Day 16: Zhubei, Jiufen, Jinguashi, Jiaoxi – 11.4.2015
The day before, it had rained pretty much the whole day. Today it didn’t look better, when we looked out our window in the Yuhao Hotel in Zhubei, Taiwan.
After another excellent breakfast buffet with a variety of food, we walked to the nearby Zhubei Train Station with our luggage and soon boarded a local train to Ruifang Station, which took about 2,5 hours. At the station we stored our luggage – they have small lockers inside the station and also a storage room for the larger bags just outside the train station to the right. Ruifang wasn’t our primary destination, instead only a side trip, which lies between Zhubei and Jiaoxi, a hot spring/ spa town, where we had booked a hotel room for the next couple of days. But before that, we wanted to make a day trip to the small mountain town Jiufen and the Gold Museum in Jinguashi.
The Taiwan Tourist Shuttle offers the “Gold Fulong Route”, with several buses a day that leads from Ruifang Train Station to Jiufen, the Gold Museum and many more places. We read before that you shouldn’t go to Jiufen on the weekend because it’s just too crowded. But it was mostly raining, so we thought we could give it a try. After the long train ride we weren´t in the mood for a crowded bus, so we decided to take one of the many cabs when we saw, that they have fixed prices to Jiufen, Jinguashi and also day tours. The taxi from the Ruifang Station to the Gold Museum in Jinguashi cost around 7 Euro.
The Gold Museum is an open-air museum in the mountains. It occupies a vast area, and we took our time to walk through it. I especially liked the Jinguashi Shinto Shrine, where we walked up to. It was a bit strenuous, but we had a great view from there until the ocean. The Benshan Fifth Tunnel, which cost a little fee to visit, was also excellent. While we didn’t understand anything, what the Taiwanese guide recited at the start of the walk, we didn’t have to speak Chinese to see the tunnel. We walked through it independently with our helmets on and got an impression of the past Gold Mining in the area. It’s not for the claustrophobic, but otherwise quite an experience. Later we had spaghetti at their restaurant but unfortunately forgot to buy chocolate gold bars as a souvenir…
Jiufen is really near Jinguashi, and so we decided to take another cab, that cost less than three Euro. Jiufen was once the gold city of Asia. Today it is a village in the mountains with the Jiufen Old Street and tea houses as the main highlight. It is a trendy destination for Taiwanese tourists. We started our walk nearby a 7-Eleven at the Qiche Road and entered the Jishan Street. Despite the still lousy weather, it was jam-packed.
We saw an abundance of shops, and you can eat your way through the whole street – they offer everything from shrimps, sausages, mushrooms to pitaya (dragon fruit) and peanut ice cream and sweet potato filled cookies. You can also buy a suitcase full of interesting souvenirs (like coal chocolate). The only letdown was, that it was so crowded in the very narrow alley, that it was a bit stressful and pushy.
When we took some stairs up (looking for a mountain view), we accidentally came to a temple and took a look. Unfortunately, it was a bit foggy. All said – you shouldn’t come to Jiufen on the weekend if you want a more serene experience in this charming mountain village. We soon left with another cab, but not before hoarding some delicious pineapple cookies.
Back at the Ruifang Station, we bought train tickets to Jiaoxi Station and took our luggage from the luggage storage. There are so many trains in Taiwan that we didn’t have to buy a ticket in advance. What I really liked about the Ruifang Station – and most of the other train stations we saw – is that they have elevators for every track, which makes travelling with heavy luggage much more comfortable. It took about an hour until we finally reached Jiaoxi, where we had booked a hotel for three nights.
From the train station, we walked with our luggage to the nearby Maple Leaves City Suites Hotel. We had a big room with a hot spring spa, refrigerator, flatscreen TV with many channels and also a view – I loved it. Even better – the hotel has a rooftop open-air hot spring spa (similar to the onsen in Japan), where we then later relaxed in the hot bath.
We came to Jiaoxi because we wanted to stay a few days in a hot spring town. Jiaoxi also seemed to be a good base for a day trip to the Taroko Gorge as well as some hiking trips, we would explore the next day. It was time for dinner, so we walked to the nearby Tang-wei-gou Park, a hot spring park with outdoor foot spas and more. It looked nice, and we found a restaurant there, where I had delicious fish and which also had a live saxophone performance.
After dinner, we walked a bit around and nearly made it to the Sietian Temple, but gave up when it didn’t appear after already some walking and so headed back to the hotel to finally relax in the hot spring pool!