From Disaster to Delight – Our Time in Jiufen

We had booked just a few nights in Jiufen, an old gold mining town in Taiwan’s northeast. Our travel day plan from Taichung to Jiufen seemed pretty easy; a one hour high speed train trip from Taichung to Taipei and then transfer to a bus to take us to Jiufen in less than 90 minutes. Find out what happened when we deviated from the plan….

Our travel day started pretty well, we were comfortable at the Taichung High Speed Railway Station as we knew our way around as we had arrived into this station just 10 days earlier. We found our platform, which is very easy because the electronic boards are both in Chinese and English and are constantly updated. We boarded with no problems and settled in for our speedy trip up to the capital. We arrived in Taipei and we finally knew where all the people in Taiwan were…. the station was massive and included numerous shops and a shopping mall. There were multiple signs towards the MRT/Metro station, the bus station and the traditional railway station. Instead of rechecking where we needed to go to catch the correct bus (number 1062) straight to Jiufen (which I knew wasn’t a bus station but a bus stop outside an MRT station), we just headed to the bus station and asked about buses to Jiufen. We were given a small map to take us to the bus station at road level and told to take a bus to Keelung and then transfer to Jiufen.

You may now be starting to see where the wheels began to come off as we changed our original plans, but this often is not a problem through SE Asia. However, we weren’t in SE Asia anymore and “winging it” didn’t quite come off this time. I’ll save you some time and take you through the short version –

  • We chose to take the advice given and found the bus to Keelung as we knew it wasn’t too far from Jiufen. These buses were leaving every 10-15 mins so we got some lunch, came back, hopped on the bus and departed Taipei at 1.45pm.
  • It was a quick trip to Keelung (about 30kms) but when we stopped at the last point we weren’t at a bus station and there were no other bus stops showing buses going to Jiufen.
  • After some googling we couldn’t find any buses going from Keelung to Jiufen, which seemed odd but we had to find a new plan.
  • I found one of the stops for the 1062 bus but it was about 10kms, so we took a taxi.
  • We were dropped off but found that this bus stop was not the correct one for the now infamous, 1062 bus that we wanted.
  • After a couple of locals helped out we found on the map where the correct bus stop was, thankfully it wasn’t too far to walk to.
  • We arrived and this stop did have ‘1062’ marked on it.
  • It wasn’t long before a bus arrived, so relived we quickly loaded our bags and took a seat.
  • After a little bit we seemed to be on a large motorway (which seemed very odd) so I checked the map, “what the !?!?” …. we were heading in the wrong direction!! We pushed the ‘stop’ button and waited for the next possible place to get off…. basically back in Taipei.
  • We crossed the road to the 1062 bus stop heading back to Jiufen. A bus arrived almost immediately but as we weren’t on a lucky streak that day there weren’t enough seats for us as well as the other passengers already waiting.
  • One positive was it was only a 15 minute wait for the next 1062 bus.
  • So just about 4pm we were back on a bus, the correct one, heading out of Taipei (again) and towards the correct location (finally).

Taipei to Jiufen (the long way)_TaiwanIt was just after 5pm when we eventually arrived and we found our way through the hordes of people visiting Jiufen Old Street to our B&B (read our accommodation review here). We were told by our hosts that most of the shops start closing around 6-7pm, so we dropped our bags and headed back out to have a quick look around and get some dinner.Sunset_Jiufen_TaiwanOur extra bus adventures added an extra couple of hours to our travel day, 50 or so more kilometres and about 485 NTD/$23 NZD. So in the big scheme of things it wasn’t a total disaster but it’s such a bummer when you have one issue after another. Thankfully the boys were really good with it all and we weren’t stuck in the middle of nowhere so we could still purchase cold water and snacks.

The next day was a new day and we put those crazy few hours behind us. It was a clear day, so we decided to use this nice weather to do one of the main things we came to Jiufen for…. climbing Mount Keelung.Mount Keelung_Jiufen_TaiwanWe packed up some snacks, cold water and a picnic lunch and set off. The climb had pretty good quality steps most of the way but it was hot and there wasn’t too much shade. It took us nearly 40 minutes to reach the first shaded rest spot where we took a good break; although Braxton was full of energy and used the time to do a few pushups and stretches.Mount Keelung_Jiufen_Taiwan_1Back on the track we passed another rest spot but pushed on to reach the summit. We had read it should take about an hour to do the climb and it wasn’t too much more than that when we got to the peak. We had the summit all to ourselves and once we had caught our breaths we could take in the beautiful views towards the East China Sea and looking back towards Taipei. On a clear day you are able to see the tremendous Taipei 101 building, but it was a little cloudy back towards the city on this day although we thought we could just make it out.Mount Keelung_Jiufen_Taiwan_2We enjoyed our lunch and the shade for nearly an hour before getting ready to make our decent. As we were packing up an English couple arrived and we knew exactly how they felt as they flopped down, hot and sweaty, onto a bench under the rotunda. Our downward journey was still hot but the talk of cold water and ice blocks kept us going. The boys were also planning a “super cold bath swim” when we got back to our room as the bath we had was huge and very deep. We had the odd moment of “jelly legs” but we were down in around 30 minutes and made a stop at the air-conditioned 7 Eleven for cold water and then some refreshing watermelon juice.Mount Keelung_Jiufen_Taiwan_3The next day our legs weren’t feeling too bad so we headed out to explore the township a little more. Jiufen is built on the side of the mountain so it’s an interesting maze of narrow roads, alleyways and staircases linking the different levels. Jiufen Old Street_Taiwan_1As it’s an old gold mining town we thought we should check out the Gold Mine Museum. It was quite small with plenty of specimens on the ground floor to view with magnifying glasses and when we made our way upstairs we were given a demonstration on how the gold used to be processed. While the man spoke next to no English we got the grasp of it and found out the tools were all of Japanese origin. The boys got some stamps as they often seem to have at attractions like these around Taiwan and it was just a small entry fee of 100 NTD/$4.75 NZD per adult, $80 NTD/$3.81 NZD for Lincoln and Braxton was free. Gold Mine Museum_Jiufen_TaiwanWe continued to wander the streets and see what we came across while also looking out for the ‘House of Ghost Masks’ (somewhere we had been told about by another travelling family). We found one of the many old mining tunnels around the town and some amazing little shops selling some very beautiful items. Then we came across Shengping Theatre, built in 1914, this is the oldest theatre in Taiwan and was built to give the miners some entertainment after a hard days work. It has been rebuilt a few times over the years and after typhoon damage in 1994 it was finally resorted in 2010 to recreate how the theatre looked in 1962.Jiufen_TaiwanFinally, after numerous sets of directions, we made it to the ghost masks and it was definitely a strange little shop. There were numerous weird and outrageous masks on display as well as graffiti all over the walls, floors and ceiling. The boys added their marks to the floor, got some more stamps and were given a little mask memento as we left.House of Ghost Masks_Jiufen_TaiwanJiufen is definitely a cool little spot and an easy day trip from Taipei, but we can see why the shops (mostly tea-houses, street-food snacks and souvenir shops) don’t start opening until around 9-10am once the day trippers have started arriving. Then by 6-7pm they are closing, with the exception of a few bigger eateries. While accommodation was on the much higher end for our budget, we enjoyed our time there, especially in the later evening once the sun had gone down and the tourists had buggered off; or being up, out of the town, on the top of Mount Keelung.

Jiufen Old Street_Taiwan
Jiufen Old Street – 7.30am > Midday > 7.30pm

In case you are wondering, our return trip to Taipei was very uneventful. We caught the correct bus (the first time), we got off at the correct stop and we were pleased to be (back) in Taipei (when we actually wanted to be). We had just one week booked there, our final week in beautiful Taiwan.

Average Daily Spend – $190.15 NZD ($17.65 over budget per day).

– Paula


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