The Pingxi Line (平溪支线) would be a familiar railway branch for those that are planning for the Pingxi Lantern Festival. The Sky Lantern Festival is a highly anticipated annual even typically held during Chinese New year. The bad thing is, that’s the time when the whole of Taiwan is on holiday and that’s one of the places where everyone wants to go. The good thing is, you could go to Shifen (十分), Pingxi (平溪) and Jingtong (菁桐) in the Pingxi District to fly a sky lantern any time of the year and it won’t be as crowded; just that it won’t be as spectacular as thousands of people releasing the lanterns into the sky.
The Pingxi Railway Line has seven stations, Santiaoling (三貂岭), Dahua (大华), Shifen (十分), Wanggu (望古), Lingjiao( 岭脚趾), Pingxi (平溪 ) and Jingtong (菁桐). If you’ve purchased a day pass ticket like me, you could travel on both Pinxgxi Line and Shen’ao Line (深奥) with unlimited train rides. Shen’ao Line includes stations such as Haikeguan (海科馆) , Ruifang (瑞芳)， Badouzhi (八斗子) and Shen’ao (深奥). You can either buy this ticket at the Taipei Main Station, or the Ruifang Station where you would transit to get to Pinxi.
You can your easy card too if you wish. There’s no physical “gate” at the stations so you’ll have to remember to swipe in and out of the station at the blue detector.
Typically, the three popular stations to visit on the Pinxi Line would be Shifen (十分), Pingxi (平溪) and Jintong (菁桐). If you have extra time, take a stop at Houtong (猴桐), which is also known as the cat village because somehow at this small town, there are just cats everywhere. The Our first station was Shifen Station， popular for its old street and Shifen Waterfall.
As soon as we crossed the railway track, it was the old street filled with retro post boxes, “bamboo wishes” and food. Lots and lots of food. You’ll never have to worry about food if you are in Taiwan.
Try this “marble soft drink” (弹珠汽水) if you get a chance. The drink itself is no different from any other soft drinks; it is fun because there’s a piece of marble at the bottle mouth. You’ll have to push the marble into the bottle with the pink plastic gadget and by the time you’ve finished drinking, the marble is yours!
“Shifen” literally means “very”. You could imagine all sorts of puns made with “Shifen”. “Shifen xinfu” is a classic phrase on post boxes and mini sky lanterns, meaning “very happy”. Food stalls calling themselves “Very” Yummy and “Very” Delicious are not uncommon.
Flying the sky lantern is definitely the number one activity here ! NTD 150 for singled-colored latnerns and NTD 200 for multi-colored lanterns.
And where do you fly the lanterns? Right on the railway tracks…… I know, it’s dangerous and in fact illegal because there was a warning that states a fine (NTD 3000 I think?) if you are caught crossing the tracks. With the tracks being so close to the buildings, most people ignore the warning until the train arrives. Do be careful though.
Cant get enough of these lanterns? Bring one lantern-inspired lamp shade home with you 🙂
Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布)
Moving onto the next attraction in Shifen, we went to Shifen Waterfall. The Waterfall is located about 35 minutes away on foot (so it’ll be about one hour plus to and fro). If you do not wish to walk, there are motor vehicle service providers at the end of the old street – fully customizable. You could rent a bicycle, a motorcycle, hire a cab to and fro , or walk there and take a cab back. The cabs don’t run on meters and they just charge a flat rate of NTD 100 per one way trip (less than 10 minutes ride).
The waterfall was really pretty ! The scenic park is organized with a one way trail circumferencing the waterfall so you’ll be able to catch different angles of the waterfall. The trail takes a minimum of 30 minutes to complete.
For the history buffs wanting to find out more about Shifen history, visit the Coal Mine Museum. Pingxi District once thrived and flourished on the abundance of coal. As time went by, coal diminished; many coal mining tunnels and infrastructures were deserted and became part of Pinxi District’s story. The picture below is the ticketing counter for the museum, which is not too far away from the Old Street. Transport will be arranged to bring you to the museum that’s a 10 minutes drive away. (Closed on Mondays).
Our next stop was Pingxi. It was much quieter than Shifen with an old town charm. Flying the sky lantern was the main activity there.
Not sure if it was because of Monday, quite a few of shops on Pingxi’s Old Street were closed. I would imagine the street to be as lively as Shifen had they been open. I didn’t mind it though as I could just soak up the vibe and walk leisurely without having to avoid bumping into people constantly.
We did manage to find food as usual ! This rice paper wrapped sorbet was superb ith peanut shavings, a dash of sesame seeds and a sprinkle of cilantro. A perfect savory dessert. Gary on the other hand, wasn’t too aprreciative about having cilantro in sorbet.
Jingtong is another small town with coal mining as part of its history. There are even more abandoned infrastructures here. Some are lucky enough to have been converted into cafes and ukelele classrooms while others just remained as is, providing a magnificent backdrop for pre wedding photography.
This is the Jingtong Mining Industry Life Pavilion, unfortunately closed on our visit. The Jingtong Old Street was even quieter than the one at Pingxi. Guess Monday is not a good day !
In Taiwan, there are many railway franatics. They love anything about railway; the trains, the train tickets, even the bento provided on the train ! The Jingtong Railway Story House (below) is a reflection of such frenzy. There is a large piece of antique map of Taiwan, framed, with corresponding train tickets of every station in Taiwan. How crazy is that? No photography is allowed in the shop so you’ll have to see it for yourself.
Enjoy more photos of Jingtong below 🙂
ps: If you need wifi in Taiwan, check out i-Wifii Mobile Router. Rental is only NTD 100 per day and can be shared among 10 people. Renting it is really easy : book it online –> pay online –> use it –> return it at 7- 11 (which is literally everywhere).