New Taipei City: Going beyond Taipei

SURROUNDING Taipei City is the municipality of New Taipei City, or also known as Xinbei and formerly called Taipei County. New Taipei City is a good mix of urban and rural, new and old, modern and traditional. To get to the various attractions in this municipality, we hired for a whole day a cab that was recommended to us by a friend.

Nature’s sculptures in Yehlui

A head of a queen, a head of a princess, tea candles, mushrooms, and animals – these were the rock formations at Yehliu Geopark. They were carved for millions of years by the hard splashing of waves from the sea, the changing weather that could go rough at certain times of the year, erosion and movements in the earth. At first glance, all you’ll see are hoodoos and coarse rocks attached to a smooth surface. But if you’ll let your imagination run wild, you will see different things and shapes from various angles.

It’s amazing how the forces of nature can shape interesting objects. Roaming around the Yehliu Geopark was like strolling in an outdoor art gallery with the breeze whipping through your hair and the sound of the sea providing added ambiance and music to the entire experience.

The old streets of Jiufen

From the sea, we went uphill to the mountainous part of Ruifang District where the historic town of Jiufen is located. It used to be a gold-mining village, from which nine families grew in population due to the gold rush. The narrow streets and the stairs took us through rows of eateries and eclectic shops. The vibe was vivacious, notwithstanding the rain. But because stores are side by side and eaves touch each other, there was little space for the rainwater to drench us. Lanterns, colorful displays, and the flow of pedestrians added energy to the whole scenery. When we got to the edge of one of the streets, the view of the coast from afar and the winding roads below were breathtaking.

An old theatre, a temple, and other museums are also available in the vicinity if you want to know more about the historical part of the place. It was amazing that despite Jiufen’s isolation from other urban hub, it can draw a huge crowd to its tiny and constricted alleys.

Releasing sky lanterns in Shifen

As we drove through rural landscapes towards our next stop, I woke up seeing tiny sparks of light ascending from a distance. It was an indication that we were nearing Shifen. The place boasts of waterfalls, which we skipped because it was almost sunset, old coal villages and the railway that was used to transport coal. The Shifen Old Street, which is the famous station of the Pingxi Branch Line, has become a tourist attraction because of the sky lanterns.

Releasing wishes to the sky in the form of fire balloons or sky lanterns is a tradition that is observed for centuries throughout Asia. During the Sky Lantern Festival, the Shifen Sky Lantern Square is filled with merry-makers and well-wishers as they release their lanterns all at the same time, creating picturesque postcard-worthy images. But we were there on an ordinary afternoon and everyone was just letting their sky lanterns fly at different intervals. The effect was not as spectacular as that on the festival itself but the act of lighting your lantern with your wishes written on it and watching them fly high was a blissful experience.

What a great way to come across the old and the past at New Taipei City.

*****

Claire Marie Algarme blogs at firsttimetravels.com. Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram.
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