Taiwan is an incredibly beautiful country with a gorgeous lush countryside and green forested mountains overlooking the sea. The landscape was featured, perhaps most notably, in the movie Spirited Away.
The film by Hiyao Miyazaki is one of Studio Ghibli’s most famous films, followed closely by others like Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Have you seen any of them? If you haven’t, watch them STAT! They are beautiful films with fantastical stories and endearing characters. My sister and I grew up with them and still re-watch them when we have the time or the itch for anime.
Spirited Away is a fantasy that follows 10-year old Chihiro and her parents as they stumble upon an abandoned amusement park that is actually inhabited by ghosts and spirits. After her parents subsequently turn into pigs, Chihiro’s adventure begins as she navigates the spirit world to escape, save her parents, and go home. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2003 and is the highest grossing Japanese movie of all time. It’s the second highest grossing anime feature ever in all of history. It is great and you should go watch it right now (after you finish reading my post!).
It’s well known that Miyazaki took inspiration for the spirit town in Spirited Away from the mountain town of Jiufen, a charming, historic gold mining town with narrow streets and steep staircases leading to more and more winding alleys. While it has much to offer in terms of history, culture, and of course, the ample food lining the streets, Spirited Away definitely catapulted Jiufen to its stardom. No Face, a favorite character in the movie peered out from every store in the forms of keychains, statues, magnets, and piggy banks. Thank God I could recognize my No Face in the whole sea of them!
Read this amazing Buzzfeed article about this little Taiwanese girl who wanted to dress as No Face for Halloween and ended up scaring her classmates so badly that they all cried while she just lived her best life.
First, breakfast. Just around the corner from our Airbnb was a little hole in the wall known for churning out some of the best Taiwanese breakfast around. Like the dumpling house, you perused the menu on the street, marking down what you wanted, then waited in line to hand over your oder, pay, and wait to receive your food. It was standing room only when we arrived but we were able to snag two small seats at the corner of a table just as the food came.
They served two different Soya milks in Taiwan – one hot and one cold. We ordered both. The cold is a refreshing, sweet drink, much like vanilla flavored soy milk at home. The hot soya milk is a bit more interesting. They add a dash of vinegar to the milk to curdle it a bit so the drink is hot, a bit tangy, and a bit more…textured. It’s thicker – not as thick as oatmeal but not as thin as regular milk. We were told sometimes it’s so thick that it is served in a bowl ad you eat it with a spoon. Good but we both much preferred the cold sweet milk.
The hot soya milk comes with long sticks of fried dough, like a churro but not sweet, just fried, which you then dip into the hot soya milk and soak up all the soya goodness. We also ordered a pancake, egg, ham, and cheese all wrapped up together that was the closest to a BEC I think we’ll ever come in Asia. Won’t tell you it’s delicious because I’m sure you can already tell.
It was all SOYA good! #LAWLZ
Utterly full, we took the train from Taipei Main Station about an hour to Ruifang. From there we boarded a bus that drove us the last 20 minutes up the winding, cliff-side mountain roads. The bus was filled to the brim with the aisles completely full of standing passengers (us) and people even standing right next to the driver! (NOT BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE!!!) We all swayed in unison and hung on tight as the bus veered around the curves.
The weather was terrible – cold and rainy the entire time we were there. I bought a poncho for #fashion and told myself I had braved much worse during tailgating season at Penn State but there’s just something about being perpetually wet that really puts a DAMPER on things #lawlz.
Visibility was quite low when we arrived but pockets of greenery peeked out of the fog as the day went on! The mountain landscape was absolutely gorgeous and I can only imagine how impressive it would be in good weather!
The streets were so narrow that the crowds of people actually brought in a bit more warmth when you were walking through the inner streets rather than the outer.
And luckily there were ample stores, restaurants, and tea houses to duck into to warm up and dry off.
Sitting at communal tables (again) we ordered a bowl of mixed fish ball soup and a bowl of noodles. The fish ball soup came with 5 different types of fish balls (yum! my fave!) but no one told us what the different kinds were!
Glutinous dumpling with BBQ meat. Aren’t these really gross looking? They look so weird but were actually tasty. Sprinkled with cilantro/coriander on top.
Taiwanese Sausages – small, chewy, sweet sausages that offer a nice roasty crunch when you first bite into them followed by the soft, succulent inside. Such a distinct flavor and very well known throughout Taiwan.
As we wound through the narrow alleys of Jiufen, we couldn’t help but imagine the spirits from the movie hiding within the twists and turns! It really was just like the film.
Since we had made it all the way out to the countryside we decided to catch a second train and continue our journey on to Shifen to see a waterfall. Ideally, the weather would have been nicer but it made it more of an adventure to go stomping through the rain. I can only hope that the weather kept it a little less crowded than usual.
It was so beautiful and I am sure in the right weather conditions we could have stayed there for hours.
We took a cab back to Taipei. It was a great choice. We didn’t have to trudge back to the local station, or transfer trains to get home, or battle people for seats. Two very hot showers later, we were recharged and ready for the rest of the night – a free walking tour of Taipei! Stay tuned!