Chinese Lanterns and Waterfalls

Large Chinese lanterns, painted with wishes and good luck messages, rose into the sky after being launched from the narrow railway track that runs through the small town. This was Shifen, a small former coal mining town that is now a tourist magnet due, in no small part, to these lanterns. Another major attraction in the town is the Shifen Waterfall Park.

 

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Chinese lanterns rise from the train tracks in Shifen
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Shifen Waterfall

Shifen is located to the east of Taipei and can be reached in a number of ways. I chose to travel by train, leaving from Taipei Main Station. This means catching a train (regular train – not MRT subway) from Taipei to Ruifang and then switching to the Pingxi line to get to Shifen.

I got to the station about 9.30am and stood in line at the ticket counter. The departures board was easy to read and I could see that there was a Ruifang train departing at 9.54, so purchased return tickets. I then walked around the corner to counter #12 where I bought a one-day pass for the Pingxi line. It is best to buy the day-pass there rather than waiting to reach Ruifang, to avoid the queues at the smaller station.

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Taipei Main Station ticket counters
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Pingxi Line one-day pass and tickets for the Ruifang return journey

With tickets in hand, I headed down the escalator to platform 4B and awaited the train to Ruifang.

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Train status sign in English and Chinese
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Waiting for the train on platform 4

The train I caught to Ruifang was a local train, stopping at most of the stations between Taipei and Ruifang. As a result, the journey lasted about one-hour.

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Taipei to Ruifang train

Once at Ruifang, it became apparent how many tourists were headed in the same direction as me. There was a large group of people waiting for the Pingxi Line train – and many lining up to buy tickets for the Pingxi Line.

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Tourists queue to buy Pingxi Line tickets
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The train heading to Jingtong is the Pingxi Line train

The Pingxi Line train was full to capacity, but only took about 20 minutes to reach Shifen (one of several stops along the line). The vast majority of passengers disembarked at Shifen, filling the narrow Old Street that runs along the train track.

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Train at Shifen Station
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Passengers cross the tracks at Shifen Station
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The tourist horde makes its way along Shifen Old Street

Shifen Old Street has a number of street food outlets, as well as souvenir shops and, of course, vendors selling Chinese lanterns and helping customers to launch them once decorated.

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Chinese lanterns being decorated with messages before launching
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Writing messages on a lantern
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Old Street on either side of the tracks
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Posing for photos before launching the lantern
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Three lanterns being prepared for flight
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Another one ready to go
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Up, up and away!

Above video clip: Chinese lanterns take to the air

I didn’t participate in the launching of lanterns out of concern for the environment. Whilst the paper sides of the lanterns will likely decompose, the lanterns also have rigid hoops at the bottom and wire to give them shape. And what goes up must come down, as soon as the fuel burns out. A short distance out of town I saw several ‘dead’ lanterns hanging from trees.

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This lantern didn’t get far. It crashed and burned next to the train station

Having come this far, I wanted to visit the two waterfalls that are within the Shifen Waterfall Park. Walking to both of the falls would take over an hour, so I jumped at the chance to rent a little electric scooter for TW$200 (US$6.27). No licence and no helmet required. Just sign a document that is written in Chinese (who knows what I signed) and off you go!

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My little yellow electric scooter
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Map of the waterfall park showing both waterfalls

I whizzed along on my scooter to visit the largest of the falls, Shifen Waterfall. But there is a roadblock preventing vehicles getting too close to the entrance to the falls, meaning that there was still a 15-minute walk in each direction from the place where I parked the scooter. Shifen Waterfall is Taiwan’s broadest waterfall with a width of 40 metres and a total height of 20 metres, located on the upper reaches of the Keelung River. It’s no Niagara Falls, but it is certainly worth a visit.

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No vehicles beyond this point – park and walk!
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Suspension footbridge near park entrance
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On the suspension bridge
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Shifen Waterfall

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Above and below: Video clips of Shifen Waterfall

 

Next, I rode my little scooter to the Yanjinadong Waterfall that is a couple of km away.

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At the top of the Yanjinadong Waterfall

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Footpath made from old railway sleepers
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Railway bridge and suspension footbridge cross the river
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Jingan Bridge, next to Shifen Station
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Jingan Bridge, that connects Shifen and Nanshan villages
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Shifen Old Street
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What I ate for lunch – chicken wings stuffed with fried rice and coated in bbq sauce

At least 90 minutes is needed in Shifen, to see the Old Street and also visit both waterfalls, if you use a rental scooter (longer if you walk). The trains come by roughly every hour, so I spent two hours in Shifen before continuing onwards to Pingxi.

Above video clip: A train passes through Shifen Old Street to arrive at Shifen Station

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On a Pingxi Line train

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Three stations further along the Pingxi Line is the village of Pingxi. Like Shifen, there are vendors in Pingxi selling Chinese lanterns but it is a smaller operation. Pingxi’s Old Street drops down the hill, below the level of the train track. There are food outlets and souvenir shops.

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Chinese lanterns in Pingxi
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Old Street descends from the train track
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Pingxi Old Street
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Souvenir shop with lantern-themed do0-dads
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River flows between buildings
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Street food
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I don’t know what it is. I tasted a sample but wasn’t impressed
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Gift shop
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River runs through Pingxi

When I arrived in Pingxi, I checked the schedule for the return train. One left about 25 minutes later and the next would be an hour and 25 minutes. There wasn’t too much to keep me in Pingxi for over an hour, so I decided to make it a short visit and get the first train heading back to Ruifang. But, before leaving, I decided to try one of the peanut ice-cream rolls.

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Shavings from the large peanut block are placed on the wrap. Then cilantro and ice cream are added.
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Peanut shavings, cilantro and two scoops of ice cream
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Ice cream and contents are wrapped up and served in a plastic bag

The ice cream had a consistency more like sorbet and it was unusual to experience the taste of cilantro with ice cream, but it tasted pretty good.

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Train arriving at Pingxi Station

I caught the train back to Ruifang, arriving close to 3.30pm. It had been my intention to head further east from Ruifang to visit the former gold-mining town of Jiufen. However, I was feeling tired by the time I got to Ruifang and knew that the return journey to Taipei would take about an hour. I decided to skip extending the trip to Jiufen and head directly back to Taipei on the next available train. The next train turned out to be an express train, only stopping at two stations prior to Taipei, so the return train ride only took about 40 minutes.

Another enjoyable day-trip.

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