On the next day, I went out in the early morning to Family Mart to buy myself a raincoat and some food before the trip to Jiufen and Pingxi. I took a few photos of the Ximending area, along Chengdu road. I’ll post more photos of the area when I blog about my hostel.
Since I was alone on this trip, I signed up for a few tours to save time. I honestly didn’t know what to expect but My Taiwan Tours is currently the number 1 tour company in Trip Advisor. I didn’t have anything to worry about. When I looked around at the lobby, Scott was already waiting for me with a signboard in hand.
We drove downtown to pick-up another tourist. While we were driving through, Scott was amiable enough to talk to me about different topics. I found out he knows how to speak Japanese and Korean as well. Ok, can I just say Scott is sooooo adorable?! I was a bit nervous and praying to the gods I could at least have asian tourmates this time so I didn’t look like a token asian on tour. But Scott was such a sweet, calm gentleman and his presence made me feel better.
When my tourmate got in the car (thank god there were only two of us!), I swear I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the heavens, was I being tested? She was platinum blonde, full make-up on, huge sunglasses with a prada bag in tow and the first thing she asked me was, “Do you speak English?”
Oh god, my Canadian politesse went on alarm mode but I put myself in check. I told myself “Come on Astrid, never judge a book by it’s cover. Remember how people judge you and your friends as ditzy?!”
We started chatting and she gave me an account of her hilarious experience at the Beitou hotspring. She said it was such a raw experience for her, and probably the most barbaric spa she went to. I forgave her for this statement since she hasn’t really been anywhere outside of America. I wondered what Scott was thinking while he was driving though. However PB (Platinum Blonde) said she enjoyed the experience very much and I actually admire her as much as her husband does because he thought she’d spend the entire vacation in the hotel spa (while he was on business) but she actually already went to the Wufenpu Market and has been exploring Taipei.
PB also had a very nice, friendly energy and you know that even when she says things that may seem a little off, she doesn’t mean it in a mean way, so I relaxed after awhile. But she was really really talkative.
Our first stop was the Yin Yang Sea, now here is why I admired PB more, she would list everything on her journal and would ask for the spelling of everything! Scott had a hard time telling us the spelling of places since they are in Chinese characters after all. Luckily (even though I was probably the worst in my Mandarin Class) I was pretty good at pinyin. I think because of this, Scott would sometimes forget I’m not Chinese and he’d turn to me and start talking in Mandarin (happened a few times lol)
The Yin Yang sea got its name because of the way the brown/yellow water flows into the sea of blue.
We then drove up towards Yangming Mountain where we stopped by the Golden Waterfall. The water from the Golden Waterfall feeds into the Yin Yang Sea.
Then it was another winding drive up to Jiufen. Jiufen literally means “nine portions”. The story goes that there were originally only nine families in Jiufen and the main town was difficult to get to so they rarely went to get supplies, what they did was that whenever one family went to town, they would buy and distribute their supplies to each household, thereby getting the name Jiufen or 9 portions.
We walked along the narrow streets of Jiufen and through the old Jiufen street. There are a lot of stalls selling different kinds of food. I really wanted to taste them all but my stomach got a bit of reaction the night before and I didn’t want to be inconvenienced during the tour *wink *wink
Now my main reason for visiting Jiufen is to see Hayao Miyazaki’s inspiration for Spirited Away. If you’ve seen the film you’ll realize that while the Bathhouse is the most iconic of its inspiration, the surrounding area is too. The streets, the old gold refinery, even the train station in Jingtong.
After lunch, we walked along the Old Jiufen Street and had Taro Balls and Peanut Icecream. The Taro Balls were so-so for me but I did enjoy the Peanut Icecream. I hope I can come back soon. There are so many other food I want to try!
We then drove to see Taiwan’s Little Niagara or the Shifen Falls (full disclosure: I haven’t been to the Niagara lol)
It was raining heavily so the falls was raging. I wanted to see it in a calmer state, with just a bit flowing and looking every bit oriental. I already had two raincoat changes by this time because the rain was relentless but even with my shoes and socks soaked I was absolutely happy.
We then drove to Pingxi to make our wishes and release the lanterns in the sky. There are four sides to the lantern and I honestly ran out of wishes to make. I actually have so many photos of this moment because one of the lantern attendants took a lot of snaps, he wouldn’t let me go until I did the asian pose too, after which he said “Ah! so beautiful!” so of course I had to take his photo. Such a fine young lad!
We were ushered inside this shop, further into the back where there weren’t that many people.
I find releasing lanterns in the pouring rain very symbolic. So I honestly don’t mind if I was in a yellow raincoat, all drenched.
And oh, if you’re worried about where the lanterns go, the locals are encouraged to pick-up fallen lanterns, it’s a few NTD for every used lantern you bring.
Moving on, we drove to Jingtong Station which is reminiscent of Japanese railway stations. Taiwan was under the Japanese rule for 40+ years.
A lot of young people (mostly couples) come here to write their wishes on bamboos and hang them on the trees. Scott asked me if I wanted to make a wish but I honestly couldn’t think of anymore wishes at the moment. I think these are better than lovelocks, they’re biodegradable!
This day also happened to be Zhong Yuan Jie or the Hungry Ghost Festival where a lot of households burn paper as a symbol for material items or food for the deceased. Scott said something about it being the only day the bad spirits get something to eat. I’m not sure, things might have been lost in translation. Although I was pretty proud that when Scott said this in Chinese, I figured out the pinyin myself and was able to google it. Bahahaha.
This is where we ended our tour, we drove back to Taipei and endured rush hour traffic. I got home with my shoes drenched, half-inlove with Scott already. That same night I went out to Ximending to find something to eat that wasn’t convenience store bought. Shall blog about it in my Taipei post!
Aside from my solo Taipei wanderings, this is definitely the best tour I did in Taiwan. It’s a beautiful mountain town I wish to explore in the coming years. I would love to live here for a few weeks or even months – sort of like a writer’s retreat. No wonder Hayao Miyazaki came up with the wonderful elements of Spirited Away, the spirit of this town is alive and well.