Taipei Day 2 (1 May 14) – The Old Towns and Sky Lanterns

Today my friend and I woke up late today. Perhaps it is due to the tiredness we were still having from the overnight flight the day before, plus we turned in pretty late last night. We skipped breakfast and planned to grab something to bite whilst on our way to Jiufen. Jiufen  is located some 50km from Taipei. There are several options for us to get to Jiufen. As my friend has never ridden on a train before, we opted for a train ride to Jiufen. Originally we planned to catch a train from Taipei Main Train Station, according to the map that we had. As we were checking with the staffs in the hotel, we were informed that there is a train station, Songshan Station, nearer to the hotel then the Taipei Main Train Station. The hotel staff advised us to catch a cab from outside the hotel to the Train station, which would take us only around 5 mins. I was glad that we heeded the advise from the staff and we were at the train station in no time. As soon as we were at Songshan Station, my friend and I proceeded to get the train tickets from the counter. I read about the train bento from travel magazines and asked the staff at the ticketing counter if we will be able to get a set onboard. Sadly we were informed that the trains do not sell train bentos, only trains serving interstate sells those onboard. However we were directed to a shop round the corner, which sells bentos and we were advised that we can consume our bentos onboard the train.

Songshan Train Station
Me at the entrance of Songshan Train Station
Inside Songshan Train Station
At the ticketing area of the train station
Map of where we will be heading
My friend and I getting our train tickets
Our ticket to Ruifang

Feeling excited, my friend and I looked out for the shop, according to the directions provided by the ticketing staff. The shop that sells train bentos is in the shape of a train and it is situated in the middle of the pavement. As we were deciding which bento set to purchase, a local passed by and recommended us a set that is exclusive to Songshan Station. My friend and I spared no thinking and bought the set, which was recommended. As we still have some time to spare, my friend and I decided to take a look inside the train-shaped shop. This shop not only sells bentos, it is also has a mock up of the train cabin, as well as the train memorabilia. After taking pictures on the seats of the mock up cabin, my friend and I decided to proceed to the platform and await our train.

The Train mock-up shop that sells Railway Bento
Deciding which Railway Bento to buy
Still deciding….
Finally bought these
Merchandise on sale inside the shop
Inside of the mock-up train shop
Taking picture on the mock-up train

To get to Jiufen, we would take the train to Ruifang Station (瑞芳火車站) and switch to a bus which stops at the entrance of Jiufen Old Street. The train that would take us to Ruifang Station pulls in punctually into Songshan Station. One thing to note when taking train rides in Taipei, the ticket would point out which train cab and the seat number our seats are located. However at the platform, there isn’t any signs that signals which cab would stop at which location. This has caused my friend and I to board the wrong cab and walked from cab to cab to our allocated seat. Having said that, it is rather refreshing experience for my friend to transit from cab to cab looking for our seat as this is the first time he has taken a train. We found our seat and consumed our bentos shortly. I find the bento not as tasty as I would like it to be. There was a lot of braised dishes packed into a reasonable sized container. However it is certainly refreshing to eat the bento while watching the sceneries zoomed by before our eyes. The ride to Ruifang takes around 30 mins and soon it was time for us to alight and switch to our bus ride to Jiufen Old Street. Prior to exiting the station, we confirmed with the staff where we should be boarding our bus.

 

Me and Songshan Train Station
My friend with the train pulling into the station
Me posing with the train
My friend and I onboard the train that took us to Ruifang Station
Enroute to Ruifang Station
Enroute to Ruifang Station
The bento that I bought
Enroute to Ruifang Station
Me with the Bento
Arrival at Ruifang Station
My friend at Ruifang Station

The bus ride from Ruifang Train Station to Jiufen Old Street took around 30 mins. Jiufen Old Street is situated on the slope of a mountain. As it was raining, the low cloud in Jiufen Old Street gave it a mysterious feel. After alighting from the bus, we headed for the entrance of the Old Street. It is not hard to locate the entrance to the old street, despite shortage of signage. One would just have to follow the crowd to the entrance, after all this is where visitors come to in Jiufen. The entrance to the Old Street is a narrow space that would fit only 2 people walking side by side. Once inside the entrance, rows and rows of stalls open up to the sight of visitors on both sides of the street. There are no lack of food, as with any night markets in Taipei. Here one can find snacks as one walked along the windy and sloping street. The Old Street sloped upwards as one enters and then downwards as though one is walking through a roller coaster of food to suit all pallets. My friend and I were intrigued by a stall where we saw a staff shaving something off a big brown block, upon seeing our curiosity, the staff shaved a little off for us to sample. It is actually peanut!! We proceeded on the “processing line” to see what was on offer. What we saw next was staffs preparing a pancake folded in half topped with vanilla ice-cream and the peanut shaving. The combination was delicious and certainly refreshing. As with this store, most of the food we saw on the Old Street were prepared a la minute. As we walked through the Old Street, more food options, usually in the form of snacks are made available. Walking through the Old Street ensures that one do not feel hungry as one will be busy munching food as one walks up and down this sloppy path. The Old Street opens up to a scenic view near the end of the street. In a clear day, one will be able to see the coast line from the viewing platform, after all the Jiufen Old Street is built on a slope. It is a shame that when we visited, the low clouds did not manage to allow us to catch a glimpse of the coastline. After the viewing platform, one will be able to find tea houses spreading along the street. To get back to the starting point, my friend and I headed back to where we came from and shopped for items that we have missed out.

Outside Ruifang Station
We boarded the bus for Jiufen
Enroute to Jiufen
Enroute to Jiufen
Enroute to Jiufen
Enroute to Jiufen
Arrival at Jiufen Old Street
My friend and I at Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
Me at Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Me at Jiufen Old Street
Shop selling snacks at Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
My friend at Jiufen Old Street
Shops selling snacks Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
Shop in Jiufen Old Street
My friend and I at Jiufen Old Street
Jiufen Old Street
End of the Old Street
At the viewpoint in Jiufen Old Street, with KeeLung Mountain at the background
At the viewpoint in Jiufen Old Street
On a clear sky we would  have been able to see the coastline
At the viewpoint in Jiufen Old Street
Me and my friend at the viewpoint in Jiufen Old Street

Before we headed to our next destination in Shifen, we stopped by a temple that we saw before we hit the entrance of the Old Street. This 2-storey temple is tucked in a quiet area of Jiufen, though there are crowds flogging for the Old Street, few actually step foot into this temple. The red and grey temple with carvings of the Chinese dragons on its pillars sits sombrely on the slope, overlooking the coastline. My friend and I headed inside to offer our prayers to the gods that were worshipped here. We proceeded to the 2nd floor, where there is a balcony that looked out into the coastline in a clear day. As with any other Chinese temples, there are elaborate carvings on the walls and pillars. We left the temple soon on a cab to Shifen.

 

The Chinese Temple at Jiufen
The Chinese Temple at Jiufen
The Chinese Temple at Jiufen
Entrance to the temple
Me inside the temple
Me inside the temple
The Chinese Temple at Jiufen
The reason why anyone would come to Shifen is for the sky lanterns. The locals believed that wishes written on the sky lantern release into the sky will come true. After around 30 mins of windy drive from Jiufen, we arrived at Shifen. Before getting our lanterns, my friend and I explode the area a little. The Old Street of Shifen is rather small, approximately 200ms. One can find shops selling sky lanterns on either side of the railway track. Other then selling sky lanterns, there isn’t much on offer in this area. We stumbled upon a suspension bridge between the shops selling lanterns and the railway station. On the bridge we saw bamboos being hang on the railings as well-wishes cast their wish on the bamboos and have them hung here. My friend and I then proceeded back to the purchase a sky lantern. Don’t bother hunting for best bargains as the price is the same no matter which shop one purchase the lanterns from. The staff will be happy to help well-wishes to light up the lantern and take pictures for visitors as one releases the lantern into the sky. The sky soon turned dark and we headed back to Taipei on rail as the way we came.
Arrival at Shifen
Shifen Old Street
My friend and I at Shifen Old Street
Walking along the railway track at Shifen Old Street
Me with the suspension bridge in Shifen
Shifen Old Street
Train pulling into Shifen Station
Shifen Old Street
My friend and I releasing sky lantern in Shifen
My friend and I releasing sky lantern in Shifen
There goes our sky lantern
There goes our sky lantern
My friend and I on the suspension bridge in Shifen
Entrance to the suspension bridge
Me at Shifen
View of the valley on the suspension bridge
Night view of the bridge
View of the valley on the suspension bridge
View of the suspension bridge
View of the valley on the suspension bridge
Me hanging bamboos on the suspension bridge
Me at Shifen Old Street

 

Waiting for our train at Ruifang Station
Me at Ruifang Station
We got back to Songshan Train station at around 9pm. My friend told me that there is a night market nearby the train station. As we were carrying a lot of stuffs we bought from Jiufen Old Street, my friend and I headed back to the hotel to put down the results of our shopping spree today. We rested for an hour and took a cab back near Songshan Train station, where Raohe Night Market is located. I was initially excited to shop around Raohe Night Market, however my excitement is short lived. Raohe Night Market is a one-street night market, very much different from Shilin Night Market that I visited the day before. This night market looks empty, other than the shops, there are very few make-shift stalls, which would otherwise occupy the centre walkway of the street. Perhaps it is due to the rain and perhaps it is due to the time (almost 10pm when we reach Raohe Night Market). There were still a number of stalls selling mostly food, however the number of stalls opened pales in comparison with Shilin Night Market. My friend and I shopped a little and got some street food before realising we have hit the end of the street. At the end of the street, we spotted a rather colourful temple. This is the temple of the Heavenly Mother. It was however closed due to the time we were there. As with most Chinese temples, this temple is decked out in red and grey colour. The number of carvings on the roofs and pillars did not lose out to that in some of the bigger temples that we saw so far. As we have reached the end of Raohe Night Market, plus most of the shops and stalls are closing, my friend and I decided to head back to the hotel to rest for the night. As we need to wake up early tomorrow for our day trip to Wulai.
Raohe Night Market
Me at Raohe Night Market
Raohe Night Market
Raohe Night Market
Street scene at Raohe Night Market
We had osyters
Temple at the end of Raohe Night Market
Me at the temple

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