Shifen Old Street is the largest and busiest old street on the Pingxi Railway line, famous for setting off lanterns into the sky, and for visiting the famous Shifen Waterfall nearby. Here one can enjoy delicious food, beautiful scenery, and learn about the mining history of the area. The sky lanterns have become a major environmental issue, but because of the allure to tourists the practice doesn't seem like it will end soon.
The town of Shifen, which was originally named for the ten families that lived there in the Qing Dynasty, who needed ten portions of goods (Shi 十 = ten Fen 分/份 = portion).
Shifen Train station was completed in1918 and is the biggest train station on the Pingxi Railway line. During its heyday, it had the largest coal mining operation and largest population in Pingxi District of New Taipei.
After the coal industry died down in the 1970s, tourism has taken its place as the major industry in the area.
The practice of lighting off sky lanterns in Taiwan began in Shifen, when during the Qing Dynasty local villagers would flee into the mountains during raids from bandits. Once the bandits had left, the remaining villagers sent sky lanterns into the air to let the fleeing villagers know that it was safe to come down from the mountains.
The people of Shifen send off sky lanterns as a symbol of peace, and celebrate every year during Lantern Festival (元宵節), a Chinese holiday.
Setting off sky lanterns as a tourist attraction began in the 1990's and you can find people lighting off lanterns every day from Shifen.
Because of the hundreds of sky lanterns set off every day, this creates an environmental problem with lantern trash piling around the forests and mountains of Pingxi District. The local people and volunteers help to clean up, but because of the tourism allure associated with lighting off the sky lanterns, it seems that this practice is not going away anytime soon.
Winter ( October to May): 9 AM -4:30 PM (last people admitted, park open till 5:00 PM)
Summer (June to September) 9 AM -5:30 PM (last people admitted, park open till 6:00 PM)
When to go:
Lantern Festival! (February to March)
If you go during weekends or holidays, it can get really crowded on the Pingxi Railway, especially if you plan on taking the train. You may not be able to even fit on the train, so go on weekdays to avoid the crowds.
How to get there:
By Train: Take the TRA to Ruifang Station, and then switch to the Pingxi Railway line. Get off at Shifen Station, and you have arrived at Shifen Old Street!
By Car/Scooter: Take provincial highway 2 east toward Pinglin, then get off the main highway once you reach Shifen. The Old Street is to the right of the main bridge across the valley. Parking is plentiful but you may have to walk a ways to get to the old street.
Please see below:
I have been to Shifen Old Street about four times. Every time I pass by I cannot help but notice the tons of lantern garbage in the trees and mountains next to the train station. I know that lighting off these lanterns is terrible for the environment, sending flaming paper and metal into the forest, so I have never let off a sky lantern.
Shifen Station is the biggest station on the Pingxi Line and the one where the most tourists get off.
The town itself now is small and sits on both sides of the Keelung River.
There is a suspension bridge across the river that lets you cross to the other side of the town.
Down the Keelung River you can walk to Shifen Waterfall, which is a major attraction in the area.
Once you get closer to the Old Street, you will be sure to notice tens of lanterns in the air, being set off all day long.
I can see the allure of setting off lanterns, writing your hopes and dreams on them and then setting them into the air like on Tangled, but we don't live in a fairytale world. When we light off lanterns they have real consequences like falling into a pristine river or forest.
Jing An Suspension Bridge 靜安吊橋
Near the train station you will find the Jing An Suspension Bridge (靜安吊橋), which will take you across the river.
There is nothing really to see across the river in my experience, but there are some nice views from the bridge.
The old street itself is really just both sides of the train tracks.
Sky Lanterns 天燈
Be careful where you walk, there could be falling burning debris from sky lanterns when you least expect it.
Luckily this lantern burnt itself out before it could injure anyone.
Shifen can get really crowded, so be prepared for long waits and lots of pushing against people.
The real old street starts a few hundred yards down the tracks to where there is only one set of tracks.
This is where the real lantern setting off goes down.
A burning lantern hits the roof of a house before continuing upward.
More lanterns being sent up into the sky.
Nearly every shop on Shifen Old Street sells some form of lanterns. Usually this involves selling you the paper on which you then write/paint/draw your message, then wrap it around a metal frame and light a torch under it.
People lighting a lantern getting ready to let go.
Flaming lanterns floating into the sky.
More lanterns floating upwards making a starry like sky.
Once these things go up in the air, it's no telling where they will land or how far they will float. One time I saw one float out as far as the border of Nangang in Taipei City. And who know what tree they will fall on or what bush they will set on fire, although luckily Pingxi is wet enough that wildfires are not really an issue.
Food at the Old Street 老街的美食
If Sky Lanterns are not your thing (it's okay, I'm not too fond of them either), the at least you'll be sure to find some good food on the old street, like this sausage stand pictured above.
Soupy dumplings, fried chicken, coffee, and tons of other random treats.
This time we went, we tried a random traditional Taiwanese noodle and rice shop.
We had some rice noodles, which happen to be the thickest rice noodles (米粉湯) I've ever had.
The old and cheap braised pork rice (滷肉飯).
All along the street, you will find souvenirs of lanterns and Taiwan themes that you can take home to your relatives.
As you walk further and further down the tracks the shops disappear. Be careful of oncoming trains!
Don't get me wrong, I like Shifen Old Street, I just don't like lighting lanterns because it is bad for the environment. If you go there and light off a lantern I won't judge you. Take some selfies and enjoy yourself.
Shifen Waterfall 十分瀑布
Shifen Waterfall is a short walk away from the Old Street and is a must see. It is perhaps the most picturesque waterfall in Taiwan. For more about the waterfall and how to get there, click on our full blog here.
Taiwan Coal Mine Museum 新平溪煤礦博物館
Another notable site near Shifen Old Street is the Taiwan Railway Museum. It is about a 30 minute walk from Shifen Station, but gives you a good idea of the history of the area. It is 200 NT per person and tickets stop selling at 4:00 PM. For our full blog on the museum, click here.
Thanks for reading! For our full guide to the Pingxi Railway, click here.
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