About Me

My photo
Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tea Afoot in Jiufen 九份

I've been meaning to check out Jiufen 九份 since moving to Yilan, but the threat of swarms of tourists held me back. It's infamous for its historical tea houses and picturesque old streets that were the backdrop in such films as City of Sadness and Hayao Miyazaki's  Spirited Away 神隱少女.

Going during the 4 day Children's Festival/Tomb Festival weekend was guaranteed to be packed, but I live on the edge (joke). We hopped on a local train from Yilan to Ruifang that took about an hour.

The bus from Ruifang station was standing room only for us as we held on for dear life, speeding up the curving road to Jiufen. Our hotel was surprisingly easy to find on a climbing stone path that deviated from the old street bazaar chaos.

Pu-er 普洱茶 Princess

After checking in (YuanYee Homestay), around 4pm we gathered our courage and braved the currents of the crowds. I spied the famous old 九份茶坊  tea house and whisked my kid into the found refuge and quiet. It was a different world and time from the stampede of the old street. As you enter there is a row of boiling kettles on a long bed of coals, tea cups and sets, moss, a pond, waterfall and ceramics shop in the basement. I wanted to sit outside with the view, she wanted to sit on the antique wooden table, so we sat inside. (We ended up coming back again our second day after our hike, it was such a priceless atmosphere.)
At the start of the trail to Teapot Mt.
My daughter was in heaven. Our hostess explained how to make our tea according to tradition, soon my kid  was in charge of all the tea preparation. We were starving having not eaten since breakfast but we stayed at the tea shop til dusk, stopped at a noodle hole in the wall along the way for dinner and back to our hotel, played cards in our room. Living in Taiwan we had friends who regularly served us tea when we came over, we drink tea at home too (oolong, Chai, British style) so tea is important. We took a class on Korean tea preparation when we were in Busan and now here we were finally in Jiufen. Z quipped, "Mom can I have a new hobby of drinking tea?" An emphatic YES!

Post hike tea

My plan was to get up bright and early to take photos of the famous cross streets in front of the old Theater.  We had such terrible sleep from the young group across from us partying through the night, we didn't make it early enough for my photo opp. Instead we did make it early (first in line at the ticket counter) for the Gold Museum (formally the Gold Ecological Park) in Jinguashi 金瓜石. Just take the Jiufen bus to the end of the line. The museum grounds are extensive and require a ticket plus extra fees if you want to go inside one of the tunnels or pan for gold (which we did).

The blissfully empty shinto shrine

I was ecstatic being there before the crowds because it eventually was like a festival. I really wanted to see the Japanese relics of the old shinto shrine. All that's left were 2 stone torii gates, the foundation, some pillars and some stone lanterns. It was a nice 20 minute hike with an incredible view. We were the only ones there (for a while).

Teapot Mountain
That little hike wasn't enough for me. I saw Teapot Mountain like a sandstone and shale crown across the valley and I was determined to check it out. My daughter was less enthused. After she panned for gold (and yes there were flecks of probably fake gold) and went inside the tunnels, she was so appreciative she hiked Teapot without complaint. We were both energized. At the top you can rock climb in the crags with a rope. The views along the way were exceptional. The path starts behind the bridge at the far end of the Gold Mining park, below where the air pumps are displayed.

So many nice views on the way up Teapot

You could drive to the last bit to the peak, there's a road and trail starting from the beach, driving would be cheating. It was only a 75 minute walk up and with several covered rest areas to admire the view, which she needed. We returned to the old tea house in Jiufen and sampled a different variety, sitting outside to please me.

We had better sleep that night and took our time the next morning. After our complimentary breakfast we decided to walk up Jilong Mountain 九份雞籠山. before checking out. The path begins not far from where we were staying just beside the cemetery. People were already cleaning their family tombs as we passed them. The hike up Jilong was crowded and unshaded. It was all steps. Fortunately for us the path forked and we took the longer route (go left). It was the right choice. We had supreme views of the sea, it was shaded and even better, was devoid of walkers. The top was also crowded but not massed, we could enjoy the view for a good twenty minutes or so munching on apricots. We decided again to take the long way back through the shade and with the views.

Quick hike after breakfast before checking out 九份雞籠山.

After checking out of our hotel, we went to the train station and bought a ticket to Houtong to check out the infamous Cat Village. The train was about to leave but so many bodies were smashed together, I don't think we could of possibly squeezed in, nor did we want to try. We'll save Cat Village for another day. I imagine its more of a tourist trap than even Jiufen. Yet, for being a notorious tourist trap, my daughter and I were rewarded with more excellent memories. It was worth giving Jiufen a chance.

No comments: