Jiufen & Shifen: Japanese spirits in Taiwan’s old towns

Did you know that Taiwan was actually Japan’s first colony? You can still feel it, once you step on the shores of Taiwan–you can feel a little bit of China, and a little bit of Japan… but don’t tell the Taiwanese that.

Japan wanted to show off to the world that they can also do the imperial colonizing thing like the Westerners can, and wanted to set Taiwan as a model example. You can still see the remnants of Japan especially in Taiwan’s old towns, particularly Jiufen and Shifen. If you want to experience more history and culture, these old mining towns give a feel of what Taiwan was like during the late 20th-century Japanese occupation.

In the late 20th century, gold was discovered in the area which ushered the gold rush and brought in a lot of people in that area. Mining was a lucrative industry in the hey-day: naturally rich in sulfur, gold, clay and gold. Nowadays, however, Taiwan now relies on imports to meet their mineral demands.

Jiufen and Shifen are good to visit in a day’s trip, as they are quite nearby and accessible. (Personally, I think it would be better if you allocate one day for each town!)

How to Get There?

Jiufen and Shifen is 40km and 30km away from the capital, respectively.

To get to Jiufen and Shifen, you need to get to Ruifang Train Station. You can also take the bus (approx $15-22 NTD/trip). . The commute is fairly inexpensive and easy to navigate, and takes approximately 40 minutes to 1 hour to get to your destination. The travel offers scenic views of the Taiwanese countryside.

shihfen flying lanterns

I should warn you that the commute back is a lot less pleasant. Queues at the bus station get pretty long after sunset. Day visitors often have to compete for a seat to the bus ride home.

So if you’re not the hustling kind, it would be better if you take the train (buying a roundtrip ticket in advance gets you a guaranteed seat) or simply hire a cab for the day. It will be more comfortable that way.


Jiufen is a charming little mining town in Northern Taiwan where time literally froze. It used to be a bustling gold mining town, until the gold depleted and it became a deserted, forgotten gem. There was a revived interest in the town when it appeared in the acclaimed movie City of Sadness, and it became a famous tourist attraction.

Although there is some dispute regarding this, Jiufen is said to be the real-life inspiration behind Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away. If you haven’t seen the animated film, it’s about a little girl whose parents transformed into pigs and enters into a spirit world. Jiufen offers the magical backdrop of the film, from the winding, cobblestone streets  down to the  pork dumplings the Chihiro’s parents devoured greedily in the film.



Jiufen is filled with shops selling unique food and quirky things you will never find elsewhere. Shops sell trinkets, calligraphy art, peanut ice cream, shaved ice desserts… all sorts of things!


One particular shop had a handmade mask exhibit that reminded me again of another scene from the Miyazaki film.


The bathhouse is inspired by the A-mei Teahouse nestled in the highest part of the mountain. The teahouse is said to be a century old, where you could have traditional tea served with a good view of the town



Located in Pingxi Disctrict is another charming town famous for another thing: their magnificent flying lanterns. Annually, they hold the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival every February wherein thousands of sky lanterns are flown. I bet that is a sight to behold.

Once a bustling town with a railway that was a major player in Taiwan’s coal mining industry, the city is now best known for two things: the Shifen Waterfalls, lovingly dubbed as ‘Taiwan’s Niagara Falls’, and the flying lanterns, where visitors could send their wishes to the sky.


Wishes are color-coded and prices could vary from NT100-NT150, depending on the lantern you wish to send to the sky.


Just like most people, we wished for good health, love and more travels. Oriental characters on the flying lanterns seem more awesome than the English alphabet though… Watch our lantern go up in the sky!

It was magical to see your lantern fly up the sky and see your wishes reach the heavens… Unfortunately, I was told that the lanterns fly up for 10 minutes before it comes down to the ground. The lantern shops have workers whose job is to retrieve the fallen lanterns. Boo. Not as magical as I thought.

photobombing pixie sticks shifen taiwan

In the evening, we bought some fairy sticks and acted like kids. Who knew it was so much fun to light these things? Thanks fairy light photobombers for making this photo of me awesome! 🙂

So here you go! Do yourself a little favor and have a side trip to Jiufen and Shifen when you’re in Taiwan.


Taipei, Taiwan and what to expect

For Filipinos, Taiwan isn’t something we typically think of as a ‘tourist destination’. When it comes to traveling abroad, we dream of going to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore or Thailand–we often forget about visiting Taipei, Taiwan, which is only 1,000 km from the Philippines.

This is why Taipei is so beautiful in its own way–an underrated and unassuming city that has a lot to offer. Cebu Pacific now offers direct flights from Cebu to Taipei thrice a week, which will get you to the capital of Taiwan in two hours.

Veer away from the mainstream and try visiting this eastern gem for a change. There’s a reason why, when Portuguese sailors caught a first glimpse of the island, they named it ‘Formosa’ (literally meaning ‘beautiful island‘).

how to apply taiwan visa free

Before you put Taipei into your next stop of destinations to visit, here’s a few things you need to know, before you go.

1. You may or may not need a visa.

Philippine passport holders are required a visa to visit Taiwan. Failure to present the necessary travel document will mean refusal of entry. For more details on visa application, read about it on my blog post, How to Apply for Taiwan Visa for Philippine Passport Holders.

If you have a valid visa or permanent residency in: Japan, UK, US, Schengen, Canada, AUS or NZ, you can travel to Taiwan without a visa by simply applying for a visa exemption certificate online. For more details, read on How to Apply for Visa Exemption for Philippine Passport Holders.

2. The Taiwanese are genuinely kind and helpful people!

I mostly relied on the kindness of strangers in Taiwan. Even their cab drivers. That statement needs to be bold for emphasis. Kind and honest cab drivers are like unicorns in Manila–they simply don’t exist in our ‘hood!

Case on point: When I first arrived to Taipei in the dead of the night (1AM), I took a cab from Taipei Main Station to get to the place we booked via Airbnb. My friend arrived a day before, and we decided to meet in a Family Mart near the address. When I hopped on the cab, the driver said there were actually three Family Marts in that area. I told my cab driver to drop me wherever and I can figure it out on my own.

“No, it’s too late for a lady to be out on her own!” he said, like a concerned grandpa. Instead, he took me to all three Family Marts and even accompanied me to look for my friend.He was also sweet enough to teach me a few Mandarin words that came really useful throughout my trip.

It is easy to befriend the Taiwanese people, and have had random friends we met in a restaurant, bar, or even on the streets. They will go out of their way to help you.

3. Taiwan is well-known for its gluttony.

Foodies will love Taiwan; because they have a great love affair with their food. You can’t talk about Taiwanese culture without mentioning their street food cuisine. Kinda unfair– they never seem to get fat.

I will go as far as to say that food should be the primary reason you’re going to Taiwan. Go all out and don’t think about dieting! Some of the famous Taiwanese food include: pearl milk tea, stinky tofu, oyster omelette, steamed dumplings, crispy chicken cutlets… everything. Most times, I don’t really know what type of animal or animal part I ordered–they surely don’t waste any animal part, and it all tastes good anyway.

Michelin-star restaurant Din Tai Fung originated here, so make sure to try their world-famous xiao long bao while in Taiwan.

They have the oddest restaurant and cafe concepts I’ve seen, probably only second to Japan. They have restaurants dedicated to Hello Kitty, the toilet, hospital, and more. It will be a good idea to go cafe-hopping and discover for yourself!

4. Things to see in and out of the city.

NYC has the Statue of Liberty and Paris has the Eiffel Tower… what iconic landmark Taipei have? There are two main landmarks in the city: The Taipei 101 tower and the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial.

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until the completion of Burj Khalifa. Taipei 101 is the tallest building in Taiwan and the largest green building in the world. You can see the whole of the city on their 89th Floor Observatory.

If you have the luxury, I recommend you go out of the city. Taiwan has so much beauty to offer with their unspoilt nature. Most famous day trips are the mountain towns Jiufen and Shifen, which I will write about in another blog entry soon.

5. They have sizzling nightlife.

There are plenty of things to do in Taiwan at night. With a lifestyle of 24-hour convenience stores, there’s always something happening–even at 5 in the morning.

So in a scale from 1 to Filipino, how seriously do the Taiwanese take their karaoke? Their KTVs are serious, lucrative business, and atmosphere is first-grade. It would be an experience to try it, but they don’t come cheap compared to our hulog-piso karaoke machines.


Ahh, and Taipei nightclubs are happening. There are too many nightclubs and I remember their names very vaguely; so after a quick Google searchI remember being or passing by most of these clubs: Barcode, Myst, OMNI, Room18–the clubs are all clustered in one area near Taipei 101 so they’re not that hard to spot.

One thing I noticed though: Taiwanese love to party without limits–they drink until they can’t stand up on their own feet. I always see Taiwanese men and women passed out drunk in toilets, in and out the clubs. In the nightclubs, all the toilets are expected occupied with puking girls by 2 in the mornin. I like to control my alcohol content and avoid losing my shoes, thank you.

6. Don’t haggle so much, don’t leave tips.

You don’t haggle so much in Taipei markets. You can ask for a discount, but you can’t get an item 80% 0ff its original price like you can in Mainland China or Thailand. This is because Taiwanese don’t like overpricing their goods, as they believe that the practice is dishonest and unethical. Try haggling 15%-20% off the price, and if you do, you’re lucky.

Tipping in Taiwan is generally not expected. On one occasion a friend was chased after the waiter when he left the restaurant for leaving his money behind. Tipping is also not expected by the Taiwanese taxi drivers, who are quick to give you your change to the last cent. 10%-15% service charge is already included in restaurants. Rule of thumb, 10%-15% tip is generally accepted in spas, salons and tour guides.

7. Internet?

Taiwan has the fattest internet service I’ve experienced, even compared to Western countries! The Taiwanese are just as obsessed as getting connected, so Filipinos won’t have any problem with wi-fi service at all.

Taiwan is the very first destination in the world that provides free wi-fi access for tourists for up to 30 days all over the country via iTaiwan. Simply go to the Tourist Service Center near you and show your passport or entry permit (if you’re from Mainland China) to staff.

Aside from that, wi-fi hotspots are available almost everywhere–cafes, restaurants, convenience stores, mini marts, MRT stations, everywhere! So you don’t have to worry about uploading your Snaps or Instagram posts on time. You’ll have no problems being connected while in Taiwan.

Another tip, the Taiwanese don’t use Whatsapp much. Instead, they prefer Line or Wechat. Maybe you can download these apps before your trip for easy communication access.

8. Shop for electronics, hoard in the night markets!

Taipei is also a shopper’s dream. Especially for electronics! As you know, a lot of technology brands originated here in Taiwan: Acer, Asus and HTC, to name a few. Everything is much cheaper here, and of higher quality than, say, China. Get your share of electronics at Guanghua Digital Plaza.

taipei electronics taiwan


Taiwan is also known for their night markets. Their biggest and most famous one is the Shilin Night Market with thousands of stalls selling food, toys, clothes, shoes and souvenirs of all sorts!

For a first-world nation, Taiwan is surprisingly peso-friendly! 1 Taiwanese Dollar is pegged almost the same as the Philippine peso (Around our time of visit, 1NTD = 1.4 PHP) so no need to make annoying conversions in your head.

9. 24 Hour Convenience Stores is part of life.

24-hour convenience stores are an indispensable way of life in Taiwan. I mentioned earlier that our Airbnb place had three different Family Marts in one street. This isn’t actually commonplace across Taiwan–with over 10,000 convenience stores with one store to every 2,000 residents, the country has the highest mini mart density in the world. They sure love their convenience, and you will too. If you’re hungry post-party, you’re sure to get your fill, there’s bound to be a restaurant or shop open for you.


How to apply for Taiwan visa for Filipinos

Taiwan is a place I’ve constantly raved about to friends since I visited the place last month. Initially, Taiwan was a something I didn’t think about seeing or visiting. I have a sick compulsion of booking random tickets to cure bouts of depression, and for that case I decided to book to Taipei, because why not? I’ve never been there…

Starting December 17, 2015, Cebu Pacific is now flying Cebu to Taipei (CEB-TPE) flights three times a week! Getting to Taiwan is now easier and I recommend everyone to visit Formosa. It is important to note that you need a Taiwan visa to enter Taiwan.


I. What is a Taiwan Tourist Visa?

Philippine passport holders need to apply for Taiwan visa with TECO (Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office) to gain entry. Taiwan tourist visas are good for single-entry only and allowed a maximum stay of 14 days. They’re valid for 90 days from date of issue so you can apply as early as three months before your trip.

There are some cases wherein you can travel to Taiwan without a visa. If you have a valid UK/US/Schengen/Japan/AUS/NZ visa, you can skip the whole visa application process and simply apply for a visa exemption certificate online. Think you qualify for the Taiwan visa exemption? Read this blog post for more information: How to Apply for Taiwan Visa Exemption.

II. Requirements

  • Valid Philippine Passport with at least six months validity.
  • Online Application form to be filled out here. Once you’ve filled out and printed the form, be sure to submit this with all other requirements within fifteen (15) days.
  • Two (2) Passport photos taken within the last six months. (1.5″ x 2″ inches). One is to be attached on the form. Most photo shops should already know the specifications needed for visa requirements-just tell them it’s for a Taiwan visa. I had ours taken in Ayala Center Cebu.
  • Trip Details including the following:
    • Roundtrip Airfare Ticket Reservations.
    • Planned Itinerary, what you intend to do and places you want to see when in Taiwan
    • Hotel Booking or Reservations
  • School / Employment Supporting Documents
    • Certificate of Employment
    • Photocopy of school or company ID
    • Business Registration Certificate (if self-employed)
  • Financial Supporting Documents – proof that you have enough funds to finance your Taiwan trip and not travel to Taiwan for purposes outside of tourism (e.g., become an illegal alien)
    • Recent bank certificate
    • Income Tax Return (ITR)
    • Pay slips (for the last 3-6 months)
  • Personal Supporting Documents – proof of your identification details & personal circumstances
    • NSO birth certificate issued within the last year.
    • If married, NSO marriage certificate

Complete submission of these documents will be helpful in obtaining that visa, but does not guarantee visa issuance; but missing or incomplete supporting documents may result in a visa refusal.

III. Submission

Upon collating all the requirements, you can then file your applications to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO). Visa applications are only entertained on weekdays Mon-Fri from 8:45-11:45am only. Their address is at 41F Tower 1, RCBC Plaza Tower, 6819 Ayala Avenue, Makati City.

Here are the visa fees:

taiwan visa fee

*As of writing, fees have been updated. Mainland China visa fee is PHP 1,400.00; for Taiwan, PHP 2,400.00 for single-entry visa and PHP 4,800 for multiple entry visa.  

It is best to arrive early so you can finish early. Arrive before 8:30am to sign up and get a priority number. Leave a valid government-issued ID at the reception area.

Once your number is called, present the original documents and a set of photocopies for the visa processor to go through. Once everything is in check, you will then wait for your name to be called for the payment of visa fee. The process is pretty quick and straightforward.

IV. Waiting Period

Upon submission of documents, it takes three (3) working days to process the visa. If you want an expedited release, pay the expedited fee of Php 1,200 so you can get your passport within the next day. Releasing times are Monday to Friday, from 1:45PM to 4:45PM.

Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in the Philippines

41F, Tower 1, RCBC Plaza, 6819 Ayala Avenue, Makati
Tel: (+632) 887-6688
Office Hours: Mon-Fri, 8:45AM-4:45PM
Applications: Mon-Fri, 8:45AM-11:45PM
Releasing: Mon-Fri, 1:45PM-4:45PM
Website: taiwanembassy.org
Email: phl@mofa.gov.tw

If you would like to know more about Taiwan, read my blog post on Taipei, Taiwan: What to Expect.

How to apply for visa exemption for Taiwan

This post was written on 2015.

When Filipinos think of trips abroad, we usually think of Hong Kong, Singapore or Thailand first. We don’t normally think Taiwan for tourism, but let me tell you: it’s worth skipping the mainstream tourist destinations and try Taipei for a change.

how to apply taiwan visa free

Cebu Pacific is offering more Manila-Taipei flights and a Cebu-Taipei route starting this December 2015! No excuse to skip Taipei now, it’s a totally underrated and beautiful country. A foodie will die happy in Taiwan– the country is best known for its gluttony (I’ll get to this on a future blog post).

To get to Taiwan, Philippine Passport Holders need a Taiwan visa. I was able to bypass application for a Taiwan visa because I was eligible for visa exemption!


I. What is a Travel Exemption Certificate?

You can get a visa-free entry to Taiwan by availing of the ROC Travel Authorization certificate, which allows you to bypass the need for a Taiwan visa. The visa exemption allows travelers to stay in Taiwan for up to 30 days.

The certificate has to be printed out and presented by the foreign visitor upon immigration inspection, along with other requirements ready for immigration inspection. Failure to present the valid documents will not be admitted into Taiwan.

If you are not eligible for visa exemption, refer to my post on How to Apply for Taiwan Visa for Philippine Passport Holders.

II. Requirements

  • Valid Philippine Passport. Nationals of the Philippines, India, Thailand and Vietnam can apply for the visa exemption if they meet all said requirements
  • Valid visa or a permanent resident certificate to the following countries: US, UK, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Schengen countries.
  • Online Application form to be filled out here.

III. Waiting Period

What do you mean, waiting period? You immediately get your travel certificate after filling out the online form, in 5 seconds (or, depends on your internet connection)! It is then ready to print out and use for your travels.

IV. Other Important Reminders

  • Print out your visa exemption certificate, and in color.
  • Expiry of the visa exemption certificate is only valid for one month after application’s approval. Online application and approval is instant, so you can do it a few days before your trip. I applied mine a few months back only to realize during my packing that my exemption certificate has expired. I had to reapply for it a day before my trip–I instantly received it without any problems.
  • Make sure to bring your valid US/UK/Schengen visa to present to immigration. I normally only bring my most recent passport, but since my 10-year US tourist visa is in my old green passport, I brought that along as well.
  • A single entry visa becomes invalid once it’s already been used. However, it may be deemed acceptable to immigration inspection if: 1., visa holder arrives in Taiwan before the expiration date, and 2., if on the same continuing journey, the visa holder uses it on the issuing country before arriving Taiwan.