One of the largest and most well known Lantern Festivals in Taiwan is held in PingXi (平溪). PingXi is about an hour outside of Taipei, so it requires a little planning to make it to the festival. Usually, the Americans are just returning to Taiwan from their international Chinese New Year holiday travels, and so although I've always wanted to attend Lantern Festival, I've never had a chance. However, this year, we were a little more proactive and because of the way our Chinese New Year break fell, four of us decided to make the trip North to experience the festival for ourselves.
I didn't know exactly what to expect. Although they call it a "festival" I'd only ever seen pictures of copious quantities of lanterns lighting up the sky as they drift up and wherever the wind takes them. And it was certainly quite the sight! But there was more than that to do and see as well.
From Taipei, we took the MRT to the end of the brown line (Taipei Zoo) where we stood in line with hundreds of other people waiting to catch a shuttle bus to PingXi. The bus ride took us into the mountains and through several small cities. Lanterns were set to be released starting at 6pm, when the sun had started to set, and our shuttle bus was pulling up to PingXi right around 6pm. It worked out well! From the windows of our bus, we could see some lanterns already being released. Most of the lanterns are red, and if you stand next to them, they're about as tall as an adult (me). They were ascending from various parts of the little village and mountains around us. Twinkling in the sky like very bright stars as they drifted off.
We disembarked from the bus and everyone was "Oohing" and "Ahhhing" as they first caught sight of the lanterns. Many people pulled their phones and cameras out too, trying to take pictures. But the mass of people was also moving, pushing people along like the current does the stream. As we headed away from the bus, we saw (and smelled) that the streets were lined with food vendors! There were also several places where you could buy lanterns (either red, orange, purple, or some places had multi-colored lanterns), write messages on them, and send them off. Further down and off to one side there was a stage set up with music playing that resounded across all the noise of the market and masses in the streets. And periodically masses of lanterns were released into the night sky causing everyone to stop and look up.
|Up, up, and away!|
|Hannah and SJ writing on our lantern.|
After that, we meandered through the streets lined with vendors, stopping for food or to look at other people's lanterns as the mood struck us. Looking up at the sky with wonder every so often watching all the lanterns drift up and across our paths.
|Some other people releasing their lanterns from a different vendor|
|A whole flock of lanterns ascending into the sky|
|Yum! Street food :)|
Eventually we get back in line for the shuttle bus back to Taipei. There were so many people! We stood in line for an hour, and we weren't even in the line that was going to get seats on the bus when we finally reached one. In spite of it being chilly, the four of us took the time in line to catch up with each other, tell stories, and admire the lanterns that were still being sent up into the sky.
We ended the day by picking up "ice cream" from the 7-11 below our hostel for a pre-bedtime snack. Then it was lights out. It'd been a big day!
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'" John 8:12