Lantern Festival in Taiwan
All You Need to Know about Pingxi Lantern Festival, Plus Other Lantern Festivals around Taiwan
Imagine the floating lantern scene from the Disney movie Tangled. Have you ever wondered how spectacular it would be if you could “see the light” yourself just like the movie? Good news! You CAN relive a magical moment in Taiwan - at the Pingxi Lantern Festival.
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is the most popular lantern festival in Taiwan. This annual event draws thousands of travelers across the globe to a small town in Taiwan to make their wishes on paper lanterns and release them into the night sky.
While I was determined to have the Tangled-inspired experience at this festival, in reality, it was pretty challenging to find my way there. Like many other events in Taiwan, finding detailed information about this festival online in English was a challenge.
In this post, I will share all you need to know about the Pingxi Lantern Festival and practical tips based on my experience, as well as other famous lantern festivals in Taiwan.
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When is Lantern Festival?
Tuesday, Feb 19, 2019
In Taiwan, lantern festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month in the Lunar Calendar. Therefore, just like Lunar New Year, the date will change every year on the Western Gregorian calendar.
The ancient tradition of lantern festival happens when the moon shines the brightest. Families and friends get together to appreciate the full moon over treats and make a wish on colorful lanterns.
Did you know? Lunar New Year is celebrated in China, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam. While some people call it Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year would be a politically correct term.
Where is Pingxi Lantern Festival?
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival takes place in Shifen (十分). Shifen is a small town in Pingxi District of New Taipei City.
The name can be confusing and misleading. Because it’s Pingxi Lantern Festival, many festival goers end up at Pingxi station (平溪站) only to learn their mistakes. Remember your destination is Shifen, not Pingxi. See below for transportation details.
The main stage of the festival where lanterns are released is “Shifen Sky Lantern Square” (十分天燈廣場), which you can click for the exact location on Google Map. From Shifen train station, you can walk for about 20 minutes or take a shuttle bus during the festival.
How to Get to Pingxi Lantern Festival?
Taipei to Shifen
From Taipei Main Station (台北車站), take a northbound train towards Ruifang Station (瑞芳站). Then, transfer to the Pingxi Line (平溪支線) to Shifen Station (十分站). The journey should take about 2 hours or so. Find train timetable here for your planning.
For the Lantern Festival, there will be many signs and staff to direct you to the right train at Ruifang Station. If you don’t understand Chinese, just follow the crowd.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Pingxi Line will be super crowded during the lantern festival. I felt like a sardine in a can all the way to Shifen because lots of tourists without seats were jam-packed in a train. If you are traveling with children or luggage, you might want to consider going to the Pingxi area a day before. Check Shifen Hotels below.
Did you know? You can use your MRT card to ride Taiwan Railways trains. It is not only a hassle-free way to use public transportation, but you also receive a discount. No reservation required. If you are traveling in Taipei and/or Kaohsiung, I highly recommend purchasing an Easy Card or iPass. For more information on MRT card options, read my Kaohsiung transportation guide.
Travel to Muzha Station via MRT Wenhu Line. From Muzha Station, take #795 bus to Shifen Old Street. It takes about 1.5 hours.
3. Shuttle Bus on the Festival Day
New Taipei City arranges a special shuttle bus on the event day last year from the following locations (The government will be most likely to do the same next year):
- Taipei Zoo (NT$50)
- National Highway No.5 Shiding Interchange (NT$30)
- TRA Ruifang Station (NT$30)
Note: The return trip is free.
4. Shuttle Bus on a Non-event Day
If you are traveling from Taipei to Shifen, Jiufen or Pingxi on a regular day, I would recommend getting this shuttle bus service. It is not convenient for foreigners to navigate the public transportation system from Taipei to Shifen. Also, it's a great day trip option from Taipei as this shuttle hits all key spots in the area in one day.
Note: Unfortunately, this won’t work for the festival because it returns to Taipei before the lantern release.
5. Taxi or Uber
This is the fastest and most expensive way to travel. It takes about 30 minutes from Taipei with no traffic. Plus, taxis in Taiwan are much more affordable than in the U.S. or Japan.
However, it is important to note that traffics will be controlled; all private cars and motorcycles will NOT be permitted into the Pingxi area during the festival.
Taipei to Jiufen - Shifen
If you want to stop by Jiufen on the way to Shifen:
- Ruifang to Jiufen: From Ruifang station, take bus #1062, #788 or #825 to Jiufen Old Street. You will see a temple at the stop.
- Jiufen to Shifen: There is no direct public transportation between Jiufen and Shifen. Take the bus back to Ruifang Station (瑞芳站) then transfer to the Pingxi Line to Shifen Station.
Shifen to Taipei
Whichever transportation means you took to get to Shifen, you can go the same route back to Taipei if that is what you want.
Imagine thousands of people rushing out of the event at the same time. If you want to find transportation back to Taipei on the same day, it will require lots of patience and waiting. On the bright side, Taiwanese are civilized and orderly when it comes to waiting in line, which makes the whole process less painful.
We left before the event ended to beat the crowd. Many others have the same idea, so our strategy didn’t make our journey back any easier. Because we didn’t want to retake the Pingxi Line train, we took a bus to the Ruifang Station.
We followed the crowd and direction given by the volunteers to the bus station. Away from the Shifen Old Street, we walked a narrow path over the hill. We often looked up the sky to see glowing lanterns floating away in the night sky, which made the walk pretty romantic. We had to wait in line for about 30 minutes or so, but we were able to sit on the bus. We transferred to a train at Ruifang Station.
What to Expect from the Pingxi Lantern Festival
How to Participate in the Official Release of the Sky Lanterns
Registration: Free, in-person on a first come, first serve basis
Registration time: 10 a.m. on the day
The release of sky lanterns: staggered from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
If you want to release the lantern as part of the official Pingxi Lantern Festival, you can register for free. The only catch is that you will need to line up at the designated registration desk early in the morning. There is no online or pre-booking available. The sign-up opens at 10 a.m. But the free tickets are sold out pretty fast.
We arrived at the event site around 4 p.m. only to learn that the tickets were long gone. I was devastated! But sometimes, if it’s meant to be, the whole universe moves to help you. We happened to chit-chat with a local police officer there about how much we were disappointed to miss this opportunity. He realized that we were from the U.S. and offered us his own ticket!!! To this date, I appreciate his friendly gesture. Don't ask me how a police officer on duty had a ticket of his own, though.
Following some performance and greetings from local dignitaries, the release starts from 6 p.m. at the main stage. Every 15 minutes or so, hundreds of lanterns are released at the same time. I believe it lasts until 9 p.m., but don’t quote me on this as I left before it ended.
We were supposed to report at the designated entrance and show our ticket to access the main stage for the release. However, it was so crowded that there was no way we could move. We got stuck and separated from each other at one point. Somehow we managed to move towards the other side of the stage and waved our ticket at the staff to be in. We were super late for our time bracket; regardless, they let us get in line for the next group.
One volunteer per post was designated to help with the process. First, we were given a huge white paper lantern and calligraphy brushes to decorate/write down our wishes. Once time was up, we were instructed to step on the string to hold down the lantern while the volunteers helped light up. When the MC on the main stage made an announcement, everyone in the field launched lanterns at the same time. Looking up the lanterns float away was a fabulous sight to witness up close and personal!
Festivity with Taiwanese Food & Souvenirs
Although the official release of the sky lanterns starts in the evening, the small village of Shifen celebrates the festivity all day long. Shifen Old Street and the festival stage area will be full of locals and international travelers. Besides the existing tourist shops and restaurants along the Shifen Old Street, many vendors participate in the festival, offering Taiwanese food, tea, souvenirs and games.
If you can’t wait for the official event to kick off in the evening, or don’t win the ticket, you can purchase colorful lanterns from vendors on site for about NT$200. (The more colorful, the more expensive.) The release process is similar to the official launch. Vendors typically help you take photos as well.
Other Lantern Festivals in Taiwan
While the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is the most popular and famous one, lantern festivals are celebrated all around Taiwan. Many cities are illuminated at night in observance of the holiday. Note that only the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival releases paper lanterns to the sky. However, if you don’t have to see the floating lanterns in the sky, you can opt for other options closer to you.
Note: Lantern Festival kicks off on the same day - In 2019, the date is Feb. 19; however, the duration of the festival differs. Check the official website.
Taiwan Lantern Festival
Taiwan Lantern Festival is another popular annual festival that the host cities are rotated every year. In 2019, the Southern Taiwanese city of Pingtung is hosting the event that showcases lantern parade and cultural performance.
Taipei Lantern Festival
Taipei Lantern Festival takes place in the Ximending area of Wanhua District. The official lighting ceremony kicks off at the Ximending Performance Area near the Ximen MRT station.
Yanshui Beehive Firecrackers Festival
This unique festival is celebrated in Yanshui, a city 30-min north of Tainan. Beehive firecrackers are thrown into the crowds, as opposed to shooting up towards the sky, to ward off bad luck and diseases. This is definitely not for the fainthearted. All attendees are required to wear special protection gears.
Kaohsiung Lantern Festival
The event features professional light illuminations as well as school art projects. Local students exhibit lanterns designed in the theme of each year’s Chinese zodiac sign. As 2019 is the year of the pig, expect to see lots of piggy lanterns.
Alternatives to Release Sky Lanterns
If you want to see lanterns in the night sky but miss the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival on February 19, plan to visit Shifen for Mid-Autumn Sky Lantern Festival on September 13, 2019, in celebration of Harvest Moon Festival.
If you just want to make a wish and release your own lantern, visit Shifen Old Street at any time of the year. You can buy colorful paper lanterns from vendors at Old Street and launch them on the train track when a train is not coming through. It is an exciting and fun experience.
↡↡Looking for Hotels to Stay During the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival? Book Here! ↡↡
Hotels Near Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
Orange House B&B
Conveniently located near Ruifang Train Station, Orange House B&B is a perfect base to travel to Shifen, Pingxi, Jiufen and Houtong Cat Village. Check rates & availability here.
Just for Fun B&B
Located in Pingxi Old Street in Pingxi, this restored charming house is a cozy and clean Bed & Breakfast Inn. Highly rated by guests. Check rates & availability here.
Shifen Traveler's Lodge
This inn is a rare find near Shifen train station. Its website claims that guests can enjoy the mountain view and floating lanterns in the sky from the private balcony. Check rates & availability here.
Other Tours Near Shifen
Shifen Half-Day Guided Tour
This is a convenient, affordable way to explore Shifen. A shuttle bus picks up guests from Taipei hotels and takes them to Shifen Old Street and Shifen Waterfall. It also includes releasing a paper lantern experience off the nostalgic railroad. Book here.
Jiufen Shuttle Bus
Need a perfect day trip idea from Taipei? Book this shuttle bus from Ximending in Taipei to set off a lantern at Shifen Old Street and explore the hillside village with red lanterns, which inspired the famous Japanese animation, Spirited Away.
Yehliu Geopark Shuttle Bus
If you can spare a little longer time in the area, you might be interested in checking out Shifen, Jiufen and Yehliu all together in one day. This guided tour from Ximending in Taipei lets you release a sky lantern in Shifen, stroll through the hillside village in Jiufen then see a honeycomb rock formation along the northeastern coast - including the famed Queen Head rock. Book here.
Houtong Cat Village
If you are a cat lover, Houtong Cat Village should be on your itinerary. With the declining coal-mining industry, cats took over this small village while human population continued to diminish. The feline-loving community made a consorted effort to put Houtong back in the map. Now you can see more than 200 cats freely roam and doze off everywhere in town.
Are you inspired to "see the light" at Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival?