Every year, the Pingxi Lantern Festival (also known as the “Taiwan Lantern Festival”) sees thousands of paper lanterns ascend the heavens with brush-painted wishes. It’s a magical scene with echos in pop culture around the world.
Located in its namesake town of Pingxi — accessible from Taipei — the Pingxi Lantern Festival is a one-night event that takes on a carnival-like atmosphere. Bring your camera, and some extra cash, and, if at all possible, plan ahead and get a free ticket to the main event staging area (given out on the day of the festival, first-come-first-served).
There are several synchronized releases of many lanterns at once that take place throughout the night — these originate from the staging area from just before sunset and continue every 20-40 minutes over the next few hours. That said, there’s seldom a moment you won’t see a lantern in the sky as participants throughout the town are constantly sending up new wishes.
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• Hotels and AirBNB opportunities in Pingxi are very limited, so book early if you plan to stay in town.
• If staying in town isn’t an option, EG recommends you stay in either Ruifang or Taipei.
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• From Ruifang: Connect to the Pingxi Line and get off at Shifen (be sure to purchase a new ticket, if needed).
• Trains are full, but not excessively packed. Be prepared to stand and note that special seats are reserved for passengers requiring assistance.
• Check train times on the Taiwan Railway official website.
Travelers attending the Pingxi Lantern Festival are joining a rich history dating back over 2,000 years. Also known as the Taiwan Lantern Festival, it is celebrated on the 15th night of the Lunar New Year (a.k.a. “Chinese New Year”), which means the event always takes place during a full moon. According to tradition, thousands of lanterns should usher in the New Year.
The lanterns are born from the evolution of the legendary/historical communication tool amongst local men into a customary communication tool between men and gods. Legend has it that sky lanterns were invented by Kong Ming who applied the Science of hot-air balloons to float lanterns as a military communication tool.
According to elders of Pingxi, historic villagers would evacuate to the nearby mountains due to bandits. When it was safe to return, sky lanterns will be flown to signal “all clear”. This custom of flying sky lanterns has carried on till this day where it now serves as a means of communication, now between men and the gods.
In 1990, Taiwan began officially recognizing the event and marketing it alongside its suite of celebrations that take place elsewhere in the country, including the Beehive Fireworks Festival of Yanshui, where locals try their best to get hit by dangerous fireworks as they think doing so brings good luck.
The Pingxi Lantern Festival is not only auspicious but awe-inspiring, a must-see for Culture Vultures, photographers, and romantics.
Having always seen pictures of Pingxi’s floating lanterns on travel websites, we were so excited when we could finally take some of those pictures ourselves and release our own wishing lantern. Watching the timed releases and setting our own lantern off was so magical and romantic, we did not even mind that we were not in the ticketed area. That said, we recommend that you try to get tickets if you’re able to go early to Pingxi on the day of the Lantern Festival. Tickets are free and they allow you to see staged performances.
Although we continue to be enchanted by festivals with sky lanterns, we plan to avoid releasing more sky lanterns to protect the environment. If we do want to release another lantern, we’ll look for an environmentally-friendly option and find ways to make amends.
I knew little about the Pingxi Lantern Festival before attending it. Having seen cartoons and movies featuring sky lanterns, until I planned our trip for the Pingxi Lantern Festival, I didn’t know that it is arguably the most iconic lantern festival in the world.
My favorite part of the festival was actually wandering the streets during the night and just seeing happy participants from around the globe creating and launching their lanterns. This gave a wonderful feeling of being a part of the event wherever you went throughout town; even if you weren’t at the main stage, there was always something to see and enjoy.
If possible, I recommend requesting a paper and wood lantern – one without metal. These are much more environmentally friendly (both for animals and for Mother Nature). There are dozens of lantern vendors around town, so you’ll find plenty of options!
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