One of my favorite places in Taiwan is Jiufen. It is a beautiful, mesmerizing small city with amazing views, the best street food and a lot of stairs. Jiufen is located in Ruifang district, a district with more than a few amazing places to visit. From Taipei City it will take you about an hour to drive to Jiufen. There is also a good bus connection between the two, this will take you about an hour longer though. And you don't want to be on that bus in the weekend, when waiting times are awful.
There are a couple of things that make Jiufen as special as it is. First of all it's old street, the place where you get food. Any old street in Taiwan is usually a smaller street in which you can find a lot of red lanterns. Jiufen's old street is even smaller than most old streets! The street is about two meters wide and is semi-roofed. In Jiufen Old Street you can find nice souvenir shops which sell a range of gifts, from postcards to toys to anything that has to do with the movie Spirited Away. You can also find the more Taiwanese souvenir shops which sell snacks, tea and other foods from the area located on this street.
In Taiwan old street wouldn't be old street without food. Even though the street is very small you can find a range of small restaurants and cafes mostly serving a lot of delicious snacks. You can find the more traditional Taiwanese snacks like peanut ice cream rolls, taro balls and Taiwanese meatballs or glutinous rice balls. Of course snacks are not the only food you can get. If you want to spend a little more you can have an amazing lunch or dinner in one of the restaurants with a bedazzling view of Jiufen, the mountains and the ocean.
Why it's called Jiufen
One thing that has intrigued me from the moment I heard about it is Jiufen's history. The name Jiufen (九份) in Chinese literally means 'nine portions'. This name was given to Jiufen because during the Qing Dynasty Jiufen was a small town with nine families. When a ship arrived they would request nine portions or jiu fen, hence the name.
Village of Gold
Jiufen used to be a tiny, isolated village, nothing special. This was until the discovery of gold in the area in the 1890s. From then on Jiufen became one of the richest places in all of Taiwan.
Jiufen reached its peak during the 50 year long Japanese occupation (1895-1945). During these years the mine was used intensively. When after the Second World War the gold industry declined, the mine was finally closed in 1971.
You can still visit the old mine these days. The Gold Museum is located only a few minutes drive from Jiufen and is definitely worth visiting. At the Gold Museum you can learn more about gold and the way it is mined. You can also follow some workshops or explore the underground mines together with a tour guide.
Find more about the gold museum here: https://www.gep-en.ntpc.gov.tw/
When you visit Jiufen nowadays you can find a lot of references to the gold in the area. Take for example the elementary school located high up in Jiufen. When you follow old street and climb the stairs up to the elementary school you will find yourself standing in front of the golden painted stairs that lead up to the entrance of the elementary school.
Another thing that makes Jiufen rather special is Shengping Theater. Shengping Theater is the oldest still existing theater in all of Taiwan. In the old days it was used as a cinema and a stage for opera perfromances. It was first built in 1916 but the building collapsed in 1927. In 1934 it was restored and named Shengping Stage. After Japan handed Taiwan over to the Republic of China at the end of the Second World War it was given the name it still holds: Shengping Theater.
If you are in Jiufen you can visit Shenping Theater. Every day they play an old movie which you can watch for only a small entry fee. You can sit down in the theater and experience the old day environment. The theater interior is kept the same throughout the years. There is a small balcony which used to be for the richer people and the chairs in the theater are still the original wooden chairs. If you don't want to watch a movie you can walk around in the theater and read more about its history in the gallery. It is definitely worth checking out!
If you are looking to hit the jackpot, make sure to visit Jiufen! And feel free to share your experiences with me!