Often, it feels as though my memories from Taiwan are indistinguishable from my dreams. The capital city of Taiwan, Taipei, is an urbanised city. A tube service called the MRT, very similar to the London underground, and various other public transportation services have developed massively in recent years, meaning that travellers can easily access different tourist spots within the city. The highest building in the city, Taipei 101, lights up at night over the city below, a nod to the future of this bustling metropolis.
However, just a short two-hour bus ride away from the city will bring you to what feels like a completely different place. The Taiwanese countryside makes you feel as though you have stepped right into the past. There is a sense of nostalgia and mystery that hangs in the air, a place just waiting to be explored.
The city of Jiufen sits at the top of the mountain, its new found maturity is largely down to its links with the gold trade. It is a very popular tourist spot for locals and overseas visitors alike, yet it is not one for the faint-hearted. The city centre is halfway up the mountain, so strolling through the city is the equivalent of taking a hike, but it is a worthwhile. However, when the majority of the streets are crammed with shops, food stalls and souvenir sellers, you are always guaranteed an enjoyable rest. The aroma of thousands of spices mingle together in the streets, winding around you, and drawing you into a new sensory world.
Passing through the main street, you reach an open space on top of the mountain, showcasing a breathtakingly magnificent view over the city, and the ocean below. A multi-storey cafe sits in the centre of the square, featuring large windows where people sit, sipping tea, and meditating over the views. Traditional large spherical lanterns are hanged from the roof, their bright red a stark contrast against the deep black of the building. It has been suggested that the cafe was, in fact, a source of inspiration for Miyaziki’s film ‘Spirited Away’, because of its exotic looks. Indeed, experiencing the dramatic change of scenery on the journey from Taipei to Jiufen, you do feel as though you have been spirited away.
During the Chinese New Year season, an event called ‘heavenly sky lantern’ is held in Pingxi, where people send lanterns flying into the sky that carry their dreams and wishes. Of course, tourists can participate in the flying event, but watching it from afar is so magical. We waited in a large crowd, until the sky was completely dark. A count-down began, and once the crowd had finished chanting the lanterns were finally let go into the sky. We could barely see the calligraphy painted on them, and soon enough, they began to look like tiny orange stars. Although the whole event hinges on those few minutes when the lanterns are set free, it is a magnificent experience and is completely worth seeing.
Taiwan is a beautiful place, not only in its urbanised cities, but in the magic of its untouched countryside. It is beautiful at all times of the year, but visiting it at the right time can make the experience even more special.
It truly is a place that deserves to be on every traveller’s list, waiting to be explored and adored.