Another tour we had organised was a trip to Shifen and Juifen. We knew that these were traditional towns in Taiwan, and the areas were famous for lanterns, mountains and waterfalls.
We were surprised when a yellow taxi met us at the hotel, ready to take us on tour. There was a girl sitting in the front seat already, who greeted us with a warm smile as we clambered into the back seat. Our driver and tour guide introduced himself as Barry and we were off. We made chit chat with the girl in the front seat and learned that she was from England. She was friendly and told us she had not been in Taipei for long, so was interested to hear what we had been up to.
Yeh Liu Geopark
Our first stop was Yeh Liu Geopark, which Barry told us wouldn’t take long to look around. He waved us goodbye and got back in his car, where we soon realised that he would wait until we were ready to leave. The first thing I noticed were the people. There were tourists everywhere, posing for photos with the rock formations and talking excitedly amongst themselves. The three of us stuck together and walked around the Geopark admiring the rocks and stopping to take a few photos (no posing snaps with the ‘princess rocks’ though, sorry to disappoint :)). We could see a track that led through some trees, so went to explore. We all liked hiking, and it seemed like a less crowded option than the geopark. It turned out to be a beautiful walk through the greenery, towards the clifftop we could see from back at the park. As we walked along the track, we saw colourful butterflies of all sizes spreading their wings as they gracefully moved across the bushes.
When we returned to the taxi, Barry had gotten us each a bubble tea, which was very kind of him. I had never had one before and was a bit thrown by the blobs of goo that came up through my straw from time to time but enjoyed it none the less.
The next stop was Shifen. Barry stopped the car, let us out and pointed down the street. He suggested we get something to eat because the next leg of the drive was long. He joined us this time, as we walked down the crowded main street, fascinated by the number of lanterns available for people to purchase, light up and let go into the sky. None of us wanted to do this ourselves, as we were aware of the impact these lanterns had on the environment when they landed, so we moved on. There was a railway track right through the middle of town and stalls on either side. We crossed over a bridge and found ourselves in a quieter part of town, where locals cowered over broken lanterns, mending them to get them ready for sale.
Back on the other side of the bridge, we saw a medium sized pig running through the crowd of people, squealing as it skipped along, clearly on a mission. It was quite the spectacle, as tourists reached out to touch it. One man even gave it a firm slap on the behind, which was very amusing.
On the way to Jiufen we stopped to look at the ‘Golden Waterfall’ on a mountain near an old mining town. The water was brown or golden coloured because of the copper and iron that came from the surrounding rock.
The next stop was the picturesque town of Jiufen, nestled amongst the mountains, almost Cinque Terra-esque in feel. There were shops and food stalls on either side of us as we walked down the steps of Jiufen Old Street. We were beginning to regret our decision not to get food in Shifen; we were very hungry by now. On the walk down the mountain, we tried a coriander, peanut butter ice cream burrito which filled a hole, and later stopped for some dumplings.
It was a different tour than we expected but was very enjoyable. Barry turned out to be a kind, funny man who knew the area well. We hadn’t expected to spend the day driving around in a taxi but it was a nice experience as a small tour. We were actually getting pretty used to touring in taxis by now, but I’ll explain that in my next post.
I would definitely recommend this day trip to Shifen and Jiufen for people who want to get out of the city for a day and see more of Taiwan’s beautiful countryside.
Stay tuned or Part IV!