Taipei is a fantastic city, but if you want to get out of the city, and you enjoy waterfalls, hiking and food then I have a great day trip for you. It starts at Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail (三貂嶺瀑布群) then over to Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布) and ending in Jiufen (九份).
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Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail is an easy hike with some beautiful waterfalls, and the best part is most tourists don’t even know it’s there. The majority of visitors head straight over to Shifen Waterfall, your second stop.
Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail
To get to Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail, you will need to catch the train from Taipei (train) Station and get the train to Sandiaoling train station. It takes around an hour to get there and costs NT$59 ($1.87/£150/€1.75) each.
When you leave Sandiaoling Station, follow the train tracks south until they split. You will see a short underground tunnel, which will get you over to the other side of the tracks. Then either go under the tracks through a short tunnel, or over the tracks, and follow the right tracks. Keep walking, and you will see Sandiaoling Elementary school, which is where the trail begins. You will see a wooden sign post pointing to Hegu Waterfalls, head that way.
It should take you around a 15-minute walk to get to the first waterfall, Hegu Falls. Hegu Falls is a beautiful roaring waterfall. The only downside is that you can't get near to it, you have to admire it from afar. But don't worry, the next waterfall is much closer.
Keep following the trail for around half an hour, and you will get to MoTian Waterfall. This part of the hike there are a couple of little bridges you have to cross, and if the trail becomes a little bit confusing, just look out for the ribbons that other hikers have used to mark the path.
There is one final waterfall, which we didn't manage to see, PiPa Dong Waterfall. The route up is a little harder, and most people tend to turn back after MoTian. But the adventurous among you should go check it out. Just look out for the wooden ladder, which is the next part of the trail.
Now head back to the train station and get the train to Shifen Train Station (on the Pingxi line).
Shifen Waterfall Park
Shifen Waterfall park is on the opposite side of the spectrum to Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail, it is packed full of tourists. If you have to choose one or the other, personally I would choose Sandiaoling every time. But Shifen is still worth a visit for its 'Old Street'.
Along Old Street, there are dozens of people releasing lanterns, and you can do one too! You can pick the colour (because each colour has a different meaning) and choose what to write on it. They are around NT100-200 (£5/$6.35/€6), and remember, you can barter!
It doesn't take long to explore Old Street, so now it's time to choose, visit Shifen Waterfall Park, or head straight to Jiufen. If you do want to go to Shifen Waterfall Park it is about a half an hour walk to the entrance; some people prefer to take a taxi. The entrance fee is NT$80 (£2/$2.50/€2.40) per person.
To get to Jiufen, there are two options; the first is to take the train and then the bus, the second option is to just jump into a taxi. We were short on time so just grabbed a taxi but if you do want to save a bit of money jump on a train headed to Ruifang.
Train tickets are NT20 (£0.50/$0.60/€0.60), and the train ride is short, half an hour or four stops away. When you arrive at Ruifang, turn left as you exit the station. Walk for around 200 meters, and you will be able to see a police station on the opposite side of the road to you. Crossover so that you are on the same side as the police station. If you keep walking for a little bit, you will see a bus stop. Catch the Keelung bus headed to Jinguashih. Look out for Old Street, which is the stop you want to get off at (Look out for the 7/11 convenience store). If you are uncertain, ask a local. When I was there, the locals were remarkably friendly and helpful. Here are the characters in case they can't read English: Jiufen (九份).If you can, you should try to get a seat on the left side of the bus; it has the best views as the bus climbs the hills to Jiufen. The bus should take another 20 minutes.
Jiufen is an old gold mining town which boomed during the gold rush in the late 1800's. Jiufen looks like it would be more at home in Japan than Taiwan, and that's because the architecture is reminiscent of the Japanese occupation. If you are an anime fan, then Jiufen should be a must see. The architecture here is so unique that it was used as the model for the anime film Spirited Away.
Jiufen is a maze of streets, cafes and restaurants. Take the evening to wander around, take in all the sights and smells, as I would always suggest, try as much food as you can. Make sure you grab some beef noodles and don't buy at the first stall. There are loads of places to sit and eat, and your feet could probably use a break by this point. We manage to find one that even had its own little dog.
There are also lots of treats to buy, it seems like every single shop was selling pineapple cake. But my personal favourite, if you can spot it, was the ice cream and peanut brittle pancake.
If you have had enough to eat and feel re-energised, then wander down have a quick look around Fushan Temple. It's small but very photogenic.
There isn't much more to see in Jiufen, so it's probably time to head back up to Taipei. If on the other hand, you aren't quite ready to go back to Taipei there are a few little boutique hotels in Jiufen you can stay at. But make sure you book ahead as they can fill up pretty quickly.
To get to Taipei we took a taxi back to Taipei after we agreed on the price. Between five of us, it was very reasonable. I would recommend doing this because you will probably be tired and ready to get back, but there is a bus if you would rather take a more budget option.
And there you have it! The perfect day trip from Taipei.