We didn’t last long under the scorching sun at the Drago Boat Festival and we were happy to be in the air-conditioned bus back. Right across the street from the shuttle bus stop we lined up for the next bus, which was supposed to get us to Jiufen.
It is said, that Hayao Miyazaki was inspired there for his Movie Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi. In the beginning Chihiro and her parents are on their way to a new town and through a tunnel, reach a seemingly abandoned city, when they get lost. Hungry from the long drive the parents can’t resist to dig into the food that mysteriously is laid out in one of the otherwise empty restaurants. Chihiro doesn’t want to eat anything and rather strides through the narrow streets. Those streets can be found in Jiufen.
Though the way was everything but easy. The rickety Bus, which picked us and all the other people up at the stop, unfortunately didn’t have a functioning air-conditioning… which is really not a pleasant experience with those temperatures and we were soaking wet in no time.
Though Asians seem to have their own heat-coping-mechanism as not ten minutes into the drive the whole bus (well, except the bus driver and me) was fast asleep… though they also might have been unconscious due to non-existent oxigen… Half-way through the trip we stopped at the bus yard and we able to change into an equally rickety, but slightly more air-conditioned bus. You can appreciate the yawning abyss alongside the way so much more when you are awake.
But the view of and from Jiufen did compensate us for the hot ride. Taiwan was under japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945 and the japanese influences are still strong in the country. That’s why some places have their very own character as a mixture of Japanese and Chinese influences, just like Jiufen.
The small streets and countless stairs are lined with hundreds of small shops that sell a vast variety of food. It doesn’t matter if you came hungry or not, just like Chihiros parents you will have a hard time resisting to try at least some. Did you always want to know what those strange translucent thingys taste like that Chihiros father eats? Then you should try one of the Jiufen Jinzhi meat manju that are pretty similar to the ones in the movie.
Thanks to food the walk through the streets is also an interesting experience for your nose, which leads you from stall to stall to find out what food this smell belongs to. Especially if you are not familiar with Chinese food you might wonder what everything is. Though there are some things I just refuse to eat, like this atrociously smelling Tofu. I can’t even stand to walk past it without pinching my nose (even though my husband assured me it actually isn’t bad).
If you want to see the streets in a relatively empty state to take your Miyazaki Inspiration pictures you should avoid coming here at the weekend. On weekends and national holidays the streets are so packed with people that you are swept along. But regardless you can spend hours discovering all the little streets, but the most impressive view is the one from the mountain down onto the bay.
Next to the many lanterns lining the streets, it is said that the big teahouse was an inspiratio for the bathhouse that Chihiro ends up working in. Directly beside the teahouse is a little very small tunnel that leads to another part of town. In the evening, when all the lanterns are lit it really feels like you came into a magical city through the tunnel (just like Chihiro and her parents).
If you plan a trip to Taiwan you should put a visit to Jiufen on your to-do-list. It’s a 90 minute ride from Taipei, which gives you an adventurous (yet somewhat frightening) view over the mountains. Because the lanterns look their best at night it would be a good idea to plan a trip in the afternoon. Especially because the view of the sunset over the bay is really something to behold.