New Taipei’s vast expanse is a treasure trove of hidden gems, each more enchanting than the last. From the natural wonders of indigenous hot springs in Wulai to the enchanting alleyways straight out of a fairy tale in Jiufen, this region is a haven for explorers. However, if you seek unparalleled serenity and charm, look no further than Shifen.
Nestled within Shifen’s picturesque landscape are its captivating old streets, a mesmerizing waterfall, and the age-old tradition of releasing sky lanterns. It’s no wonder that Shifen is one of the most sought-after day trips from Taipei.
In this comprehensive guide, we will unveil the secrets of Shifen and provide you with everything you need to make the most of your visit!
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Table of Contents
Where is Shifen?
How to Get to Shifen
Getting to Shifen is relatively easy due to it being so popular, however, there aren’t too many options available.
Most notably, it’s within easy access from Taipei and could even be visited as a part of a day trip.
Getting to Shifen by Train:
Getting to Shifen by train is by far the most convenient way of getting there.
First, you’ll need to take a train from Taipei Main Station to Ruifang Station (瑞芳車站). After that, you’ll need to transfer to the Pingxi Line (平溪線) which will take you to Shifen Station (十分車站).
As these are generally local trains which run quite frequently, there’s no real need to book them in advance. Tickets are freely available from any train station.
|Taipei||1 hr 29 mins||NT$78-118|
|Keelung||1 hr 36 mins||NT$39-78|
Getting to Shifen by Bus
The bus from Taipei, Muzha Pingxi Shuttle Bus (Taiwan Tour Bus #795), is the only direct bus route to Shifen. The ride only costs NT$45 and takes about 2 hrs 30.
You can also take some routes from nearby towns. Look out for bus numbers 846, F821, F823.
Getting to Shifen by Taxi
If you’re feeling flush, you could even hire a taxi from Taipei or other nearby cities. The journey takes about 1 – 1.5 hours from Taipei, depending on traffic. Alternatively, you could even catch an Uber or hail a cab through LINE for added convenience.
Taxis may be more expensive compared to public transit but are cheaper when compared to the rest of the world. All taxi services charge a minimum of NT$70 and the rate is NT$5 for every 200 meters over 1.25 km, plus an extra NT$20 on your fare if travelling between 11 pm to 6 am.
Prices may be a bit higher for suburbs or the surrounding mountain regions. Oh and be sure to hurry up, as you’ll be charged an extra NT$5 if the driver has to wait over 80 seconds! Time is money people!
Getting to Shifen by Scooter Rental
If you have a valid license and are comfortable on the back of a scooter, then you could easily hire a scooter for the day! Plenty are available in Taipei or nearby towns.
You can rent smaller ones for as little as NT$100 a day though they typically costs about NT$500 a day.
Getting to Shifen by Hiking
If you are an avid hiker and enjoy trekking, hiking trails also lead to Shifen from nearby areas. Look on sites such as Alltrails to find ones around you!
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What To See in Shifen
Pingxi Old Street
In every corner of Taiwan, you’ll discover a charming old street that encapsulates the rich tapestry of its history and culture, making each place distinctive and unforgettable. Shifen is no exception, but it boasts a unique feature that sets it apart.
Running through the heart of Shifen’s old street are the railway tracks that lead travellers to Shifen Station itself. Here, visitors are not only welcome but encouraged to stroll along the tracks, even if it’s just to capture that iconic photo-op!
Lining both sides of the tracks are a myriad of rustic wooden structures, quaint souvenir shops, and enticing eateries. You’ll also find numerous places offering the enchanting experience of releasing your very own sky lanterns. Speaking of which…
Releasing Sky Lanterns
An important piece of Chinese and Taiwanese culture alike, these lightweight hot air balloons are often associated with various celebrations and events such as Spring Festival and, naturally, Lantern Festival. They hold a special place within the local Shifen culture, as the area holds one of the biggest celebrations when the Lantern Festival comes around. Fortunately, visitors are still able to purchase and release their very own lanterns throughout the year!
These colourful sky lanterns are often adorned with heartfelt prayers and wishes by their creators before they are released into the air, symbolizing their hopes and dreams rising towards the heavens. Yet, for the ultimate spectacle, nothing rivals the enchantment of watching these delicate little fireflies rise up gracefully into the night sky.
Often referred to as the “Niagara Falls of Taiwan” due to its wide curtain-like flow, Shifen Waterfall is the most famous of its kind in Taiwan.
Found at the end of a tranquil hike along rivers and across monumental bridges, its the pot of gold at the end of the wonderous Shifen rainbow.
Sometimes, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. As you travel along the breathtaking valleys and marvel at the stunning peaks of northern Taiwan, you’ll start to understand what that means!
The Pingxi Line is one of the most scenic railways in Taiwan and is made all the more special with its old-fashioned train cars. Along the relatively short journey, you’ll get to look in wonder at the misty clouds meandering amongst the valleys and the distant lanterns rising up into the stratosphere.
When to Visit Shifen
The best time to visit Shifen depends on your preferences for weather, events, and, more importantly, crowds.
Spring is considered the overall best time to visit Shifen as the temperatures will remain mild and the lush greenery will be blooming. Summer in Taiwan is often hot (30 degrees and more) and VERY humid. It is also the peak tourist season.
Autumn and winter will typically be on the cooler side and tend to have much fewer tourists.
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
Lantern Festival is one of the most enchanting and vibrant celebrations in Chinese cultures. Taking place on the fifteenth day of the lunar calendar (typically in February or March), this festival marks the end of the Chinese New Year with a dazzling display.
Friends, families and even colleagues will inscribe their own collection of wishes and dreams before releasing them into the skies during this wonderous occasion. Though this could easily be done at home, many choose to visit one of the many spots around Taiwan which have a much bigger celebration, such as Shifen.
The crescendo of the festival is the release of thousands of intricately designed paper lanterns into the night sky at once, creating a mesmerizing constellation of colours and shapes. Beyond that, there are also lively parades and mouthwatering local delicacies, making Lantern Festival a must-see event for travellers seeking an authentic cultural experience and a glimpse into Taiwan’s rich heritage.
Chinese New Year
Also known as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is Christmas, Easter and Halloween all rolled into one incredible extravaganza! Chinese societies come to a standstill as the celebrations and decorations take precedence over all. Most importantly, family is the biggest priority.
The event typically falls between January 21 and February 20, depending on the lunar calendar, and is used to mark the new lunar year. During this time, places like Shifen are hotbeds for visitors, often bursting into life with decorations, vendors and entertainment.
What to Eat in Shifen
Shifen even has a selection of unique dishes that you might only find here! Though of course, the old street is home to quite a few Taiwanese classics too!
Here are some of the most popular foods and snacks you can try in Shifen!
Sky Lantern-Shaped Pastries (天燈餅)
Sky Lantern-Shaped Pastries, known as “Tian Deng Su“, are delightful little treats that are particularly favoured during the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. It won’t be hard to figure out how they got their name!
These delectable little treats are usually made from a sweet and fluffy dough, often filled with red bean paste, taro, or custard. Once they’re baked to perfection, they’ll often be decorated with colourful icing to mimic real sky lanterns.
Pingxi Sausage (平溪香腸)
Taiwan loves a good juicy sausage, with a vast variety available at local night markets. They’re noticeably different to Western varieties, often having a savoury yet sweet flavour to them.
The region of Pingxi also has its own beloved version which is skewered on bamboo sticks before being grilled over an open flame. The tantalizing juicy, smoky concoction brings you back to the days of backyard barbecues and its delicious simplicity.
Stuffed Rice Balls (燒餅夾肉)
Imagine a steamed bun covered with flaky, crispy flatbread, and you have yourself some delicious stuffed rice balls! Inside is a succulent filling of seasoned, tender slices of roasted or braised pork, combined with fresh cilantro, sliced cucumbers, and soy sauce – a harmonious balance of textures and tastes.
Bubble Tea (珍珠奶茶)
It might not be unique to Shifen, but how can you visit anywhere in Taiwan without wanting some bubble tea?! This Taiwanese icon can be found in various bubble tea shops along the streets that come with a whole host of flavours and toppings.
Taiwan is also a prime location for growing some delicious tropical fruits, some even coming from the surrounding landscape! Along the streets, you’ll often fresh fruit vendors selling items like pineapple, mango, and papaya. Fresh and delicious!
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