Taiwan – Shifen Sky Lantern

Shifen Sky Lantern

Every year, on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, thousands of people will gather at Pingxi for the annual Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. People write their wishes on these lanterns, which will then carry their prayers to the sky. Luckily, one need not wait for the annual Lantern Festival to release sky lanterns. In fact, releasing sky lanterns is now a very commercialized activity that you can also do it anytime. Shifen and Pingxi are two of the more popular places for this activity.

As I was told, there is no regular opening or closing hours for the shops in Shifen Old Street. Instead they close when there are no more visitors. In our case, when we first arrived at the Shifen train station, we quickly chose a friendly shop owner and told him our itinerary for the day and that we will be back in the evening to release the sky lanterns. Even though we had some unexpected delays and spent a little more time at the Coal Mine Museum (you can read more about it here), the friendly shop owner kept his promise and waited for us. 😉

The colours of the lantern are supposed to have some symbolic meaning, however, we didn’t really bother with it. Instead, we chose the colours we liked and started doodling (or rather writing our wishes). Anyway, if you can’t make up your mind on the colours, there are also multi-coloured ones. The price of each lantern range from NT$100 to NT$300, depending on the size. If you are releasing the lantern after the sky turns dark (like what we did), you can also choose add a firecracker to your lantern. Judging by the number of stores selling sky lanterns, it’s quite obvious that this sky lantern tradition has become a bristling business in Shifen. 😉

Alycia calligraphing her wishes

Chinese Calligraphy, English Style

The rising lantern; together with our wishes and prayers

Even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits!


A group photo with the friendly shop owner

After a long day, we left Shifen at around 8.45pm and I reckoned we were probably the last visitors in Shifen as all the shops were closed and the street was quiet. If not for the shop owner, who informed an eatery to wait for us, we probably would have no dinner.

Shifen may be a little inaccessible but I like this nostalgic small town.  Everybody is, like, part of a bigger family. There was no hard selling; when we politely declined them, the shop owners would give us a smile and walk away. When we asked for directions, they also gladly pointed us to the right direction. This is definitely one of the places that is high on my recommendation list.

Train ride back to Jiufen. We had the whole train to ourselves.

Useful Information – Sky Lantern

Colours and their meanings:

  • Red: Good fortune
  • Pink: Romance
  • Peach-red: Decisions and opportunities
  • Orange: Money
  • Yellow: Success in school and/or job
  • White: Health
  • Light Green: Growth
  • Light Blue: Hoping something comes true
  • Light Purple: Idealism

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Taiwan – Shifen (十分)

Shifen Waterfall (十分瀑布)

Our original plan was to cover three towns, Shifen (十分), Pingxi (平溪) and Jingtong (菁桐), along the Pingxi railway line in a day. However, we got delayed with our check-in at our accommodation in Jiufen and it was already past lunch when we were ready to set off. Since the sun sets early in the winter (around 5pm), it was quite unrealistic to even attempt to cover three towns in one afternoon; not with the infrequent train schedule. After some consideration, we decided to spend the whole afternoon in just one town and Shifen was the chosen one.

There were a few reasons why we chose Shifen instead of the other two. Firstly, Shifen is the nearest station (among the three towns) to Ruifang and the shorter travelling time is definitely something we appreciate very much in a tight schedule. Secondly, sky lanterns (天燈) are also available in Shifen; although we would very much prefer to do it at Pingxi, which is the original site for sky lanterns. Thirdly, we prefer the attractions in Shifen (Shifen Waterfall and Coal Museum with coal train ride). With these “justifications”, we convinced ourselves that Shifen was the one and I am glad we made that decision.

Map of Pingxi area

The train ticket from Ruifang to Shifen

All hyped up to light the sky lantern

Shifen Train Station

If you are planning to visit the various towns along Pingxi line, you should considering getting the All-Day pass (about NT$54/person) which will give you unlimited rides for the day (along Pingxi line only, obviously). A single trip ticket is about NT$20 and just do your math to decide which is a better deal for you.

Since we planned to visit only one town, we bought the single trip ticket. The train ride was surprisingly very comfortable and it took only 20 minutes to reach Shifen from Ruifang. Like I mentioned earlier, the train schedule along Pingxi line is not very frequent and thus please check the timing of the next train before you leave a station.

The Pingxi district was once an important coal mining area in the 20th century and the Pingxi line was built then for the transportation of the coal. Now there isn’t much coal left in the area and the railway line has been preserved to serve tourists instead.

What makes the trip interesting is that the railway actually runs through a couple of towns. Similar to roads running between buildings in a city, the Pingxi line cuts through the heart of these towns. Do take note that there is no traffic lights or proper crossings and the only warning is the long horn when the train is approaching…

A train running through Shifen

Railway tracks running so close to the shops …

After exploring Shifen town for a few minutes, we were off to Shifen waterfall (十分瀑布), which is otherwise known as the Little Niagara of Taiwan.

Useful Information – Pingxi area:

Pingxi Railway Line:

  • Ruifang -> Houtong -> Sandiaoling -> Dahua -> Shifen -> Wanggu -> Lingjiao -> Pingxi -> JingTong

Things to do at Shifen:

  • 十分 Old Street
  • 十分 waterfall
  • 十分 Coal Mine and Mining Train

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