Life & Reflections Taiwan

Unpopular Opinion Alert: I wasn’t “Spirited Away” by Jiufen

I didn't like Jiufen

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

I didn't like Jiufen

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?

I didn't like Jiufen

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

I didn't like Jiufen

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 didn't like Jiufen

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!

A Positive

Taiwan 1 Week Itinerary

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

Taiwan 1 Week Itinerary

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:

On My Way Jiufen Hostel

Liu House

Orange Pig Inn

If you want to take a day trip from Taipei, I stayed at 2 fantastic hostels- check out my reviews here:

Eight Elephants and Dreaming Dragons


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!

Getting There

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?

*Pin It for Later*


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  • Reply
    Brian Dye
    25th May 2017 at 1:10 am

    I had no idea miyazaki was inspired by a town in Taiwan! Neat. I agree that sometimes expectations can ruin something when you finally come face to face with it. It’s why i try to manage my expectations so much but then again it can be difficult to do when something has been on your radar for so long with so much hype. I’m glad you went and got to see it for yourself though. That’s always the best no matter what the outcome.
    Brian Dye recently posted…KMK: Ten Things To Do in MontrealMy Profile

  • Reply
    25th May 2017 at 6:46 am

    Thanks for the very honest post. Sometimes bloggers sugarcoat everything to make their trip interesting. They edit the pictures too much that it’s far from reality. The world needs more honest bloggers so tourists won’t get disappointed.
    Karla recently posted…HanbokfulMy Profile

  • Reply
    25th May 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Well done for speaking your mind! Better to say you didn’t love it than to lie about it and photoshop all the selfie sticks out! I think banning selfie sticks is a good idea in some places… it just gets out of hand sometimes!
    Anne-Sophie recently posted…7 reasons why Lima is totally underratedMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th July 2017 at 7:20 pm

      Thanks Anne-Sophie! I don’t mind them….. in moderation. Especially with a Go Pro or something. But when you are surrounded by them it is far too much!

  • Reply
    26th May 2017 at 1:22 am

    I felt exactly the same about Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. I’d read so many glowing travel blogs about it that I couldn’t wait to visit, but when we finally made it, I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. We visited long before IG even existed, but the more I travel, the more it seems like the most IG-worthy places, end up being the most disappointing places. Like you said…full of selfie-sticks…
    Shelley recently posted…3 Things to Know Before You Go: DubaiMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th July 2017 at 7:19 pm

      Some places are just like Marmite- not for everyone! I’m travelling through Latin America this morning but haven’t done much research into Uruguary. Would be cool to make it down that way!

  • Reply
    27th May 2017 at 2:29 am

    Hi Gipsy girl !
    I just come back from a trip to Taiwan and your blog was in my bookmark for what to do there. But I havent seen this article before. I only read it now that I want to go back to my nice trip trough pictures I didn’t take myself.
    I went to Jiufen but didnt know what to expect at all. It was my boyfriend who wanted to go there so I just followed. It was raining and there were a lot of people around. But when I reached that street with the beautiful tea house and the lovely view, I really loved it. I didn’t even know about “Spirited Away” related to the city (I am not a big fan of Studio Ghibli so it was a total surprise for me. But I totally understand your feeling. I think if I knew all these before to go, I would have been disappointed also. I guess sometimes, we should stay away from too much information and blogs to give ourselves a reel surprise if not… expectation are too high and we might be disappointed. By the way, thank you for all the good tips 🙂 We just loved Taipei 🙂

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th July 2017 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Lucie,

      Thanks so much for your kind comment. I’m so glad that my blog was useful for you on your trip and that you enjoyed Taipei! I wish I had seen Jiufen with fresh eyes as I’m sure I would probably have loved it.

      Happy Travels 🙂

  • Reply
    29th May 2017 at 12:39 am

    Well, the best thing about it is, you got to experience it yourself and offer an alternative review for travelers to check. Can’t fault you for your honest thoughts about the place.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th July 2017 at 7:17 pm

      Thanks Wendy!

  • Reply
    29th May 2017 at 3:12 am

    I think you came to some good realizations about why you didn’t enjoy it. I think in the online Insta obsessed world we live in, it can be hard to break away from what everyone else is taking photos of thinking those are the only things worth taking photos of. I catch myself doing that. Seeing something online and getting there trying to get that same angle and then realizing that the same angle isn’t working for me or it’s not the part that I actually enjoy. There definitely has to be some time to wander and enjoy with open eyes and wonder rather than just hoping for the Insta-worthy trip that is really a lot of cropped photos that aren’t actually what you’ll see anyway. Good to remember for future trips though, don’t you think?
    Hallie recently posted…The Discover Seoul Pass: How To Save Money On Travel In KoreaMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th July 2017 at 7:16 pm

      Definitely, it’s hard to disconnect yourself from the IG world sometimes!

  • Reply
    Alla Ponomareva
    30th May 2017 at 2:21 am

    Unlike you, I only heard a thing or two about Jiufen before making plans to go there. I’ve never seen the movie, nor did I really research the famous sights of this idolized city. When exploring the streets, we were pretty annoyed by the crowds of people, at times not even able to move one way or another, just waiting for tourists on the other side of the street to finish with their picture-taking. There also wasn’t much for food variety and not that much to do other than wonder the streets and buy and snack and buy some more…. Overall, sometimes tourism and popularity of a place can totally put a damper on your expectations/experiences there.
    Alla Ponomareva recently posted…Exploring Airbnb’s Seoul experiencesMy Profile

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th July 2017 at 7:16 pm

      Yup, it was lots of food and lots of selfies, right?! Sorry to hear you were a bit let down too!

  • Reply
    Kristine Li
    4th July 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Have went a few times and I have to say it is more photogenic than the reality. I personally really disliked the stinky fried tofu smell and will walk really fast as soon as I catch a sniff of it. Also, the last time I went, it was raining and gloomy and the stalls/restaurants don’t look very clean too. Well at least the experience was authentic, the real world! I really loved this particular mango jelly dessert bought there though, and popiah ice-cream was cool to try too!

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      5th July 2017 at 7:08 pm

      Yeah, I felt the same way. I actually quite like the stinky tofu (I’m weird) but was all about the bubble tea in Jiufen!

  • Reply
    Random Explorer
    7th December 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Well, the place certainly can’t please everyone. I wasn’t blown away with Jiufen, there’s nothing spectacular about the place. It felt like I was on a sloped night market, nothing more.

    • Reply
      Nicole Louise
      7th December 2017 at 9:14 pm

      A sloped night market- that’s actually a really good way to describe it!

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