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The Pingxi Lantern Festival is one of the most awe-inspiring events on the Taiwanese calendar. Although the fireworks at the Taipei 101 building help ring in the New Year with a boom, this festival, which also takes place the first day of the lunar new year, is a much more spiritual affair. The lanterns—many of which are covered with words, pictures, and prayers—represent the hopes and wishes of the people who release them.
Pingxi is a small former mining town that has become synonymous with sky lanterns. In fact, it’s easily the most famous location in the country for buying and releasing the lanterns. As such, it’s fairly simple to get here.
Take the train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station, and then transfer to the Pingxi line, which, as luck would have it, brings you directly to Pingxi. The trains are cheap, but during lantern festival, they can get quite packed. Visitors can also take a bus or hire a taxi, but traffic can be heavy, so the train tends to be the best option.
It is essential to arrive to the festival early. Many people begin releasing their lanterns long before nightfall, sometimes even as early as the afternoon, when it is already quite crowded.
Although arriving early might not be the most appealing prospect, there are plenty of things to do to kill time. Consider visiting Shifen or further exploring Pingxi, both of which are former mining towns that are quite quaint and worth exploring. Each offers lots of places to eat and plenty of old stores and stalls that sell local wares.
There are many colored lanterns in a variety of sizes to choose from. Each has significance, but this is more of a modern-day addition than a longstanding tradition.
To save some time and allow yourself to write something very meaningful, consider what you want to write on the lantern before you get to Pingxi. It’s surprising how many people stand there scratching their heads trying to think of something worthwhile to write on their lantern. Plan ahead, and you can do it right.
Visitors can release their lanterns anywhere, but there are also set times for a mass release. Although the set times change each year, it is fairly easy to find out where you should be and when once you arrive in Pingxi.
The main release area gets super crowded, but don’t worry if there isn’t space near the middle. No matter where you are standing, there are great photo opportunities.
It’s best to release your lantern at one of the set times when many people release their lanterns at the same moment. There’s something about watching all of those lanterns released together that is a little magical and makes it seem that perhaps those wishes really will come true.
It’s likely you’ll want to take many photos, so make sure your phone is fully charged, or that you have a spare battery for your camera. It would be hugely disappointing to not get all of the photos you want to remember this special occasion.
Regardless of when you leave, there will inevitably be queues and lots of people on public transport, but rest assured the local authorities have this event very well planned. There will be attendants throughout the town to point you in the right direction, and the incredibly friendly locals will gladly help out however they can.