Pingxi Line 平溪線: An All-Day Escape
One of the most popular day trips from Taipei is spending an afternoon riding the Pingxi Line 平溪線. It is a special branch line in New Taipei City that you can transfer to from Ruifang Station. It is best known as the site of the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, though it has plenty of other things to see, do, and eat during the festival off-season.
The area used to center around coal mining and the train line was built nearly a century ago, though it’s cargo was coal instead of tourists. Many towns in Taiwan share a similar story: a quiet, blue-collar town that is forgotten for decades until it suddenly becomes a major tourist destination. Pingxi’s popularity stems from the fact that there’s so many things to see and do, as there are actually three towns to visit on the ride: Shifen, Pingxi and Jingtong. With distinct activities, snacks, and scenery, you’ll walk away feeling like your time was too short. Here is a very brief breakdown of the three towns.
The first stop, Shifen is likely to be the most crowded. The first thing you’ll notice is that the train tracks run right through the street. Time it right, and you can get a very intimate view of a speeding train bolting through the town. The streets are lined with two major things: food and sky lanterns. You can buy the sky lanterns for about 100-150NT and then paint a good luck message. The origin stems from an ancient custom where people would release sky lanterns to signal an area was safe. Supposedly, each color represents something different such as love, success, happiness and so on.
The other major attraction at Shifen is the waterfall. You can hear its roar from a long ways away, and it is certainly a beautiful and striking site. It is Taiwan’s widest waterfall, and there are many vistas in which to relax and enjoy. Here are some pictures from the Shifen area.
The line’s namesake is the next major stop. The stop is the site of the famous lantern festival, and of course there are countless sky lantern shops around here. I think a lot of people tend to get sky lanterns out of their system in Shifen, but I feel Pingxi has a more scenic view of the lantern drifting off into the clouds. The old street is the major attraction and is a great place to snack if you didn’t eat anything in Shifen. The one thing that really caught my eye were numerous sausage vendors. A typical sight, but one place had an absolutely massive line that nearly stretched the block.
Outside of the old street are quieter, more serene natural areas. There are some temples in the area and a man-made tunnel called the Cave of Eight Immortals which leads to another temple. Take some time to explore if you feel the old street is getting a bit cramped.
The last stop is Jingtong. Though smaller and not as eventful as Shifen or Pingxi, it is still scenic and has some notable attractions. The first one is Jingtong Station itself. One of four wooden railway stations that are still active in Taiwan, it is a popular site for wedding photographs. I did manage to see a couple snapping shots when I visited. One thing you will immediately notice are bamboo chimes hung around the street. You can buy and write your wishes on them. They are everywhere in Jingtong, hung on buildings, trees, bridges, everything. There are a few sites to visit, such as the Crown Prince Guesthouse which was built for soon-to-be-emperor Hirohito’s visit to Taiwan, a coal mining museum, some rustic souvenir shops and more.
Pingxi is definitely a must-visit and a fantastic day trip. The only qualms I have about it is that it can be immensely crowded on weekends, though you could say that about most places around Taipei. I hope to go again to see some lesser-visited areas.
Take the TRA to Ruifang Station and transfer to the Pingxi Line. You can buy an all-day pass that lets you freely travel on the train, but be aware that the trains only come to each stop about once an hour!