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Sunday, 20 August 2017

spirited away in jiufen, and houtong cat village

Adorable cat loaf in the dreamy mountain town of Jiufen (九份).

For our last week in Taiwan, we found ourselves back in Taipei again. We spent most of our time exploring different parts of the city, but we set aside one special day for a combined trip to Jiufen mountain town and Houtong cat village, as these two tourist destinations are very close together.

Jiufen town.

There are entrenched rumours that Jiufen is the inspiration for the setting of the famous Japanese animation film Spirited Away, though Hayao Miyazaki himself has debunked this during an interview with Taiwanese media. Regardless of whether this real-life town has any influence on fictional Spirited Away, though, if you are familiar with the movie, it could be a fun exercise to see if you spot any resemblances!

A photo I took from the bus window of the route scenery leading up to Jiufen.

We took a bus up. This is a great way to get there, especially if you sit on the left hand side of the bus - as you get closer to Jiufen, the scenery is truly breathtaking at points. During those moments, sitting on a bus on a winding road and looking out the windows at mountains punctuated with mist, it really felt like we were about to enter into a magical world.

The winding roads of Jiufen.

After reaching our destination, we found our way to Jiufen Old Street area, which is very crowded and touristy. I think it would have been a more enchanting environment if it wasn't quite so busy, but eh, what can you do?

Still, in between squeezing our way around everyone else, we did stumble upon this delicious, interesting Taiwanese concoction - peanut ice cream roll! 

A delightful icy treat from the A-Zhu/A-Jou peanut ice cream roll stall (阿珠雪在燒) in Jiufen, 40 NTD.

This unusual street food dessert consists of a thin wrapper similar to a crepe or a spring roll skin, a layer of grated peanut brittle, two scoops of taro or pineapple ice cream, and most intriguingly, a sprinkling of coriander leaves. You can omit this last bit, but I found it to be a surprisingly pleasant element in this treat, so don't be afraid of how strange it may seem!

A scrumptious peanut ice cream roll with taro ice cream, peanut candy shavings, and - surprise! - cilantro/coriander leaves.

After eating the delicious ice cream roll, we escaped to more peaceful surroundings. A walk around the neighbourhood yielded cute discoveries such as the "Don't Want Work Studio", which sells handmade furniture, secondhand goods, and other stuff. It also offers accommodation.

I hear you, pal.

We met a cat. Actually, we met a few. Here's one of them!

A cat in Jiufen.

We didn't find a lot of things to do in Jiufen, so we ended up spending about one and a half hours here. Still, it is a lovely and charming place, and I am glad we went, even if it didn't occupy us for long!

More Jiufen views.

If I recall correctly, to get to our next destination, Houtong Cat Village, we caught a bus from Jiufen to Ruifang railway station, where we then caught a train to Houtong station. It's a short ride on both the bus and the train, about five minutes each.

Before we caught our train at Ruifang station, we had a decently tasty lunch at a little shop nearby. Not sure how to translate the name of the place, but basically something like "Crispy Ribs Noodles Fast Food Cart".

So, Simon had their eponymous crispy ribs noodle soup.

Crispy ribs noodle soup at 快餐車排骨酥麵 near the Ruifang train station (瑞芳火車站), 60 NTD.

I had the wonton soup.

Wonton soup (餛飩湯), 40 NTD.

Then we got on the train and it wasn't long before we arrived at Houtong Cat Village!

A cat sculpture at Houtong Cat Village (猴硐貓村).

One of the first things I saw upon arrival was this bakery shop.

Annie's Bakery (艾妮西點).

I wasn't hungry after just having had lunch, but I couldn't resist getting myself a cat-shaped pineapple cake. This black version has had charcoal powder added, you can get regular ones too. If you're not familiar with Taiwanese pineapple cakes, they're basically like cookies with a pineapple jam filling.

Taiwanese pineapple cake (猴硐貓咪鳳梨酥), charcoal cat version.

And then it was time for us to go full-blown cat-crazy mode!

Adorable tabby cat on a scooter!

And cats really are everywhere.

Cat on the rooftop... seeing double?

Is Houtong Cat Village touristy? Of course. But there are plenty of wide-open spaces, so it rarely feels crowded.

A fellow tourist taking pictures of cats at Houtong Cat Village.

And it is one of the nicest touristy places I've ever been to. It seems to me that tourists are even being particularly patient and pleasant than usual over here. It's like everyone is thinking... "We're all cat-lovers here so we're basically one big family! Yay cats! Love to everyone!!"

A sweet kitty chilling out.

Also, even though everyone comes here for the cats, Houtong village actually has very pretty scenery. What a bonus!

The scenery in Houtong Cat Village.

The cats seem oblivious to it, though.

Cat licking itself.

"Scenery? What scenery? Just shut up and pat me."

A rather distinguished-looking tuxedo cat.

While you're here, don't forget to look up, because cats love hanging out in high places...

A cat on top of a shop.

And you wouldn't want to miss out on these cute sightings...

Cat amongst mountains.

Would you?

This cat had the cutest face!

Watch out for the cat-themed art, too.

Cartoon cat railway master at Houtong Cat Village.

They're interspersed throughout the village...

A cat with a heart.

And they're cute and fun and colourful.

A cat mural.

Oh, yeah, and the architecture here can be quite interesting, too.

Little houses in Houtong Cat Village.

But at the end of the day, it's all about the cats.

An old cat having a siesta.

So there you go...

Doesn't this one just look so elegant?

We ended up spending about two hours at Houtong Cat Village just strolling around. It was wonderful, we were entertained by cat sightings the entire time, and it was easy to get up close and personal with many of them for pictures and pats, as you can see.

Cheeky cat.

Needless to say, our excursion to Jiufen and Houtong Cat Village was a roaring (or should I say purring?) success! If you like village settings and friendly cats, give this Taipei day trip idea a go!

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