Day Trip: Houtong and Jiufen

Cats, tunnels, trains, cute shops and ginger tea are just some of the amazing things to experience on this day trip from Taipei. It is, also, very cheap. The train tickets cost next to nothing and visiting Houtong is absolutely free. The main thing you’ll need money for is shopping at Jiufen.

It’s all right to get a later start to the day, but try to be at Taipei Main Station by eleven in the morning. Also, do not attempt this trip on a weekend. Everything, including the train, will be far too crowded. This trip is best done on a lazy week day. At Taipei Main Station simply get in line for a regular rail ticket to Houtong. The trains run often and will not be crowded on a weekday so there’s no need to book tickets in advance. Try to get window seats if you can. Once the train gets into the mountains, it's a beautiful ride.

Very shortly, you’ll arrive at Houtong station. It doesn’t look like much, but don’t let that fool you. You should be able to see pictures of cats on the buildings below. Hop off the train and kill about an hour in the little town. Houtong is an old mining town that was abandoned when the industry went under. In order to attract a new tourist market and do the world some good, the town has become a safe haven for stray cats. Caregivers feed, fix and keep the local cats in general good health. Essentially, it’s a great place for some kitty cuddles.

After exploring Houtong, head back to the station and purchase a ticket to Ruifang station. It’s a very short trip away, one or two stops. Disembark here and take a few minutes of personal time. Ruifang is a sizable town. Take advantage of that to freshen up and grab something to eat. Once your refreshed, grab a taxi up to Jiufen. There’s a taxi cue right outside the train station with recommended prices listed so you know you are not getting over charged.

Like the train ride, the ride up to Jiufen is beautiful. You’ll see fantastic views of the Taiwanese northern coast as well as some mountain temples. It’s a relatively short ride up to Jiufen and the taxi driver will drop you off at the bottom of the town next to a giant, stunning and colorful temple. From here, just walk up.

Jiufen means nine families. In it’s early days, Jiufen was a gold mining town made up of nine original households. Now, it’s a tourist hot spot and for good reason. It’s adorable. Built into the mountain, the shops and storefronts meander up and down in a very picturesque setting. The town is one of the few remaining examples of Japanese architecture that wasn’t destroyed and then rebuilt by Chiang Kai-shek. Personally, I think it feels like the movie Spirited Away. Supposedly, Jiufen provided the idea behind the setting for the movie and you’ll understand why when you see all the shops, tunnels, lanterns and food.

As you walk up and down the paths be sure to try the local food. There’s beef noodle soup, stinky tofu, steam buns, pork kebabs, ice cream rolls and much more. The best beef noodle place is right at the entrance to the old street. It’s very cheap and full of healing Chinese medicine. Jiufen is, also, a great place buy plum wine and ginger tea. Be sure to try some samples as you pass by. If you decide that you like it, pretend that you don’t and haggle a little bit with price. I’m sure they’ll give you a special discount. Like other touristy places, Jiufen is an excellent place to find cute postcards, luggage tags and other trinkets that you may want to send home to family members or keep for yourself.

Keep walking up the main path, at the top of the hill there’s an excellent view of the coast and a tea house that’s worth trying. The tea house has an outside balcony with an incredible view of the lanterns. There are even a few tunnels along the path to the top. Check them out and explore. They’re neat and often lead to some unexpected surprise, such as a tea house or view of the coast line.

After two or so hours of exploring, your feet will be ready to head back to Taipei. There are two main ways back to Taipei from Jiufen: bus and taxi. I personally recommend the taxi. A good driver will stop to let you take pictures on the way down and give you the ride of your life on the mountain roads. They may even stop and get you something to eat in Ruifang. Also, split between five or six people, it doesn’t cost that much. To line up for either the taxi or the bus, walk back to the bottom of the hill. The line is one street above the temple where were you first dropped off. Don’t worry, it’s easy to find.

In fact, if you just want to visit Jiufen, skip the train completely and just take bus 1062 from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station at exit one. There’s no need to buy a ticket. You can use your EZ pass to hop on and off whenever you like. The ride is much shorter and more comfortable than the train. It might cost a bit more up front, but you’ll actually save some money since you won’t need to get a taxi from the station. The bus will take you straight to Jiufen.

If you decide to just do a day trip to Jiufen, spice it up by hiking the short path beside the town. The entrance to the path is at the bottom of the hill, a short walk up from the entrance to Jiufen Old Street. There are two ways up the path. The first goes straight up as a serious of never-ending steps. The second is a bit longer as it winds around the hill on its way to the top. Take that one. It’ll save you time since you won’t have to stop and catch you breadth as often. The view from the top is amazing. It’s about an hour up the hill. Time things appropriately and see if you can catch the sunset.

Getting Around

If you're looking to fit in as many attractions as possible in one day, Jiufen is an excellent place to start. It's a great jump off point for other destinations, such as The Golden Waterfall, Longdong Bay, Shifen, and Yehliu. To hit all of these in one day, you'll either need to do some taxing or join up with a tour: https://www.rtaiwanr.com/jiufen/jiufen-custom-shared-tour

Round Taiwan Round, a Lonely Planet partner, offers regular customizable day trips to the area, letting travelers visit up to six destinations in one day. It's definitely an affordable touring option for internationals looking to make the most of their time in Taiwan. When you book a tour, enter: KiddAsia for a five percent discount. #Tripool #WeRoamLikeThis #RoundTaiwanRound

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