Day 14.  Paper Lanterns in Pingxi and Shifen 

Our plan for today was to travel by train to the small countryside towns of Pingxi and Shifen.  Getting there by public transport was quite easy, taking the MRT to Songshan Railway Station from where we caught a mainline train to Ruifang taking 46 minutes (its 34 minutes on the Express train but as the Regional service was due to depart when we arrived there was little point waiting for the faster service).

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Platform sign at Ruifang Station, Taiwan

At Ruifang we connected to the Pingxi branch line and this journey took a further one hour.

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Travelling on the Pingxi Line Train, Taiwan

Travelling by train in Taiwan is inexpensive, day tickets can be obtained for the rail line between Ruifang and Jintong costing NT$80 allowing unlimited stops but we just used our EasyCards which include a 10% discount for journeys under 70Km which worked out even cheaper.  The Pingxi line is a 12.9 Km single track branch line running between Ruifang and Jintong and was constructed in 1921 during Japanese rule, originally to transport coal.

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Pingxi Railway Station, Taiwan

Pingxi is the penultimate stop on the line and we decided to visit there first and call at Shifen on our way back.  The main street is built into a hill with the railway track going overhead through the town centre.  Trains run at hourly intervals in each direction so it’s a good idea to check the timetable so as not to waste time when wishing to move on.  Our planned stay in Pingxi of 75 minutes was just about right and gave us enough time to explore most of the small town as well as a quick stop in Family Mart for cups of coffee.

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Stepping stones, Pingxi, Taiwan

Paper lanterns can be bought at almost every shop and small stall, coming in various sizes and colours.  A medium lantern costs NT$200 which is then pegged onto a metal stand so that one can write special wishes on each side of the lantern.  Included in the price, the stall holder then takes photos of the people holding their lantern before lighting it with its attached candle to inflate the rice paper lantern.  The people then release their lantern into the sky and as it soars far away their wishes are said to come true!

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Writing special wishes on paper lanterns, Pingxi, Taiwan

We didn’t buy one ourselves but it was fun watching paper lanterns being prepared and then seeing them float up into the clouds.  Strolling around, we saw lantern debris on trees, in the river and strewn across the valley so it is clearly not very good for the environment.  Hopefully, the majority of it is picked up and removed.

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Shifen main street with paper lanterns soaring into the sky

Returning on the rail line, our next stop was at Shifen, the most popular stop on the Pingxi line.  Coach loads of tourists were here plus groups of school children making the charming, narrow streets very congested but bustling with activity.

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Following the path towards Shifen waterfall, Taiwan

About a 25 minute walk from the centre of Shifen lies it’s famous waterfall.  There are two signposted routes to take, we set off on one and returned via the alternative route.  I would recommend walking both ways along the path to the right of the railway track as it is much quieter and has much better views, the other route is mostly along a busy road.  Walking along the trail we had good views of the waterfall, known locally as the Niagara Falls of Taiwan.  It is the broadest waterfall in Taiwan being 40 metres wide with a total fall of 20 metres and lies on the upper reaches of the Keelung river.  Unfortunately I do not have a good photo of the waterfall as I had inadvertently changed the settings on my camera by accident.  Hopefully,  I will have an opportunity to return sometime in the future and include photos then.

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Launching a paper lantern into the air in Shifen, Taiwan

We then made our way back to the centre of town where even more bus loads of tourists had descended.  Feeling peckish, we bought some Tempura squid balls and nibbled on these whilst watching families write on their lanterns with thick, black marker pens.  Dozens of paper lanterns were constantly being released into the sky and it seemed a popular activity.   Apparently, sky lanterns were once used as a signalling system for those living and working on the railways but nowadays visitors to the town carry on this tradition by painting their wishes before releasing the lanterns on the train tracks.

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Train arriving at Shifen station, Taiwan

Just before a train is due, warning whistles are blown and everyone and everything has to be moved off the track briefly while the train passes through.

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Concourse, Taipei Main Station

We spent two and a quarter hours in Shifen before boarding our train back to Taipei via Ruifang once again and feeling tired we dozed a little with the motion of the train.    On reaching Taipei Main Station we decided to take a look in this vast rail terminus.  Taking the escalator to the upper floors we found some stylish small shops and food courts but down in the basement which is known as the Taipei City Mall it was very basic with market like stalls selling cheap clothes and trinkets and I wouldn’t really recommend it.   The City Mall is actually just one long passageway linking the rail and bus stations.

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All ready to go! Night street scene, Taipei

Back in our hotel room for a little rest and a discussion of where to eat, we settled on a return visit to the Raohe Night Market for more of their beef pepper buns plus a few other tasty treats.   We then made use of our Taipei City wi-fi  in Songshan MRT station to check in for our flights and secure good seats for our journey home in two days time.

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54 thoughts on “Day 14.  Paper Lanterns in Pingxi and Shifen 

  1. In India too these paper lanterns with lighted lamps are flown towards sky at a certain time of the year. We do this in remembrance of our ancestors who we think are somewhere in the vastness above . It gives kind of feel of being connected to roots. We light the lamps in small bamboo baskets too and hang them on the tip of long bamboo rods. We call it Aakashdeep…. Aakash is sky and deep is lamp. If interested the picture can be seen in my following post.

    https://namitasunder.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/aakash-deep/

    enjoyed your journey a lot. traveling and sharing are great ways to learn a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read some of my Taiwanese posts and for your kind words regarding my photos. It’s good to hear you are enjoying them. I do hope to be able exploring the world and writing about my travels.

      Like

    1. Hi Stuart, Thank you for taking the time to read my posts on Taiwan. Visiting Taiwan is easy, the Taiwanese are very polite and helpful but relatively few people over 30 speak English but this did not cause us any problems. It’s a very safe country and we never felt intimidated anywhere even at night. The Night markets are very popular with locals and oil fun, food is very cheap by Western standards and is cooked to order so we had no health fears. Using public transport is quite easy, the MRT very straightforward and buses have an illuminating aged sign rotating between English and Mandarin so no problems there either. Trains run on time and again cheap and easy. I would highly recommend a visit as it is such a beautiful island. Most tourists seem to come from the Philippines, South Korea and Japan and we only saw a handful of western people the entire week. Do let me know if you need more help with your trip planning. Best Wishes, M.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Brick for your thoughts on our day along the Pingxi railway. I think the lanterns will look an amazing sight when it has gone dark and they can be seen soaring into the sky. Using public transport in Taiwan is very efficient and inexpensive and there is no need to buy tickets in advance. The Taiwanese are very polite and friendly and we felt very safe everywhere we went. Like you, we prefer to use public transport so that we can live like the locals, it’s much more fun than being on a tour bus. Best Wishes, LMT.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post on the Pingxi railway line. I do hope that you get an opportunity to release a paper lantern somewhere in Asia and I’ll look forward to having the pleasure of reading about it.

      Like

  2. Another great post! Your write-ups are always solid with useful details that bring a place to life without exposition. I enjoy your photos as well, as they give one a real-world glimpse of a place. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

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