What is the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival?
Think about a small scale version of the Tangled movie. The date varies every year, like every other Chinese festival out there.
It’s held during the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, but who’s looking at a Lunar Calendar? Essentially though, it’s around February or March each year.
For 2020, The Pingxi Sky Lantern festival is on February 8.
If you are looking to look into other lantern festivals, you could also consider the much bigger Yee Peng Lantern Festival held in Chiang Mai, Thailand in November.
Where is the Pingxi Festival held and how do I get there?
It is held in the town of Shifen, an hour away from Taipei city.
There are two ways to get to Shifen.
1. You can take the train
The train is usually quite crowded – even during non-Pingxi season. But should you choose this mode, you should take the train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station, then take the train on the Pingxi Line from Ruifang station to Shifen station.
2. Take the bus shuttle.
This is what I would recommend. Shuttle buses may sound like the less appealing option, but I hear that some roads are closed to allow for a smoother route and there really are a lot of buses provided to/from Taipei city and nearby towns.
Here is the bus shuttle timetable to and from Shifen.
|Taipei Zoo||To Shifen: 09:00 – 19:00|
To Terminal: 9:50 – 23:00
|Ruifang Train Station||To Shifen: 09:00 – 19:00|
To Terminal: 9:50 – 23:00
|Keelung Train Station||To Shifen: 09:00 – 19:00|
To Terminal: 9:50 – 23:00
You pay the fare for the trip to Shifen, and do not have to pay during the trip back.
Should I stay at Shifen?
You can stay at Shifen, but it is a very small town with limited accommodation choices. I expect the accommodation to be booked up pretty quickly and if you’re anything like me and my travel buddy who pretty much book things at the absolute last minute, you’re going to run out of luck.
You should totally stay at any of the towns where they provide the free shuttle bus. We chose to stay at Keelung as it is closer, less touristy and we think that there will be a smaller crowd for the bus. It was true- we got on the first bus to Shifen and there were a grand total of 10 of us on the bus!
I don’t have any experience with the bus from Taipei to compare with, but I will probably pick to stay at Keelung should I go again.
Important tips for the Pingxi Festival!
How do I know where the buses depart?
You should just go where the crowd is or where people are queuing up!
Or just ask around (yes they do understand some English, or will understand when you say the word Pingxi – pronounced ping-si).
Absolute 10/10 advice here 😂
However, we chose Keelung = less people. When we arrived at the station,
- We arrived on the other end of the station where we did not see any humans, and
- There wasn’t any huge queue in sight as it was an early bus at 9:20 AM, and we were #4 to jump in line – dude, we started the queue!!
So here’s a tip. There will be posters around, unfortunately, it’s all in Chinese and what baffled me was the lack of lanterns on a poster of a lantern festival 🤨. I hope they change this in the coming years, though.
I can read a little Chinese, so I identified what the posters were for right away. In any case, you should save a picture of this.
These are the literal words. Basically, if there is the first character where it looks like a human putting his hands up \[^_^]/, you are most likely looking at a Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival poster and you should follow it.
Do I really need to go so early? I hate mornings.
Nope! There are 2 groups of people. First, you need to decide if you want to be part of the group to release a lantern or just watch the lanterns being released.
I want to release a lantern.
Then yes, go early. We took the second shuttle and by the time we reached Shifen (around 10AM), there were already quite long queues for tickets to release the lanterns.
There are a total of 8 releases, starting at 5:00 PM up until the last one at 8:30 PM – one every half hour. There is a limited amount of tickets for each release.
Nobody goes for the 5:00 PM one as it’s still quite bright – good for pictures though if you have a potato camera like mine that can’t take night pictures well. Releases #4 – #6 go out the first as those are the optimal times.
Important: If you got there as early as we did and you hear an official say that there are no more tickets, STAY IN LINE. We got in line and halfway through, an official said no more tickets and they were wrong!
It was probably miscommunication – maybe they meant to say there are no more tickets for certain releases and information was omitted while they were playing "Pass the Message".
Bottom line: there were indeed a lot of tickets left when we got ours at 11:01 AM.
Unless you see the line completely dispersing, stay at your spot.
I only want to watch lanterns being released.
Good news, you can sleep in!
We started seeing a lot more people stroll in with their own portable chairs, umbrellas (important!) and big ass professional cameras about 2:00 PM onward – so I’d say that is the time that you should aim for when arriving at Shifen.
These people are the legit deal though. They choose the best spots, sit there and just wait for hours until the lantern releases.
What should I bring?
We actually did not do meticulous planning, so we didn’t bring anything else other than an umbrella.
But here’s what I would suggest-
- A portable chair or a mat to sit on
- An umbrella or poncho, just in case the weather gets terrible.
- Snacks & water – but you can buy food in Shifen and try the amazing food Taiwan has to offer!
- A laptop or tablet 😁 – time would pass a lot faster if we had a movie to watch or a book to read
Ok, now, what do I do throughout the day?
Honestly, a lot of waiting 😥 But, you can also explore Shifen!
Shifen is an amazing town itself… albeit small, a little too crowded and not enough to do if you’re there for 6 hours. Here’s a small list of things you can do at Shifen – but there are many guides out there so this will be a quick one.
- Release a sky lantern – this is the town to do it.
- See Shifen Waterfall. They say this is the Little Niagara of Taiwan. It is nice, but guys- I’ve lived in Buffalo, NY, 20 minutes away from Niagara Falls. To say this is anything like Niagara Falls is really optimistic.
- Shifen Old Town – Take pictures when the train passes by the old town. Eat street food. Try bubble tea (drink with tapioca balls)! Play with stray dogs!
- Endless possibilities.
We actually visited Shifen before, so there was nothing new for us.
Which was why we ended up sitting at a cafe for hours just for the wifi (we both didn’t have data connection either! 😭), wishing that we had brought our laptops with us.
Any tips for the lantern releases itself?
The lantern release area is not in the center of the town of Shifen itself, it’s actually at the far end of town.
There is a main stage where you can watch performances and also listen to the emcees brag about how amazing Taipei City is about 10 times (they’re doing it because the minister is here 🙄).
If you’re not releasing the lantern and just watching + taking photos…
Go early, bring snacks, find a spot, stay there. Bring a friend so you guys can take turns to go to the restroom + take care of your spot.
Where is a good spot? Wherever all the people with the big ass cameras are standing. They do this every year.
From personal experience, we were part of release #7 which means that we could watch releases #1 through #5.
We actually showed up at the viewing area just before the first release – was crowded, lots of people, but also not impossible to get a decent spot.
At the end of the day though, the lanterns float up and you can take some pictures no matter how short you are.
If you’re releasing the lantern...
Go on time. The ticket will have a time letting you know when you should meet up at the back of the main stage.
You’ll know where to go just from looking at the official staff. Big crowds will clear paths for you as you proudly wave your ticket in hand and walk towards the staff screaming at people to hurry up + guide them to the correct location.
Our lantern release was at 8:00 PM, the ticket instructed us to go to the waiting area at 7:10 PM. From then on, listen to the guides and they will efficiently guide you from the waiting area, to the release area, and to your specific lantern.
You will have a lantern-releasing assistant which will do everything for you – tells you when to start writing your wish on the lantern, tells you how to hold the lantern, lights up the lantern for you, shows you how to step on the base of the lantern, tells you when to release it.
Really, you can’t go wrong here.
Can I see some photos of the lantern release?
Though you’d never ask. Warning though, no professional-looking photos here.
Any last tips?
By the time everything is done, you just really want to get home. Walk very quickly to where you were dropped off, the shuttle will depart from there.
As you get into queue, there are actually two lines – the sitting line (for people who wants a seat on the bus) and the standing line (you, well, stand on the bus). Make sure you’re in the standing line – you’ll get on the bus a lot quicker.
Thaaat’s it! Have fun and enjoy – it really is a sight to remember 😍