Travel in Taiwan 170715: My Pingxi, Your Shifen | Travel in Asia

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Travel in Taiwan 170715: My Pingxi, Your Shifen

#5yearsinTaiwan


Have you been to Pingxi? How about Shifen? Two names of places referring to the land of sky lanterns in Taiwan. Pingxi is a district of New Taipei City and also the name of one its town. Originally known for its coal mining industry, the place is now teeming with colorful sky lanterns that bear the wishes of those who send it to the sky. 


Shifen is a town in Pingxi District. Like the town named after the district, it is also known for sky lanterns with its old street being the best place to write your dreams on folded lantern paper. A train runs every 30 minutes across this place, interrupting any lantern activity going on. The railroad is called the Pingxi Branch Line and alongside it are the old towns which make New Taipei City famous. 

Taiwan Day 365: The Towns That Time Forgot

Taiwan Day 645: Neverland
Taiwan Day 1086: Crack the Crags


I had been to Pingxi for a few times. The first one was in Taiwan Day 365 (The Towns That Time Forgot). It was a nostalgic adventure with a sky lantern activity at the end of my trip. My second visit happened in Taiwan Day 645 (Neverland) where I took Filipino research interns to a tour in the Pingxi Branch Line. We started in the cat town of Houtong and ended up at last stop of the train at Jingtong Station. My third adventure was in Taiwan Day 1086 (Crack the Crags) and it was a hiking one. Together with my 2016 Travel Buddy of the Year, I climbed to the top of the rocky mountains of Pingxi. 

This 2017, I returned to this place for another classic tour with off-the-beaten destinations to create a unique rail tour experience. My girlfriend joined me on this trip. She had been dreaming to visit Shifen someday and to release a sky lantern there. Rob, a Filipino also joined the adventure and he is the latest addition to my growing number of Travel Buddies. He wants to see the different cities of Taiwan within his two months of stay and he made the right decision in joining my exciting field trips in this country.

The One Day Pass Ticket

Visitors wanting to see Pingxi must ride a train go Ruifang Station and then transfer to the Pingxi Branch Line. Our itinerary includes checking the lesser known places in the town so a One Day Pass suits our needs. For a price of NTD 80, anyone can now visit all the train stations without the worry of spending so much money for the tickets. The pass is available at Ruifang Station but remember to have your EasyCard scanned first at the exit gate before buying the one-day ticket at the counter.

Shifen town during the heyday's of its mining industry


Now, Shifen is a bustling town that is always full of tourists.

Riding the Pingxi train is like going back in time. The train goes inside tunnels and narrow valleys like you’re entering into an unknown world. Look outside the windows and appreciate the river that runs parallel with the railroad. The Pingxi Branch Line had been a source of income for the locals who had lived here for decades. During the 80's, the Pingxi branch line was primarily used to transfer coal mined from the mountains. The trains containing the coal would stop at the quiet town of Shifen before going to Ruifang and then transported to Taipei. The town's coal industry is now a history and had been replaced by a more profitable sky lantern business.

Shifen Station


Summer!


Jing'andiao Bridge

A local train waiting for its passengers at Shifen Station

The railroad track of the Pingxi Branch Line follows the meandering Keeling River.

Skylantens flying in the air as seen from Jing'andiao Bridge



To get to the Shifen Watefall,  one must enter the Shifen Scenic Area.

It's a 1.7 km walk from Shifen Station but we enjoyed the view.

map of Shifen Waterfall Park



potholes


The bridge on the left is the Guanpu Suspension Bridge while on the right is the railroad of the Pingxi Branch Line.


After crossing the Guanpu Suspension Bridge, we walked a little further until we heard the sound of water flowing down from a waterfall. 

There are different observation platforms that let visitors take nice pictures.




Wow!


Shifen Waterfall. Aside from being known as a coal mining site, the town is proud to have a beautiful waterfall. Considered as the Niagara Falls of Taiwan, looking at its refreshing waters can beat the heat of the hot summer weather. It was raining when I first went here in my Neverland adventure and the color of the water turned into a brown color making the Shifen Falls look like an overflowing chocolate drink in the middle of the wilderness.

The gate of the Taiwan Coal Mine Museum


ticket booth


After paying our tickets, the staff led us to this coal minig train for an unforgettable ride. Haha!

The engine

Just making sure that each cart is connected to each other


Travel Buddy Rob while on the train


The ride gave us a glimpse on how the coal obtained from the mine is transported to the Pingxi Branch Line.  

To get back to the park proper, we need to get off the train and wait for our grandma driver while she pushes the engine to make it face the right direction.



The ride on our way back


After the train ride, we were excited to see the Mine Pit Entrance




It was cold inside!

A gate prevented us from exploring the mine.  It was also muddy inside.

Imagine being trapped on this mine


Helmets outside the museum hall area.  Visitors can put these on their heads and enter a simulation tunnel.

simulation tunnel

The museum hall with pictures of the mining activities done before in Pingxi District.




Another area of the Taiwan Coal Museum has displays about the types of equipment used by miners and samples of the different kinds of coal.


Yuan Zi charcoal
charcoal

briquet

bituminous caol

anthracite

oil coal

coking coal

Analog tunnel.  To let visitors experience the look and feel of a coal mine. No need for helmets here.



Beside the entrance of the closed mine tunnel is a station where cards are hung probably representing the names of miners.  If a card is displayed, it means that the miner is inside the tunnel.  

locomotive garage

compressor

A railroad switch helps to transfer one train to another track.

railroad switch




After our tour in the Taiwan Coal Mine Museum, we called a taxi to take us back to Shifen Station.


Visitors waiting for the train at Shifen Station.

The train has arrived!

at Lingjiao Station

After having our pictures in the waterfalls, we walked back to Section 3, Jing’an Road where we boarded a taxi that took us to Taiwan Coal Mine Museum. At a ticket price of NTD 200, we were able to roam around the facility of a closed mine. Part of the tour was to ride the train that was originally used during the heydays of the town's mining boom. A grandma was our driver. The railroad tracks had no U-turn so on our way back to the tunnel she was even the one who pulled the train engine so we can make the return trip. The garage of the trains is at the entrance of the coal mine tunnel. We thought that we could enter the gate but unfortunately, it was closed. It would have been better if we could get inside and have a look. Although the tunnel was closed, the museum has a real-life version that lets visitors enter and have a feel of what's inside a coal mine. 


We somehow got lost in finding the Lingjiao Waterfall.




A train as it approaches Lingjiao Station.



We found a staircase that led us to the waterfall.

Going down the staircase was like entering an unknown forest.

Lingjiao Waterfall.  Finally!

Another off-the-beaten destination in the Pingxi Branch Line is the Lingjiao Waterfall. Finding it from Lingjiao Station was a bit confusing at first. With the help of a lady who owns a local convenience store beside the train station, we got the right directions leading to a trail that is slowing to be covered with plants. Going down there was like a going to an enchanted land as if there was a fairy waiting for us downstairs. 


According to some locals, a theme park used to exist here in Lingjiao Waterfall, until an unfortunate event happened that the waterfall became forgotten.  


Spooky! There was just something in Lingjiao Waterfall that I couldn't explain. It was like there was a pair of eyes watching over us at the base of the falls. There was no one there except us but we can feel its presence. Insects become louder as we began to gaze our eyes at the body of water flowing down from a big slab of rock. Its splash cuts the silence in the reservoir. Not as picturesque as the Shifen waterfall, the Lingjiao Waterfall has a unique beauty of its own. Simple yet enchanting. After taking pictures and some selfies, we left the place immediately. 

Tsai residence



A few meters from the Lingjiao Station is the Tsai Residence. Owned by the Mr. Tsai Chuan, it was built in the 1939 and now serves as a reminder of the prosperity brought by coal mines. Too bad! It was undergoing renovation during our visit but its brick-style architecture should not be missed by anyone who makes a stop in this town.

It was already dark when the train going to Jingtong arrived at Lingjiao Station.

at Jingtong Station

Locals wrote their wishes on bamboo and left them hanging here on Jingtong.

Pingxi Police Station

It was already dark when we arrived at the terminal stop of the Pingxi Line which is Jingtong. This is also a nice place to have photos at the railway since the train won't go to the end of the tracks. In Jingtong, lanterns are not only the way to send one's wishes to the heavens. Writing on bamboo is another way to immortalize one's desire and it is usually left hanging at the fences of the train station. Before we board the train again, we passed by the police ice station. Its unique glass structure in the shape of a lantern plus its surprise lights show is something to watch out for in Jingtong.

Our tour in Pingxi is not complete without releasing our lanterns in Shifen.


Some kind of a token system can be found here inside the Shifen Station.  Let's say that it's a kind of train signalling system.


Staff from a store in Shifen old town helped us clipped our sky lantern.


These papers were lit to become the source of fire in our sky lantern.


Travel Buddy Rob wrote his wishes on the sky lantern.  The three of us shared a red lantern worth NTD 150.

For the finale of our cultural rail tour, we went back to Shifen for the sky lantern activity. A red lantern for NTD 150 was more than enough for us to write our wishes on a red folded paper. There on the railroad tracks, we thought of our hopes and aspirations and wrote them on the lantern. 

Our lantern as it flew in the night sky.


We watched our lantern fly after releasing it on the night sky. It went higher until it suddenly became a tiny red dot. A red dot that also joined the other dots in the heavens. Looking at them was like gazing at a starry night. Our blood, sweat, and tears. May all our wishes come true!


Pingxi and Shifen. Treat these places as your own or share it with your friends after visiting this country. The decision is yours on how to distribute the happiness. It could be my Shifen, your Pingxi. Or the other way around, my Pingxi, your Shifen.

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