Popular amongst day-trippers and anime fans alike, the iconic streets of Jiufen are one of the most biggest tourist destinations anywhere in Taiwan.
The erratically stacked buildings placed precariously along the misty hillsides are a beautiful throwback to the area’s colonial past and industrial heritage which brought a vibrant cultural boost to the area in the form of teahouses and lantern-lined alleyways.
For others, the streets represent the internationally acclaimed anime movie Spirited Away which was believed to be based upon, though that isn’t actually the case. Regardless, as far as everyone is concerned, this is the true home of the mischievous spirits and their beloved bathhouse.
With plenty on offer amongst these charming streets, let me show you 13 of the best highlights to see in the sleepy mountain town of Jiufen.
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Jishan Old Street
An image which has become synonymous with the town of Jiufen, the Old Street is the pinnacle postcard image which has put this place on the map. Authentic narrow, lantern-lit lanes wind their way amongst monumental staircases and old Japanese teahouses.
It’s easy to lose yourself for hours as you meander between each lane taking jaw-dropping snapshots, picking up souvenirs and snacking your way from store to store. Further ahead, the tourist thrills of the lanes dissipate into open hillsides stacked with traditional housing flowing their way down towards the coast.
Though it may be a bit touristy, it doesn’t take away the undeniable charm that resonates through the streets. Once you see the red lanterns light up as the sun goes down, there’s little wonder why!
You’d be doing yourself an injustice if you came all this way without visiting one of Jiufen’s famous teahouses. Of the many on offer, A-mei Teahouse has become a quintessential icon and a source of inspiration for photographers and doe-eyed travellers alike.
Once the only blacksmith in Jiufen, the gorgeous wooden building then became the apex teahouse it is today and has been extremely popular ever since. Not only that, but many consider A-mei Teahouse to be the real inspiration for Spirited Away.
It draws crowds from far and wide who come to enjoy some freshly brewed tea and, more importantly, capture the teahouse in all its glory (top tip, head to the stairs of Skyline Tea House next door to get the best shot!)
Though A-mei is certainly the star attraction, there are still plenty of other teahouses worth your time! Those include Taiwan Sweet Potato Teahouse which can be entered through an old mining tunnel, Skyline Tea House, which you’ll see directly next to A-mei, and Jiufen Teahouse which has some of the best selections of local tea available.
It’s also worth noting that the deeper you travel into the Old Street, the quieter and more personal the teahouses become. Some names include Forgetful House, Ocean See, or Something Easy, all worth checking out!
Jinguashi Gold Ecological Museum
Though these days Jiufen is best known for the Old Street, gold mining put this region on the map in the first place! Today the Japanese-era Jinguashi gold mine has been transformed into a tourist park to give a look at centuries past.
Visitors can even step into the Beishan Fifth Tunnel to see what brought Jiufen such fame and the terrible conditions the workers had to endure. If you’re very lucky, you might even spot some leftovers. There’s said to be $6 billion worth of gold still laying underground!
In the nearby museum, you’ll get to touch a 220-kg gold bar that was once the largest in the world! You’ll also learn about the darker history of the mine and how POWs were forced to mine for the Japanese.
From one golden attraction to the next, though this is a natural wonder! Possibly one of the strangest and certainly most beautiful attractions in the area, the Golden Waterfall was a mystery for many years.
When the mining industry came to an end, the tunnels once used in the industry began to flood across the surrounding landscape and resulted in the Golden Falls we have today.
Though many believed the peculiar colour was the result of the mining industry, it turns out it’s completely natural! The surrounding earth is rich in minerals including pyrite (fool’s gold) and enargite, which would undergo a process of oxidization-reduction and iron catalysis resulting in a rusty golden colour.
The ultimate guide on visiting the iconic Taiwanese gold mining town, Jiufen
Yet another relic of the bustling gold industry has now become an eerie shell of its former self. The region surrounding Jiufen went from one of the most prosperous gold mining areas in Asia to completely vanishing by the 1950s. In its wake, one remnant left behind the eerie Shuinandong Smelter.
The monolithic series of structures stacked up along the descending hillside was once used in the sorting and smelting of gold and copper ore. In fact, it was once the biggest in all of Asia! Though now, the intimidating structure, nicknamed the “13 layers” by miners and locals, is nothing more than an urban explorer’s dream and a creepy reminder of the area’s former glory.
Yin Yang Sea
An image synonymous with Asia, the Yin Yang symbol is an ideological and spiritual icon. It’s so influential, that even Jiufen’s landscape was inspired by it!
The waters of Liandong Bay have a distinctive mix of yellow and blue. People believed it must have been the negative result of the mining industry. Yet decades after the industry shut down, the Yin Yang Sea still exists!
Turns out it was the same geological phenomenon that created the Golden Waterfalls! Enormous amounts of pyrite oxidised into iron ions over time and could not be dissolved easily in water. The result was a constant beautiful contrast against the deep blue of the ocean.
Taiwan has some incredible mountain ranges that stretch all across the central spine of the country, the beginning of which starts right here in Jiufen. In any direction you travel, you’ll have some glorious views. But if there’s one peak worth your time, it has to be Teapot Mountain!
The breathtaking 1 to 2-hour hike to the summit not only has some of the best views in Jiufen but some unusual rock formations too! As the name suggests, the mountain’s peak appears to be a handleless teapot…pretty ironic given Jiufen’s love of teahouses!
Qitang Old Street
Jiufen’s doesn’t just have one Old Street on offer! Though it may receive much less attention and far fewer decorations than its neighbour, it’s still worth a visit! Qitang Old Street makes up the remnants of yet another prosperous mining town which has since been forced into a more peaceful existence.
The streets are a much more authentic look at what the region would have looked like a few decades ago. Fortunately, it’s not as tourist-heavy with a humble gathering of stores and restaurants.
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As Jingguaishan has some of the most jaw-dropping scenery anywhere in the country. To take it all in, there’s no better place than the Zhaori Pavilion.
Places at the edge of Baoshi Mountain, apparently named after the Japanese sirens that sounded around the area during the colonial period, it gives a near panoramic view of the mountain ranges and the best possible view of the Yin Yang Sea.
It also gives you another perspective of the mining industry relics scattered across the area. Those include the remnants of a track that once led ore down to the smelters below.
POW Memorial and Peace Park
The Japanese rule of the island wasn’t always a pleasant one, particularly during the war. Tonghsan Park was once the site of a POW camp between 1942-45 where 1000 British and allied soldiers were imprisoned.
The POWs were forced to work in the gold mines in horrendous conditions, sometimes with underground temperatures as high as 40°C. Living conditions were even worse, with around 10% of the prisoners perishing here. It could have been so much more, as the Japanese government planned to kill all remaining prisoners in Taiwan as the war came to an end. Thankfully the order was never carried out.
Today a memorial stone and one single gatepost remain of the Kinkaseki camp as a sad reminder of the cruelty of the war.
No Taiwanese town is complete without a decent temple or two! Overlooking Qitang Old Street, Cyuanji Temple is renowned for the 25-ton gold and bronze Guan Gong statue that sits atop its roof, making it the largest figure of the deity in Taiwan.
The temple also plays host to a yearly Green Grass ceremony during Dragon Boat Festival. During this time, devoted faithful search for medicinal herbs and bring them back to the temple to be dried and powdered. These herbs are later shaped into balls, giving the process its name, the “100 Herb ball” ritual.
Looking like a relic left behind by Greek gods, the Shinto shrine has an undeniable air of mystery. Also known as the “Mountain God Shrine,” Jinguashi Shrine was built in 1933 after the Japanese Nippon Mining Company took over the management of the local mine.
Sadly, little remains from its glory days. The buildings were destroyed following the war as the local KMT government tried to rid any evidence of Japanese influence on the island. Today all that remains are two torii gates, a few stone lanterns and the shrine’s original foundation, beams and pillars.
Now finally a chirpier reminder of the town’s colonial past! Dating back to 1934, the Shengping Theater was built during the booming years of Jiufen and Japanese influence.
It was built with Taiwanese cypress (hinoki) to imitate the Baroque style which was popular in Japan at the time. Inside, are some preserved movie posters from the time, a well-preserved concession stand, and an old movie projector.
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A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.