Our third day in Taiwan was also the last full day we had. While a lot of it was comprised of driving from one place to another (a task that was only made more time-consuming by the mountainous terrain of the region), we still managed to visit at a lot of interesting places.
One of these landmarks was Jiufen (also spelled Chiufen). The name of the town literally means “Nine Portions”, and comes from the tale that in the Qing Dynasty, the remote mountain town only had nine families. Whenever shipments arrived in town, the villagers would request “nine portions”, or “jiu fen”. This later on became the name of the village.
Jiufen is most famous for its gold deposits, something which was well-known as far back as 1430 to local administrators of Koxinga, Japanese visitors, as well as Dutch occupiers. For whatever reason though, real gold mining did not take off in the region until the late Qing Dynasty (late 19th century). By then, the Japanese rule over Taiwan had begun, so much of the buildings in the mining settlement still remaining were constructed in the Japanese Edo architectural style (tiles on roofs and exposed wooden timbers).
There were also old tracks for mining carts running throughout the compound, dotted with the occasional carts themselves (which you could climb in!). Not sure if those are the original mine carts from the late 19th – early 20th century though, since they were in suspiciously good shape.
An adorable mascot (maybe a mole?) with the Chinese simple for “gold” on its chest greeted us on our way to the inside of the museum building, where we could touch the world’s largest bar of pure gold (220kg)! There was even a cheeky sign saying that if we could lift it, we could take it home. Unfortunately it was encased in a glass case with only a small hole to fit our hands through, so that was not a possibility.
After the gold mine, we went to explore Jiufen’s downtown. Downtown is a term used loosely here, as it mostly was comprised of narrow alleyways and steep stairways. However, it is famous for having been the inspiration for the Ghibli film “Spirited Away”. Looking at photos of all the lanterns lit at night, it is not difficult to imagine how Miyazaki was inspired to create the gorgeous aesthetics of the film’s bathhouse and other locations.
Something I really enjoyed from the many market stalls lining either side of the narrow alleyways was their peanut ice-cream. The vendor first piled two scoops of what I think was vanilla ice-cream on a paper thin tortilla-like sheet. Then he grated sweet peanut nougat over the ice-cream, and wrapped the whole thing up like a burrito. It was a delicious and cool break from the sweltering summer humidity.
Our next destination, about an hour away, was another small town called Shifen. A town built right next to an old railway, it was not uncommon for our touristy gawking to be interrupted by whistles which signified that a train was coming and we should get off the tracks. The trains themselves were quite slow though, so as long as you obey local law enforcement and don’t do anything stupid, there is no real danger.
The main attraction of this town was lighting sky lanterns. Traditionally used by remote mountain villages to communicate with each other every night, the different colored lanterns indicated how well the village was faring. Now, it is used as a form of wishing, with each tourist writing their year’s wishes on each panel of the lantern. It was just starting to drizzle a little when we got there, but we did manage to fly our own lantern (although we were rushed by the lantern vendors). Since we were in such a hurry to get our lantern up before the impending torrential downpour, I wasn’t able to snap any good photos, but thankfully Google has thousands…
It wasn’t New Years so it obviously wasn’t this crowded, but it was still moving to watch our lantern float up above us, seemingly carrying our wishes to the heavens. Of course the lanterns fall eventually, but since the forests of Taiwan are so humid, there apparently isn’t any danger of forest fires (thankfully).
And that was it for my Taiwan trip! I’ll be posting a bonus round tomorrow, but after that, it will be back to Korea posts. I hope you enjoyed all of my photos (and the photos I linked too, feel free to check out their blogs as well!) and descriptions of my trip. As always, feel free to leave comments or any questions you have, especially if you’re hoping to visit Taiwan one day!