Almost the fourth floor

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DAY 2

(Reading time: 5 minutes)

The second day began with beautiful weather, perfect for our planned trip to Jioufen, and continued with a revelation regarding bus transportation.

But first, Jioufen – what is it, where is it, and why do people go there?

Jioufen is a picturesque town located in the mountains about 35km northeast of Taipei. It is renowned for its resemblance (see the introductory photo) to a location from the famous animated film Spirited Away (2001, Studio Ghibli). Although the creator, Hayao Miyazaki, denied any inspiration from this place, people simply want to believe it, and the town has built its business on this devout wish.

The town’s narrow alleys lined with lanterns are insanely crowded with tourists even on weekdays, and shops on every corner sell heaps of food and souvenirs… but not as many Ghibli souvenirs as you might expect given the situation.

Two meals (which you can find elsewhere in Taiwan as well) associated with this location are Taro Balls and Ice Cream Roll:

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Neither of them we would try again, but of course, we wanted to taste them since they are talked about everywhere. Taro Balls are colorful sweet chewy pieces made of taro root. They are served in a bowl with bits of beans on ice or in hot water… neither option seemed quite right to us, and the taste didn’t impress us either. Ice Cream Roll is more of a design meal. They wrap ice cream, crushed peanuts and optionally even a sprig of coriander in a crepe and cut it in half. The ice cream is flavorless and the overall combination is more nay than yay.

Jioufen is also a suitable starting point for some minor mountain hiking. We chose Mt. Keelung (the green hill on the left in the picture with Jioufen).

It’s quite a climb, mostly on stairs, especially on hot days you’ll sweat, but you can make it in about 45 minutes and the views during the ascent and from the summit are fantastic.

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Since the town itself didn’t quite captivate us due to the crowds, we went to see one solitary huge temple that we had seen during the bus ride.

It was impressive up close. And again, our classic situation occurred – nobody around, just two cute European tourists… so we went inside, toured the main hall, after which a man – he looked like he worked in the temple – directed us to the elevator (or we thought he was directing us to the elevator). We went up to the second floor and even made it to the third before we were told we didn’t belong there. 😀

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Never mind! We consider it a success, and besides, there were plenty of temples to see back in Jioufen as well.

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Now, back to the anticipated bus transportation.

We took bus route 965 from the Beimen bus stop (also a metro station) to Jioufen. We paid using the EasyCard/iPass – one-way fare is 90TWD. It was our first trip on a local bus and truly an eye-opener:

– You have to wave some buses down to get them to stop.

– Even then, they can switch on “full” on the display on the front and continue driving.

– Timetables hardly exist; sometimes the display at the bus stop indicates when the next bus will roughly arrive.

– If the bus stops for you, it can happen that the driver only takes as many people as there are seats (standing in the aisle is sometimes not allowed, the driver has the final say), the rest have to wait for the next bus, repeating the process.

– There are also buses that only go in one direction continuously (in the opposite direction the bus doesn’t run), you’ll appreciate this especially when you board at stop #5 out of 15 and need to get to stop #1…

– The luggage space below is usually not opened; you have to carry your luggage up to the seating area.

– Bus transportation in the city moves slowly, and you want to get off at the first possible stop to transfer to the much faster metro.

Tired and hungry, we made our way back to Taipei and visited our first night market – Shilin Night Market. Night markets with food are a popular part of Taiwanese culture and also our travels in Asia. There’s a pleasant bustling atmosphere, you can taste a bit of this and that, and also a little something over there. You’ll spend some money, but not too much, and satisfy both your stomach and your eyes.

I’ll highlight the traditional Fire Barrel Bun – dough made of flour filled with a mixture of peppery pork, spring onions, and sometimes even cabbage, then they stick this ball to the inner side of a hot barrel. The resulting product is so fragrant and crispy that, due to sheer impatience, you’ll most likely burn your mouth on the first bite. You definitely want to stand in line for this. 😊

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-endy-

DONKEY’S SPECIAL:

  • Taro Balls with ice are a trap in hot weather – they give you so much ice that in a few minutes your Taro Balls swim in water…
  • The ice cream in Ice Cream Roll tastes like crushed ice.
  • Compared to the Czech Republic, there are significantly fewer establishments focused solely on selling alcohol in Taiwan; people are more accustomed to meeting at outdoor markets for meals, and instead of beer, they go for bubble tea (more on that later).

-mj-

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