Up north of Taiwan, there’s a peculiar railway line called the Pingxi Line. It was built in 1921 during Japanese rule and still runs nowadays. This 13 km long track runs from Ruifang, east of Keelung to Jingtong, following the Keelung River in the middle of the mountains.
It’s possible to purchase a day trip ticket which allows to stop at every station and enjoy the hidden gems of the Pingxi District. On each stop on the Pingxi Line there are several hiking options, which is actually perfect for a day out of the city.
The views from the train are breathtaking. Flora and I are following the Keelung River in this old shaky train, passing by waterfalls, lush jungle and rainforests, pitch black tunnels through mountains.
On that day, our hearts chose Shifen, this town in the north-east of Taipei, which is famous for three things: its old streets, its lantern festival and its waterfalls. The train transports us in the very heart of the town, and many tourists are taking the advantage of the track’s position to make some original pictures. We’re no different. It’s way too tempting!
The train station is actually just beside the ‘old streets’ of Shifen, where you can stroll amongst food stalls and souvenirs shop. That’s the perfect occasion to get a little lantern key ring as a souvenir. On the right side, while strolling the old streets, there’s a suspended bridge taking you across the Keelung River (they’re really into suspended bridges here in Taiwan, and it’s obviously making me happy as a kid every time.) That’s a definitely good spot to watch the sky lanterns flying away.
On the train tracks, there are many lanterns’ stalls. Right here on the tracks you actually can send a lantern into the sky. It’s crowded, obviously, and it’s quite something to see all of those lanterns flying away in the sky. Shifen is quite famous actually for its Lantern Festival held each year around February. You can release your own lantern any day of the year though if you want to, but be aware that sky lanterns are dangerous for many reasons. First of all, sky lanterns may cause a fire -as we witnessed it while there, a sky lantern was caught into electric cables and fell off burning on the crowd. Second of all, sky lanterns litter. As you might see it if you take a stroll along the Keelung River, there are sky lantern everywhere around which fell off and are now polluting nature. Not to mention that the little metal rod inside might be swallowed by birds or other animals. So, enjoy the show, but be aware of what those beautiful sky lanterns rising into the sky implies for nature.
After a nice 15 to 20 minutes’ walk out of Shifen, there are the Shifen Waterfall. On the way from the Visitor Centre to the falls, we’re in the middle of a stunning natural landscape around the Keelung River with many suspended bridges and boardwalks. This waterfall is not very tall but very wide which makes it the broadest waterfall in Taiwan, and it looks a little bit like the Niagara Falls due to its horseshoe shape. There are many platforms around to get a nice view of the Shifen Waterfalls and the Keelung River.
We’re falling in love with the region and we’re taking the train again down further, until the charming town of Lingjiao. On the map, some little waterfall is mentioned. When we get off the train, we’re amazed by how quiet this town is. We can spot lazy cats hanging around and there is definitely nobody around when we get to the small waterfall. The place is laid back and relaxed, a welcome change from the overcrowded Shifen.
From the fairly touristic Shifen, to the quiet Lingjiao, each station on the Pingxi Line has its own peculiar charm. Some other towns are worth the stop on the line, like Houtong, the cat village or Pingxi, which is famous for its old streets, lanterns and hiking trails.
This little escapade in the remote Pingxi District allowed me to see something else than Taipei, and let’s face it, even though Taiwan is only starting to unveil its green charms, I’m already under the spell.
LET’S GO THERE!
Shifen, take the Pingxi Line from Ruifang or take the 795 bus from Muzha Station in Taipei.
Shifen Waterfalls, follow the road after the Shifen old streets to get out of town. There are signs everywhere.
Lingjiao, lost station on the Pingxi Line.