Day 19: Jiaoxi, Shifen, Pingxi, Taipei – 14.4.2015
After another breakfast at the Maple Leaves City Suites Hotel, we checked out and walked to the nearby Jiaoxi Train Station. There we bought a train ticket to Ruifang Station. We left at about 9.30 a.m. and an hour later arrived at the Ruifang Station. We had to store our luggage first so we don’t have to drag them since we are only in transit in Ruifang as we will be continuing our journey to Taipei later in the day. We used the baggage storage at the station, which we already knew from our stop there a few days ago. Today we had decided to make another excursion from Ruifang Station. The last time we took a cab from Ruifang Station to Jiufen and the Gold Museum but this time, we headed to Pingxi District and Shifen.
We bought an agreeable day ticket for the Pingxi Line and took one of the about hourly trains, that connect Ruifang with the former coal mining villages Shifen, Pingxi and Jingtong. We already had checked out the departure times of the trains online and were a bit early at the track. The train was already there, and so we immediately took our seat. The train quickly filled up, and when it departed, many people had to stand the whole way to Shifen (about 30 minutes), where we exited. I can’t image how full the train might get on a weekend.
Shifen is a small village. So we came with the crowd that exited the train from the Shifen Train Station primarily going to the historic Shifen Old Street with many food stalls and also the Sky Lanterns, which are a significant attraction. We didn’t buy one, but many fellow tourists did and sent their wishes to the skies. I got a sausage on a stick instead!
The most prominent attraction in Shifen is the Shifen Waterfall, which is located a bit outside the village. It was easy to find though as there were many signs, which first led us from the Old Street to the Visitor Center. We rested there a bit with for coffee, kind of bland waffles and (mediocre) meat and rice. My friend was happy to buy a peanut snack pack with tiny fishes as a gift for his nephews before we took a look at the suspension bridge behind the Visitor Center. It is a beautiful bridge but somehow leads to nowhere.
Strengthened we continued to walk to the waterfall, which turned out to be vast and spectacular. It was another welcome addition to our list of impressive waterfalls, like the ones we had seen in Iceland (though not comparable) or the Busay Falls in the Philippines. There´s also a cafe, and we stayed there a bit before we walked back to the Shifen Old Street and the Train Station.
The next train from Shifen to Pingxi wasn´t that full, as many people, coming from Ruifang Station, exited in Shifen. Pingxi, like Shifen, is a small village with an Old Street that offers Sky Lanterns and even an annual Sky Lantern Festival.
Pingxi also has walking paths, so we walked southwards, over a bridge, and came to a street, which runs parallel to the river and the tracks. We walked left into the street and after a few steps came to a public toilet next to a little waterfall, where stairs lead up. This was the entrance to walking trails to nearby mountains, which we followed upwards, with Putuo Mountain our primary goal. It is not a long hike – about 2 kilometres – but unusually very steep towards the end. It was too steep for us, and so we turned around when we came to the steepest stairs I´ve ever seen. It was still a pleasant hike through nature, even if there were quite some old Sky Lanterns lying around, which ended their trip in this forest.
Back at the Pingxi Train Station, we decided to return to Ruifang Station. Originally we had planned to continue further into the west to Jingtong. But we still had to travel onwards to Taipei, and so we skipped that. With more time we might also have stopped at Sandiaoling Train Station, to look for the Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail. We got seats on the train, as it only got really crowded when the train stopped in Shifen. Back at the Ruifang Train Station, we got our luggage out of the storage and then bought train tickets for Taipei and soon went off.
After about an hour we reached Taipei Train Station and took the east exit towards the MRT. Further downwards at an MRT-Info, we bought very convenient 5-Day-Taipei-MRT-Passes for about 20 Euros, which also can be used for buses. We just had one station to go to Ximen Station, where Exit 6 led us to the busy pedestrian area of Ximending. From there we could walk to our hotel, the Via Hotel. It is located in a little shopping street on the second floor of a building, reachable via elevators.
The room for a modest price was beautiful and modern with refrigerator and flatscreen TV with many channels. At the reception, there´s also a small breakfast area, where you can get something to drink and have little snacks the whole day for free. The best was that it is centrally located in the Ximending area and in walking distance to the Ximen MRT-Station. Of course, we had to explore Ximending right away and soon started our walk through the busy pedestrian area. We soon came to the historic Red House and then continued to the “Ximending Cinema Street”, before we had dinner at one of the many restaurants.