Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Travel Tuesday :: Pingxi, Taiwan

Truth be told, I would have never even heard of Pingxi had it not been for a friend who had already scheduled a trip there. Heck, Taiwan even hadn't made my "must see" list.

I'm so glad I went. Taipei is a cool city with a very distinct personality. Even though it is commonly lumped in with China, Taiwan has it's own distinct vibe. Taipei was surprisingly clean and had an extremely user-friendly metro system. It was an easy hop up to the Beitou Hot Springs and Yangmingshan National Park.

The main reason my friend had picked Taiwan was to check out the Pingxi Lantern Festival in the Pingxi District, about 15 miles east of Taipei. Because of the festival, we were ale to pick up a shuttle directly to Pingxi from the Taipei Zoo; the trip took about 45 minutes. 

I feel a little hokey saying that the area was charming... but it totally was! The Keelung river runs through Pingxi, and there were a few cool bridges that spanned it's width. To add to the charm, the main area is packed with shops and restaurants and, get this, there are rail tracks that run through the middle. If a small river, cool bridges, and a cute town square with rail tracks doesn't make you feel the travelfeels... then I don't know what will! There were lanterns strung up everywhere and there were a handful of stations where festival-goers could decorate a giant lantern and send it up. This activity was wildly popular, so there was a bit of a wait, but we really had nothing but time, so it was worth the wait. Conveniently, there were four of us, so we each took a side and wrote wishes for the new year. 

We wandered around waiting for it to get dark. The train that ran through town also chugged on up to the Shifen Waterfall, and it appeared that many people headed up there to kill some time before sunset. We weren't prepared for handling slippery rocks or any real physical activity so we opted to stay in town.

When it got dark got in line; they had people sectioned off into groups of probably 200. We inched towards the field where the lantern release would take place and there was a large stage with entertainment... except it was all in Mandarin. We happened to be the in on-deck corral when a huge blow up lantern near the stage started to collapse on the crowd. It wasn't dangerous, so I didn't feel bad laughing a little bit.

For the release, we were handed a folded lantern and told open it up and each of us hold a top corner. An event worker came over to our group and lit the lantern, we counted down, and let it go. It was really cool to see so many go up at the same time. It was one thing to see the releases prior to ours, but seeing it up close was really spectacular. It didn't take long before most of them were completely out of view. I was a little surprised that they didn't really interfere with each other... some bumped or crashed and burned, but most of them had a smooth ride.
Overall Pingxi was a really cool place to visit, but you'll get more action and activity if you plan a trip during the Lantern Festival. It was one of the cooler festivals I've been to in Asia, as it wasn't such a massive backpacker destination that it felt fluffed-up just to increase tourism. There were tons of Taiwanese with a handful of foreigners. Even if you're on the fence about Taiwan; the Pingxi Lantern Festival paired with the cool vibe of Taipei, the beautiful national parks, and the beachy areas down south; you definitely won't be bored!

Have you ever been to Taiwan?
Do you have any world festivals you've enjoyed and recommend?

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