Jiufen & Mt. Keelung Guide / by Josiah Edbrooke

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Jiufen

Hiking Guide

Jiufen is one of the most recognizable places in the northern part of Taiwan I would argue. The famous tea shops, and terraced houses draw huge numbers of visitors all year round. If remember correctly it was one of the first places I visited outside of Taipei when I first arrived in Taiwan. It's easy to see how a location like this inspired the visual style of Howl's Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki. At night, the traditional lanterns line the small back streets, which are filled with trinkets and local craft stores. Sunset is just as stunning if you climb Mt. Keelung which is about 2 minutes walk from the entrance to old street in Jiufen. 

If you are new to Taiwan it's a must visit destination for sure, the crowds and traffic are pretty bad on the weekend so I would suggest going on a weekday if you can. You'll miss the rush of the weekend crowds and have a far more pleasant time in general. Getting there is pretty simple, Take the 1062 bus from Zhongxiao Fuxing exit 2. It takes about 40 mins, and there are no transfers or change overs. Coming back can be a pain waiting for the bus if it's busy, so you can always get a taxi to Ruifang station and catch the train back from there. 

It's a great place to visit if you want a taste of local culture in this part of the country. As the bus snakes its way through the mountains towards the road you start to get a glimpse of Jiufen and the valley below. If the weather is decent, its a real sight to behold. 

 the north coast stretching all the way towards Keelung City. f16, ISO 200, 1/800, 28mm

the north coast stretching all the way towards Keelung City. f16, ISO 200, 1/800, 28mm

One of the pictures I'm most proud about, I managed to snap here in fact. As I was on the bus heading towards Jiufen my heart sank as we approached in torrential rain. But by a stroke of luck right as the bus got close to the stop, the sun started to shine through the clouds, and the rain eased up finally. I had been here once before maybe two years ago and I had a spot in mind I wanted to shoot.  I wasn't too sure if the rain would come back, so I sprinted off the bus and around the s bend to the second bus stop higher up the hill. Here I was able to catch the golden light and dramatic rain clouds all in one, with the temple in the foreground. To this day, it's still one of my favourite pictures. It's a reminder that sometimes with photography you still need a hefty slice of luck, and help from the weather gods!

 My favourite picture. f9, ISO 200, 1.60, 27mm

My favourite picture. f9, ISO 200, 1.60, 27mm

It's the kind of picture that you take, and just by looking at the preview jpg, you know it's a good one. After I managed to snap that picture in time, I decided to chance it and hike up Mt. Keelung. It was right there after all, and it isn't a super long hike. From top to bottom, might take you about 40 mins. It's just one path up and down, with stairs all the way up, so suitable for all fitness levels and experience levels. If I had to compare it to any other hike in Taiwan, I would say it's fairly similar to Elephant mountain, but with an infinitely better view. 

The clouds often engulf the summit, but quickly move on more often than not, seeing as there is always a strong wind blowing on this part of the coast. It means that even with bad weather, it often doesn't stick around too long, and you are able to get the magical moments like I luckily caught. 

 101 peaking over the mountain range. f22, ISO 500, 1/60. 150mm

101 peaking over the mountain range. f22, ISO 500, 1/60. 150mm

 Head in the clouds. f9, ISO 200, 1/80, 27mm

Head in the clouds. f9, ISO 200, 1/80, 27mm

 snake road, heading towards teapot mountain. f16, ISO 1600, 1/13, 19mm

snake road, heading towards teapot mountain. f16, ISO 1600, 1/13, 19mm

 Layers upon layers of mountains. f3.5, ISO 200, 1/640, 150mm

Layers upon layers of mountains. f3.5, ISO 200, 1/640, 150mm

It would probably be a good idea to bring a waterproof bag and jacket with you in case you get caught up here in the rain or freak downpour. Lucky for me my Olympus Em5 Mark II is weather sealed, as is the stock 12-50mm lens, so I can be a little more gun ho about taking it out and about to these types of locations. From a photography point of view, and just a regular tourist here, Mt. Keelung is well worth the short trek. It offers excellent views on both side of the summit, and is a lot less crowded than Old street Jiufen. More often than not, a large percentage of tourists here don't really want to break a sweat, so the large majority of people stay around the tea shop area in Jiufen.

It is 100% worth coming up to the top of the mountain though, especially at sunset, as the light here falls really well in the valley's and headlands of the north coast. 

Once the sun is gone here, the light tends to fade fairly quickly, so just make you have a decent light source you can use on the way down the steps to Jiufen Old Street. Some of the stairs are a little uneven so its important to watch your step when heading down. I suggest you do this mini hike at sunset first, because in my opinion Jiufen in the daytime looks fairly ordinary, But once it lights up with the lanterns and shops, it's a million times better looking. 

What is interesting about Jiufen and Mt. Keelung, is that you can go from classic landscape photography right into street photography, all in the same trip. It's a nice challenge to flip the script and try to adapt to each location. 

Old Street is fairly small and cramped, but this actually works nicely shooting street candid pictures. It's fairly easy to blend into the crowd here and go unnoticed without many people caring about cameras. Where as Mt. Keelung lends itself nicely to variable zoom lens, Old Street is fantastic for prime lens shooting. You can get some really great bokeh when you isolate a single lantern for example. The lights and crowd of Jiufen make a nice backdrop for most street pictures!

 Old street lighting. f1.8, ISO 640, 1/160, 75mm

Old street lighting. f1.8, ISO 640, 1/160, 75mm

 Howl's floating castle style. f4.5, ISO 1600, 1/100, 75mm

Howl's floating castle style. f4.5, ISO 1600, 1/100, 75mm

Old Street itself isn't very big in actual fact. You can walk from one end to the other in under 10 mins. But this is not really the point to visiting Jiufen. The key to getting the best out of a visit here is to take your time, and find a good place to relax and soak up the culture. Food is fairly unique, and is mostly traditional taiwanese dishes. The most famous dish served here is the taro ball soup. It comes in various flavors and styles. While not to my liking particularly, it's an interesting dish thats worth trying at least once I would say. There are few other dumpling, noodle and fried food shops, but the selection is a bit limited if you aren't into eastern style food.  

 taro ball soup. f1.8, ISO 1600, 1/80, 75mm

taro ball soup. f1.8, ISO 1600, 1/80, 75mm

At this point you can head back and catch the bus from the same spot I shot the first picture (the s bend just outside Old Street. But there is often a large que here to get on the bus though, so sometimes it can be worth walking down the hill in old street and getting the bus from the bottom of the hill. If you don't fancy waiting there are numerous taxis but they can be fairly expensive and are looking to rip off unsuspecting tourist. 

 happy face. f1.8, ISO 1600, 1/100, 75mm 

happy face. f1.8, ISO 1600, 1/100, 75mm 

 cat meet dog. f1.8, ISO 3200, 1/80, 75mm

cat meet dog. f1.8, ISO 3200, 1/80, 75mm

 Looking back up the hill towards Old Street. f1/8, ISO 1600, 1/25, 75mm

Looking back up the hill towards Old Street. f1/8, ISO 1600, 1/25, 75mm

All in all Jiufen should be a must visit for all people visiting Taiwan, or just anyone looking to explore if you live here long term. It offers unique food, views and shops all in one small place. It's fairly accessible too! It works best, from a photography perspective, in golden hour and evening hours. You can capture a nice mix of traditional style buildings along with the random nature of street photography. 

If you need any other tips and tricks I've found while visiting this place don't hesitate to let me know! Also I hope you are enjoy these photo guides

Until next time!

Sy Edbrooke ^^