Whenever I think back on my time in Jiufen, one thing springs to mind…
Did we miss something?
We seem to be the only people on the whole of the world wide web who weren’t Spirited Away in this historical fantasy town. It’s weird to say, but I actually feel guilty admitting that out loud. In the travel blogging sphere, it’s a bit like not loving ice cream or pizza… it’s very taboo and unexpected. I went expecting to love it- all roads pointed that way. I really should have loved it but I didn’t. At first, Ireally struggled to work out why but now I’m starting to make sense of it.
Expectation vs Reality
When we were researching our trip to Taiwan, Jiufen is a destination that really stood out to us. We are both pretty obsessed with Studio Ghibli movies and stepping into the inspiration behind one of Mizukami’s classics sounded like an absolute dream. I wanted to sip tea in the colonial teahouses and stare out at the sea. I wanted to wander down the winding alleyways and feel myself immerse into the stories.
I had read a lot about Jiufen on other travel blogs and lusted over photos on Instagram. Let’s say, I had more than the healthy amount of #wanderlust for Jiufen…..
Was that part of the Problem?
When you go somewhere with an expectation in your head, you’re so much less likely to feel the magic of a new place. I had seen so many photos of Jiufen that I knew too well what to expect. But, actually, when I got there and couldn’t find the places I had saw on Instagram, I got really flustered. Where is the famous street with the stairs and the lanterns and the teahouse? I frantically searched about the village looking for those places when I should have just enjoyed myself and appreciated what was around me.
It all sounds a bit like “Paris Syndrome”
Selfie Stick Syndrome
If the Japanese can coin a term like “Paris Syndrome”, then I want the patent for “Selfie Stick Syndrome”: the condition in which you want to lie in foetal position, every time there are more than 5 selfie sticks within a 2 metre radius of you.
Having seen soooo many photos of Jiufen, I was well aware that it was going to be a selfie stick hotspot. I should have been prepared and realistic about this but no one is perfect. Not even this wee gypsy.
I wanted to recreate the perfect photos that I’d lusted over but couldn’t because of the selfie sticks. I couldn’t even enjoy walking down the lanes without being in someone’s photo.
I feel like a grinch complaining about this because we were all there for the photos- myself included!
Same Same, But Different
Having spent 3 nights in a row at Taipei’s night markets, the novelty of stinky tofu, bubble tea vendors, noodle stalls and ice cream creations was starting the wear off. Trust me, we absolutely loved the night markets in Taiwan and they were one of the highlights of our trip. An abundance of cheap and delicious food? Count us in. But in Jiufen, we felt like we were just in another night market.
Yes, the location was much more stunning than the markets in Taipei City. But, to be honest, we felt a bit disappointed that this (paired with taking selfies) was the main focus.
Is Jiufen just a Backdrop?
I really hoped that Jiufen would be more than just a place to take photos. I hoped that it would be more than the 2D place that I had stared at on my phone and that it would come alive with character when I stepped into it.
Sadly, I couldn’t find much more magic outside of its setting. Maybe we went at the wrong time of year, or maybe we were in the wrong state of mind. Maybe the experience was just too similar to frustrating weekend trips that we’d been regularly taking in Korea. But, much to our dismay, we just didn’t feel the same love for it as others have expressed. And trust me, we feel like a right couple of party poopers!
One thing I will say is that I’m glad we experienced Jiufen for ourselves. Since we first booked the trip, I’d spent too much time living vicariously through other people’s Instagram accounts, lusting over Jiufen. If anything, this was a definite reminder of the “Instagram vs Reality” side of travel.
Planning a Trip to Jiufen
Everyone Is different, and we seem to be the only people on the internet who just didn’t get Jiufen! Go for yourself because you might love it. Don’t let our mediocre experience put you off.
One nice thing about Jiufen is that it’s very easy to get to from Taipei. We do wish we had just travelled through as an afternoon trip rather than staying over. However, some people end up loving it and don’t want to leave. One thing I will say, though, is that Jiufen is close to Keelung night market, which is one of the more local and foodie-focused night markets. Visiting here at night ended up being a highlight of our trip so if you’re a night market fanatic and want to experience a more local vibe, check this out!
Where to Stay
We stayed at a pretty rubbish hotel in Ruifang that I would personally avoid. Ruifang is just 15 minutes away from Jiufen by bus and the journey will only cost 15 NTD. If I was going to stay over again, I would stay in Jiufen proper. Here are some decent looking accommodation choices in that area:
If you want to take a day trip from Taipei, I stayed at 2 fantastic hostels- check out my reviews here:
Both hostels are pretty different- EEDD is in a cool local area and is chilled with a more grown up vibe. Meander is a very central, very social hostel. Which one you prefer all depends on what type of traveller you are!
We took a train to Ruifang from Taipei and then left our bags at our hotel before taking the bus to Jiufen. There is also a direct bus that runs straight to Jiufen from Taipei. Google Maps was great in Taiwan so I’d look here for up to date info.
Let me know, have you ever been to Jiufen? Were you Spirited Away?
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