Monday, April 2, 2018

Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival

laterns pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan


              The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival has been ranked highly on global must visit lists by numerous sources like CNN, Discovery Channel, and Foder’s; just to name a few.  This ancient Chinese festival has been reimagined for the modern age with live music and dance shows, coupled with vendors selling all sorts of food and souvenirs.  




On any given day you can witness a handful of lanterns floating through the skies of Pingxi, but on this special occasion the skies are filled with lanterns, spirits of light and dreams, as they carry upwards the wishes of those below.  It is truly a site to be witnessed as hundreds of these traditional lanterns are sent off into the heavens.


lanterns day pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan
Lanterns at the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival


Like most ancient records, the story of the festival’s origin is a blur of history and mythos.  But the consensus by most historians is that the flight of lanterns had the utilitarian purpose of a signal light in the beginning.  During olden times, when marauders would raid villages in search for food and supplies during the winter months, the villagers would take refuge in the mountains above.  A select few able-bodied men would stay behind to fight or keep watch over the village and when the coast was clear would send up lanterns.  This would be a signal to the villagers above, in a time before cellphones and Facebook, to let them know it was safe to return home.  As time passed, and the fear of raids subsided, these lanterns took on a more celebratory roll, carrying wishes and dreams into the heavens. 


My Experience



crowds people pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan
Crowd of people on the streets of the festival


We arrived in Shifen, the city the Sky Lantern Festival was being held, in the early evening and the roads were already packed with people milling about or sending their own lanterns into the sky.  I knew that this was an internationally known festival but was very surprised at the number of foreigners that were also there.  I was especially surprised by the number of Americans, who seemed to make up the majority.  Weaving ourselves through the throngs of people, and grabbing some pictures along the way, we made our way to the festival grounds.  The crowd began to become thicker as we approached the showgrounds and became a river of humanity being corralled in the grounds.  


crowd people showgraound pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan
Crowd of people at the showgrounds before the festival started


Seeing a good spot on the outer edge, we jumped out of the flow of people and took our spot to watch the already started festivities.  As the sun began to set, the reason for the whole festival began.  200 pre-assigned people filed into the center square, lit their lanterns, and all at once let them loose, filling the sky with dancing orange orbs of light.  This was repeated two more times, but we only stayed for one more.  


sky lanterns pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan
Lanterns filling the night sky of Pingxi


Having caught some drone footage of the second barrage, we made our way out of the showgrounds determined to beat the crowd to the buses.  This determination though was short lived.  As we made our way through the streets we often stopped to watch the lanterns of others float through the sky, and at times, for a few unfortunate souls, burst into flame and fall to the ground.  We decided that we couldn’t attend the Sky Lantern Festival without testing our luck and sending our own wishes up on a lantern.  


wishes painted chinese lantern pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan
Painting wishes onto a lantern before we let it fly

holding chinese lantern pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan
Holding our lantern before lifting it off


There are multiple places that sell lanterns, especially during the festival, and you are able to buy them in different colors (each corresponding to a different good fortune like health, money, or growth and each differing in price).  We bought a red lantern, the traditional and cheapest lantern color, and took turns painting our wishes on our sides of it.  Afterwards, we were taken onto the train tracks to take pictures with the lantern and send it up into the sky.


our chinese lantern flying away pingxi sky lantern festival taiwan
Our Chinese lantern as it flies away taking our wishes into the heavens


After watching our lantern successfully take flight we grabbed a beer, took a seat, and watched as others climbed out on the tracks to do the same; ever so often having to clamber back off again as a train rolled through.  Losing track of time, we remembered that we had wanted to beat the crowd to the bus, but soon realized that dream had been lost long before.  After walking a few minutes and still not seeing the end of the line we decided to take our chances with the train instead.  We fortunately, found a standing spot on the first train we came to, but unfortunately had to then wait, crammed in the train, for 45 minutes.  




Other Things to Do



pingxi taiwan
Pingxi, Taiwan


              Though the festival happens only once a year, you can still visit the area, write your wishes on a lantern, and send it into the sky at any time of the year.  Pingxi and Shifen are both beautiful cities built on the hillside over looking the river.  Both have great Old Streets to visit, with an active train track that runs right down the middle of them.  Shifen is well known for its waterfall, a 40-meter waterfall that is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Taiwan.  Pingxi, on the other hand, is known for its hike up three large rocks that jut into the sky.  

pingxi hike mothers peak taiwan
Top of Mother's Peak on the Pingxi hike


              If you are able to get to the festival area early in the day, I suggest doing the Pingxi hike.  This few hour hike is a bit strenuous, but well worth the awarding view atop each of the pinnacles.  The climb to the top of these rock pinnacles is nothing but stairs, sometimes along sheer ridges, so make sure to put on your walking shoes (or flipflops in my case) to be ready to take on this natural Stair Master. 

Getting There and Away



pingxi old street taiwan
Pingxi Old Street


Getting There?


              There are two ways of getting to Pingxi for the Sky Lantern Festival; by train or bus (both $50 round trip).  By train: Take a northbound train from the Taipei Main Station towards Ruifang Station. Transfer to the Pingxi Line and purchase a One Day Ticket.  By bus: Take the Brown Line the Taipei Zoo (last stop).  Leave the station at Exit 1 and you will see a line for the bus to Pingxi. 

Getting Away?


              Like getting to the festival, there are two ways of getting away; by train and bus.  By train: Board a train at the station towards the Ruifang Station and transfer to a Taipei Main Station bound train.  The line for the train is usually short but be prepared to be packed extra tight in the train and most likely to be standing.  By bus:  Walk back down to the bus stop where you will be directed to the end of the probably already insanely long line.  There are two lines here; one for sitting and one for standing (the standing line moves much faster).  Be prepared to stand in line for a while though.  I suggest buying some street food (and maybe a few beers) to eat while you wait.  


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