I went to the Pingxi Lantern Festival on Sunday for the first time, and it was absolutely incredible. I’d like to share my recap of the experience, which I must say, will remain with me for quite some time yet. There’s nothing like a failed lantern launch to burn a festival outing into your memory!
Pingxi Lantern Festival
For those unfamiliar, the Pingxi Lantern Festival is one of Taiwan’s major attractions, and attracts thousands of visitors who come to see the sky transform into a sea of lanterns. Many people know it because it was featured in the Disney movie, Tangled.
It’s quite a long ride to Pingxi. We decided to go on a tour organized on Meetup after hearing horror stories of people waiting 3+ hours for public transport due to the congestion caused by crowds. However, our journey hit a bump when we had to abandon our chartered bus anyway because private transport was blocked from entering the Pingxi district. So after some grimacing, we continued on a public bus.
Shifen Old Street
Our first stop was Shifen Old Street, which is the most famous stop along the Pingxi branch line. We wandered around for a bit there, however the “tour” was unfortunately quite disorganised so it felt quite aimless. We appeased our disgruntlement by tucking into some delicious noodles.
From there, we took the train to the main festivities. The old school trains in Pingxi are a stark contrast to the modern MRT system found in metropolitan Taipei. They were a huge attraction in themselves, as they made everyone around mystified by their presence. When a train passed, everyone whipped out their cameras to take photo after photo. Hey, no judgment, I found myself snapping too!
There was so much to do in this main area of Pingxi, and for that reason, I would recommend heading straight there as it’s like Shifen, but on a much grander scale. As we ever so gracefully weaved our way through the crowds, we passed by countless people decorating their lanterns.
That is the main draw card for going to Pingxi Lantern Festival- you get to create a unique lantern of your own to send off into the sky. You write down your wishes, hopes and prayers for the future. What a beautiful sentiment! Honestly, it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of.
The different meanings of each lantern color
The price of a lanterns is equivalent to only a couple of dollars. You can choose from a range of colours, with each colour representing a different new year’s wish for yourself:
- Red: Good fortune
- Pink: Romance
- Peach-red: Decisions and opportunities
- Orange: Money
- Yellow: Success in school and/or job
- White: Health
- Light Green: Growth
- Light Blue: Hoping something comes true
- Light Purple: Idealism
Decorating my own lantern
When it was my turn to decorate my lantern, the shop owners clipped my lantern to a string and then I set to work. Armed with a calligraphy brush and runny paint, I tried my best to convey my hopes for the future with my brush strokes.
It was a bit tricky writing because only the top part was clipped so I had to simultaneously write and stretch the lantern. I took the task in a very literal sense by writing a list of all the things I hope my future entails on one side in English (greedy much?), and then I wrote the Chinese character for “dream” on the other.
Eagerly anticipating my turn to launch my lantern to the heavens, my lantern was finally moved to the launch area- the Pingxi railway tracks. Might I add, these tracks serve route to an active train- the train would appear every 40 minutes or so and people would make a scramble to get off, lest they meet their demise.
So there I was with my creation, pausing to be in a couple (of thousand) of photos, when it came time for the big launch. I was so excited! Just like all the lanterns I saw launched before mine, I imagined it would have a safe passage up to the sky.
But no. OF COURSE tragedy ensued when it came to my lantern.
Lantern launch fail
Rather than explain it all- here’s a video which captured the whole thing:
For those who can’t watch, basically, my lantern gets caught in a tree. This proved incredibly amusing to everyone (including me) and all the strangers who stopped to gawk and laugh at my very sorry lantern. What a spectacle it was. I’m glad my friends were ROFLing all over the place. Xie xie great pengyo!
How did it even happen? Why did it only happen to me? What is the meaning to life? Where can I find good cheese in Taipei? All big questions I don’t know the answer to.
It was actually one of the funniest things to ever happen to me. I was so bemused, and a bit horrified. I honestly didn’t know what would happen to my weak, little lantern. I thought it would be stuck there forever, eventually become home to sweet birds and lyrically blessed forest creatures ala Disney.
But fortunately, eventually a very kind gust of wind blew it to safety, and let it rejoin all the other cool kids up in the sky. My lantern was the Napoleon Dynamite of all lanterns.
One of the best parts of the whole experience was when the kid who was helping my lantern helpfully offered his condolences “YOLO!”. He didn’t speak much English so it was a very touching gesture for him to pronounce this at this time of need.
You can hear me asking him if he knows what it means. He said something along the lines of “live life well”, which I thought was a pretty decent understanding of this most technical and advanced of life proverbs.
YOLO indeed. You never know when you’ll make a spectacle at a lantern festival, and need those comforting words.
The main event: A mass lantern launch
We finished the night off by watching the main event of the night- the launching of a collective group of lanterns. The night we went was the opening night, so the draw card of this night is that the school children of Pingxi come together to launch their lanterns. We were so lucky to catch the final launch.
It was a really spectacular thing to watch, as it was easy enough to look up throughout the night and see lanterns floating above you, but to see so many being launched from ground up was truly magical.
Your partner in living life once,
How to get to Pingxi
Go to Taipei Main Station. Take a northbound train (except Keelung-bound trains) towards Ruifang Station. Transfer to the Pingxi Line (平溪線) and purchase a One Day Ticket for the Pingxi Line. (Info source: Guide to Taipei).
Check the Taiwan Railways website for specific departure times.