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Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival 2023, Taiwan
February 5 - February 8
Experience the magic of the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival in February when thousands of glowing lights float up into the ink black sky above the small hillside village of Shifen in northern Taiwan.
A few years ago The Discovery Channel named the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival one of the best festivals from around the planet while in 2016 National Geographic listed it among the 10 best winter trips worldwide. Taking place during the first full moon of the Chinese Lunar New Year – a date that changes every year – the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the small hillside town of Shifeng to release an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 glowing rice paper lanterns into the nocturnal skies.
According to popular legend, the sky lantern was first invented during the Three Kingdoms period (220AD – 280AD) by the statesman Zhuge Lian to send military signals. Growing over time in popularity, by the early nineteenth century the sky lantern arrived in Taiwan where it merged with local lantern celebrations. Every year, at the start of the planting season, farmers would write messages on a sky lantern asking for a plentiful harvest and other wishes, and release it into the heavens to the gods and ancestors. Reminiscent of the Yi Peng Festival in northern Thailand, the release of the sky lanterns eventually grew into a local event in the Pingxi area of northern Taiwan.
What is the difference between the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival and the Taiwan Lantern Festival?
Both festivals are held in conjunction but are separate and different events. The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is steeped in ancient tradition and its highlight is the release of thousands of glowing, floating lanterns into the night sky. In contrast, the Taiwan Lantern Festival was invented by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau to increase tourism revenue. It changes location every year to attract more foreign visitors to different parts of the country. Its focus is on huge, hi-tech lanterns that mix pop culture with traditional Taiwanese icons and Chinese zodiac signs, and includes folk arts and performances.
How to participate in the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival 2023
Pingxi is the name of a district in northern Taiwan, not far from the capital Taipei and part of New Taipei county. The district is home to several small towns that are located along the railway and in three of them – Jingtong, Pingxi and Shifen – sky lanterns are released. Contrary to much information online, the main lantern release events take place in Shifen, not Pingxi, despite of the festival being named after the latter.
Taiwan has more great festivals such as the Taiwan International Balloon Festival, and the Wang Yeh Boat Burning Festival which is held every three years.
The place to be in Shifen is the main stage where normally a parking lot is, within a 10 – 15 minute walk from the train station. Try to arrive early enough – by noon – to buy and prepare your own lantern (around 200 NTD) and to sign up (free of charge) so you can release it during one of the spectacular mass release events at the stage. Make sure you find a spot by 4pm before 80,000+ visitors swarm the town.
The first round of mass releases usually starts at 6:30pm with three releases per hour and the final one at 9:30pm. Hundreds of lanterns of the same colour – a different colour every round with each colour representing a certain value such a luck or health – ascend the sky en masse.
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The lanterns are generally made of rice paper on a bamboo frame containing a small candle. People write their names and wishes onto their lantern to slowly float upwards to the gods, hoping for happiness and prosperity. Most lanterns are made of biodegradable materials, yet, the impact on the environment would still be high were it not for a post-festival cleanup operation. Even though the sky lanterns can be released during the whole year, be aware that the cleanup crews operate only during the festival.
When will the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival 2023 take place?
In 2023 the official date of the festival is 5 February on which night most lanterns will be released. However, the night markets and releases of sky lanterns still continue for up to two weeks.
Travelling to the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival 2023
By train: you can travel from the main station in Taipei changing at Ruifang for Shifen (train timetable in English).
By bus: there are shuttle buses offered by tour operators running from Taipei, Keelung and Juifen. In Taipei they depart from Muzha MRT station.
By taxi: a one-way trip by taxi will cost you about 1,000 NTD + waiting time if you want to ensure your ride back.
Trains and buses will be packed during the festival so make sure you’re back on time to grab a seat on the last train or bus.
Where to stay during the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival 2023
Finding a place to stay in Shifen during the festival will be very hard if at all possible. Instead book a place in nearby Juifen or Keelung, or stay in Taipei and make the journey as a day trip.
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More information on the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival 2023
Main image: Taiwanese and foreign tourists release lanterns at the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival Taiwan, 2 March 2018. All photos: Deposit Photos.