Not too long ago some good friends of ours introduced us to the animated works of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. One of our first (and still favorite) films from this icon of animation is the film Spirited Away. Fast forward a year and we were planning a return trip to Taiwan for summer vacation. As we researched where we’d like to go and what we’d like to do, we came across some interesting websites discussing a city that was Miyazaki’s inspiration for the bath houses in Spirited Away.
Before really much more research at all beyond looking at several photos for verification, we immediately added it to the list of places we were going to try to visit while staying in Taipei. Taiwan’s notorious weather permitted several rain-free days during our trip, so we were able to visit Jiufen. While this place completely enamored us with its charm, we wanted to share some of our favorite places to visit in Jiufen. It doesn’t matter if you’re, like we were, visiting because of a movie or any myriad of reasons, this guide to Jiufen’s mystical alleys and tea houses should aid in your adventure.
Iconic Old Street
The first and foremost reason for our trip to Jiufen is the iconic Old Street. The architecture of this stunning mountainside village harkens back to before World War Two when Japan was occupying Taiwan. The inns, bath houses, and tea houses of Jiufen served as a relaxing getaway from Taipei in the gorgeous mountains of northeast Taiwan. The tight alleys and labyrinth of market stalls are lined with the beautiful red lanterns and one section of staircase stands apart as the most famous spot in this stunning village. There is little mystery as to why Hayao Miyazaki was so inspired by Jiufen that his production studio set off to make the classic animated film “Spirited Away.”
Make sure you don’t leave Jiufen without first trying some of the famous food! The food may appear to be a bit strange, but everything we tried was sheer heaven. Our favorite food we found had to be the peanut ice cream rolls. They shave a brick of caramelized peanuts onto a thin popiah (similar to a crepe and made with wheat flour). Then they simply top it with a scoop of ice cream before rolling it all together. But don’t stop there. Be sure to check out the Taro Rolls, glutinous rice cakes in served either hot or cold, and the warm fish ball soup! I repeat: do not leave until you are simply rolling back down to the bus stop.
Unless you visit Jiufen during the off-season, you will likely find the area full of people and tour groups. The iconic areas of Jiufen will be the worst places to hang out for any extended amount of time. We suggest you hike away from the hordes and find yourself a bit of peace and quiet. With an elevation that provides a clear view of the nearby ocean, the comforts of Jiufen are only barely matched by its vistas. Follow Qingbian Road west towards Songde Park which has a tunnel to the west side that is reminiscent of the one which enters into the magical world from the movie Spirited Away. There you can easily see some amazing views of the water as well as the quiet side alleys of Jiufen.
Jiufen English Map