Both Pingxi (平溪) and Shifen (十分) are both towns rich in culture and history and provide a nice glimpse at Taiwan's beautiful natural scenery. Events such as the Sky Lantern Festival draw visitors year round to create a Chinese Lantern (天燈) with a wish written on it to set into the sky, all for a modest NT$150-200.
During Chinese New Year it is especially encouraged for tourists to visit Pingxi and release a Chinese lantern into the sky!
Shifen is well known for the Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布), a 40 meter tall waterfall that creates a rainbow as it splashes into the lake, widely regarded as the most scenic in all of Taiwan. The train station, originally built for transporting coal, was built right alongside the Shifen Old Streets (十分老街), and today stands as a reminder of Taiwan's history and culture. With the marketplace surrounding the train station and the openness in which people can freely cross the tracks running straight through the centre of town, the marketplace area of Shifen is definitely an interesting place for visitors to check out.
Pingxi is special for its unique architecture and design, as its market area, Pingxi Old Street (平溪老街), is built into a hill with a train track going overhead right through the middle with shops around selling local food and gifts. Visitors are able to check out shops built during the 1930s and 1940s, as well as wooden houses built during the Japanese occupation era.
A nice route to follow is first disembark at Shifen Station (十分) to visit the old streets town area and waterfall. Continue on the train towards the terminal station, Jingtong (菁桐), to visit the town and its historical attractions. Finally, walk back along the tracks to Pingxi (around 20 mins) to enjoy a nice snack and set a lantern into the sky. Hopefully by then it will be dark enough for you to light your lantern and watch it fly over the horizon. Don't forget to stand on the train tracks as you let your lantern go!
In 2018, the Lantern Festival (元宵節, Yuanxiaojie) will be held on 2 March.
Pingxi at night time is a very different experience than that during the day. Many visitors choose to stay overnight in Jiufen prior to visiting due to its closer proximity, or Keelung for its amazing night market.
Every year around Chinese New Year the Sky Lantern Festival (平溪天燈節) draws massive crowds of people together in Pingxi to release their Chinese Lanterns together in a sign of celebration of the new year, in 2018 held on 2 March (元宵節, First Full Moon).
Visitors interested in Taiwan's coal mining heritage should definitely visit Jingtong Town (菁桐) at the end of the Pingxi Line.
Other small towns and attractions along the Pingxi Line include Jingtong Town (菁桐), Railway Story Museum, Shidi Pit, Coal Mining Memorial Park, and the Siguang Pool.
The Pingxi Line is a 13KM, single track mountain line that runs from Ruifang, Houtong (Cat Village), and Sandiaoling (三貂嶺) along the Yilan Line up to the mountain stations of Dahua (大華), Shifen (十分), Wanggu (望古), Lingjiao (嶺腳), Pingxi (平溪), and terminating at Jingtong (菁桐).
Pingxi is commonly misspelled on English language signage, and may be spelled as Pingxi, Pingsi, Pinghsi, Pingshi, and other variants. As always, bring a written copy of the Chinese language version of Pingxi, 平溪.
Origins of the Lantern Festival
Historically, Chinese society has been agricultural and deeply religious, especially with regard to veneration of ancestors and gods to help improve farming conditions and increase the harvest. At the beginning of the Lunar Calendar year, just after Chinese New Year Spring Festival (過年、春節), farmers pray to the gods for a bountiful year. In the past, farmers would pray for reliable water sources, lots of rice, and protection from the elements, however as conditions improved, so did the wishes of the farmers to include a fruitful harvest, safety of farm animals, and other personal wishes. These wishes and prayers were then written onto the paper sky lanterns and released into the sky to reach the heavens, rising into the air following the same principles as a hot air balloon. Specifically in Taiwan and the Pingxi area, sky lanterns came to symbolise a wish to give birth to more boys to help out on the farm since the Taiwanese Hokkien wording for "adding a boy" to the family (添丁) and the word for sky lantern (天燈) have a similar pronunciation, roughly pronounced tiām dīng and tī dīng.