PINGXI (平溪) - bazancik

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Pingxi (平溪), located only a short train ride / drive from Taipei, offers some seriously stunning walks, breath-taking views, a generous dollop of history and the famous Sky Lanterns. Of course for most people THE time to visit is during the Lantern Festival, a couple of weeks after the Lunar New Year. I beg to differ. Actually the place deserves a visit at quieter times, when you can enjoy the stunning surroundings and get a little bit of rest from the rustle and bustle of Taipei. When there are no crowd to beat and you will have a chance to stroll and find some interesting spots around.


The old town, and the surroundings, offer plenty of different and unique features. Like some Banyan trees, stretching its roots over an old wall (Donald - take a hint: walls fall in the face of the nature!).

  • Green Wall
  • Green Wall

The colonial past, and Japanese influence, is as evident around the town as the ubiquitous lantern festival: wherever you look, you will be reminded about it by the many lantern sellers, an odd lantern or two making its way up to the skies or, less glamorously, by looking up at the tree branches that often nest some old lanterns entangled in their branches. 

Though rather than launching lanterns exploring the local cafe scene might be more rewarding (and with less environmental impact...)

Inside a cafe

But Pingxi offers more than lanterns. Much more.

Only a stroll away you find a network of multiple trails connecting the odd, lonely peaks dotting the surroundings.

What a feast for the eyes! These look the best early in the morning when the mist is still lingering around, continuously hiding and revealing the peaks. The place becomes magical when the weather plays its tricks. The best of all - most of these magical outcrops can be easily reached through stairs carved in the rock.

  • Watch for small people going up!

The most famous, and probably the best looking, is the Mt Xiaozi (孝子山)  - a rock outcrop above the trees with steep stairs carved into the mountain. It's about a 400 meters high hike, 30 minutes to hike up - and 45v minutes of staring at it :) 

Pingxi Peaks
Lone peak

Of course, it is the other peaks that offer the best views and so you can admire Mt Xiaozi (孝子山) from a little distance.

  • Carved stairs
  • Cousins on adventure
  • Steps
Peak bagging (sort of...)

All the main peaks have stairs carved in and so are a breeze to reach. Though you can sometimes practice your climbing skills - if you dare to look a little bit silly that is!

Bondage

Most people associate Pingxi with the Sky Lantern Festival.

Two weeks after the Lunar New Year, thousands of lanterns, most of them inscribed with wishes and prayers, are released into the sky.

Every year, at the beginning of the spring planting season, lanterns are released to pray for a good year. People used to inscribe their wishes - such as prayers for bountiful harvest or a son - on the lanterns carried by the wind towards the ancestors.

  • Sky of Lanterns
  • Light up
  • Light up
  • Send a message
  • Send a message
  • Send a message

What started as a pagan festival, turned to be one of the biggest New Year celebrations in the world. Indeed, Pinxi Sky Lantern Festival has became a world-known.


This, of course, has some downsides to it. You can forget about any intimacy. Thousands of people crowd the tiny streets of Pingxi, concentrating around the main release spot. That also means an impenetrable forest of tripods and a constant stream of people that will carry you wherever they go.

Seriously, it's stupidly crowded. But also increasingly lacks the feel of the old days, any spontaneity.

The main stage is inaccessible. People camp hours before the start to get the glimpse of some photos. The release is reminiscent of a military exercise: endless speeches, not so good performances and lantern releases that look like from the North Korea. A shouty man with a megaphone makes sure each group of releases gets in place as expected, releases on the command and moves away to make space for another speech followed by another mass release. It goes for ever. Honesty, it becomes quite boring at some point (especially the speeches...). Trying to leave Pingxi is quite a task: the endless crowd will carry you wherever it moves. It's impossible to set up a tripod. Trying to keep together is near impossible. Like sardines in a tin...

Then come the issue of the thousands of lanterns being released to the skies. These go only that high and soon will land somewhere - most likely in the surrounding hills. While the councils puts some effort into the cleaning of the mess, you can see hundreds of lanterns at any time of the year stuck in the trees or on the peaks.


It's not good. Seriously.


So if you visiting Pingxi - take to the hills, visit a cafe but skip launching a lantern. Unlikely the wish will come true -- and you will make the place cleaner and safer.


Make a wish

Would I go there again? probably not. I think it would be better to visit a smaller event, less crowded. Especially if you want to take some more original photos and have the ability to look for a different vantage point. Actually, the ability to move at all! After 3 visits I much prefer Pingxi on a slightly rainy, quiet weekday. I would definitely return for more hikes and relaxing time in one of the cafes.


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