By AJ JORQUIN
According to history and our Taiwan tour guide, Felix, Jiufen was not always large as it is today. In 1893, Japanese colonizers made Jiufen a model of all the things they thought they ought to do. From its infrastructure to its culture, Jiufen once a small town composed of nine families, has grown into a population of 4,000. The gold is what grabbed the attention of Japanese colonizers. However, due to abuse, gold ran out and Jiufen declined and again became the quiet town it once was. Tourism increased again in the 1990s, and it became a source of inspiration for many films; all the shops and food stalls in place are now more vibrant than ever.
Jiufen was one of our stops during our three-day adventure with Klook.ph, a new booking app that lets you organize and plan travels with ease. On our second day, we headed to this charming little town, just a few hours north of Taipei, to find out with this favored tourist destination is a must-see and why it’s worth going out the city for.
Many may know Jiufen as the inspiration of Hayao Miyazaki’s award winning film, Spirited Away, but there’s more to it than famous teahouses. Jiufen is also known for its wide array of food and shops. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change my cash to Taiwanese Dollars. As if battling through the crowds wasn’t hard enough for an introvert like myself (on top of beating the heat in my all-black outfit (I did it for the ‘gram, okay), I had to go through a series of shops and food stalls without getting to buy anything.
But I forgot about my petty problem the moment we delved into Jiufen’s narrow alleyways, where you could smell all the great treats Taiwan has to offer. Our guide Felix was kind enough to get us all the free samples we could try. Free sample life is the way to go in Jiufen. From pineapple cakes to grape juice to every possible version of ginger, you could try anything for free — all you had to do was ask.
Miyazaki’s reference did Jiufen justice. The teahouse that inspired Spirited Away was packed with people. Red lanterns and the golden dragons were on top of nearly all the rooftops. We too got to experience the secret passages Chihiro wandered through. Even their Family Mart is worth the ‘gram. I reminded myself that there’s more to a scenic town like Jiufen than shopping. Immersing ourselves in a foreign culture is what truly makes a trip memorable. And the free samples. And great company. And Felix, the best tour guide.