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KEELUNG

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jiufen from keelungTaiwan’s summertime is notorious for its volatile weather. After a few days of consistent rain in Keelung I had exhausted most things you can do here on a rainy day. Not one to stay stuck indoors for too long I decided to find out how to get to Jiufen from Keelung. I figured why not move to a town for a day in the rain.

Although I enjoyed the day I do recommend you attempt to visit when it is nice weather. The views would have been stunning if it wasn’t for the mist and sea of umbrellas. There are areas to hike to make this a day packed with versatile activities. Enthusiasm wanes when you area wet through though.

Jiufen from Keelung

jiufen from keelungI am not one with an amazing sense of direction. Keelung fortunately has an amazing Information center at the bus station with many employees speaking English. To get to Jiufen from Keelung is so straightforward. You take the bus 788 all the way to the last stop. The cost is 30 NTD and the bus announces the stops in English also. You will arrive less than a minute from Shiqu Road (aka Jiufen Old Street).

The streets and alleys are narrow and today packed with tourists. The area was reinvented as a tourist destination in the 1990s following its attachment to several movies. The most well-known perhaps is Spirited away, where several of the buildings seem to have acted as inspiration for the movie. The other being A City of Sadness. This was the first film to openly discuss the 2-28 massacre and the White Terror era.

History of Jiufen and  Jinguashi

A beautiful town with a darker history. In 1893 gold was discovered in Jiufen. Following the Japanese control of Taiwan in 1896, the area developed into a prosperous gold mining town. During WWII the Japanese built a POW camp in Jiufen. Allied soldiers captured in Singapore were forced to work the mines in appalling conditions which resulted in many men dying. There is a Museum of Gold in Jinguashi that is worth visiting to better understand the history of the town. The museum is housed in an interesting location in the former offices of the Taiwan Metal Mining Corp. Many relics can be seen here including a giant piece of 999 pure gold weighing in at 220kg.

jiufen from keelung

What you should see in Jinguashi

jiufen from keelungComing all the way to Jiufen from Keelung meant I wanted to see more than the alleys and museum (both still would have been worth the trip). However Jinguashi offers more than this. Shuttle bus, taxi, walking, which ever is your preference, it’s not far to make your way down to the Golden Waterfall following a wander around Jiufen old street. Due to the  abundance of heavy metal elements deposited in the riverbed, the water flows a beautiful golden color. The cascading water is in stark contrast to its natural green setting. If you follow the stream down you can walk all the way to the Yin-Yang sea.

jiufen from keelungBefore you reach the sea you will enter a car park that is overlooked by the remains of Shuinandong Smelter; a refinery plant built during the Qing Dynasty and then was used by the Japanese during WWII to refine gold. Wandering down to the front this is not an ocean with a beach. But following the wall along I was lucky enough to make it down to where fisherman were out in the rain waiting for their catch. This area really is a place of natural beauty that makes a perfect break from the city.

jiufen from keelungMy timing to return to Keelung was poorly planned. I suggest going early to Jiufen from Keelung and either returning early or later in the evening. The traffic made the journey nearly two hours rather than our simple 30 minute ride to get there. I would also avoid bringing too much with you to carry as the narrow alleys don’t provide much in the way of space. All that being said, Jiufen is not a place to miss when you are in the North of Taiwan.

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jiufen from keelung

Google ‘a night out in Keelung’ and you’ll find endless information regarding the famous Miaokou Night Market or the Kanziding Fish Market. Yes, both are at night. Almost the whole night. But it’s not exactly what I had in mind for a Saturday night. I was looking for a different kind of neon night but where exactly to go on a night out in Keelung?

night out in keelung
Keelung Bar Crawl

Fortunately I was invited on a bar crawl. This is normally a polite ‘No’ from me. I like to choose the pace I drink in the environment that suits my vibe. But as I was minus the inside knowledge of bars in Keelung it was an immediate yes. A fairly enthusiastic one, even when a t shirt was produced for me to be “one of the gang.”

Being aware I was in a city, I was still surprised by how many places we visited for a night out in Keelung. My whole time here I have felt as though I was in a Port town as opposed to a city. Who knew Keelung had such a hidden network of bars tucked away in its alleys and narrow streets.

The definitive ‘Night out in Keelung’ list:
Alcohol Bar –  No. 23, Lane 3, Zhongyi Road, Ren’ai District, Keelung City, 200
night out in keelung
Alcohol Bar

The word for alcohol in Chinese is very similar to monkey and so it’s no surprise the logo for the establishment is a chimpanzee enjoying a glass of whiskey. This is one of the nicest whiskey bars I’ve been to and probably the nicest bar of the whole list. Slightly more pricey than the others, the variety and quality of whiskey that’s on offer is justification enough. Taiwan’s own award winning whiskey is on the menu here and a perfectly good reason to put this top of the list for a night out in Keelung.

Columbus Pub – 孝三路30巷23號 仁愛區, 基隆市 200
night out in keelung
Columbus Pub

This is definitely the place to go for those who like a little history on their night out in Keelung. Masked by the array of cocktails on offer is a story of how bars came to Keelung during the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Perhaps the original bar of Keelung, the walls proudly wear the history of its conception. If history and nostalgia aren’t your thing simply order one of the many western cocktails and toast with the locals.

Live House Bar –  200, Keelung City, Ren’ai District, Aiyi Road, 33號

The title says it all really. Live music, beer, you’ve got it all here. For me, the music doesn’t necessarily have to be my usual taste, if the bands having a good time and I’m in the right company, I can listen to most things.

So Fun Music Club –  基隆市仁愛區愛三路49巷38號2樓
night out in keelung
So Fun Music Club

A place for anyone who loves beer towers. Quite literally. There are also girls dressed to represent the Heineken brand. An easy place to sit with a group, drink and laugh. Not somewhere I’d feel comfortable coming by myself hoping to meet others as the layout really suits groups more. Maybe bar crawls aren’t such a bad idea after all.

Opus Two –  No. 19, Jing 1st Rd, Ren’ai District, Keelung City, 200
night out in keelung
Opus Two

A quaint British themed bar with random masks from Iron Man sums up this bar pretty well. It’s definitely a cozy place and I can’t imagine moving when it’s busy, but as a quick stop off on the route it serves it’s purpose perfectly. The staircase has the cutest pin board of Polaroids taken of fellow drinkers. I would have loved to have access to the camera to add to the Polaroids but the film is expensive and I’m pretty sure people would burn through it and result only in a capture of blurriness and forgotten memories.

 387 Music Bar – 仁愛區愛二路54巷11號, 200 Keelung, Taiwan
night out in keelung
387 Music Bar

The first place with a DJ. Tall, beautiful, female. This place immediately had a great vibe to it. Again not very big but I’m coming to realize that the bars here are all small. And down alleys which is why they are not the easiest to find! They all follow a nice route leading onto one another though so find the first and it won’t take long to discover the rest.

Fight Bar –  202, Keelung City, Zhongzheng District, Zhongzheng Road, 2號
night out in keelung
Fight Bar

With checkered floors that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland we have Fight Bar. This bar is small but on two levels. The first floor housing the bar and tonight a talented band. We manage to convince them to continue playing past the scheduled time and by the end of it the entire bar is singing. We finish on the pretty reckless. The second floor is a cozy seating area with a pool table.

Commecafe – No. 284, Xin’er Road, Zhongzheng District, Keelung City, 202

This is a place for the day and night. Come in the light and enjoy some delicious coffee. By night it’s a bar with a wall filled with empty Jack Daniels bottles and an acoustic guitar sitting in front. A relaxed vibe, it’s unfortunate we left this one till near the end of the night. Another easy bar to relax in as opposed to singing drunkenly along to the music. Fortunately for me, it’s at the end of the street where I’m staying so there will be a return visit.

night out in keelung
Commecafe
Q bar –  基隆市仁愛區仁一路293巷1號

Found down the smallest alley we enter the darkened room lit in red. The mood slightly changes here, feeling that you are in an upmarket bar that is designed and colored to create an atmosphere perfect for seduction. The bar in lined with local men and again this isn’t somewhere I’d come to explore alone.

 Big Machine – Ren Yi Road 49 Keelung, Taiwan 20141

The last on our tour at around 3am. Here you are able to order popcorn and chicken and play darts while horrifically drunk. All fun but potentially a hazard. None the less a good place to end the night. From what I remember the place seemed to fit the interior of a dinner but admittedly by this point I was a little drunk and not sure that my memory can be relied upon.

So there you have it. There are more bars of course, the names of which I don’t remember to match the location but I know we found a rock bar that shocked me. We entered from a lift and accidentally smashed a glass on our exit. Money in different currencies were displayed on the wall. I can’t tell you any more than that. It’s worth noting a lot of the drinking culture here is included with food so restaurants actually make a great place to drink with locals.

Now you know where to go on a night out in Keelung.

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Standing in my room, naked, waiting for an excessive amount of mosquito spray to dry. My phone goes off. “Fancy a trip to Yehliu Geopark?” This is my temporary housemate. He’s a few feet away in the kitchen. We start a dialogue through my door until I’ve dried off. Discussing the details; what time? shall we take food? how will we get there? These are details which are usually straight forward. But we are both impulsive travelers and combined our personalities are a little mischievous. It’s decided. Breakfast, pick up snacks, convince a bike rental place to give two foreigners a bike. Straight forward with a twist.

The mission
Yehliu Geopark
Yehliu Geopark

To rent a motorbike in Taiwan you need a Taiwanese drivers license. Mine is British, Chook’s is Australian. He has paperwork for driving in Japan though and we’re hoping this will give us some positive leverage. With neither of us speaking Chinese my initial thought is that this is never going to work. But then I hadn’t tried to challenge someones legal stance with Chook before! Chook knows people. He reads them perfectly. It helps that he genuinely loves people, for all their worth. Still, we are asking people to break the law partly in sign language, partly holding money out, and partly showing a smile and some leg. It would be shameful if it wasn’t so much fun!

Yehliu Geopark
Locals of Yehliu

Of course we could go to Yehliu Geopark via two buses. But buses are no fun, particularly when there is a coast line route. We fail initially but persist. After the third shop and third failure I’m starting to resign myself to the bus. “There is always a solution” echos in front of me. This time we go in each with money in our hands to lay out the deal. I flip my hair to one side and start playing with the owners dog. Chook approaches with his persistent charm. Same response. Hidden from the owner behind the counter I start to tap my partner in crimes leg. Quickly shaken off, he continues. I stand at his side to smile wide eyed and play my role. This is the longest we’ve stayed in one rental shop.

Persuasive charm

Without breaking a sweat, Chook is starting to win him over. Trying to act sensible in front of someone who you’re trying to convince to break the law is very difficult when you’re boiling over with excitement. The owner asks if we have a Taiwanese friend who could rent it in his name for us. It’s all over. We’ve won. “Aren’t we friends?” We have the biggest smiles on our faces. Two minutes later Bony and Clyde have the keys. “Never give up, there is always a solution”, this is one of Chook’s rules he’s kindly sharing with me.

The route to Yehliu Geopark
Yehliu Geopark
Yehliu coastal views

We leave the city behind us. By now it’s the afternoon and we’ve promised to return the bike by 6pm. Not wanting to lose any more time and with the roads being fairly quiet we hit an intense speed. Not exactly the most inconspicuous foreigners illegally on the road. We’ve already made a pact that if the police pull us over it’s a high speed chase. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware what we are doing is illegal and I’m not recommending it. But when someone looks at you and says yolo…..

Yehliu geopark
Mazu festival views

Overly excited we are both a mixture of screams of accomplishment and attempted singing of one or two lines from every song either of us can recall. At the speed we’re traveling we hit the coast within 12 minutes. Our first sensible act of the day is to pull over and apply suntan lotion. Coming from mainland China I didn’t have high expectations of Taiwan’s coast line. I am completely taken aback by how stunning it is here. I didn’t consider Taiwan to have a surfing community and I especially didn’t expect it to be in such easy reach of Keelung city. Back on the bike we continue for maybe another 7 minutes when the town of Wanli, home of Yehliu Geopark, welcomes us. Quite literally. The locals here are incredibly warm.

Geological formations
Yehliu Geopark
rock weathered patterns

Always finding comfort in the beauty of nature, I had never considered rocks to be beautiful. But then this is my first time to the natural landscape of Yehliu. At first I thought it was sand I was approaching when actually it is a unique weathered bay formed by the powerful ocean stretching around it. These rocks contain weathered rings that once again prove natures authority at forming patterns more striking than that of any artist. With honey combed mushroom rocks, decorated cliffs and a smoothly formed cave, we are distracted before we even reach Yehliu Geopark.

Yehliu Geopark
Yehliu cliff views

By the time we’ve finished using the rocks as our playground a festival makes an appearance on the road below. Not something we wan’t to miss we scramble down and move through the assembling crowd. The procession is full of life, music and love, Everyone smiles at us and welcomes us to Yehliu. They are celebrating their sea goddess Mazu. Photographing and half joining in we are rewarded with badges. I’m near ecstatic and Chook is off chiming the bells in perfect rhythm. Both of us can’t get over how perfect this spontaneous trip is shaping up to be.

Shipping Harbor
Yehliu Geopark
Yehliu fisherman boats

Side tracked, seeing the Yehliu Geopark might be a crazy rushed experience at this time of the day so we decide to continue on our spontaneous antics. We drive past the geopark and keep on the road, camera and eyes out looking for the next interesting location. Swaying in the air over a wall are the shipping lights I’ve become quite fond of. We pull over to investigate. Here is where one of us takes on the role of sensible adult. I’m determined to get onto a ship to take photographs and Chook’s prior experience is a road block to my plans. Fortunately this debate rouses the fisherman from inside the boats I thought to be vacant.

Yehliu Geopark
Making friends

We end up in conversation with the fisherman, mainly from the Philippines and I settle for photographing the area around the boat. I become captivated by a crabs desperate bid for freedom at a seafood restaurant nearby. Places to sample local dishes line the surrounding area, but we are losing time if we decide to keep our promise of a 6pm return. Referring to google map we try to find an alternative route home.

Journeys end
Caves in Yehliu

Thinking we’ve found a route in the mountains, I’m hanging onto the back of the bike, phone in hand and we steeply ascend into the mountains. Turning the corner we descend just as quickly and come out onto the familiar road! Apparently the mountain is just a loop to take in the scenery. We settle for the main road and it quickly becomes apparent that we are in the middle of rush hour traffic. Police are on the road everywhere. We are at the front of a queue of traffic lights manned by a police man and slowly trying to reverse. Putting my phone away I prepare for the possible chase. We’re ignored. With the hope that we are not worth the paperwork we speed on as soon as we see green.

yehliu geopark
Yehliu playground

Returning to Keelung with just as much excitement as when we began, we reach the rental shop at 5:58pm. The relieved owner clearly wants us gone quickly so we say goodbye, high five, and buy some more beer to fill our empty fridge. We may have missed our intended destination of Yehliu geopark attraction but the day has proven that having a spontaneous soul leads to incredible adventures.

 

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yehliu geopark
festival of Mazu
yehliu geopark
bid for freedom

Leaving the cosmopolitan city of Taipei behind I pack up and head towards the east coast. Going slightly North, in around 45 minutes the train reaches its destination. Keelung, the port city surrounded by mountains. If I was to compare Taipei to say Shanghai, Keelung would be Fuzhou. With many Fujian immigrants here familiarity of what was once home surrounds me. With my belongings strapped onto my back it’s time for walking in Keelung.

Getting around Keelung
Keelung for a Walk

Despite Keelung not being on my radar as a tourist city until now, public transport systems are great here. There are regular buses, trains, taxis, bicycles for hire…..my personal favorite will always be a scooter but unless you are extremely lucky (or charmingly persistent!) you will need a Taiwanese drivers licence to rent one. I suggest making friends. My favorite though is always walking. Walking in Keelung is a perfect way to absorb this city. Most sites are within 5 kilometers in every direction. Walking simply allows you to see so much more.

What brought me here was the opportunity to volunteer with Keelung for a Walk, a walking tour company that provides intimate tours of this secret port city. The tours involve personal interaction with all aspects of local life here. Walking in Keelung with Mila, the founder of ‘Keelung for a Walk’ gives you an authentic taste of Taiwanese culture. Her passion and enthusiasm for this city is infectious and inspirational.

Tours in the night
Miaokou night market

Fortunately travel, no matter how short the distance, always leaves me in need of a nap. There is a walking tour tonight at 11pm. I’m told we aim to finish around 2am, but 6am is the best time for the fish auction. I can’t imagine walking in Keelung is very exciting at 6am. Regardless I sleep and set my alarm.

Around 11:30pm the tour has gathered. Leading ahead, walking at an unmatched speed, is Mila. The city is alive. As I knew nothing of Keelung, I was slightly unprepared for the chaos of Miaokou night market. Our walking in Keelung tour starts at this famous market. You need go no further to sample from the largest selection of seafood in Taiwan. The alleys are filled with the sounds of the bustling crowd. Also, this is just the start!

The energy of a fish auction
Kanziding fish market

The main spectacle we are here to see leads on from Miaokou night market. As melted ice runs underfoot and the skies shine with lights usually found on shipping boats, we arrive at the fish auction. Kanziding fish market is the largest fishery distribution center in Northern Taiwan. I haven’t seen such an array of motionless color before. The selection is impressive and it’s clear the product is much sought after.

Mila is involved with various locals who all want to share Taiwanese life with visitors. We move through the crowds, the energy is almost overwhelming. Coming to various stands we pause for insight into the daily life of fishmongers. The locals of Keelung are very welcoming and it’s clear they are proud of their city and wish to promote tourism.

Fish auction

Following on from the fish auction it only seems right to try some local cuisine. Keeping with the theme of the night I enjoy a fish bowl as the morning dawns. Heading home it’s difficult to switch off after being in such a thriving environment of energy. Smiling, I’m happy to have accidentally found myself walking in Keelung.

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fish selection
fish on ice
famous local fish