Juifen is one of the many places that everyone kept telling me that I had to visit. BUT everyone also kept telling me to wait and go on a weekday if possible, and not a holiday, because it gets so crowded. Soooo…when do I go?
It did finally work out that I had a day off during the week that wasn’t a holiday and made plans to go.
I looked it up online. The pictures were absolutely charming, and I learned that the animated movie Spirited Away was based on this location. I learned which bus (bus 1062) to take directly from Taipei to Juifen, and I made sure I had my camera ready. I found out that I had to get an a-zhu peanut ice cream roll while I was there and maybe some tea.
I was ready. The day arrived and was a little rainy, but I stuck to the plan. I caught the bus and spent a rather nauseating hour on a bus as it bumped and swerved its way up a serpentine mountain road. Once we stopped and I gratefully got off the bus, the view was pretty spectacular. The town is built into the side of a mountain facing the Pacific Ocean. Because it was so foggy when I arrived, this picture does not do it justice.
I followed people up a hill to the entrance of the main street people visit in Juifen, Jishan Street: a cavernous, winding passage with food, tea, and souvenir shops along the way. I ducked into the dark area and made my way through puddles and dripping tin roofs and crowds of people to the first stall selling the a-zhu peanut ice cream roll. So far, I was not impressed, but it was early. I had read online that this first stall had the best rolls so I immediately requested one, using hand signals as she didn’t speak English and I have extremely limited Chinese language skills.
I got my roll and walked on, seeing another stall selling them almost right after. I bit into the ice cream roll. It’s cold, sweet taro ice cream with shaved peanut candy in a gooey, popiah skin which is the thin wrapper skin for Chinese Spring rolls. Sounds weird but it’s delicious! I would go back just to get one of these! The day was looking better.
I ate it pretty quickly because I wanted to take pictures. Although I was not happy with the crowded walkway or the puddles or the dripping rain from the uneven, tin roofs, I was having fun watching the people and the vendors and checking out what everyone was selling. There was food that was the same and different than I had seen at night markets in Taipei: giant, fried vegetables and fish balls and glutinous rice with something in the middle and fried seafood and meat on a stick and other things that I couldn’t identify.
There were also stalls selling beautiful leather purses and bags and original artwork and tacky souvenirs. There were tea shops with teapots and teacups and tea bags for sale in the front area. As I went down a flight of stairs, the roofs stopped and the view opened up to the ocean and the tops of more shops and teahouses and tourists taking pictures. Twenty different photo shoots were going on off to the sides of the stairs, hoping to get this view in the background.
I made my way through all the people and found a less crowded path. I took pictures – I did love the lanterns and greenery in the area – and kept walking and soon found myself alone except for stray cats and a small tour group. I moved away from the tour group and found a waterfall I had read about with, unfortunately, trash littering the beauty of it. Some of the stray cats followed me, moving closer or further depending on where I directed my attention. They didn’t like the camera pointed their way.
It started to rain, and I made my way back to the busy passageway. There was nothing more I wanted to see, and I was ready to go. I got a drink at a stall that said it was one of the original vendors at Juifen and went to find my bus. I waited in line to head home. I had spent about three hours there (not including the ride), and that was enough.
Overall, I would only recommend it if you love tea and want to sit and drink it with a friend or friends and enjoy the views of the ocean. Or if you simply want to kill a few hours and explore the area. There is a good hike around Juifen, but I couldn’t find it with my directionless skills. I don’t consider this a “must-see” for Taiwan, but it turned out to be a good day.