Taiwan: Jiufen and the North East Coast

From Taipei, one of the most popular day-trip excursion destinations is Jiufen. Located within the mountains, Jiufen gained attention ever since the release of the popular movie ‘A City of Sadness‘. The town used to be prosperous with gold mining. However, mining was discontinued in the fifties and Jiufen is now more renowned for its stunning views overlooking the Pacific Ocean, quaint streets and unique tea houses. The remains of mines can be seen en route when reaching the Jiufen commercial district.

We visited the town on a Wednesday, hoping it would be a little quieter. But it was still absolutely packed with tourists.

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Jiufen’s Historic Commercial District

Starting with the Historic Commercial District, it’s a shopping paradise for tourists. Everybody who visits Taiwan simply could not keep their hands off from buying souvenirs. The narrow streets of the Historic Commercial District, adorned with old fashioned traditional Chinese lanterns overhead, are filled with all sorts of souvenir stalls. You can find anything from food to crafts, and basically offering a plethora of unique souvenirs options.

Jiufen is actually a town built into the sides of the hill in the Ruifang District. The Historic Commercial District of the town is covered by two pedestrian streets, namely the Jishan Street and the Shuchi Street. The former runs along the ridgeline while the latter runs up and down the slope of the hill. Both streets are lined with vendors, souvenir stalls and small eateries.

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Jiufen’s Specialities

Jiufen specialities include sweet taro balls, traditional fish balls, red rice yeast Taiwanese meatballs, local ginger tea, Asiatic Wormwood rice cake, etc.

Yuyuan, a.k.a Sweet Taro Balls

Also known as Yuyuan, sweet taro balls are the most renowned representative food specialities of the area. It is basically smashed taro that’s kneaded with tapioca starch into little balls. and are typically served in sweet bean soup. You can find many restaurants all over the area that serve them, but the most popular spot is called Grandma Lai’s Yuyuan at Jishan Street.

Asiatic Wormwood rice cake

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Asiatic Wormwood Rice Cake is also a historic well known local snack of the region. It is said that they are typically prepared for miners to snack on back in the mining ages of Jiufen. In a nutshell, it is a chewy rice cake that’s being wrapped with dried salty radish sauteed by fried shallot. These cakes have now become one of the must-eats for Jiufen’s tourists and a popular food souvenir to purchase.

Jiufen Ginger Tea

On the subject of tea, it is a well-known fact that Taiwan is prominent with its tea production. In the regions of Jiufen, the speciality is ginger tea.

Ginger tea is known for having a number of health benefits, including boosting one’s immunity, improving one’s blood circulation, etc. In addition, ginger tea is a delight during winter as it spreads a warming sensation down the stomach. There are many tea shops along the streets of Jiufen and packages of locally produced ginger tea are one of the most popular buys from the region.

Panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean

View of the Northeast coast of Taiwan
View of the Northeast coast of Taiwan

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, Jiufen is also renowned for its stunning views. Following the stairs up along Shuchi Street, it was very refreshing to have a change of scenery. Instead of more souvenir shops, the stairs led us to a panoramic view of the Northeast coast of Taiwan. A mountain view plus sea view never fail to create a revitalizing picture to the eyes.

An honest opinion of Jiufen

Narrow old streets of Jiufen

The area undoubtedly has its own charm, particularly with its cultural uniqueness from its architecture and setting. In the beginning, everything felt compelling. However, that changed fairly soon as stalls became very repetitive and touristy. Whilst I understand the importance of tourism development, I also personally feel that it has made the place somewhat lost its original enchanting qualities. 

Moreover, there were numerous similar commercial districts all over Taiwan. If you have been travelling to different towns across Taiwan, the commercial shops around the area actually weren’t as alluring. To me, it was not worth to cope with the crowd at the narrow streets to see repetitive things that can also be found at other places. I would personally prefer to see a bit more emphasis on the history behind this cultural town.

A drive through the Northeast Coast

The Northeast Coast of Taiwan

We left shortly afterwards. Since the weather was nice, we decided to drive along the northeast coast and planned to visit some of the smaller towns en route. Off the bumpy roads we went and we reached the coast very soon. Along the coastal drive, there were a few viewpoints to stop as well. We even managed to have a glimpse of Jiufen’s nearby famous sights while on the road, such as the Yin Yang Sea and the Bitou Lighthouse.

Unfortunately, the weather took a drastic change and it started pouring. It was then impossible to get out of the car or simply to look at the view. Perhaps the rain added a dramatic effect to it, but I got mesmerized at the sight of the waves. They were not massive angry waves, but majestic and powerful that left me in awe of mother nature’s beauty and power.

We intended to visit Yehliu. But with the heavy rain, we had to drop the idea and merely drove past it.

Yehliu is cape formed as a result of geological forces pushing the Datun Mountain out of the sea. Even though we were not able to visit the Yehliu Geopark to see the magnificent and bizarre hoodoo stones, there were still lots of weathering rocks to see along the roads if you pay enough attention during the journey.

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I have to admit I was utterly gutted for not being able to visit the Yehliu geopark and to visit nearby towns. Nonetheless, the area still seemed to have its own appeal with its enchanting qualities. Perhaps it was the rain that has inspired much of my thoughts. It was such a blessing to have such natural beauty existing in this world. You see how nature created its own artwork on this planet. It may not have been as sublime as other natural wonders in the world, but sometimes just a simple view can do its magic too. It was nice to get away from the bustling commercial lifestyle, and simply admire and respect the beauty and artworks of mother nature.

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