Shifen is a small town about an hour outside of Taipei with a unique old town surrounding the railway. The tracks of the old coal train run straight through Shifen and are used today for passenger trains like the one you'll catch. It's pretty cool to see a train pass through the town market, and the experience is similar to Maeklong in Thailand.
SEE SHIFEN WATERFALLS
My number one thing to do in Shifen is to set eyes on the waterfalls. Getting to the waterfalls is super simple and very well signed throughout the town. A gentle 20 minute walk from the town, you eventually reach the waterfall visitor centre. From there, you cross on of Taiwan's many suspension bridges, walk along the river and then reach the falls.
Shifen Falls are 40m tall and are wide waterfalls, so they're visually stunning. In fact these falls are well-known to be the best in Taiwan, so they're definitely worth checking out. Although I wouldn't recommend visiting them in the torrential downpour like I did (my camera still hasn't fully healed from the water damage), it would be good to see them after recent rain and in their best form.
WANDER THROUGH THE OLD STREET
The collection of lanes and streets surrounding the railway in Shifen are referred to as the 'Old Streets'. Buildings are huddled together, home to colourful shops and delicious eateries. Restaurants serving steaming bamboo pots full of fresh dumplings are aplenty, and vendors will tempt you with samples of fried seafood and taro.
As you can see from the photos above, the railway tracks pass right through the Old Streets. There are ushers which pull selfie-stick wielding people off the rails when a train is coming which I found a bit funny (but also concerning). Watching a train squeeze through the stalls of the Old Streets is a pretty cool sight, so you should try and stick around to watch it happen.
ON LANTERNS HERE: a tradition and past-time in Shifen is to let of lanterns with your wishes written on them. This is a very popular tourist activity in the township and, I'll admit, it looks like fun. Unfortunately, most of the places selling these lanterns make them out of cheap plastic to safe cost. These lanterns fly off and end up strewn all through the river and surrounding jungle and don't break down. I saw about 20 - 30 lanterns in the trees on just the quick walk to the waterfall. If you absolutely must let off a lantern in Shifen, speak to vendors and find ones using traditional, biodegradable materials.
SEE ONE OF THE SUSPENSION BRIDGES
As in most places in Taiwan, there are a number of suspension bridges around Shifen. Jingan Suspension Bridge is closest to the station and is a popular place to visit. With dramatic mountains in the background and moody passing clouds, it is quite a nice view.
September 23, 2021