Have you seen the beautiful Ghibli movie Spirited Away and sort of wished you could go to a place like it in real life? Well, Jiufen in the Ruifang district in Taiwan might just be the place.
Jiufen used to be a gold mining town that went into decline after the mine was closed down. Due to some movies being set and filmed there, the village became a tourist attraction. Also, since Studio Ghibli's famous Spirited Away was released, there have been comparisons made between the mysterious town that Spirited Away was set in and Jiufen.
There are a number of tourist attractions in the Ruifang District. While you can visit the area by public transport, we decided to hire a driver for a day so that we could easily fit all the stops we wanted to see into the day. It would allow us to explore the stops at a more leisurely pace too.
Our driver was a super friendly Mr. Lam, who he picked us up from our hotel in Taipei bright and early in the morning to head to our first top, Jiufen!
For the Tastebuds
Being our first stop, most of the stores in Jiufen hadn't actually opened yet and it gave us a chance to walk the lantern-laced, narrow lanes of Jiufen Old Street before the groups of tourists arrived. One of the first shops we saw opened was a cao zi guo (草仔粿) store. Caoziguo are mochi-like snacks with sweet or savoury fillings. They were actually reminiscent of what my grandmother used to make for me when I was young so for me it was a really comforting taste!
Our second stop was also for food: Grandma Lai's Sweet Taro Balls. These chewy, tapioca taro, sweet potato, and green tea balls in a steaming hot sweet soup really warmed me up on this cold, rainy day!
As you keep wandering the narrow alleys, you'll come across stall after stall of food you can taste. Some are more traditional to Taiwan, such as hong zao ba wan (紅槽肉圓) (bottom left) which is pork marinated in a red anka sauce (a fermented rice sauce) steamed in glutinous rice. Other treats are more modern such as this peanut ice cream roll (bottom right). Take your pick!
For the Eyes
The whole atmosphere at Jiufen was very whimsical. Between the food stalls, you'll find quaint stores selling little trinkets. Even if you don't feel like buying anything, window shopping here is a treat.
In your wanderings in Jiufen, you'll probably come across Shengping Theatre. The theatre as it stands today was reconstructed in the 60s, but it has roots here dating back to the 1920s.
And before we say goodbye to this charming town, here's a sneak peek into a town near Jiufen that I visited. Do you spy cats in this photo below?
Let's zoom in a little closer!
This post is linked up on Our World Tuesday, and...