Spirited Away at the City of Sadness – Jiufen, Taipei

I cannot remember when was the last time I visited Taipei. Or what brought me there. It is good that I keep a blog. Within seconds, I got my answer. My last Taipei trip was almost 3 years ago – with Hovman! (It was the day Mrs Lee Kuan Yew passed away). Instead of switching screen to continue writing this new post, I spent 1 hour browsing the old blogs of 2010. Time flew so quickly and it was only when I read the old blogs, I realised so many major life episodes happened since my last Taipei visit.

There have been many small changes around in Taipei. The airport had completed its new facelift less than 2 years ago. I thought I arrived at a different new terminal. New Taipei taxis are equipped with multiple innovative external cameras that alert drivers of potential “blind spots dangers”. Newer and bigger condominiums sprouted along the streets. The city seems greener and cleaner without the massive road construction blockage of 2010.

3 years seem like a long time. I couldn’t remember some of my favorite dining haunts. By sheer luck, I managed to find my way back to one of the first fancy restaurants I visited back in 2007 – The Herbs Villa. The night markets (通化街夜市 & 士林夜市) and Ximending (西門町) remain the same. Most of the major malls (Sogo, Eslite, Bookstore, Taipei 101) stay unchanged too. With only 2 short days, I decided to visit a couple of places that I have never visited.

First stop, I made my way to the top of Taipei 101. I wanted to experience the “Ferrari” of all elevators (world’s fastest elevator at Taipei 101) and to capture the sunset view of Taipei city. I arrived at the tower 30 minutes before dusk. Unfortunately, my journey up to the top deck was delayed by a long queue of Chinese tourists! It only took the world’s fastest elevator 37 seconds 382m up to the 89th storey but it took me 45 minutes to clear the 50m queue. In the end, I didn’t get my sunset and the rain clouds blocked most of the good views. What a pity.

The next day, I booked a “Spirited Away” tour to visit a northern coastal town of Taiwan – Jiufen (九份). I have no luck with the weather. Despite sunny blue sky weather in Taipei, it was stormy wet at Jiufen. I had lots of expectation of this place. It was an old gold town littered with rich Japanese and Taiwanese history. It was said that the enchanted town in animation “Spirited Away” was inspired by the meandering Japanese and Chinese-styled buildings of Jiufen.  It did strike a close resemblance of the animation except the lanes were cluttered with bargain-hunting tourists. I wished I have more time to explore this place at dusk when there will be much lesser crowd. This place was full of characters with lots interesting shops and different local delicacies to try. Jiufen was the venue where the award-winning (Venice Golden Lion Winner) film “A City of Sadness” (悲情城市) was shot. Given the history and setting of this place, on second thought, the rain and mist set a very nice ambience for my first visit to this “city of sadness”. (Thanks Brandon for reminding me that!)

Strange but true – this was my 8th trip to Taipei but the first time I explored the “rustic sites” outside city (excluding my past trips to Taichung, Kaohsiung and Kenting). I will be making more frequent trips back to Taipei in 2014 (since it is only an hour away from Hong Kong) to explore the northern and western towns of Taiwan. Accommodation and food are fantastic and value-for-money. Best of all, Taiwanese are extremely friendly, chatty, honest and warm.

4 Responses to Spirited Away at the City of Sadness – Jiufen, Taipei

  1. Jiufen, though under the stormy clouds, is still beautiful as it has always been. You are lucky. I think the rain added more of the place’s romantic value. Your photos captured such atmosphere well.

    • Wahbiang says:

      Yes. The movie and the tales around Jiufen sum it all. Indeed a misty romantic rustic old town.

  2. travelscapism says:

    Really amazing post – I would love to visit. whe is the best time of year?

    • Wahbiang says:

      Avoid typhoon season between June to Sept. Oct to Feb would be the best period as it is not too hot and cold. Temp is about 17-25 degrees. Taiwan is not a very big country and railway connects the cities. It is easy to explore the country cities and countrysides – depending what you like to see.

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