Pingxi is famous for its lanterns and has the privilege of being the only place in Taiwan where sky lanterns can legally be released. Its remoteness coupled with a heavy annual rainfall make conditions safe for fire balls to be launched skyward. Sure there are environmental concerns (which is why I didn’t launch one) but the whole event is breathtaking and a must see if you’re in Taiwan for Lunar New Year!
Pingxi itself is a daily launching location and I’m pretty sure you can come here year-round. They host 3 massive launch nights at different locations each year. I was lucky enough to watch the first one in Jingtong the next two are on the 14th and 20th in Pingxi and Shifen respectively. Find more info here.
Sky lanterns are a traditional method of praying for good fortune, love and of course money in the upcoming year. It seems that most Chinese speakers write money above all other prayers and that is ironically mirrored in Korean culture by hats and t-shirts brandishing Fuck <3 Get $$$.
Whatever your desires are write them on the side of your lantern and send it off to the heavens where you can be certain your wishes will be granted by whatever deity you believe in. Just be careful you don’t accidentally send it into a tree or you’ll be forced to watch in horror as your prayers burn in a fiery inferno above your heads.
Each of the 3 main events last for a few hours with regularly scheduled launches of a hundred or so sky lanterns. Registration for these closes weeks ahead of time so plan ahead if you want to take part in a group launch next year. Otherwise for a few hundred NTD (less than $10) you can purchase your own on every corner and back alley.
The group launches are about 30 minutes apart with a Chinese speaking host and musical interlude in between. I recommend skipping the first launch since it was by far the most crowded. Sneak in for the 2nd or 3rd and you’re much more likely to find a spot near center stage!
Despite Lunar New Year being the absolute worst time to travel due to crowds in Taiwan I highly recommend this winter festival. Pingxi’s lantern festival made it to #3 on Nat Geo’s top Winter trips for 2016 so if you don’t have plans for next Lunar New Year than you should brave the crowded trains and packed buses for a glimpse at the most awe inspiring evening I’ve ever welcomed a new year with.
Pingxi, Shifen & Jingtong: Which to visit?
If you can’t make it to one of the group launches its still worth stopping in this rural mountain region for a glimpse at the lantern heavy culture. All of the towns in the area have sky lanterns for sale and you can see them flying as soon as you get near. So which of the little towns is the best?
I stopped in 3 between the festival and other touristy adventures. Jingtong is only worth stopping in if the festival is there so cross that one off your list. Pingxi is nice and the namesake for the lantern festival but I would recommend Shifen if you’ve just got one day.
Pingxi’s old streets lead you up to the railway and had some of the nicest lanterns with a much safer launch venue along the railroad. The locals there seem to be better at teaching us foreigners how to launch since I didn’t see a single one crash and burn all night in Pingxi. That being said the ONLY thing to do here is launch some lanterns. If you head to Shifen there’s a bit more to do and see!
Shifen is famous for the Shifen Waterfall. This gigantic deluge pours a subtropical river over 60 feet to onlookers delight. The green waters below reflect a forested landscape and give you a magical feeling. To get here you can walk (about 2 km) from the Shifen train station to the waterfall or take a taxi.
When you arrive a the info center for “Shifen Waterfall Park” the only fee is for parking and you can easily follow a raised walkway into the undergrowth before coming to a handful of vantage points ready for you to snap a photo and a selfie. When you’re done enjoying the waterfall keep walking and you can enjoy a snack or just relax in the park.
Have you been to the lantern festival? Tell us what you think in the comments below!