Today’s plans are Jiufen and Shilin Night Market. Be prepared to be whisked away to a dreamy seaside village where the streets are lined with red lanterns and the smell of freshly cooked seafood permeates the air. Later, be enthralled by Shilin Night Market and see Taipei come alive.
But first, breakfast!
There’s a busy day up ahead, so you’re going to want to start your morning off with the right kind of breakfast. What is the right kind of breakfast you may ask? Bacon and eggs? Noodles and broth? No, my weary and excited travelling friend, it’s cinnamon buns and coffee.
As I mentioned before, Taiwan is a dream for foodies. It has some of the best night markets, restaurants, and coffee houses in East Asia. So, start your morning off right at Heritage Bakery and Café with their famous cinnamon bun, and definitely ask for extra cream cheese icing. If you’re not keen on running your blood sugar through the roof this early, fear not, they also have savoury sandwiches on the menu. If you’d like something more authentically Taiwanese for breakfast, head on over to Fuhang Soy Milk. They’ve been open since 1950 and specialise in Clay Oven Rolls with Deep-fried Twisted Dough Sticks (燒餅油條). You can also get this dish with an egg and a side serving of their salty soy milk. This spot is well known, so be warned there might be a bit of a queue. The service is quick though, so you probably won’t be waiting too long. Also, the menu is only in Chinese, but don’t be discouraged, you can ask a friendly local in line to help you order. Trust me, they will be more than happy to.
Heritage Bakery and Café address: 10044, Taiwan, Zhongzheng District, Section 1, Hankou St, 73之2 Fuhang Soy Milk: No. 108號, Section 1, Zhongxiao East Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
To Jiufen we go
Jiufen is an old gold mining town that initially saw its establishment during the Qing Dynasty, and was originally home to nine families. Hence the name Jiǔfèn, Jiǔ meaning nine and fèn meaning portions. Gold was discovered there in the late 19th Century which led to a gold rush. It peaked in the mid 20th Century whilst Taiwan was under Japanese rule. In 1989, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s, A City of Sadness, was filmed in Jiufen. The subject of the film explored the events of February 28th, 1947, when an anti-government uprising occurred in Taiwan. It was violently suppressed by the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government. Soon after the film was released, Jiufen experienced an increase in tourism. The small mining town experienced another tourism surge in 2001 after audiences of the animated feature, Spirited Away, saw a resemblance between the mining town in the film and Jiufen. Japanese tourists began flocking to the location despite the film’s animator, Hayao Miyazaki, denying the village’s connection to the film. Inspiration or not, Jiufen is still a worthwhile day trip from Taipei. Roaming around the town’s cobblestone streets, exploring its narrow alleyways, and snacking your way into oblivion is quite the experience. Did I mention the view of the ocean from the small village? As I said, it’s beautiful.
Getting there: There are several ways to get to Jiufen. For the sake of time and accessibility, I think the train is the easiest. From Taipei Main station purchase a ticket to Ruifang station. The trip should take no more than 50 minutes. After arriving, exit the station and turn left, walking 200 metres down Mingdeng Rd till you get to the police station. Bus routes 827 and 788 head toward Jiufen. A ticket costs 15NTD. Remember to have the exact amount because the bus driver doesn’t give you back change. The bus will drop you off on a hill, at the top of this hill is the main entrance to the market area of Jiufen. On your return to Taipei, the return bus stops further atop that same hill. If at any point you get lost, remember you can always ask someone for help.
To lantern or not to lantern
Many tourists opt to visit the neighbouring town of Pingxi and Shifen for their lantern festivals. Usually, I’d say go for it, especially if it’s during the Chinese New Year or Mid-autumn festival. Other than these times where people flock to these areas and light hundreds of lanterns that ascend into dark sky’s, the trip isn’t worth it. After all, a few lanterns in the sky does not a festival make! Of course, Pingxi has a picturesque railway line that’s surrounded by shops, which, if you have energy after Jiufen, you can check out. But if you’re solely staying in Pingxi or Shifen for the lantern festival, and it’s not the right time of year, rather head back to Taipei and experience Shilin Night Market.
Ideal times for lantern festivals:
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is February 19, 2019
Mid-Autumn Sky Lantern Festival in Pingxi is September 14, 2019
*These dates change every year, depending on the Chinese calendar. Please check the Chinese calendar for the year of your trip to make sure you get the dates right.
Getting there: From Ruifang station purchase a ticket to Shifen station on the Pingxi line. It should cost less than 100NTD. To return, purchase a ticket to Ruifang station. The last train leaves at 22:40. Be sure to time your return properly so you do not miss your train from Ruifang back to Taipei Main Station.
It’s big, it’s busy, and it’s a must-see. True, there are other night markets with perhaps slightly cheaper prices given their lack of notoriety, but they aren’t Shilin; and when in Taipei, one must visit Shilin.
The market has two distinct areas. The older market building holds mostly food stalls and small restaurants, while the other section of the market includes funky and hip stores selling all kinds of trinkets and knick-knacks. It’s a vibrant night out where locals and tourists mingle, eat, and enjoy everything that is on offer. So head down and gorge yourself on delicious food as you walk and discover Shilin.
Address: No. 101號, Jihe Road, Shilin District, Taipei City, Taiwan 111
Getting there: From Taipei Main Station, hop on the red line and head to Jiantan Station. Once you exit the station the market should be a 5 minute walk away. You can also hop in a taxi. This will save you about ten minutes but could also run longer depending on the traffic.
And with that your two day stay in Taipei is complete. Note, 2 days in Taipei is great to get an impression of the city, but by no means is it enough time to see most of what the city has to offer. A recommended minimum 3 day stay is ideal for you to truly experience Taipei to the fullest. With that being said, if two days is all you have, that’s fine too. Remember, travelling is about focusing on what you can do to the fullest, not what you feel you should.