A Quick Guide to the Pingxi Lantern Festival 2020

So my phone can't do low light.

If you're thinking about heading to Taiwan for the lantern festival, DO IT!  It's a genuinely amazing experience and I can't recommend it highly enough.  
It also isn't very popular with western tourists (we saw 5 younger ones during the whole day, then a cruise ship load of 60+ yo/s showed up just for the release, but weren't around most of the time).  There isn't a huge amount of information on the internet and a lot of it may seem confusing (Pingxi?  Shifen?? Different dates?!)   So heres a quick guide from someone who's done it.  If you have any other questions, leave a comment and I'll get back to you ASAP. 

When is it? 
If you've looked about online you'll see that the date changes every year.  This is because it's based on Chinese New Year which moves around (like Easter).  They generally take place in February, the next celebration is on February 8th 2020.

Where is it?
Again, confusing!  The answer is Shifen.  This is a small town in the Pingxi district (where the name Pingxi lantern festival comes from) of New Taipei.  You will see lots of signs about a Taipei lantern festival, this is a different festival that happens in the city.

Beautiful Shifen

How do I get there? 
There are 3 main methods, each with its own pros/cons.  I've tried to summarise them below.
Metro + Shuttle bus
- Pros: cheapest, second most convenient, gets you right into the town
- Cons: slow, confusing (the shuttle bus arrangements change each year, we tried to get our receptionist to decipher them, but she couldn't)
- Cost: prices vary depending on your starting point and which bus you get, but it will be around USD 1.50 - 3.

- Pros: cheapish, gets you right into the town, pretty scenery
- Cons: slow (1hr 30 to 2hrs), crowded (we saw one pull in, people were standing!), requires a change 
- Cost: again, depends on your starting point but around USD 1 more than the Metro + Shuttle combo. 

- Pros: convenient (requires no planning!), fast (30 mins)
- Cons: pricy compared to other methods, 20 min walk into town (they close the roads)
- Cost: we took an Uber and it was about USD 30.  Driver will depend on what you negotiate, taxi should be metered. 

When should I arrive? 
Now this one requires a little more explanation.  I'm sure that you've seen images of 100s of lanterns being released into the nights sky and that's why you're reading this.
So the bad news is that this isn't something that goes on all night.  Nor is it something you can just show up and join in with.  You need a ticket.

You're competing with these guys for a ticket.  Show up early!  (This crowd looks crazy but other than the main street, it really wasn't too bad). 

The good news is that these tickets are free but that's about it.  So you have to show up early to get them.  We arrived at 11am and only managed to get a couple for the first release, about 30 minutes before sunset!  If I were you I'd aim for 10am or earlier.  That taxi ride sounds a bit more attractive now, doesn't it!

How do I get tickets? 
As I said above, tickets are free!  All you need to do is follow the signs to the lantern release site.  Just before you enter an archway there are a bunch of booths set up, one or two will clearly be labelled with registration/tickets.
If you're in a group make sure that you get one ticket each.  The woman told us that one would be enough for both of us, fortunately I didn't believe her and got another one.  Without it, one of us would have been left out.

pingxi shifen lantern festival ticket
My Pingxi Lantern Festival Ticket - You won't get in to the mass release without one!

Whilst this method is the cheapest, if you're short on time and don't fancy waking up super early and then spending many hours exploring a small town (it does have some things to keep you occupied, I'll go through them later) you can always buy tickets if you plan early enough.  We saw some tour groups there which seemed to come from cruises.  Klook also had some but they were sold out before we booked our trip.  Maybe you'll be luckier.
IMPORTANT: do you remember the Taipei lantern festival that I mentioned?  Make sure that you aren't buying tickets for this.  It takes place in Taipei city, and consists of lots of very elaborate lanterns.  This is worth seeing but I wouldn't recommend paying for it as it's free to just walk around and you can use the metro to get there.

So I'm there and I have my tickets, now what? 
Explore Shifen!  I'll do another blog post on that soon and link to it here.  You have to do a private lantern release though.

pingxi shifen lantern festival things to do
It's a small town but large enough to keep you entertained for the rest of the day.

It's time.  What happens now? 
Queuing.  Lots of queuing.  Be sure to show up half an hour before your release time, with the ticket.  Those with tickets will be sent to a sort of holding pen.  You then queue behind a number.  The year I went the release layout was as follows:
pingxi shifen lantern festival layout
Layout of the release area

Because it's a horseshoe you never feel too far away from the action.  At the top left were the higher numbers, and then they go down through the curve and then back up to the lower numbers.  So if you have a particular preference, queue behind the person with that stick.

pingxi shifen lantern festival queue
Pick your number wisely.  Jokes, it doesn't really matter.
You then queue some more as you slowly go into the main area group by group.  Once you're in, you get buddied up with a volunteer (my lady was lovely!  very friendly) and given some pens to decorate your lantern.  All the lanterns are the same colour and you have to be fast!!  We were in group 2 so didn't have long.  If you're in a higher number group I guess you'd have more time to come up with a design.

The main release area

Someone then comes along to light your lantern.  Your buddy will help you to hold onto it.  Our day was pretty windy and some peoples' lanterns caught fire before the release time, blowing giant burning bits of paper around.  Don't think this would get past health and safety in the west!

There are shows going on on the main stage to keep you entertained.  Then all of a sudden, it's time to release!!  My videos really don't do it justice.  It's so magical!  Then it's over so quickly and time to go home.

The release after ours.

We waited near the bridge so that we could watch the release after ours (the video at the top of the page is from there), when you're in the middle of it, it's a very different effect.

How do we get back? 
There are free shuttle busses to take you back to different parts of Taipei.  We got the bus for the Taipei Zoo Metro station.

Can you read Chinese?  I can't, but look out for these characters.

As we were leaving pretty early, we only had to queue for around 15mins.  Apparently you can queue for hours later in the night.  If you don't mind standing theres a faster 'standing only' queue that you can join.

So I hope this helped!  If you have any questions, drop me a comment or dm me on ig @whatvicdid.  I look forward to hearing from you!


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