Making Wishes at Pingxi Lantern Festival | Review |
The Pingxi Lantern Festival is one the best things I have ever experienced. One of the most anticipated culture events in Taiwan, the Pingxi Lantern Festival is a celebration steeped in history and tradition. Ever since I saw lanterns released on an advert (It might have been a Sony advert?), it has been on my bucket list. As it is listed as one of the best festivals to experience, on route to Philippines and the dates were perfect, it was too good of an opportunity to miss.
If you want to find out what else there is to do in Taipei check out 10 Must Do Activities in Taipei.
There has been significant changes in 2017 from previous years, so make sure you don’t make the same mistakes I did! Read on to find out what to expect and how you can get involved if you are unable to specifically make it for the Pingxi Lantern Festival.
A Blessed History
The Sky Lanterns have played a pivotal part in everyday lives of the Taiwanese for many years. During the 19th century when lanterns were introduced to Taiwan, they would be used for prayer as worshipers wrote blessings and messages onto the lanterns to be released and carried up to towards their ancestors. This evolved through the ages with the lanterns being used as physical messages to let others know the town of Pingxi was safe. This has now become a celebration to mark the end of Chinese New Year along with the firework and firecracker ceremony in the Yanshui District where there are two main events in Taiwan known as “Fireworks in the South, Sky Lanterns in the North.”
When we arrived at Shifen, the excitement was electric. Slowly shuffling among crowds of families, friends and couples along the platform, you could see countless lanterns being released along the rail-way line during day time (not sure why you would release it that early!). There is an option to join the group lantern release at the main stage in the evening but you would have to register for a spot before 10 am in the morning. Deciding to take a more leisurely approach (and avoid queuing that early) we opted to buy and release our own lantern (150NT ~ $5).
As you explore the town the most obvious scene are the celebrators congregating on the track that falls in the middle of the town. It is actually still illegal to hang around on the rail lines, but the authorities turn a blind eye to it during the festival. The only time the revelers part ways is to let the train through to bring in another group of the 80,000 attendees expected to be at the Pingxi Lantern Festival.
Shifen is not only popular as a place to release lanterns (you can come here to release lanterns outside of the festival too), but it also hosts a gorgeous waterfall which can be seen through a short leisurely stroll through the town. On our journey we basked in the general joy of the surroundings, crossed bridges, parks, street vendors and amusement games where, as always there are plenty of photo opportunities.
Scribbling Dreams and Seeing Wishes Take Flight
As night falls, the first sets of lanterns glow in the sky. There are 8 release rounds in total between 17:30 and 20:25. Every time a set of group lanterns are released there was celebration and a sense of awe descended onlookers. We took this as a signal to head back to the sky lantern vendors and paint our own wishes to send to the ancestors.
Depending on what you hope the year will bring you, different coloured lanterns can be purchased to represent this. I went with Yellow to bring fortune and wealth (to allow me to travel more obviously) and decorated my well wishes for friends and family.
If you purchase your own lanterns you won’t be able to enter the main stage area to release with the group releases. There are however plenty of areas near the main stage where other attendees are releasing.
Top tip: There’s a section where you can release it underneath the bridge. Don’t do this. There were so many disappointed people who had their lantern caught and burn out under the bridge.
Painting your wishes on the lantern is only part of the ceremony. The fable goes that for your dreams to truly come to fruition the lantern still needs to be released and ascend to the Gods. If the lantern crashes or burns out on the ground it means that you were unfortunate and your aspirations were not received by your ancestors. Having seen the few lanterns that didn’t make the flight, it was clear the superstitions held merit over those who thought their dreams may not come true with the somber faces that surrounded a burning lantern. Though there’s nothing to say that you can’t just try again with another lantern!
When you get the lanterns it also includes sparklers to play with…and of course we immediately reverted back to being immature children.
After ensuring that our own lanterns had flown and blessings received we made our way to the main stage to take a closer look at the group releases. It was simply breathtaking. Being part of the celebration and witnessing the majestic beauty of a collective whose hopes and dreams are now left to the Gods is an incredible way to round of Chinese New Year and a celebration which I will treasure with me.
Travel to and from Pingxi Lantern Festival
Previous years saw the lanterns released in Jingtong, Pinxi and Shifen within the Pingxi distirct. This year however it has been simplified with only one date at the town of Shifen. There are two ways to get there (expect it to be packed whichever route you go!)
- Train: My favourite transport as it takes you through gorgeous valleys on one line all the way to the middle of Shifen. Jump onto the Main Train Station towards Ruiefang. Change to the Pingxi line and enjoy the views!
- Bus: There are 3 chartered buses leaving from Taipei Zoo, Raifang Train Station and Keeling Train Station and they cost 50NT ($1.6), 30NT ($1) and 30 NT ($1) receptively.
Free buses are organised that can take you to the Taipei Zoo at which point you can take the MRT back to wherever you are situated. Just a word of warning, the queues to return on the bus is a little disorganised. Make sure to stand on the left-hand side as this is the ‘standing’ queue and you can get home much MUCH faster.
The Pingxi district is the only place in Taiwan where it is legal to release a lantern. Due to its location in the mountain, significant rainfall and high humidity levels it was deemed a safe location. The parts that do not biodegrade are also found by scouts and recycled again. So you can light up those lanterns without feeling guilty!
Have you been to any lantern festivals? What would you wish for? What other things are on your bucket list? I would love to hear your thoughts below!
Pingxi Lantern Festival: Details and Tips
- IMPORTANT! Bring cash with you as there is only 1 cash machine in Shifen and it was out of money…
- This year the event was on 11th February 2017, but it changes according to the full moon. Check before you go!
- If you don’t want to feel like a sheep, arrive before the crowds and aim to get to Old Street before it gets too congested, there is plenty to do in the area.
- It is near impossible to meet at the event due to how busy it is. Turn up with your group if possible.
- Think about what you would like to wish for before arriving. With 80,000 other festival goers waiting to paint a lantern you won’t have too long to decide.
- Don’t get too disheartened if your lantern doesn’t fly! You can always wish on another one!