With its spectacular landscapes and bustling cities, Taiwan is a favourite travel destination in East Asia. Located on its northern tip, Taipei is the island’s capital, largest city and its top tourist hot spot. Most foreign tourist visit Taipei for its thriving night markets, endless shopping opportunities and delicious street foods. In addition to the tourist attractions within the city, most visitors to Taipei would not consider their trip complete without a visit to nearby Pingxi and Jiufen.
Pingxi (平溪) and Jiufen (九份) are located north-east of Taipei. The pair used to be thriving mining precincts during the Japanese occupation period. Both are mountainous regions, with Pingxi located further inland while Jiufen is along the coast. Nowadays, Pingxi and Jiufen are popular for their nostalgic streets, scenic views, unique street foods and the opportunity to release sky lanterns (Pingxi only). Such is their popularity, it is almost a ritual for all visitors to Taipei to visit Pingxi and Jiufen.
In this “Pingxi and Jiufen Travel Guide”, we’ll list down the top places to visit in both districts. Plus, we’ll share the valuable travel tips that we’ve gathered during our trip there. We’re sure that you’ll find the info in this travel guide useful for planning your coming Pingxi and Jiufen trip!
PingXi Travel Guide
Pingxi is a mountainous rural district in the eastern part of New Taipei City. It used to host a flourishing coal mining community during the early 20th century while Taiwan was under Japanese rule.
During the mining days, a 12.9km railway (Pingxi Line) was built to aid the mining operations. The single-track Pingxi Line (平溪線) serve a number of towns in the district and is linked to Ruifang Station (near Jiufen) on its northern end.
When mining stopped in the late 20th century, Pingxi Line was converted into a tourist railway to preserve the coal-mining heritage and serve the growing number of tourist. Most of the train stations along Pingxi Line are preserved to maintain their old-school architecture and feel.
Most visitors to Pingxi district plan their visit via sequentially exploring the various stations along Pingxi Line. In particular, the more popular stations are Shifen, Pingxi and Jingtong (terminal station).
#A: Shifen Station
Shifen (十分) is unquestionably the most popular and Instagram-worthy town on Pingxi Line. The name Shifen literally translate to “ten portions” in Chinese. It was named as such due to the ten families whom started its development in the early days.
During the mining periods, Shifen was a coal transportation node. As evidence to this, the single railway track still runs across the centre of the town. In fact, Shifen is one of the few remaining places in Taiwan where pedestrians are free to roam the track and regular trains still run within a few metres of shophouses on either side of it.
Shifen Old Street
The rows of shophouses next to Shifen Station are known as Shifen Old Street (十分老街). These old school shophouses form the town centre and flank the railway track. Shifen Old Street is the centre of most tourist activities in Shifen. With the shophouses hosting souvenir shops, restaurants, street-food hawkers and the all-important sky lantern vendors.
Sky Lantern (Must-do!)
Perhaps the most common reason for the majority of tourist to visit Pingxi district (and Shifen Old Street in particular) is the opportunity to release sky lanterns (天灯). This is absolutely the MUST-DO activity for anyone visiting the area.
Due to Pingxi’s remoteness, locals used to employ sky lanterns as a form of signaling. Over the century, this practice gradually evolved into a local custom. While the release of sky lanterns was banned in the rest of Taiwan over the years, the practice was allowed to continue in Pingxi district due to its geographical isolation and sparse population.
Nowadays, tourist flock to Shifen Old Street to try their hands at releasing sky lanterns. There are plenty of sky lantern vendors in the area, with pricing usually reasonable and comparable. After buying a sky lantern, customers will be given calligraphy brushes to write messages/wishes on them. Subsequently, they will be guided to release the sky lanterns in the middle of the railway track.
Photographic Tip: Plan to release your sky lantern during sunset/evening to have a beautiful sky as a picturesque background. A sure-fire way to boast views of your Instagram account!
Another popular attraction in the area is Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布). It is located 1.4km (18 minutes’ walk) from Shifen Old Street. Measuring 40 metres (width) by 20 metres (height), the cascading Shifen Waterfall is famous for being the broadest in Taiwan. Situated within a forested region, rainbows can oftentimes be seen over Shifen Waterfall. This is especially so on sunny days.
Jingan Suspension Bridge
Located next to the Shifen Station, Jingan Suspension Bridge (靜安吊橋) is another interesting photo spot in Shifen. It too was constructed during the coal-mining era and preserved till date.
#B: Pingxi Station
The main reason for most tourist to Pingxi Station is to visit Pingxi Old Street (平溪老街), which is next to the station and built on the slopes of a hill. As with its cousin in Shifen, Pingxi Old Street is famous for its retail shops, street-food vendors and sky lanterns. Though it somehow seemed to have less fanfare and crowd.
Expectedly, a number of buildings here were built during the mining era while under Japanese rule. Part of the railway track runs on a structure over Pingxi Old Street. This part of the track used to be a favorite photo spot in the days before the rickety-looking wooden structure was rebuilt and strengthen. A number of small temples still populate the area, offering a cultural glimpse of the locals.
#C: Jingtong Station
Jingtong Station (箐桐) is the terminal station of Pingxi Line and has the least-crowded and smallest town (of the three). Probably as a result, the town somehow felt less captivating than its neighboring cousins.
The key attraction in Jingtong is the station itself. Though small, Jingtong Station is one of the best-preserved wooden train stations in Taiwan. Next to the station, visitors can purchase bamboo rolls from the local vendors and write their messages/wishes on it before hanging them along the railway tracks. A stone throw away from Jingtong Station are some museums, which highlight the town’s history.
Jiufen Travel Guide
Jiufen (九份) is a rugged coastal area in Ruifang District (瑞芳), on the northern-most tip of Taiwan. Similar to Shifen, the name Jiufen (aka Jioufen or Chiufen) came about as legend has it that during the early Qing Dynasty, nine families first populated the area. In more recent history, a gold mining town was setup here by the Japanese during WW2. However, mining waned after the war and the mine was eventually closed in 1971.
It was not until the 1990s that Jiufen started to evolve into a tourist town. Visitors were drawn to it by the scenic coastal views and its old-fashioned narrow alleys lined with Chinese-styled food stalls, teahouses, restaurants and souvenir shops. Jiufen’s popularity (and fortune) was further boosted in 2001, when it was said to resemble a town in Hayao Miyazaki’s massively successful Japanese anime movie, Spirited Away.
#A: Jiufen Old Street (Must-visit!)
Jiufen Old Street (九份老街) lies amidst the hilly terrain of Jiufen’s town. The archaic cobblestone street consists of a series of crisscrossing narrow alleys and steep stairways. These are populated with numerous retail outlets dealing in food, souvenirs, arts, handcrafts and other tourist related items. Of most intriguing are the various unique local street foods (aka xiaochi, 小吃), which Taiwan is so often famous for.
Other than getting mesmerized by the myriad of food and shopping, certain spots in Jiufen Old Street also presents visitors with scenic views of the coastline and beautiful clusters of houses dotting the rugged landscape.
Most shops in the narrow alleys open from morning till late afternoon. During evenings, visitors turn their attention to the restaurants and teahouses lining the steep stairways of Jiufen Old Street. These brightly lit establishments had their traditional Chinese architecture styles retained. Proving to be magnets for camera-toting tourists looking for their next selfie.
Jiufen Old Street is without doubt the crown jewel of all tourist attractions in the region. Such is its popularity, it can be said that for most tourist that you would ever come across within Taipei City, you can be sure that he/she is also planning to visit (or had already visited) Jiufen Old Street.
Photographic Tip: In front of the 7-Eleven outlet, there is a 2-storey viewing platform. It offers panoramic views of the coastline and much of Jiufen town. (map)
#B: Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park
Jinguashi (金瓜石), which literally translates to “Gold Melon Rock”, is another intriguing town in Ruifang District. Together with neighboring Jiufen, Jinguashi was prominent for its gold (and copper) mines. Collectively, they were known to be one of the richest sources of precious metals in East Asia.
The discovery of such valuable commodities led to the growth of the local community and development of the area since early 20th century. During WW2, the Japanese occupation forces even established a prisoner-of-war camp here and forced Allied soldiers to work in the harsh conditions of the mines. At its peak, the copper mine in Jinguashi was the largest in the Japanese empire. Although mining ceased by 1971, it is interesting to note that a sizable amount of precious metal deposits still resides in the area.
As with Jiufen, Jinguashi’s prominence and local economy went into decline with the ending of mining activities. However, Jinguashi started to develop into a bustling tourist town and regain its previous glamour with the opening of the Gold Ecological Park (黃金博物園區) in 2004. At that time, the Gold Ecological Park was the first ecological museum in Taiwan.
Gold Ecological Park
Jinguashi’s Gold Ecological Park is established around the preserved residential/office buildings and mining structures built during the Japanese occupation period. The park’s main attraction is the Museum of Gold (黃金博物館). It houses exhibits and information about the gold mining operations in the area. One of its most photographed and interesting exhibits is a massive 220kg 999-rated gold ingot, which visitors can touch.
Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park’s other notable attractions include a preserved mine tunnel (Benshan Fifth Tunnel, 本山五坑), the Crown Prince Chalet (太子賓館) and the ruins of a Shinto Shrine. The Crown Prince Chalet was constructed in 1922 in anticipation of the Japanese Crown Prince’s visit. It is currently one of the better-preserved Japanese style residences in Taiwan. Visitors looking for a panoramic view of the area can hike up a long flight of stairs to the Shinto Shrine ruins. Though the Shinto Shrine had been destroyed, the shrine’s high grounds offer fantastic views of the surrounding landscape.
Tip: Regular bus services connect Jiufen Old Street to Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park. Journey is 10 minutes.
#C: Golden Waterfall
A short drive from the ecological park, Golden Waterfall (黃金瀑布) is the other prominent attraction in Jinguashi. Golden Waterfall is a series of small cascades made up of yellowish-brown rocks, thus its name. The rocks get their unique colors from the tinted water, which is mineral rich due to the copper and iron deposits in the area. However, it must be cautioned that the water is not safe (even to touch) due to its contents.
Golden Waterfall is a 10 minute bus ride from Gold Ecological Park, although we’re not sure about the bus service frequency.
Photographic Tip: Jin Suei Highway (金水公路) (map) links Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park to the Golden Waterfall. When driving from Gold Ecological Park towards Golden Waterfall, just before reaching the waterfall, the road involves a rapid descend via a series of scenic hairpin turns. These hairpin turns are best viewed from the top (i.e. section of the road before it starts descending) (see viewing point on map). However, there is no proper viewing platform/parking. One has to find a section of the road that is wide enough to park the car and walk to the viewing point. Be careful not to obstruct other road users when parking the car along the road.
Tips for Planning your Pingxi and Jiufen trip
For those planning to cover both Pingxi (Shifen) and Jiufen in the same trip, we recommend a 2-day/2-night trip. With both nights’ stay in one of the numerous homestays around Jiufen Old Street.
On the first day, explore the various station along Pingxi Line. Ending the evening in Shifen Old Street (and releasing sky lantern) for the best experience.
For the second day, explore the attractions around Jiufen and Jinguashi. Ending the evening with dinner (and night photo ops) at Jiufen Old Street.
Should you need to store your luggage (e.g. on Day#1 morning after arriving from Taipei and not wanting to travel to your Jiufen accommodation just to store your luggage), several online sources indicate that there are luggage storage services at Ruifang Station. However, we cannot be sure as we’ve not used the service before.
How to get there: From Taipei to Jiufen and Pingxi
Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station
Ruifang Station to Jiufen (i.e. Jiufen Old Street and Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park)
-From Ruifang Station, there are regular buses departing for Jiufen. Journey is approximately 30 minutes.
-Alternatively, take a taxi from Ruifang Station. The taxi rates from Ruifang Station to Jiufen are fixed by the local authorities. These rates are prominently displayed at the taxi stand. Taking a taxi might be worth it for those carrying luggage or travelling in small groups.
Ruifang Station to Pingxi
-For those heading onto Pingxi, simply switch to Pingxi Line at Ruifang Station. One-day passes for unlimited ride on Pingxi Line are available at Ruifang Station.
-The train ride from Ruifang Station to Shifen Station is approximately 40 minutes. While the ride (from Ruifang) to the terminal station at Jingtong is approximately 1 hour.
Important Tip: The train frequency of Pingxi Line is approximately once every hour. Thus, do take a photo of the line’s schedule (at Ruifang Station) before starting your trip. Use it to plan your stops and return trip to avoid time wastage.
For more Taiwan related Travel Blogs
This Pingxi and Jiufen Travel Guide is part of our Taiwan series of travel blogs. Below is the list of our travel blogs on other popular destinations in Taiwan.
For our Japan related Travel Blogs
We’ve also written an entire series of travel blogs covering Japan’s most popular travel destinations, refer to the list below:
- 11-Days Free & Easy Itinerary for Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hakone)
- Free & Easy Japan: Tokyo Highlights
- Free & Easy Japan: Osaka Highlights
- Free & Easy Japan: Kyoto Highlights
- Free & Easy Japan: Hakone Highlights
- 4 Great Tips for your Japan Holiday
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