
There were some interesting sights to see along the narrow path. While the food didn’t look as good as it has at other markets in Taiwan, Shifen has the interesting tradition of writing wishes on giant lanterns and sending them up into the sky from the train tracks. If you were interested in doing this, it only costs a couple of hundred TND and it does look cool. But I was on a budget and had only planned to see the waterfalls. If only I could get there!
As you can imagine, the waterfalls were also quite crowded and although they were beautiful, it was a struggle to get a photo without a group of tourists in front of you.
However, I did enjoy the falls. It’d be hard not to.
And the trails themselves, though short, were very pretty.
And had the ride back been pleasant, I’d still consider Shifen Waterfalls worth the trek out, but after spending about an hour at the falls (we stopped for some snacks and for some ridiculous photos), it was time to head back.
Heading back in the afternoon proved to be a nightmare. I’d thought the station and market area were crowded on arrival, so seeing that the size of the crowd had tripled was absolutely shocking. I pushed my way through the market area and onto the train platform where there was barely enough room to stand. When the woefully undersized Pingxi train arrived my boyfriend waved at me to follow him and we pushed our way through the crowds towards the train.
Can you guess what happened?
Well, we got separated. He managed to get on the train, and I couldn’t. So I had to watch my boyfriend and the train ride away as the rain that had been threatening to pour down all day opened up. I then spent an hour with my umbrella open, in the cold, alone with my hundred other friends who’d also missed the first train, waiting for the next train. I also got a text during this time from my boyfriend, telling me that I had his ticket. So when he arrived he was going to be stuck waiting on the platform for me because he couldn’t leave the station ticketless, not even to go buy snacks. Oh, and his cell phone was on 1%.
When the next train finally arrived over an hour later, I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd and squeezed in for a thoroughly unpleasant 45ish-minute ride back to Ruifang.
On arrival the scene was the same. I found my boyfriend and we waited for another hour for the next train (having missed the first one due to crowds, once again). So when it arrived, we squeezed in and were finally heading back to Taipei.
We arrived in Taipei around 6 PM. So in total we spent about four or five hours in transport for an hours worth of waterfalls. I wouldn’t recommend making the trek.
However, I have a few suggestions if you’re determined to see the waterfalls outside Taipei. First, leave early in the morning, like before 10 AM. Second, take a train directly from Taipei to Sandiaoling. Don’t bother with the Pingxi railway. There might be some pretty views, but unless you get a seat by the window, you won’t see them. And third, go to to Sandiaoling and just see those falls because they’re quieter and I suspect more picturesque. Don’t bother with Shifen unless you’re really lucky and the transportation seems to be quiet the day you go.
So that’s what I thought of Shifen and Jiufeng. Let me know if you’ve been to either and what you think. Also let me know what you’re best and worst day trips have been. Do you have any day trips to rival my worst day trip story? Or any more tips for good day trips in Taiwan? Let me know!