The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is dubbed as one of the best festivals in the world by the American Discovery Channel’s Program, ‘Fantastic Festivals of the World‘. This had been on my bucketlist for quite some time now.
There is no exact schedule for this festival since it depends on the Chinese lunar calendar. This year, the festival was held on February 11, 14 and 22. I attended the festival on the 22nd.
Every year, this festival is held in different locations in Pingxi, a small township nestled among the mountains in northeastern Taipei. The fastest way to get there is through the TRA express train going to Ruifang and then transfer to the local train going to Shifen Station via Pingxi Railway. The cost depends on the train type based on the time of your desired departure and ranges from $49-$79 for the TRA and $20 for a one-way ticket from Ruifang to Shifen. Alternatively, you can also go there via train-bus combo. Allow a maximum of 2hours for your travel time (each way).
The train ride by itself was a scenic one. We passed by rivers, mountains and waterfalls. There was an option to explore the areas in Jiufen, too but we headed straight to Shifen. The railway was also extraordinary. It was the closest I could get to a moving train. You see, the people on the railways had to move out of the way every single time a train passed by. It was very exciting!
During the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, stalls selling paper lanterns, miniature toy lanterns, food and fireworks line the streets. Each lantern was sold for $150 for one color and $200 for 4 colors. There were also lanterns in different shapes and they were sold at around $500 each. Apparently, each color had a different meaning. Sadly, we couldn’t read any Chinese character and there seemed to be no one there who spoke English.
I posted my plans on Couchsurfing and I found a fellow who also had the same itinerary. We met at the Taipei Main Station and went there together. Great opportunity to connect with a fellow traveller!
It is believed that the wishes are sent to heaven and they bring luck in the new year. Originally, we wanted to write our wishes in Chinese characters. Writing in English seemed cliche but we ended up writing our wishes in our own dialects: Cebuano and Estonian. Since I ran out of “wishes” to write, I just wrote anything under the sun including, “#mayforever” and “Butitoy was here”.
Since we arrived in Shifen at around 2pm, we had plenty of time to explore the area. We went to see the Shifen Waterfall and Jingan suspension bridge.
It was really hot during that time so our visit to the Shifen waterfalls was refreshing.
To help pass the time until the start of the festival, we went around the small town and ate a lot of street food: anything we saw that was strange and never had before, we ate them! One thing about Taiwan is that the street food is awesome!
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world.
Tourists had different ways of writing their wishes on their lanterns. Some had doodles. Some had really serious wishes on them. The funniest lantern I saw had “Donald Trump for President” written on it. For me, I just really wanted to fly my own lantern during the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival.
As the night progressed, the sky became very beautiful with all the lit-up lanterns.
500m away from Shifen Old Street was the main venue for the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. It was rather a very small area with thousands of people. I had myself readied for this kind of situation. (I wasn’t ready for the freezing temperature!)
You can actually fly one of the lanterns during the event. Sadly, there were only very limited slots for the event and by the time we arrived, all slots were already given.
For each schedule, 200 smaller lanterns along with a grand lantern were released together. I didn’t understand the announcement but there were several intervals from 6pm to 10pm. During that night’s event, a total of 1600 lanterns were released into the sky. Of course, they were lots of singing, dancing and other forms of entertainment (mostly in a language I couldn’t understand).
It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event and I’m just so glad to have attended it.