Shifen – Old Streets, Sky Lanterns and The Broadest Waterfall in Taiwan

Hey guys! So we were previously in the scenic gold-mining mountain town, Jiufen, the setting that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away anime. We took it one step further the next day and headed to… Shifen.

 

…..

 

Ok sorry bad pun haha. You know I’m terrible at these things. Jiufen in Chinese literally means ‘nine portions/points’ and Shifen is +1, or ‘ten portions/points’. Unlike Jiufen, though, Shifen was a coal mining town, characterised by train tracks running through its Old Streets. Trains still run through, although now they carry passengers instead of coal.

Public transport from Taipei takes approximately two hours. If possible, I suggest going on a weekday to avoid the crowds, because trains will be super packed. My parents are elderly, so what I did was rush in, book a spot, and then gesture for them to squeeze over the sea of people so they could sit. My mum finally appreciated all my previous efforts (she usually only complains): “You organise things well.”

If I had planned the itinerary, knowing my parents can’t walk around too much, I’d usually arrange for private transport to take them everywhere. I’d rather pay for the extra expenses because it’s difficult to ask a couple nearing 60 to stand in the train for two hours, when they aren’t very strong/healthy to begin with. But since this trip was organised by my cousin, we had no say in where/how to get to places.

See, mum, now you know 😛

Switching trains at a station.

We finally arrived at Shifen Station. Look at the crowd!

Nearby is the Shifen Old Streets; quaint little shophouses selling souvenirs and food. They’re gimmicky but charming all the same.

Resident mimings at a storefront. Them Taiwanese sure know how to use cute animals to market their items; be it cute dogs or fluffy cats. 

As I said earlier, the track runs straight through the center of town. When there are no trains, visitors can simply walk onto them or cross over to the other side. There are people at the side who will blow a whistle whenever a train passes (usually every half hour or so) so visitors can make way.

Shifen is also known to be a place where you can release Kongming (Sky) Lanterns, owing to its rural location (no air traffic around!). There were many South Korean and Japanese tourists milling about, writing their wishes with large calligraphy brushes before releasing the lanterns into the air.

Our group got one too. I think I’m not supposed to spoil the wish by telling you about it; let’s see if it comes true. 😛

An obese doggo. It looked more pig than dog; probably has too much to eat from kind strangers.

Got some soft and fluffy egg puffs as a snack. 

Bamboo strips with well wishes written over them, hanging prettily from a string.

Next, we trekked about 20minutes uphill to the Shifen Waterfall; the broadest waterfall in Taiwan. The walk isn’t too tough, but me being unfit, was a little winded by the time we got to the bridge.

Crossing the bridge over part of the Keelung River.

Calm and tranquil Keelung River. The water was a beautiful jade-green colour, lined with lush vegetation on both sides.

The river abruptly comes to drop – the line is so clean it looks like it was carved by something – cascading about 20ms below. It measures 40m across.

Beautiful scenery. Hike was worth it! 

More obese doggos at the local shop. This was rather unfriendly though; growled at me when I got close.

Geese by the river. Apparently geese make great guard dogs. At least, according to anyone who has ever been pecked by a goose.

Another miming. The cats here are rather slim; it’s just the doggos that look like pigs.

Walked back to Old Streets and the station, where we waited for a train that would take us back to Taipei.

FB-cover photo? 🙂

GETTING THERE 

From Taipei Main Station, take the train to Ruifang station (an hour). Alight at Ruifang, head on to the opposite platform and take another train to Shifen (30minutes).

Quanji Temple, Jiufen, Taiwan

While visiting the historic gold mining town of Jiufen in Taiwan, the Old Quarters aren’t the only thing worth checking out. Just a short bus ride away is the gold museum which chronicles the town’s rich mining history, and nearby is the Quanji Temple, accessible on foot. Be careful of the local wildlife though:

The 20 minute walk is quite scenic, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and the coastline.

The temple is home to the largest statue of Guan Gong, the Taoist god of War/Justice, which sits atop the building and can be seen from miles away. The copper statue weighs some 25 tonnes!

Typical Chinese temple architecture – arching roofs topped with phoenixes and dragons, cloud motifs, lots of red.

A separate gazebo area.

Stone murals depicting different scenes of Guan Gong / Guan Di (literally ‘Lord Guan’) – as a scholar, as a brave general, etc.

Taoist gods are usually real life figures who have been deified (is that a word?) ie worshipped as deities, the way Saints are in Catholicism. Guan Yu was an actual historical figure, a general in the early Han dynasty who was respected for his loyalty and sense of justice. As with myths and legends, his conquests were fictionalised over time, especially in the Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He is often portrayed with a long beard and a red face, wielding a giant glaive.

Trivia: Chinese businessmen often have a statue of Guan Yu installed on their premises. The policemen in HK also pray to Guan Gong. Know who else prays to him? The triads. Interesting.

Inside the temple is a small open air courtyard with a dragon fountain.

The small shrine inside with Guan Gong’s statue, surrounded by an elaborate gold tapestry and wooden altar. We offered up some joss sticks for prayers.

 

View from the upper floor. Colourful motifs and decor !

While waiting for the bus back we met this sassy little girl and her doggo. I felt like it was a good glimpse into the life of everyday residents here, so I took a shot. 🙂 

Had a great time at Jiufen; I think it’s a highly recommended spot to visit while in Taiwan so remember to put it on your list!

Jiufen, Taiwan – The Town that Inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

Another day in Taipei, Taiwan! We allocated a whole day to spend at Jiufen, a decommissioned gold mining mountain town originally built by the Japanese, popular for its historical alleyways and Japanese-influenced architecture. I was especially excited to explore the place after finding out that it was the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away anime, which I loved watching as a child.

To get there, we had to take a shuttle bus from Ximen, which leaves in the morning and returns in the evening. The ride takes approximately 1 hour. We got lost looking for the bus stop, but managed to catch it in time.

There’s usually a long line.

Jiufen sits on the mountainside looking out to the coast, so we got scenic views while we were going up its narrow, winding roads.

The bus stops right at the entrance to Jiufen’s ‘Old Streets’, a narrow maze of claustrophobic alleyways lined with shops. The uneven cobbled paths branch out in various directions, often with stairs leading down or up unexpectedly, some even passing through stores and archways. This haphazard quality gives it a quaint charm, although the paths can get a little confusing.

Food is prominently displayed at store fronts while cooks prepare them fresh for customers, smells wafting into the cold winter air. Colourful lanterns and awnings create a canopy, allowing sunshine to filter down. There are teahouses and boutique hotels, shops selling souvenirs, Chinese herbs, snacks and all sorts of paraphernalia.

Resto staff preparing a batch of fishballs and tofu stuffed with fish paste.

Mini opera dolls depicting figures from popular plays, such as the monk Xuanzang and his disciples from Journey to the West, Hell Gods and more.

Giant vats bubbling with fishballs, meatballs, squid balls, etc.

Dozens of tea eggs stewing in a cauldron.

Malt candy in various flavours.

Dogs at store fronts are a thing here. Ups the cute factor.

A museum of scary masks.

still from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. See the resemblance?

One of the prettiest structures here is the Grand Teahouse, which looks like the setting for an olden day film. There are red lanterns hanging at intervals, green terraces overhanging with plants, and bright yellow windows framing a wooden structure. The view is said to be especially beautiful at night (unfortunately, couldn’t stay that long :/)

View from a terrace into the valley below and the sea beyond.

Small temple built into the mountain side.

Hungry from all that exploring, we popped into a random restaurant for lunch, enticed by the glossy yellow chickens hanging on the racks.

And a huge wok filled with young bamboo shoots and fatty pork, swimming in a light orange broth.

Also steamed Shanghai-nese soup dumplings. 

Being a tourist place, food prices can be steep. I opted for a minced pork rice.

And pork balls. 

We spent a few more hours taking in the sights, before hopping back on to the bus downhill for our next stop: the gold museum.

A helpful guide on getting to Jiufen from Taipei City here

 

 

Visiting Taiwan’s Tallest Tower – Taipei 101

 

When mentioning modern Taipei, one building comes to mind. Looming over the city skyline, the iconic Taipei 101 in Xinyi District stands at 509m, with 101 floors, and is visible from miles and miles around. It used to be the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa opened in 2009. Now it holds eighth place.

Exiting from the subway, we craned our necks upwards and felt really tiny against the massive monolith. From our vantage point, It seemed to tower straight to the heavens…

Some interesting facts:

  • Designed to be both resistant and flexible, the building can withstand typhoon winds up to 60m/sec and strong earthquakes, making it one of the most structurally stable buildings ever constructed.
  • It is only 660ft from a major fault line.
  • Its foundation is reinforced by piles driven 80m into the ground.

Other than gawk and take pictures, there is also a shopping mall to explore at the base of the tower. Had a quick lunch at the food court with a bowl of fluffy white rice topped with various braised and waxed meats.

Getting There

Take the subway to Taipei 101/World Trade Center on the Red Line (Xinyi- Tamsui). The station exits directly at the base of the building.

Fluffy Sheep & Beautiful Mountain Views – Cing Jing Farm, Taichung Taiwan

There are two must visit places while at the Nantou district in Taichung, Taiwan. One is Sun Moon Lake (check out my previous blog post!) , and the other is Cingjing, or Qing Jing Farm – a sprawling farm and tourist attraction high up in the mountains. The weather is chilly due to its high altitude, and a visit here in the different seasons yields a unique experience each time, as the landscape and surrounding greenery changes in spring, summer, autumn and winter.

20170214_155032-tileThe entrance is rather gimmicky – I’d do away with the castle and focus more on the whole rustic farm experience. 🙂

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We got here late and the farm was closing in an hour (!) so we made a beeline for the sheep pasture to catch them grazing before they were herded back to their pens. The landscape was breathtaking, with beautiful mountains shrouded slightly in mist, gentle rolling slopes and orange/red tinted trees all around (our visit was at the end of winter, so vegetation was still sparse and yellowish).

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There was a show area with ponies and horses.

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Early cherry blossoms, just beginning to flower. In Spring, the farm plays host to dozens of these beautiful blooms.

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Finally got to the grazing area! There were a dozen or more sheep, their fluffy beige coats giving them a puffy, fat appearance. Guests can feed them with pellets from a vending machine.

20170214_162121-tile 20170214_162659-tileA couple was there doing a wedding photoshoot. While the view was picturesque, I can’t imagine trudging through the mud and grass for those shots. When the bride was told to sit down and fan her skirt out behind her, I could see her wincing when a curious sheep sat right on her train, while others tried to nibble the hem of her gown! 😛

At 5pm, the shepherds came to get the sheep back to their pens. They whistled from the fence, and the sheep immediately fell into a ‘line’, trotting to the gate. Fascinating. 
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More pink cherry blossoms…

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And white ones!

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Tried out ‘Sheep’s milk ice-cream’. It was more ice than cream, less sweet and more milky.

 

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While you might not be able to see the sunset properly, the view in the evening is lovely. it gets cold so remember to bring a windproof jacket.

Getting There 

From Taichung City, take a 2-hour Nantou bus from Taichung Gancheng Bus Station, or board the bus from Taichung High Speed Rail Station. Bus schedule here:

ntbus.com.tw/cjfm.html 

 

Windmills and Sunset @ Gaomei Wetlands, Taichung Taiwan

When our tour bus rolled up to Gaomei Wetlands, about two hours away from Taichung City, I thought the scene looked familiar – rows and rows of spinning windmills, twirling against a flat expanse of land and river. Then I realised why – it was the scene from the 白色风车 (Bai Se Feng Che – literally ‘White Windmill’) music video from my favourite teenage heartthrob back in the days, Jay Chou. I feel closer to him already 😀

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These aren’t your typical windmills – they’re massive. Towering several stories high, the windmills generate electricity for households and are owned by the Taiwan Power Company. Due to the lay of the land, which is flat and uninhibited by structures or trees, the wind here is very strong – at points we felt ourselves swaying while walking! The entire Wetlands comprises some 1,500 acres and is home to a rich ecology. Flocks of migratory birds come to stay for the fall and winter, making it a great spot for bird-watching.

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Long concrete walkways – one at the bottom, the other elevated.

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Wooden gazebos where one can stop and take in the sights.

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At the end of the road is a lighthouse. Didn’t manage to visit it though.

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Waiting for sunset.

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The sun sets fast, and one feels a sense of romantic nostalgia, watching the glowing orb sink into the horizon against a beautiful tapestry of red, orange, pink and purple that’s almost devoid of clouds. Even fi you’re not a fan of Jay Chou, worth a visit! 🙂

Getting There 

Since the location is remote, you could rent a taxi/van (like what we did). Public transport is trickier:

By Bus:

Bus 93 to DaJia. Alight at QingShui Main Stop. Ride takes 1.5 hours, and comes every 20-30 minutes. Then take 178# or 179# to GaoMei Wetlands.

By Train: 

Walk from the High Speed Railway Station to Xinwuri TRA Station (5 – 10mins), and take the local train to Qing Shui. Proceed with bus ride to GaoMei Wetlands.

 

Shinshe Lavender Cottage, Taichung – Not for Singles

It took me awhile to find out what this place is called. Tourism in Taiwan caters mostly to an Asian crowd (you’ll see a lot of domestic holiday-goers, Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) and as such, it was hard to find English signs and place names. My cousin, who organised our trip there, simply told me this was ‘the love garden’ and that didn’t turn up anything on the search engine lol.

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Shinshe Lavender Cottage is about an hour’s drive away from Taichung City and a tranquil spot to chill. While it’s not a bad place, if I had been planning the trip, I wouldn’t choose this as a spot – not only is it out of the way, the ticket is overpriced and it’s a typical tourist trap, especially for couples. If you’re single, I suggest you skip this coz there’s literally nothing you can do without a constant reminder of your single-dom. lol.

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Trekking up to the garden area, which is on a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. Trees and shrubs line the pathway, which has love quotes embedded into it at intervals, as well as stone displays with poetry and more quotes (all in Mandarin, of course).

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The garden was cute, but not very impressive. There were several European-style ‘cottages’, housing souvenir shops and cafes. Like many tourist places in Taiwan, the price of the admission ticket includes a voucher to spend, so they are essentially forcing you to buy stuff lol. I got a keychain and some lavender-scented pouches.

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Another souvenir shop selling overpriced necklaces, brooches and silver jewellery to gift to your girlfriend (or boyfriend).

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Wooden spoons which you can get from the workshop. They even throw in calligraphy/writing services for free. Couples write their wishes on to the spoons and hang them up on the hedge, like love locks.

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A good place to drop on your knees and… tie your shoelaces?

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Not a real piano.

There were actually lots of couple props, ie hedges cut into heart shapes, hanging frames with love quotes, kissing cutouts, etc. which were all a little too sickly sweet for my taste lol so I didn’t put any pictures up here.

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The main courtyard with a cafe and a fountain.

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Personally, Shinshe was not one of my favourites spots, but apparently they have a very nice lavender field in spring and summer so you might want to time your visit properly. 🙂

No. 20, Zhongxing St, Xinshe District, Taichung City, Taiwan 426
Opening hours: 10:30AM–6:30PM

Paper Castles and Cardboard Animals – Carton King Creativity Park, Taichung

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Stepping into Carton King Creativity Park in Taichung City is like taking a trip to a make-believe Wonderland. There are colourful baubles hanging from wooden rafters at the entrance, with a host of bright yellow flowers to the left, and fat little bunnies and alpacas at the end of the narrow path. Catch is – they’re all made from corrugated paper and cardboard! 🙂

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The fun family-themed attraction has several branches around Taichung, each with its own unique displays. The one we went to was in Dakeng District, which is also their biggest.

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Paper bunnies; real leaves.

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The Carton King ‘Zoo’ area had different types of animals. Good likenesses! Like a lot of attractions in Taiwan, descriptions were in Chinese. Which I can’t read. Sigh.

When you buy your entry ticket (NTD 200$ – about RM29 or USD6.50), they give you a paper with empty stamp slots. You’re supposed to hunt around the place for stamp ‘stations’ and stamp your card. Once complete, you can then exchange it for a souvenir. The ticket is rather pricey imo, but it also includes a NTD100$ voucher for you to buy gifts, snacks or drinks.

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Beyond the Carton King Zoo area is a large open space, divided into several sections. I initially thought the white mesh-like canopy was only there for aesthetic purposes, but saw that there were people walking on it. Climbed up the stairs and voila !

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The canopy is made from criss crossing steel wires so they can bear the weight of visitors walking around, and it has been fashioned like waves so the surface is uneven. Trees poked up from beneath at intervals. It was quite difficult to walk around without tripping though lol.

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The canopy extended past several elevated attractions, forming bridges to the second floor of buildings nearby. The wooden platforms housed cutesy box-shaped characters – is that Dora the Explorer in a pink dress?

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View from the upper floors. There was a shop selling honey and honey-based products, with – guess what – bee figures made from paper and cardboard honeycombs. There were also real bees in glass tanks.

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Back downstairs.

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Stopping for a quick snack of fried oyster mushrooms, which I used up my coupon for.

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Cikgu Lim

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The main compound, which has large paper replicas of attractions from around the world, including the Coliseum in Rome and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Great for selfies, if you’re into that sort of thing 🙂

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Popping in to the souvenir shop.

20170213_140206-tileThe L’arc de Triomphe.

Managed to collect all the stamps and got a simple paper house set which I could assemble at home. All in all, a fun place to visit for people who like taking photos – although there’s not much in way of culture. Families, especially those with kids, will probably enjoy this place.

CARTON KING 

No. 1, Lane 281, Section 3, Xitun Road, Xitun District, Taichung City, Taiwan 407
Opening hours: 11AM–8PM
PS: Been trying hard to schedule posts daily, but things have just been hectic. Hopefully I’ll be back to regular programming soon! 🙂