Day 5 – A trip into the mountains
Found out that my last post didn’t upload properly, looks like the post is gone and the website has killed itself as well, hope that sorts itself out as I can’t really do much from here as our Airbnb is on some third world internet connection.
After yesterday’s relatively uneventful day, we were going for a large excursion out today, a trip to the Pingxi district far east of Taipei in the mountain region. Navigation was a nightmare, as it seems to be way underdocumented online and signage in the station is painful at best, but that’s maybe getting ahead – i’ll start with breakfast.
Also prepare for a long one.
Doing some research the past night for places to eat in Ximen, a few common stores kept popping up, alongside hot-star fried chicken, the other chicken place we ate at, and the mango shaved ice shops we already visited, a frequent contender was a small local looking place called 365 something, about as shabby as it gets for a brick and mortar, with a hot plate out on the street where they attract people in and simultaneously cheekily expand their shopfront out onto the road, we were always put off by the lack of any proper english on the menu at the front, but we thought we were feeling brave today, I wanted to try the taiwan staple Lou Rou Faan – Braised pork rice. After confusedly seating ourselves, and then realising we would have to place our own orders, I went back to the front to pick up what was essentially a self serve form, a bit like a multiple choice ballot paper where you can order food – it was all in chinese. We basically had to play ‘match the character’ with each dish we wanted to order until the form was complete and then out came the tasty food – we ordered 2 bowls of the braised pork rice, some fried turnip cake and a tasty mysterious thick noodle soup, along with some bubble tea, all of it delicious and came to a daylight robbery-esque price of only £6 or so.
As we reached the station, I realised I hadn’t yet ‘relieved’ myself of the buffet food we ate yesterday, there was probably a small childs worth of cake and sashimi waiting to come out, and it was making itself known. Unfortunately for me, the metro toilets were squat style – I’ve never had to use one before, or at least, never for number 2. I Prepared for the worst, hanging my shorts and underwear on the door (surely people dont normally just drop trou to ankles? what if you shit inside the back of your shorts?), I took up the best squat I could and braced onto the pole attached to the wall (mildly terrified of ‘what if the pole comes off from the wall’). I can tell you that squat toilets are disgusting. It was shitting on the floor or something, it stuck out at weird angles before flopping down sideways, I must have missed a bit as there was a bit stuck to the rim and it fell down afterwards, i’ve save you any more details but I was mortified and glad that at least I didn’t shit onto my sandals.
After plenty of stress work in and out of the toilet, we arrived at Shifen – a town practically in the middle of nowhere, where people walk on the train line and the shops all surround it, the train was blasting its horn to get people out of the way as it rolled into town. Shortly after arriving I got to try a peanut icecream roll – made by using a wood planer on a solid block of peanut brittle, and then putting the shavings onto a kind of crepe with some ice cream and other bits, it was delicious.
A little further down the track, masses of people were enjoying the main attraction of the Pingxi district, releasing lanterns into the sky, the huge colourful paper lanterns come in various colours (for luck in different fields) and you write your wishes onto them and then release them from the train track – there are masses of shops specializing in it, and they all get business because it really did seem to be a constant activity. We bought and painted on one from a more professional looking shop, costing only $200 TWD (£5) and releasing it into the sky.
The other thing people come to Shifen for is the waterfall, which was a painfully long and hot walk for what must have been at least 2 miles down and up staircases, across suspension bridges and all sorts, really scenic but god was it hot and humid. I hope the pictures were worth the sweat.
We arrived back in town just in time to see the train roll up, we jumped on and headed to Ruifang station, before catching the bus to our next major stop of the day Jiufen. Jiufen is an old mining town up in the mountains, like waaay up the mountain. It’s also allegedly some of the inspiration towards spirited away, though how much truth in that, i’m not sure, it certainly had it’s fair collection of ghibli themed shops around.
We went up the old street, a narrow collection of alleys surrounded by shops which went up the mountain before ending around a giant temple. The tight streets and close proximity of the shops meant business was fierce, with plenty of food, snack and tea shops offering tasters as you went up, there were also some quirkier shops along the way as well like the condom shop, a weird place filled with masks, and a shop filled with cat things. The tight streets also meant smells were intensified too, both the good and the bad, i’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but the first few days we were in Ximen, we’d get whiffs of sewage or something and would try and work out where it was coming from, turns out it was Taiwans infamous Stinky tofu – now imagine that, but strategically placed into a narrow alley, just before a long set of stairs upwards, so the smell drifts up and follows you as you climb – Why Taiwan, Why.
An alright dinner towards the top, and then a slow climb back down before catching the bus and train to go back home, we were exhausted from walking all day and the sun was coming down. We went on a bit of a food spree as we got back to Taipei, grabbing some cheap sushi, bubble tea, and ‘taiwan burger’ which is like pulled pork and crispy veg in a steamed bun, topped with some sweet and spicy sauce, it was really goddamn tasty and totally worth it for £1.25.
Travel Tips for Shifen / Pingxi and Jiufen which would have been useful to know:
– Pingxi is both a town and a district, while you can ride the pingxi line to Pingxi itself, the lantern experience most people describe can easily be had at Shifen, which has the waterfall as well.
– Approx 40 mins to Ruifan Stn from Taipei Main Stn, and then 20ish mins to Shifen, i think
– Cost from Taipei Main to Shifen was only 61 TWD
– Lantern cost anywhere between $100 and $350, ours was $200 but they charge based on colours and include photography and paint for you
– Shifen waterfall walk is about 30-45mins maybe? There are toilets and food/drink along the way
– Bus to jiufen from Ruifang Stn is route 827 or 788, catch it from next to the police station – Exit main entrance and take a left at the Wellcome supermarket, police Stn on opposite side of road. Bus itself takes about 10-20 mins
– The train to taipei from Ruifang will be written just past the main gate, the train might be flagged as a North destination line even though it goes to Taipei.