Shifen on the historic single-track Pingxi Branch Rail Line is the place to go for visitors who wish to combine making wishes by flying sky lanterns with visiting the most scenic waterfall in Taiwan. Besides the incredible Shifen, the line has a lot more to offer.
Shifen, a small and quiet village located in a verdant mountainous area in New Taipei City, is one of a few places in Taiwan where sky lanterns are allowed to be launched.
As people can freely cross the single tracks running through Shifen’s main street, crowds of visitors setting sky lanterns on the railway is a common scene. And when a diesel rail train slowly approaches the section that is flanked by the houses on both sides of the old street, Taiwan Railways Administration workers will begin to blow whistles to warn swarms of lantern launching tourists to step away from the railway. The train slowly passing the Shifen old street with numerous sky lanterns dotting the evening sky is one of the most memorable images of Taiwan.
The houses on both sides of the railway consist mostly lantern shops, souvenir shops and eateries. Visitors can get a lantern for around NT$150, and almost all stores selling lanterns in the area will teach customers how to launch the lantern as well as offer to take photos of customers launching the lanterns. But before setting them flying in the sky, don’t forget to write down your wishes on them. It’s believed the wishes will be sent to the heaven.
Flying sky lanterns is a tradition of Shifen and other villages in Pingxi District, New Taipei City. The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival held every year during the weeks leading up to the Lantern Festival on Jan 15 of the Chinese Lunar Calendar attracts tens of thousands of visitors. It’s one of the most touching scenes to see countless star-like lanterns flying and twinkling away in the night sky towards mountains in the distance.
The best way to get to Shifen is by train. Just take a train to Ruifang Station, transfer to the Pingxi Line and get off at Shifin. It’s recommended to buy a one-day pass, which allows the ticket holder to take all the trains at any stations along the line for an entire day.
Visitors are recommended to come to Shifen in the afternoon and visit the Shifen Waterfall first, which closes at 4:30 p.m. during winter.
The waterfall is 20m tall, but it is 40m wide and powerful. It forms a horseshoe and has been nicknamed the Little Niagara even though it is much smaller. The waterfall is dubbed Taiwan’s most scenic waterfall.
It’s a 20-minute walk from the station to the waterfall with plenty of signs (some in Chinese) along the way.
Besides Shifen, the villages of Lingjiao, Pingxi and Jingtong along the rail line are also worth visiting.
Lingjiao is a very quiet village, which looks like the same as it was 50 years ago. It’s famous for its Lingjiao Waterfall and Tsai’s Western House.
The waterfall, which is only a 5-minute walk from Lingjiao Train Station, is around 12-13 meters high.
Located behind Linjiao Station, Tsai’s Western House is a beautiful old building constructed from red bricks.
From Linjiao, visitors can walk along a trail along the Keelung River to get to Pingxi. The walk takes about 20 minutes.
Pingxi is special for its unique architecture and design, as its market area, Pingxi Old Street, is built into a hill with a train track going overhead right through the middle with shops around selling local food and gifts.
Jingtong, the last stop of the Pingxi Line, has a historic train station built in 1929 during the Japanese rule era, and mining legacies near the station, including tunnels for mining, factories associated with mining, which have been converted into restaurants, as well as Japanese old style houses.
Make it a day trip, so you can hop on and off trains and visit the different villages along the most memorable rail line in Taiwan.