Taiwan: Jiufen + Shifen (2)
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If you are sick of city life, and want to take a day trip out from Taipei, do consider Jiufen (九份) and Shifen (十份). We visited the 2 places in a day. :) And if you start early enough, you could probably do this itinerary:
Jinguashi ▸▸ Jiufen ▸▸ Shifen ▸▸ Keelung Miaokou Night Market.
Why Shifen (十份)?
To release Sky Lanterns into the sky along railroad tracks! In Chinese, 放天灯.
Having seen photos, movies and TV shows of people doing this, I have always wanted to do that but unsure where to do so. So this time, my wish was fulfilled at Shifen!
“At one time, these lanterns were used as a signaling system for those living and working in the rugged terrain to keep family aware of their safety. Today, visitors paint wishes in calligraphy on them, then release the lit lanterns into the sky in hopes their prayers will be answered.” – rtaiwanr.com
How To Get to Shifen
First, get to Ruifang Station (瑞芳 車站)
If coming from Taipei,
- By Train:
- From Taipei Main Station, take the train to Ruifang Station.
- It takes about 50 minutes from Taipei to Ruifang and 30 minutes from Ruifang to Shifen. Train schedule: twtraffic.tra.gov.tw/twrail/English/e_index.aspx (Search Taipei > Pinghsi / ShenAo Line (Shifen))
- Fare: NT$49 for local (區間車), NT$76 for express Tze-Chiang (自強號) (Fare might have changed. Ask again at ticket office.)
- By Bus (via MRT):
- From Zhongxiao Fuxing (忠孝復興) MRT (Brown and Blue lines) leave from Exit 1.
- Take bus route 1062 (Keelung Bus) to Jiufen. Or any other bus bound for Jiufen or Jinguashi and alight at Ruifang.
- Ride is about 1 hour. Be sure to sit on the left side of the bus to enjoy scenic views of Northern Taiwan.
If coming from Jiufen,
- By Bus: You can basically take any bus on the opposite direction from where you alighted at Jiufen. The bus will have a display card of either “基隆”or “台北”.
- Note that the bus goes in the downhill direction.
- Takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
- You can tap your store-value EasyCard to board.
Then, from Ruifang Station to Shifen
Then get on the Pingxi Line (平溪線) train. You can use EasyCard for each single trip or purchase a One Day Ticket (NT52 Adults) for unlimited rides.
Originally built to transport coal, the Pingxi Branch Line has since been transformed into a tourist rail line with stops offering gentle mountainside strolls, sky lanterns (天燈), and an up-close look at the early days of train travel. – rtaiwanr.com
You can hop on and off at the different stations along Pingxi Line with this pass. But do note that the train intervals can be quite long (approx 1 hour) and the shops closed early, for weekdays at least. Thus you might end up going to only 1 or 2 places if you have only half a day to travel on Pingxi Line.
Tip: If you are going to Jiufen first, do check out the timings for the Pingxi Line when you arrived at Ruifang station before leaving for Jiufen.
Tip #1: You could probably be better off with a single pass than a One Day pass. We left Jiufen and boarded the Pingxi Line train at about 2.15pm and we ended up having the time to enjoy only at two stations.
Tip #2: Get a Pingxi Line train timetable so you get to time yourself and catch the train. Some tourist ambassador passed us the timetable just as we were about to board the Pingxi train, but many others didn’t get it.
Tip #3: If you are going to trek whole day around Shifen, you can train from Taipei train station to Sandiaoling station. The train ticket costs NT$59 and the ride is approximately 1 hour. From what I read from this blog, I think the waterfall here will be better than that at Shifen Train Station, but much more walking is involved.
Tip #4: Walk around Ruifang while waiting for the Pingxi train to arrive. Find the tunnel beside the station to discover more about the place’s history.
Travelling along Pingxi Line
Since the train intervals are long, we need to keep watch of the time and make sure that we don’t miss the train! Otherwise a long wait awaits us.
See the “blue circles” in the maps below? They are stations we can alight to explore.
We went from Pingxi ▶ Shifen ▶ Jingtong
But I suggest you go from Shifen ▶ Pingxi ▶ Jingtong
I didn’t want to go to Shifen first because I wanted to release the Sky Lanterns at night, at Shifen. But it didn’t help that we went to other places and placed the Sky Lantern activity last. Because it’s still in the evening and the sky wasn’t dark when we released the Sky Lantern. But thank God we did it before dark, because turned out that the shops closed quite early for weekdays – before dark.
Let’s journey on with the suggested and improved itinerary after I have learned from my mistakes!
STOP #1: Shifen Old Street (十分老街)
Busiest tourist stop along Pingxi line.
Things to do here: Go Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布), Walk Around, Release Sky Lanterns (放天灯).
A ) SHIFEN WATERFALL (十分瀑布)
From Shifen’s downtown, we had to walk about 20 to 30 minutes to the waterfall. We started from the end of the row of shops (but later realised it’s the longer way!).
But just as we were about to set foot on our journey, there were people persuading us to rent their motorbikes or book their cabs to go to the waterfall. We shrugged and walked on. But if you are not a walker, these are good options for you.
We were feeling tired even before we reached the place. Then we got on to the boardwalk leading to the waterfall, but be sure to keep a look out for this staircase down to the waterfall entrance! It’s somewhere in the middle, so don’t keep walking till the end of the boardwalk.
Darn it, we didn’t do our research well, only walk a long way to find out that the waterfall costs NT100 per entry! Whuuuuuttt. Took a peep in and saw eatery and rides. The whole place looks like a “Buddhist amusement park” or Haw Par Villa’s cousin, with a big golden laughing buddha welcoming visitors and 18 Luohan (Eighteen Arhats) peppered around..
NT100 is just not worth it to watch some waterfall, and we, as Christians, didn’t really feel comfortable with these statues around. So we decided to give it a miss and head back.
On the Way Back
We were a bit lost and so asked a passing local on a bike. He pointed us to a shortcut!! Be sure to look out for sign to the old street.. and you will find a much faster way back.
B ) SKY LANTERNS (放天灯)
There were many shops for you to write on the sky lanterns and release them. Many.
Standard Price: NT100 for single colour lantern and NT150 or more for the multi-coloured ones. Each colour represents luck for different aspects of your life, or so they say – e.g. red for health.
Don’t like crowds?
We walked past shops and shops of sky lanterns and salespeople trying to pull you in. We resisted and reached to the last few shops and just decided on one. A better spot too, since it’s not as crowded towards the end of the stretch. A lower chance of being photo-bombed.
And as far as i know, you can release sky lanterns at other stations such as Pingxi or Jingtong. If you are not into crowds, you can release lanterns at these other stations.
We got a single coloured lantern, since it was just for fun.
And the guy from the shop, who was in charge of lighting our lantern, sure knows how to position us to pose for shots.
The amazing thing is, the track we were standing on is still in use! So if the train comes, the shop owners will shoo everyone away until it is gone.
UP UP AND AWAY
MAY GOD HEAR OUR PRAYERS
C ) WALKING AROUND
The Taiwanese love to write, ink stamp and post postcards!
STOP #2: Pingxi (平溪老街)
We did nothing here but eat and wait for the next train.
You should try Wild Boar/Black Pig’s sausage at Jiufen 九份. Otherwise try the sausage at Pingxi. There are two shops selling the sausage, opposite of each other – young vs old. We tried the old seller’s because they had seats and we wanted to sit down, while the young chap’s had quite a queue which we didn’t want to wait in. Think the younger guy’s shop has nice signage and cleanliness factor. But the sausage (with garlic) at the older folks’ place was just as fantabulous!
STOP #3: Jingtong (菁桐)
The Pingxi train’s last stop before it loops back to Ruifang.
We didn’t really stop here. But we were talking to this local, and he said we should come to this stop to take a look at the Lantern-shaped Police Precinct, resembling a sky lantern.
Because it was getting dark and the shops were closing and we didn’t want to wait for the next train that will leave in an hours’ time. So we rushed down to find the police station and quickly make our way back before it leaves. And alas, the station was so far away, so we had to quickly take the photo and leave.
So… a blurry shot!
And if you must know, we made it back to the same train we alighted, just seconds before it leaves! But it’s not worth the rush. BUT, I would suggest you alight here instead of Pingxi.
Btw, a final tip, if you can’t find a seat that faces the train direction,
simply step on this handle you find under the side of the seat and turn it around.
Travelling to Jiufen ( 九份)? Read here.
Updated 17 November 2015
Travels During July 2014
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