Whenever people mention traveling to Asia, they often mention the big threes: Japan, Korea and China, but what about the small players like Taiwan? Taiwan is a small island in East Asia that is sometimes overlooked but shouldn’t be. It’s full of history, amazing sights and some of the best noodles I’ve had. Here is a compilation of my journey through the country, starting with what was my favorite spot, Jioufen.
Jioufen, also referred to as the “Santorini of Taiwan”, is located in the Ruifang District. It’s a train and bus ride away from Taipei, approximately 1.5 hours away, making it perfect for a day trip. I advise you to arrive during the afternoon so you can get a glimpse of the town at night.
Once you get off the train station, there are lines of taxis parked on the side ready to take you to Jioufen. The buses can fill up quickly so if you’re willing to pay $6, take a cab and get to the village in 15 minutes.
I was concerned about the heavy rainfall during my visit, but I have to admit, it added a certain ambiance to the setting.
Since Jioufen is the inspiration behind the scenes of the Japanese movie, “Spirited Away,” the area is a hot spot for tourists. Buses full of school kids, groups of Korean tourists and foreigners alike can be spotted at every corner.
Along with the food stands, I did notice that the village had quite a few dessert shops. Although souvenirs can be difficult to find in Taiwan, they are more popular in Jioufen. Boxes of mochi, crackers, and typical souvenirs can all be purchased here for reasonable prices.
There is one shop in the entrance of the market that is wildly popular for their taro soup, but I opted for this dorayaki with taro ice cream…and had no regrets.
Sit and enjoy the view with a cup of tea in one of the shops to the left.
Once the night falls, the lights turn on and the city becomes alive. After you’ve seen every corner of Jioufen and soaked in all its magnificence, head over to Keelung. Buses are also available or cabs can take you directly to the Keelung night market for about $15.
Unlike other night markets, this one is more concentrated on food stands than shops. It’s much smaller than other ones but it offers a wide variety of dishes including oyster omelette, curry, roasted pig, various stews and seafood.
Although Keelung is the seaport district, I skipped all the seafood and went for the famous fried sandwiches. Yes, you heard me right, fried sandwiches! On busy nights, people are sent away with tickets and can only return during their assigned time. Fortunately, I was able to snag a sandwich, gobble it down and come back for seconds!
It’s actually a very simple sandwich, stuffed with ham, tomato, cucumber, a boiled egg and mayo, but there’s something about it that makes it so comforting. The bread alone is delicious – soft, sweet, and a little crunchy from the breadcrumbs coating the outside. In my haste of trying to consume the sandwich as quickly as I could, I only have a blurry picture to leave you with.
*Update: on my recent return to Taiwan, I discovered the ham is actually vegetarian ham! I was mind blown to say the least. If you’re hesitant about vegetarian meats (as any normal person would be), trust me, you won’t be able to tell the difference.
If you do decide to enjoy the fresh seafood, head on over to the port and pick any of the small restaurants that let you choose which crab, fish, eel, etc you want from the tank. Prices have gone up over the years but the quality can’t be beat.
Next up, Beitou hot springs.
Check out the rest of “The Flavors of Taiwan” series
Part 3: Central Taipei
Part 4: Good Eats in Central Taipei
Part 5: The Borders of Taipei